Superstition is not going to die
My Column - by Adam Harris
Kaieteur News
May 6, 2007

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Last week I couldn't help but write about a vicious killing that had its root deep in local folklore or as some might say, deep in superstition. That certainly will not be the last such killing in this country.

There were those who sought to attach racial motives to the killing but the wiser among us knew otherwise. People simply failed to recognise the power of the superstitious mind. It makes people see things that most others would fail to acknowledge.

Then a few days ago I read that a community in India set two people alight after strapping them to a post. The reason for this barbaric behaviour was the belief that the two were involved in black magic. In Guyanese parlance, the two were obeah people. In Guyana they would have been treasured and flocked by anyone who wanted a change in their life.

There was one woman who believed the words of a confidence trickster that she had a spirit on her and therefore could not “see her way”.

This man recommended that the woman take a bath. The man took her to a lonely creek in Bartica, stripped her naked, bathed her and then proceeded to have sex with her. Any reasonable person would query this, but this woman did not.

She was not like the West Demerara girl who caught the eye of a pastor. The man wanted a piece of the action but in the end he got much more than he bargained for. The girl agreed to let him have a piece of the action but she arranged to have her relatives in close proximity.

The pastor came, stripped the girl and with his erection at its peak, proceeded to attack the Promised Land. Lo and behold the girl's relatives barged into the room and beat the living daylights out of him. Whatever spirit he had certainly disappeared as fast as his erection.

He later told the police that they beat him like a snake. I hasten to add that no one was charged for the beating. Perhaps that was because the pastor did not die.

At Paul (O'Hara) Persaud's funeral, my good friend Vibert Parvatan came up to me to remind me that while my contention was that only women were deemed to be Ole Higues, there were men who were also deemed to be such.

He then went on to tell me that prominent people in the society walked up to him and sought to convince him that these things existed. He said that when he tried to use all the logic at his disposal, these people proceeded to let him know that they had experienced the ‘evil' phenomena.

Two weeks ago I came across an article on the internet that the brain appears to be hot wired to believe in a Supreme Being. Simply put, it meant that everyone is born with the knowledge of a Supreme Being. That would explain the behaviour of certain people when they are about to die.

Those who experienced near death experiences spoke of seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel and that they felt real good racing to this tunnel. When they were brought back to life they spoke of a disappointment.

Scientists have since concluded that some part of the brain behaves in a manner to trigger such emotions. I have never been close to death except the time when I fell into a pond aback of my yard at La Jalousie and nearly drowned.

Had it not been for a clump of grass at the end of the pond, I would not have been here today. However, that is another story.

Could it be that people are hotwired in the same way to believe in evil? I know of people who were certain that they saw a ghost.

Just the other day a city taxi driver recounted that he was driving along the road when a woman stopped him. He said that he picked up this woman to take her to her destination.

He said that the woman spoke to him until he was almost where she wanted to go. He said that when he stopped and looked around for the woman to inform her of the fare, there was no one in his car.

He was dead serious. He went to church and testified to this fact. Was he dreaming? Did he hallucinate? I do not know. Suffice it to say that I never had such an experience. In any case, I am too old to go picking up women at the dead of night.

But as we examine this phenomenon of the superstitious, we need to ask ourselves about the fear children all over the world have for the dark. These children could grow up in the most sophisticated society and in the best of homes. They all fear the dark.

Perhaps parents passed on their fears at birth but children who are much too small to watch television and see evil ghosts or goblins are simply afraid of something in the dark. Perhaps, it is something in the human psyche. When the children grow up, the fear becomes more realistic.

For example, there is an old wives' tale that if the milk from a mother's breast falls on her baby's penis, the boy would be impotent. I asked doctors about this. One doctor went to great lengths to explain the physiology of the human body. He said that breast milk was as safe as anything.

With a smile on my face I asked him whether he would allow a woman to squeeze some breast milk on his penis. With an expression akin to horror, the man said no. He added that, while all the medical evidence points to some old wives' tale, he was not prepared to try to prove it.

There are so many things that are common to people everywhere. Death is an experience that people all over the world react to in a predictable way. But in different parts of the world there are different behaviour patterns.

I have gone to funerals where people pass their little children over the coffin. The reason? To prevent the dead from coming back to “trouble” the little ones.

Menstruating women have refrained from entering cemeteries. Why? Ask them.

There was an experience that I would choose to share at this time. My last son, who is now 33 years old, was to have his hair cut for the first time. I am not superstitious and I declined to listen to my wife's admonition that there must be certain things done to the boy at the time his hair was to be cut.

He was supposed to be given some gift or something or the other. I ignored her and proceeded to cut his hair. That night he refused to sleep. He cried all night and my wife let me have hell for not doing what was right.

I recall her taking him to a pandit and the next night he slept like a baby. Needless to say, she kept reminding me of what I must have caused.

I still believe that there was a logical explanation. I feel that lying on his newly shaven head felt strange and uncomfortable.

But there are Hindus who cut their baby's hair nine days after birth. Is there something to cutting the hair when the baby is nine days old or one year old? Does one get more of life than the other? Who knows?

Must all girls who menstruate for the first time be given a gift as seems to be the tradition? Is this really a tradition? People are not going to tell me but for the love of me I would like to know.