Abisi Dodo is reputed to be able to cure a wide variety of afflictions, especially of children.
Afflictions are by definition any conditions that bring misery, distress and suffering by disease, calamity or misfortune.
Abisi have a whole set of notions to explain these afflictions that are part of their worldview, their ideas about what is an Abisi person.
What is their nature, where they come from, what are their relations to the natural world, how they understand their experiences with unknown causes and the invisible world they believe in ?
Abisi Worldview and Afflictions
Every individual, man or woman, has a /ibik/. In English, this word is translated by /soul/ with the risk of misinterpretation.
This Judeo-Christian notion of soul is very different from the Abisi ibik notions because :
“Ibik is not going to God or paradise, it comes back to earth.”
In Abisi worldview, ancestors transmit their ibik from generation to generation through the mother’s pregnancy. It always comes back to life.
This process is called reincarnation, it is a widely known idea in all parts of the world.
A child is born with one of his ancestors “souls” who have obtained it from Barɜ, the “rain father” that is translated by God but with all nuances of the special Abisi cultural tradition:
“God is what we see, it is rain.”
Trying to learn about ancestors, Meek in 1931 notes that there are two types of soul notions in the area.
One is the idea of a continuous passage of this spirit from generation to generations in a single line of ancestors.
The other, he calls “the plurality of the ancestors” because these ancestors do not form a single genealogical line but are all taken as a group, in one bunch.
This corresponds more to the Abisi view who does not trace their ancestors beyond 2 or 3 generations in the memory of elderly people.
The souls may be reincarnated in a newborn from the same patriline or from the same or different sections and even from another ethnic group.
Some people say they know exactly from whom they have inherited their soul but cannot disclose the information, less their ibik could be put in danger.
If for example, it is publicly said that a child looks like a deceased grandfather, he could die because his soul would return where it came from. If someone dies during the day, his soul goes away and will sit on a tree branch near his house. At night, it may be seen on its way up in the sky as a shooting star.
Abisi souls are animated, they move and can travel outside the body during sleep.
Their owners are responsible for whatever actions they undertake and can be charged for their deeds. Roaming souls may be accused of producing heavy rain on the pretext that on their journey, they have mingled with ” Rain Stone ” and incited barᴈ to send rain.
Witchcraft: the /rlijᴈ/ Eaters
Apart from the ibik every Abisi person has a /uwuturut/ , a shade and a special organ (unidentified) in the center of his chest called /rlijᴈ/.
Afflictions in Abisi can result of attacks of this organ by enus “earth spirits” living in some places or by /eminiŋ/ “water spirits” living in water.
Sickness or death can also result from what was called /kuwu/ by an Abisi Rukuba or witchcraft in English. In Ibisi, “witches” or /uijɜ/ are people who eat other people’s /rlijᴈ/organ .
Sickness in this view is produced by someone’s “evil eye” who can inflict injury by looking with bad intention at someone. Jealousy /miira/ is a common cause. For example, men may have ” red eyes ” /i∫inkajis/ when rivals are courting the same woman or envy their brothers. Some ujiɜ person can do good or bad with his powers.
All important people like chiefs, elders, or /ubɜrɜ/ medicine man, blacksmiths have a good ujiɜ. In particular, Abisi soothsayers /mugↄ∫i/ or /mugwa∫i/ use their ujiɜ powers to divine future events because they can “see what happens”.
They can predict the result of dangerous situations like conflicts or hunting accidents and even identify people with bad intentions.
At one funeral somebody accused the Sans Gari of being responsible for deaths because he said, “we have too many deaths, San Gari must keep people who eat our people near the Hill at a place called / liteloŋ/”.
Nobody said anything and the funeral went on.
They can also be /uni ili aya/ dreamers who interpret dreams and can see if somebody in a dream can do evil like in this case when a man dreamed of someone walking in the night with a spear and arrows and wanted to kill him.
Persons with the ujiɜ can become ghosts /iro∫i/ or /baway/ after death and come out of their graves at night.
In 1973 it was said to be an increasingly common phenomenon. One example, dating from 1967, is the ghosts of a couple who had returned to the living and came at night to watch people sleep in their locked door rooms.
They returned every night in many people’s rooms and were stopped by some medicines placed in people’s homes and on their graves.
Some sickness is caused by the dead, “sick ground” or /miro itijin/ who can come from one’s own section and can be cured by the /umat/ uncle, brother of the mother’s side. He comes and beats the sick body with special leaves dipped in a curing water.
He says, “You dead , let this man live”.
If it comes from the same patriline, they go to the grave and sacrifice a chicken and beer on it to satisfy this roaming soul.
People with bad eyes can also use medicines or poison to attack their targets.
It is assumed that medicines can be put in a warm place such as a cooking place or at a blacksmith so has to make the victim who works his fields becomes so hot that he will be unable to continue working, his skin drying to the point of becoming a leper.
Poisoning of food is also possible. Presumably kola nuts can be soaked in a poisonous concoction or pricked with poisoned needles.
Sharing beer Abisi way can also be used to poisoned somebody. The attacker places poison under his fingernail and when the two men start drinking cheek to cheek in the same calabash, he dips his finger in and stop drinking without the victim noticing.
Pieces of flesh or body fluid of dead people can be used for poison and produce sleeping sickness which was once widespread among Abisi.
Disease diagnosis is established by the /uberɜ/ who can use a long stone, a foot long by ten inches, to which he talks to learn the causes of diseases. These doctors-diviners are many, there are at least one in each patriline and he usually provides needed medicines.
There are different kinds of medicine against these afflictions but one can easily be made from the fonio stem ash, the /mikan/ is of general use against stomach aches, swelling of the abdomen, diarrhea and to combat witchcraft.
This medicine can also be used in cases of “serious” conflict with “death threat”. If the person regrets his harsh words and wants to lift the curse, he has to drink miikan. For example, a father who did not want his daughter to marry a certain man he didn’t like, said: “I would rather die than see my daughter marry this man.”
He may even die if he does relent when his brothers try to convince him to change his ideas. He must then drink miikan before his daughter marries to get rid of the spell.
Also, if a violent argument starts between brothers and if one is threatening of death by lightning or snake bite, the men will have to sit together in the evening and share a gourd miikan to fix everything.
Thieves can also use miikan to protect themselves from spells that their victims may have sent them by calling on Barᴈ and declare: “May the thunder and lightning strikes this thief.”
Some malicious /uijɜ/ people can use material objects like poison or invisible entities like spirits or ghost to hurt others.
Individuals can get sick or die, villages can lose crops and calamities like locust invasion or drought can affect all Abisi. Different ordeals were used to discover them like when the accused was locked in a hut with burning hot chilies smoke that causes a cough that could throw out evil from his mouth and show his innocence or kill him by suffocation if he was guilty.
Before the abolition of slavery, accused of witchcraft discovered by Abisi doctors or diviners were expelled from the community, mostly by being sold in slavery but after, they had resorted to drowning the condemned as Arnett (1908) wrote.
Since these procedures have been outlawed, it seems that the Dodo has become an alternative to the traditional use of medicine against afflictions caused by what is still seen as malevolent witch actions.
People taken to the house may recover and it is said that the Dodo is powerful but often, an Abisi Doctor is brought to cure the sick. Sickness of children is the most important cause of women relocation at another husband’s house because they think that it’s brought by disgruntled locals /enus/, land spirits.
Moving to another husband’s village has always been the solution to avoid these afflictions. Dodo intimidation of women wanting to leave in these circumstances is counterproductive but they can compensate when the Dodo uses their ugurza’s /ibik/ spirit to fight those /enus/ and cure the sick children.
This way, there is a continuity between traditional and familial medical practices and the actions of Dodo against afflictions and witchcraft.