Yesterday was a tough travel day from Bolgatanga back to Kumasi ““ we got to the bus station around 8am, and didn’t get in to Kumasi until around 9pm, for a total of 13 miserable hours on the road. I staggered into the guesthouse and slept for 10 hours, punctuated by coughing fits from this nasty cold I seem to have picked up in Tamale. I’ve been going through the cold medicine I brought with me at an alarmingly rapid pace. I wish I’d brought more than just 15 doses.
Anyway, today our only real plans were to go see the fetish priest, which wasn’t going to happen until late afternoon, so we dawdled in the morning: went to see the Royal Palace Museum, and went to Kejetia Market, reputedly the largest open-air market in West Africa. It was much like the big market in Accra: a warren of small stalls selling a bewildering array of stuff. I won’t repeat the description, just that while they were selling kente, they didn’t have anything nearly as nice as what I bought at Bobo’s place, so I didn’t buy anything. Still, it was fun to walk around and take in the sights, such as they were. I felt a little dumb (as always) walking around with my daypack strapped to my front (instead of on the back), but with it in front I could keep an eye out for pickpockets and bag-cutters, both of which are bound to be active in such a busy market.
I should perhaps mention that the reason I was carting the daypack around everywhere was a very simple and practical reason: if you’re going to buy something expensive in Ghana, you need a sack full of money. Literally. The largest-denomination bill they have is 20,000 cedis, which is worth a bit over $2. So when you go to change money, you need to bring a bag to accommodate the two-inch-thick stack of cedis you get in return for your three crisp hundred-dollar-bills. Similarly, if you want to carry around enough to buy expensive stuff (like, say, kente), you need to bring a bag. So I had a daypack, empty except for a bottle of water and a big wad of cedis.
We returned from Kejetia Market, took a shower and a nap, and headed back out to see the fetish priest, in Kurofofrom (the brass-casting village).
The fetish priest turned out to be a fetish priestess, one who was reputedly the head of the local natural-healers’ (fetish-priest) association. She had agreed to show me what they did, although I couldn’t take photos. So I made a 150,000-cedi ($15) offering, and they ushered me in.
The first thing we all did was offer libations: a little schnapps poured into a glass, a tiny bit poured onto the ground, a small sip taken, the remainder poured onto the ground, presumably for the spirits of the shrine. After that, the spirit came into possession of Nana, the fetish-priestess, and the audience began.
She was wearing a blue-and-white gown, which I don’t think was ritual, as I’d seen many other people wearing it before. She was sitting on a chair set on a pad of animal skins, with a rack to her left on which were hanging various blackened bags, gourds, etc. that represented specific spirits. Flies buzzed around the floor.
Things were a bit awkward at first, since I didn’t have a question or problem to lay before the priestess, so I got things off to a start by asking whether Mike and I were going to get married. She stirred around a collection of cowrie shells and coins, peered intently at the result, and told me that we would get married and that it would be for life. She stirred the coins again and said we would have three children ““ the first a single birth and the second, twins. Then she told me I lived near a river and the river goddess was looking out for me, and I should make an offering of a bottle of whisky when I returned. (I suppose you could call the San Francisco Bay a river, but that would be kind of stretching it.) She said there was a king in my family ““ somebody famous ““ which happens to be true (my grandfather was a major player in the Taiwan legislature) ““ and that because of that my fortune would be good, I would be promoted at work, et cetera. (Lots of cetera.) I wasn’t too impressed by any of this, it being more or less stock-in-trade for a fortuneteller.
Then they asked me if I had any problems I wanted solved. I didn’t, but it turned out Chuku did. Much chattering in Tui followed (I don’t speak a word of Tui, so I have no idea what it was about), and then they wanted 10,000 cedis for a chicken. She asked him how much he would be willing to pledge if she intervened successfully with the spirits for him, and he said 200,000 cedis (about $20). The chicken arrived, a small one, and Chuku sat and stroked the chicken through the rest of the discussion. I had the feeling that this was going to be a short-lived chicken.
And, in fact, this proved the case. The fetish priest assisting the priestess explained to me that they were now going to do a divination, and slit the chicken’s throat. He then threw it to the floor, where it flapped and shook as it was dying. It flopped back and forth, lay still, then jerked in another series of small tremors, finally ending up belly-down on the floor, in a small puddle of blood. Only the back and wings were visible.
The priest then explained that this meant that the offering was unsuccessful (if it had landed belly-up it would mean that the spirits had accepted the offering), and that if Chuku would make a larger offering they could try it again. In the interim, the priestess was doing something obscure with kola nuts, to try to shore up the reading. Chuku and I were each handed kola nuts ““ he ate his and I nibbled on mine, then palmed it. (I didn’t want to eat an unpeeled kola nut ““ particularly one that had been sitting around in the less-than-cleanly dirt of the shrine ““ for fear of contracting travelers’ diarrhea from the local pathogens.) Then they asked me how much I would pledge to the spirits if the reading came true, and I said $100 on the birth of the twins. (Which is true; if my second set of kids actually is twins I’ll be damn impressed. Especially since I’m not at all sure if I want kids.)
That ended the reading. They requested another donation of 150,000 cedis ($16), which I gave them, and I walked out into the sunshine $30 poorer and not a whole lot wiser. While I consider myself relatively open to the prospect of things like psychic phenomena, this didn’t impress me any more than the average Madame Zonga fortuneteller.
Tomorrow we’re getting up early (like, around 4am) and going to Accra, where I will do a couple of prosaic things like buying an additional bag for my stuff, but otherwise expect nothing interesting to happen before I fly back.