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Last Updated: Monday, 5 January 2004, 17:10 GMT
Do superstitions influence your life?
Most African societies associate a black cat with bad luck

Millions of people in the West African nation of Benin will this Saturday mark annual voodoo day.

During this festival, different traditional cults hold prayers, pour libations and make sacrifices to their ancestors.

They are joined by travellers from as far afield as Haiti, the United States and Europe.

On the BBC's Africa Live programme

this Wednesday we ask: Why are we so superstitious?

While Benin is famed for being the capital of voodoo, the culture of superstition pervades most African societies.

For instance, last year a 16-foot-long python proved to be a crowd puller in western Kenya as villagers claimed it was "a fortune bringer".

In some cultures, it is widely believed that if you meet a black cat along the road then that is a sign of bad luck.

To what extent does superstition influence your life?

Join the debate on the BBC's Africa Live, Wednesday 07 at 1630 & 1830GMT.

Use the form on the right to send us your comments, some of which will be published below.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.

Your comments:

Indeed voodoo or whatever it is called affects our lives in Africa. In Sierra Leone for example, most people in the city are afraid of going to their villages for fear of being killed by witches and voodoo. There had being incidents of children discovering snakes and other animals in the rooms of their dead parents. In some parts of Sierra Leone, every death is investigated by voodoo. Punishment for theft is by voodoo.
Henry Mbawa jr, Sierra Leone

Most of the world is superstitious, not just Africa or West Africa, as those of us who have lived abroad are well aware. For example many people in Britain would not walk under a ladder, are extra careful when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday, believe that a black cat brings bad luck thing as well. I was surprised to find that some of my British associates claim to be able to predict the sex of a baby by dangling a wedding ring over a pregnant tummy! No Sir, superstition is not an 'African only' thing at all.
Yolande Agble, Ghana

The time I've spent in Nigeria and other bits of West Africa impressed on me how most of my friends there tended to accept things without questioning. I think this is deeply ingrained in the societies I was living in, where authority, age, religious leaders, teachers are to be obeyed and believed without question. By contrast my British education and background led to me questioning everything and respecting nobody.
Martin Edney, United Kingdom

One person's superstition is another person's organised religion. Without wanting to upset all the practitioners of the world's major religions, belief in divine intervention, virgin birth, guardian angels or monkey gods is no more outrageous than the so called African superstitions.
Vince, Kenya

When you say,"we", do you mean Africans or humans in general? All humans carry out daily rituals, which become superstitious. People read their horoscope daily, business people crave for daily stock exchange news, others fear the Number 13, others do not walk under ladders, others do not like to encounter a black cat. These fears are instilled in us from others who also feared the same. It takes a very confident person to challenge long held practices.
Cheryl Sanchez, London UK

After spending so much time in Niger, I have become superstitious solely because I'm still alive! My friends had given me 'gri-gris' (leather wrapped charms to hang from your neck, arms, or waist), and at first I found this amusing. After the hair-raising experiences, I've survived with these, I won't even leave my house in America without them.
Travis Ferland, USA

I was born in a Christian family and my father is a retired Canon in the Church of Uganda. I came to accept that if you believe in anything that you cannot explain logically, then you are superstitious. During my secondary education, I learnt about the evolution and the atom and with this knowledge I confronted my father to tell him that God did not create the earth and the living as I had been made to believe as explained in Genesis. I had already concluded therefore that God did not exist. He asked me where the atom came from and I remembered that my teacher did not explain this either. He said to me that where our knowledge stops is where God begins. I believe this even now.
Timothy Musajjakawa, Ugandan in UK

Are Africans more superstitious than other people? I would say no. All humans are superstitious. When Christians all over the world keep crosses, images of virgin mary or pray to the saints believing that that can bring any improvement in life, it is superstition. When Hindus take a bath in a dirty "sacred" river to get 'cleaned' of impurities or worship cows, it is superstition. When Chinese have to consult a fortune teller for marriages, exams, travel, etc, that is superstition. This is just a very short list of stupid things people do outside Africa.
Jean-Remy Makana, DRC

Here in France, many people believe in astrology; that you are determined by your date of birth. If this is not superstition, then I do not know what it is. The greatest superstitions in this world come from the mainstream religions; Christianity, Islam and Judaism.The problem is that Westerners ask Africans to abandon their own superstitions only to bestow a second form of superstition in form of Christianity.
Weru Macharia, France /Kenya

Superstition thrives where ignorance abounds. And there is no place on the planet where ignorance of one sort or another does not exist in great abundance. The need to direct the question of superstition to Africans, per se, is rooted in ignorance, hubris, racism and delusion. Religion for instance is one of the major sources of superstition, and there's religion everywhere on the planet. African superstition may appear to be more obvious, but the rest of the planet would be deluding itself if it does not realize that it is also steeped in superstition.
Yaamaji, US

Superstition is not confined to Africa alone. As a christian the bible made me to understand that the devil left the heavenly throne with a lot of powers. Superstitious beliefs are devilish and negative. Whoever thinks it does not exist is kidding himself or herself whether you are an African or Western breed.
Eloka T. Brown, Angola

When a group of people gather to worship a being they have never see, but believe in because someone else said it exists, is that not superstition? Act according to these rule or you will be punished by this being, is also superstition. How is this behavior amongst Christians any different than the beliefs of non-Christians around the world?
Steve, US

Voodoo is a vague science. It is not the same as Western science that requires demonstrations, workshops and proof of logical theorems. With voodoo you must experience the universal energy and mysticism around it which could be detrimental to your life if proper precautions are not taken. It is hard to prove voodoo scientifically but it's real and it works for those who believe in it.
Benjamin Dedjoe, US

There is nothing wrong with holding onto some cultural and traditional beliefs. However, it seems as if Africa is still trapped in the age of witchcraft and voodoo practices. It is time to move out of the stone age into civilization. Until our people are better educated, we would be stuck in this black hole of backwardness.
Francis , Centreville, US

Superstitions have no part to play in my life; I hate superstitions! But it seems like superstitions influence many different aspects of my mother's life, and this is sad. If Africans desire to end their civil wars and their myriad problems then they need to begin to "throw out the window," so to speak, all superstitions and all forms of witchcraft!
Eddie Lee, Monrovia, Liberia

Superstition is an integral part of cultures all over the world. A 'sophisticated' country like the US bases its weather prediction on a groundhog which emerges every winter in Pennsylvania. The number 13 is abhorred in the USA. Among the Asante people in Ghana, it is an ultimate bad luck to see a 'white person' in a dream. Such a figure is considered a witch who is up to no good!
Kofi Ellison, USA via Asuonwun, Ghana

I don't know. But at least voodoo practitioners, unlike we in the "Christian" west, haven't been responsible for the genocidal murders of millions and millions of people. So I see no reason to put voodoo down.
Jon Davis, USA

The human mind is a meaning seeker. African superstitions are prime examples of this fact. When the complexities of nature were too much for our simple brains, Africans made up stories to explain our daily ups and downs. What is exceptional about African superstition is that these beliefs still persist even in the face of modern science - that claims to explain natural mysteries.
Banchi Dessalegn, Ethiopian in US

It is outrageous to label one's beliefs as immoral, uncivilized and inferior. In other cultures, for example, Chinese and Japanese ancient traditions, these cultures are revered by the West not because they are superior to others, but because these two ancient cultures have historical beginnings which the West finds astonishing and worth respecting. I think it is about time we Africans began to educate the world that our tradition and beliefs are not as savage as portrayed by the Western media.
Josey Nosiri, US

Definition of the term superstition needs to be made clear. If an African does an age old act, it is perceived as being superstitious but if someone from the West practices an old cultural act it is traditional. For instance, quite recently on the change of the year, I visited some Scottish homes where I was told that if on New Year's day a tall dark and handsome guy like myself happens to be the first visitor with a coal and some food items, then that will bring good luck to that household. I was just wondering if that could not be superstitious of the Scottish!
Momo F. Turay, Scotland

The BBC writes, "The culture of superstition pervades most African societies". That statement is not true as it is prejudiced against the Africa. What happened to Harry Potter and Lord of The Rings? How about the Ouji board?
Muki Ndabambi, Zimbabwean in USA

If Africans are superstitious and practice voodooism, they have the right to do so, after all it's their culture. The whole idea of any religion in this world is based on superstition. Christians believe offending God will land you in hell; a burning fire that never runs out, but has it been proven to exist? or does God himself exist? Instead of falling for the Western Christianity religion, why can't we Africans practice our own and export it some where else? Lets worship it, celebrate it and enjoy, it's a cultural ideology.
Jude, Canada

Superstition can not be adequately defined so the question is itself is unanswerable. As to whether or not superstitions affect my life, I must list a few examples: I went to preach the word of God in Leek, UK and as we opened the church, we found the witches had broken into the church and arranged the furniture in their own format the night before. They had also drown their symbolism on the walls. I was in Africa once when a young visitor to the area raped the grand daughter of a well known witch. The witch reacted by reducing the head of the rapist to less than half its size for more than a week, and causing him to hallucinate. His hosts paid seven herd of cows to the victim and he was corrected.
Matt Spicer, UK

The word Superstition is foreign to the African Vocabulary. White History tells us about Witches and Witchcraft. What is African is bad and evil, what is white is good and holy. A white cat brings good fortune and a black cat brings evil and death. I am only superstitious because I believe in Something I have not seen with my naked eyes, GOD.
Abrahim A. Jalloh, Sierra Leone/MD, USA

Superstition is just a stupid way of telling people you are afraid. Superstition does not have any influence on me. I go by the bible and only the bible.
Christine, US

What is religion if not organised superstition on a grander scale? Whether you believe that a 'man' can walk on water, or that witches can curse you, that's simply human minds trying to comprehend what they can't explain.
Marc Evans, New Zealand

Superstitions are universal. The Bible is full of superstitious stories. The belief in God itself is the greatest superstition there is. The West believes in astrology and we in Africa believe in our ancestral spirits, ghosts, jinis and witches who act in collusion with and sometimes command charmed snakes, owls, bats and hyenas to do their bidding for them. Even western-based education is not quite eradicating these beliefs. Educated Africans continue to visit witchdoctors.
Francisco Moises, Canada

I think culture still holds a key factor in this case. Strong beliefs in cultural ideas helps to instil the idea of superstition.
John Francis Kutesakwe, Uganda

While education, science and understanding of mysticism have helped me overcome previous inclination to superstition, outsiders need to understand that these beliefs are part of the tenets of African traditional religion and mysticism. And, sometimes, they require the chief priests of some famous oracles and African gods to analyse and interpret. Just as these beliefs rest on faith, and, supernaturalism or transcendentalism--ideas that supposedly thrive on forces beyond human understanding, but could be rationally explained someday-- like in western religion and past concepts that later was explained or disproved by science, outsiders should not completely dismiss these institutional, African concepts as fallacious or fictitious representations or misrepresentations. After all, African traditional healing, often ridiculed in the West, have continued to offer some cure to the indigenous patients in the absence of scientific explanations or other modern, medical formulas or documented methods.
Igonikon Jack, USA

This is a complex and simple question. It is one of the most controversial topics in all disciplines related to Africa as a continent. Considering the proverbs in African languages, the main theme is fate; same to African names especially among the Bantu. When the problems are too big or too frequent, you attribute them to some supernatural force(s). Too much insecurity and uncertainty renders the Africans to be superstitious. When the boundary between life and death is ever shifting towards your side, you find a way out through belief in anything, and it sometimes works.
Elias Mutungi, Uganda/USA

To say that Africans are so superstitious is unfair. All people around the world have their beliefs and customs. For example in Africa, we don't see anything bad in number 13, yet most Westerners say it is an unlucky number. Why do Westerners name ships and boats after women and not men? It's superstition. Why do you say 'Bless You' after sneezing? It's superstition. So superstition has no colour. Period.
Tunde Alao, Nigeria

If Africans are superstitious then there are certain reasons; it is my own experience that to meet a black cat is usually not good for any person. I am not alone in demonstrating such a view, but there are many who have similar approaches to black cats. I have met many persons who are not human beings but they are (jins) spirits and they are very good friends of mine. I am a journalist and there is no need to tell a lie in this regard that I have an opportunity of meeting such super human things. Still I am in contact of these spirits. If someone has a desire to meet them I can facilitate the meeting.
Awais, Pakistan

I do not understand what the big deal is. I have lived in England and Scotland and people believe in witchcraft, worship the devil and not to forget the stonehengers.
Mark Cross, Australia

Moving away from elegant theorizing, superstitions exist all around the world simply because people want to have some favourable influence over future outcomes involving random change. For example, I used my left hand for goodbye handshakes when I left Gambia for the USA, and famous basketball player Michael Jordan wears his college shorts under his professional team uniform. In the particular case of Africa, the relative lack of modernity, economic and scientific rationality, of course, plays a big role but does not explain the whole story or the "rational" belief in superstitions. The fact that many superstitious beliefs cannot be falsified, the fact that religion exists to provide emotional comfort regarding the supernatural, and the fact that many societies are faced with seemingly intractable human events (abject poverty, disease, rural peasantry) will continue to sustain a certain fatalism that can only be addressed by appealing to the "spirits."
Bakau wa Ba! Kau, Indonesia

All the violence, war and rebel activities prevailing in Africa today is a result of the influence of so called 'black magic' and other cult practices which have influenced every facet of our politics, businesses and culture. It is a religion which binds the people to their beliefs.
Syl Juxon-Smith, UK

The foundation of Africa itself, was based on idolatry. There is no way Africans can stop worshipping idols unless you deal with the root cause.
Christabel Hammond, Ghana

I think Africa still believes in ghost gods, and they happen. For example, in Kenyan there was this long python, which the villagers claimed brought rainfall and indeed when it was seen, it really rained. To me superstition is still in africa very much.
Daniel Kibaga, Kenya

Superstition pervading Africa stems particularly from our ancestors. In my case, I know there are things I do or don't do because I was told so by my grandmother. One such thing is not showing a child a mirror. I had my daughter in Houston, Texas where Western doctors advocate mirror showing. I was caught in the middle but decided to go with my doctor and there has been no adverse effect unless of course like my grandma told us, sometimes the gods are slow to react.
Besona, Cameroon/USA

I'm of Africa diaspora, originally from Kenya. Superstitions in African societies mostly were meant to institute some kind of societal control, just like we have religion. Different people would believe in different things that made the society evade some things e.g. diseases. Superstitions were also used to demonise the enemy. For example a seer had said long time ago before colonisation that there will come 'butterflies'. Was this superstition, a prophesy or both? He was warning Africans of what eventually came to be and when it happened the so called superstition became a fatal reality - the butterflies went on flying over our heads up until now I guess.
Leonard Ngugi, US

First of all, not all Africans are superstitious or practice voodoo. I am Kenyan but come from a community whereby the practice of voodoo is virtually unheard of. Different tribes in Kenya (and presumably all over Africa) have different beliefs and so don't warrant the question.
Wairimu Kuria, Kenyan in US

I think the profound belief in superstition that cuts across the African continent has been fuelled by ignorance. Due to the lack of a reliable scientific approach to ordinary and simple issues in Africa, many ignorant people on the continent always resort to thinking that remains questionable. I am an African and I do think that Africans have to put their antiquated thinking behind them if they have to thread the admirable path of development and progress. People of African descent have to learn very fast and they have to know that our unfortunate economic and political circumstances are incontestably tied to the questionable belief in what does not exist. Superstition is a figment of the African's imagination. It influences their lives and it undermines their efforts to attain meaningful and sustainable development.
Joachim Arrey, Ossing, Cameroon

May I just say that it would be a mistake to think that Africans have a monopoly on superstition. I know, because I have come across numerous examples of certain beliefs among people in Europe which can equally be classified as irrational, if not outright superstitious.
Adekunle Gómez, Ireland

Funny how the rest of the world influenced by Western beliefs belittle other cultures and their beliefs. Christianity is the most widely celebrated cult on the planet. Its practices are without a doubt based on superstition. For far too long have people all over the world accepted the whites' religion because of their power. We have become racists of ourselves because of betraying our history and our natural beliefs.
Anthony Perry, US

Think about it, it's not only the voodoo practitioners who are superstitious, all religious people are. The most superstitious are the main stream religions with millions of followers, Christianity, Islam etc, with their make-believe concept of the all knowing God who would punish the evil and reward the good. This imaginary God is like the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads forcing potential or would be evil doers to straighten up in their lives. What can be more superstitious?
Yaw Ampong, Ghana

To what extent superstition influences my life? Not one iota! It is all in the mind. If one believes bad things are going to happen to one because they have just seen a black cat, then one will certainly attribute the next misfortune to seeing the cat while in actual fact the misfortune was bound to occur - black cat or no black cat.
Maureen Mweru, Kenyan in Germany

As society evolves, so does knowledge, beliefs and customs. Superstition, as archaic as it has become in contemporary African society, is still being used to threaten people. Being a non-believer of these illusions, I sometimes find it difficult even discussing with some of my contemporaries who are still embroiled in some of these empty beliefs of a psychic nature. It sometimes puzzles me to see that many still think, hard work is nothing in front of superstitious beliefs. Some use it in order to dominate others.
Peter Bonjie Ngabesong, Belgium


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