Belief In Spirits Or Medicine?

Nia and Tayu were happily climbing a small tree. There are not many high trees in the dry Masai land of south Kenya. Suddenly, Tayu fell from the tree with a dreadful scream. He lay on the ground bent in pain.


Nia ran to the village crying for their mother. When Nia and her mother returned, they found Tayu on the ground screaming and holding his head. "What happened?" the mother asked her little one again and again. The fall was only a short one, two or three meters, but the boy had screamed before he fell. The six year old could not answer his mother's questions. His screams changed into heartbreaking groans. His face turned pale and his whole body shook. How strange, because nowhere could any injuries be seen. They feared the only solution they knew for the helplessness they felt; the witch doctor had to come as soon as possible. He soon arrived and listened to the reports of what had happened to Tayu. His eyes grew bigger and bigger, then finally he shouted a few peculiar sounds and stated his diagnosis: a bad spirit had gone into the boy! The child would have to be taken to the wilderness with the wild animals immediately before the entire village was taken over by the evil spirit! Only the animals could calm the spirit by eating the boy's accursed flesh.


Shaking and crying, the mother carried her only son to the place where the hyenas howl at night. Nia stood crying, unable to move. She watched her mother disappear into the thorn bushes. Her walk was hesitant and slow as if she had to think about each step she took. Again and again she cuddled her child to her chest. From time to time his lovely young body was shaken by severe cramps. Finally, the little boy screamed and collapsed again. The mother laid her child in the shade of the thorn bushes, desperately cuddled his swollen face once more, and then left.


Even before she had returned to the village, she started a loud mourning. If only her husband was here. But the strong, proud Masai father was far away tending the flocks. The neighboring women gathered sympathetically around the hut where Nia and her mother grieved with loud crying over their tragedy. Josephine, the missionary nurse, started her rounds of the neighboring villages early that morning. Far away she could hear the crying in the village which usually lay quiet and friendly in the valley. She hurried to the village and finally reached the small mud hut. When the women saw the nurse, they cried even more. Nia and her mother were horribly distraught.


Josephine tried to calm the mother, so she could find out what was wrong. When she learned about Tayu, she hurried from the hut towards the thorn bushes. The horrified village women shouted for her to stop because they believed that whoever approached an accursed victim ran the risk of being taken over by the same evil spirit and would also have to die. However, Josephine soon came back carrying the groaning child. She laid him in the shade in front of the hut and chased away the ants which were already crawling over his body. His head was severely swollen and through his hair a bruise could be seen. The nurse carefully checked the skin over the swollen part and quickly discovered a red spot and then another one, and again, two more. Snake bite! She quickly treated the bite wound, gave the boy an injection, and with the help of the other women, took him to a bush hospital. A few days later Josephine returned to the village with Tayu who was happy and smiling and fully recovered!


For the Masai, this was a great miracle. For Josephine, it was another happy opportunity to help people avoid unnecessary heartache. Was this wrong? Should she have left the people in their traditional belief in spirits? Would they then have been happier?


massailand, kenya

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