Witchcraft, curses, blessings and Malaria prevention in Bamunka
Story: Asahngwa Constantine, Anthropologist and Director Cameroon Centre for Evidence-Based Health Care-An Affiliate of the Joanna Briggs Institute
Bamunka is a small Village located some 40 km away from Bamenda, precisely on the way to Kumbo, Bui Division. It is found on a low land area known as the Ndop Plain. It is surrounded by mountain ranges like Sabga (1.639m) and Nkogam (2.263m) which empty themselves into the River Noun (Wana, 2003). A greater part of Bamunka is swampy and occupied by palms. It is the headquarters of Ndop subdivision and Ngoketunjia Division. The main economic activities of the inhabitants of this rural community is subsistence farming, fishing, palm wine tapping, and hunting.
The myth surrounding the origin of mosquitoes
Malaria is a very serious public health problem in Cameroon. It is one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality. The most vulnerable groups are children below the ages of five and pregnant women (Ekobo, 2005). Health statistics reveal that it is responsible for; 35–40% of the total number of deaths in health structures, 50% of morbidity in children below the ages of five, 40–45% of medical consultations and 30% of hospitalizations. According to the Ndop District Medical Health Service (NDMHS, 2004), there are more than 2000 malaria cases resulting from consultations. The disease is the main cause of morbidity and mortality in children in Ndop.
I conducted an ethnographic study on the treatment seeking behavior of malaria patients in this community in 2007. I was told that mosquitoes were the main cause of malaria. However, there were other agents also believed to cause the disease like; dirty water, bad food, climate change, cold, ripe fruits, heat, stress, red flies, mangoes, pineapples and witch-craft.
Regarding witch-craft as a cause of malaria, this can occur in two ways. It is believed that through the use of supernatural powers, a person can inflict the disease on another person for different motives. Another belief related to the mystical forces associated with the disease has to do with community perceptions about the origin of mosquitoes. According to the people, it is believed that mosquitoes in Bamunka have a mystical origin.
During in-depth interviews with some of the elders, I was told that each year, the nobles of the village go on a mystical venture to meet with their ancestors during which they can either bring back blessings or curses to the community. Some of the blessings the community has experienced include high fertility rates, good harvest, and victories in inter-tribal or ethnic conflicts. Curses include epidemics of illnesses, unexplained increased deaths, poor harvest leading to famine and a drop in child births.
It was during one of these ventures that the nobles brought mosquitoes in one of their mystical encounters with the ancestors several decades ago. How did it happened? During that encounter, they took their blessing from the ancestors which was destined to maintain good health. When they kept their luggage and were about to return, a man from another community came to their bag and took their blessing in exchange for a bad parcel which contained mosquitoes. The nobles did not notice this. They brought back their luggages with the mosquito curse among. Since then, there have been too many mosquitoes in Bamunka. The people acknowledged that the mosquitoes that transmit malaria are bigger than those found elsewhere in Cameroon, and their bites are more painful than that of mosquitoes found elsewhere.
As a result of the mystical origin of mosquitoes in this community, the indigenes believed that nothing can be done to eliminate them in their community. Some people are of the view that Insecticide Treated Nets (ITNs) cannot prevent mosquitoes and their bites.
This myth is part of the world view of the indigenes of Bamunka about several disease etiologies including malaria. However, this way of explaining the origin of disease vectors like mosquitoes can be very misleading. Studies have shown that Bamunka is a malaria endemic zone including the rest of the thirteen villages that make up the Ngoketunjia Division. The reason is that the whole of Ngoketunjia Division including Bamunka is on a plain. This type of relief create room for standing water that provide breathing sites for mosquitoes (Same-Ekobo, 2005). Another reason for the presence of a huge mosquito population in Bamunka is the availability of many swampy areas as a result of the Bamendji Dam. This Dam was created since 1975 to generate Hydro electricity and increase energy supply throughout Cameroon in a neighboring village called Bambalang. For several decades, the dam often overflows its banks and extends to other surrounding villages including Bamunka. The inhabitants use this water for irrigation and rice cultivation. As rice cultivation is one of their main crops, they are constantly in water which makes them vulnerable to mosquito bites (Same-Ekobo, 2005). However, constant mosquito bites can also lead to the acquisition of immunity (Mavoungou, 2005). But there is no specific evidence indicating the acquisition of immunity as a result of repeated mosquito bites in Bamunka.
Mavoungou, E,; 2005: Immunological host factors in human malaria: in Acta Tropica, Supplement 95s, Abstracts of the 4th MIM Pan-African conference; Yaounde13-18 November, 2005.
Same-Ekobo, 2005; Aspect Epidemiologiques du palubisme au Cameroun; in Journal of the Cameroon Academy of Sciences; Malaria research and control in Cameroon: Current Status, Institutions and Actors, p 143p.
Wana, B: 2003; Bamunka, Past and Present (Unpublished)