Thursday, March 1, 2012

If only the missionaries would have listened

The Karo tribe is small, I'm told only about 250 people living in 3 villages along the Omo River

One day some Christian missionaries came to the Karo.

The missionaries wanted to change the traditional ways and beliefs, according to Pora, one of the elders. For example, they decreed church would be on Sundays at 8:00 AM. But the Karo didn't have watches. And when was Sunday anyway? Western time was irrelevant to their way of life. "And the missionaries wanted us to pray all the time," said the elder. He couldn't understand why.

Another example stirring resistance to the missionaries, according to another elder, "Say on church day a woman wanted to go to church. But the husband wanted his coffee (actually the Karo have their own version of Starbucks). If she went to church, he didn't get his coffee."

The elders debated killing the missionaries. Instead the Karo men beat the outsiders and sent them  packing.

I met with the elders many times during my stay. The first time I explained that I had come to listen and learn the Karo ways. They told me that the Karo traditionally believed in one God, had personal gods that watched over them and even communicated with their personal gods.

Wait, isn't that exactly what the Christians believe? Don't Christians believe in one God, a personal Savior called Jesus and pray to God through Jesus?

That night I wrote in my journal: "If only the missionaries had listened first, they would have found that we're all looking for the same truth."

Warriors with personal gods. Each person has a personal god to watch over him, just like the Christians.
Karo tribe, Omo region, Ethiopia

Chief's save the orphans dream

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Suri (Surma) tribe, Omo Region, Ethiopia

In his dream, Chief Bologadong’s father told him to take care of the orphans.

I’m not sure about the Suri tribe orphan situation, but in some other African countries relatives will steal possessions of orphans and throw them out to fend for themselves with nothing.

How often does God visit you in your dreams?

Dead Ancestor visits sleeping man in dream.Karo tribe, Omo Region, Ethiopia

In my camp, these Karo-tribe elders told me: “Sleeping is like becoming dead. So when you sleep you have already died." During sleep their ancestors come in dreams to advise about every day events—like when to plant crops, as well as foretelling the future.
“Some believe that the person who talks to you in the dream is God."

How did they know it was God? That night in my backpacking tent, I read in Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth and the Bible about higher beings visiting people in dreams throughout history.

Each person has a personal god

Haska Galade, the Hamar (also Hamer, Hammar) tribal shaman, seemed knowledgeable about the spiritual world.

"Each person has a personal god who watches over the person," he explained. "Say the wife has a baby. The baby's god is created inside the mother. When the baby is born, the god comes out. And the god grows up with the baby."

"The god takes care of the baby for the rest of his life."

"While the personal god looks like the person, you can't touch the god because your hand would go through god," Haska explained. 

"When someone is wounded, the god is also wounded."

From my Africa’s Undiscovered Myths Journal
Hamar tribe, Omo River Region, Ethiopia
January 19, 2001

Haska Galade, the Hamar tribal shaman.

Dead father tells shaman to steal cattle in dream

When Haska Galeda, the Hamar (also spelled Hammar, Hamer) shaman, started sharing his dreams, I found his White Cattle Dream most interesting. First, he dreamed in color. Second, his deceased father told Haska to steal the cattle—a common activity among the Omo tribes—but not to kill the cattle herder—a relatively uncommon thing among the regional tribes.

What stands out in the dream for you?
What kind of predictive dreams have you experienced?

Hamar tribe, Omo Region, Ethiopia
Haska Galede, the most powerful Hamar tribe shaman,

From my Africa’s Undiscovered Myths Journal
Hamar tribe, Omo River Region, Ethiopia
January 18, 2001

 When the village chief found that I was recording myths and archetypal dreams, he sent a runner several miles to get the most powerful Hamar-tribe shaman, Haska Galeda. An hour or so later, Haska came running into the village. The men always carry an ornately carved wooden chair/pillow whenever they travel. Haska uses "shoes" to foretell the future. ("shoes" was the best English word my translator Lali could come up with for the insole-shaped leather pieces Haska would throw onto the ground to devine future events.) By carefully tossing his "shoes", Haska told me three things that would happen. Two predictions came true within the next couple of days. I'm still waiting for the third to happen.

Ancient tribal version of evolution

Is this Aerobre (Arbore) story an ancient version of Evolution?

With the dramatic gestures of an experienced storyteller, Bule Va´ge explained how early man and cattle both ate grass. “But there was not enough grass for man and cattle.”

The cows complained to god, “the humans ate our grass, so there is no more grass.

“Then the god called to the cows and people. The god said to the people, now you do not need to eat grass any more. You cows will be under the control of humans, even if the humans eat your meat and get your milk from your breast and take blood to drink.

“The god said to the cattle, all the grass is for you to eat. And he said to the people, all the cows are for you to eat.

“Problem solved.”

Three and a half days later, I'm in the Ethiopian Anthropological Museum in Addis Ababa studying the famous bones of Lucy, the missing link between ape and early man. I see that she had flat teeth of a vegetarian. The Aerbore myth had it right. Early man was a grass eater.

In that hushed museum room, in front of Lucy’s 3.2 million year-old bones, it struck me: The Aerbore myth was more accurate than my early images of caveman cooking big hunks of meat over the fire. Lucy, and now others, clearly show that early man was a vegetarian. The Aerbore myth was scientifically correct. Mine was wrong.

From my Africa’s Undiscovered Myths Journal
Aerbore (also spelled Arbore, Erbore) tribe, Omo River Region, Ethiopia
January 24, 2001

The Shaman’s world, Himba tribe

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Himba tribe Shaman

I’m told that the most powerful shamans often have some injury or deformity. When Mbahuma went into a trance, he traversed into another world, telling of events that happened on my Namibia trip that only my driver and I knew. My driver wasn’t at my meeting with Mbahuma.

After death trickster

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Labun Lokicho, the most famous storyteller in the area:
Bume Tribe
Omo region, Ethiopia

“Listen! When a person dies, it is the will of god. After the dead person is buried, he becomes a trickster in the ground.”

(Translation can be difficult. Originally Lale, my translator, used the word “satan” instead of “trickster”. It took a 30-minute discussion between Labun the storyteller, Lale, my translator and another translator, for me to understand the meaning of the word “satan”. I also knew that Lale had learned his English in a missionary school. In the end, I steered towards the less culturally-inflamed word: trickster.)

“This trickster talks a lot, cheats people out of their belongings and tries to make people fight.

“His body is rough like a rock.” Labun emphasis, “Rough! The face is similar to a man but he has one horn. Each trickster can change size when he wants.

“Few people can actually see the trickster. Sometimes these people go near the river to talk with the trickster.”

Bushman flaming moon dream

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San (Bushman) tribe
Botswana and Namibia

Geelboi’s (pronounced Heelboy) moon dream fascinated me. He was considered one of the most knowledgeable Bushman (San) elders in his village. In his dream, the moon fell from the sky and burned a hole in the earth right at his feet.

When I asked him what the dream meant, he blankly replied, “Nothing. It meant nothing.”

Since they are such an ancient tribe, the Bushmen are among the most studied of all African cultures. Among the traditional stories recorded are many that include the moon. To me, when Geelboi said that his moon dream meant nothing, was an indicator that his culture, despite the best efforts of several groups, the stench of extinction filled the air.

Spirits send bees to kill attacking Muslims

Are there other cultures have stories of animals attacking enemies?
During my first trip to Iwol village in 2000, the tribal historian chronicled, from his memory since nothing was written, the first families, crop failures, founding of the neighboring village and the time when the spirits sent bees to kill attacking gun-toting Muslims. Yes, bees repelled a Muslim attack.

On my return trip in 2003, I asked chief Jean Babtiste Keita, who was not present at the historian’s recount, about the killer bees. The chief’s story matched exactly the version I heard three years earlier.

Chief Keita: “The war started when the Muslim marabou Afajel, Aijdelo (please forgive my attempt at phonetic spelling), an Islamic scholar who lived in Guinea, came here in order to convert the Bediks into Islam. But the Bediks didn’t want to be converted.

“It was horrible. The Muslims killed a lot among the Bediks. And those who escaped hid in the rocks. They could only get out during the night to fetch some water to drink and to pound their yams against the rocks. The situation was difficult.

“Then the Bediks begged their spirits to help. They even offered to their spirits eighteen young boys. But the spirits did not kill those eighteen boys.

“The spirits then brought bees into the center of the village–a lot of bees. When the Muslim soldiers came, the bees started fighting in favor of the Bediks. And whoever was stung by a bee, died. Even the marabou himself, the leader of the Muslims, was bitten by three bees. While he succeeded in getting back home, he died three days later.

“And that is finally how the Bediks won the war.”

Chief Keita showed me the tree where the bees live and explained that the bees look like ordinary bees.

There was a more recent bee attack.

“In 1998,” continues the Chief, “a group of Spanish tourists came here. But they started doing their setting up camp without asking any permission. And they went straight to the place where the bees are kept and settled there. They started taking photos, doing as they liked.

“All of a sudden the bees started attacking them. They couldn’t run away. The bees were all around. The Spanish were bitten, bitten everywhere. They were all red.

“But the traditional chief knew that they didn’t do this on purpose. Maybe they didn’t know. He came with sacred water. He poured a little bit on the bees to stop them. In that second they stopped.”

Village Historian and Chief Keita, each interviewed on two separate trips
Iwol Village, Bedik Tribe

Mother's Dreams brings son to life

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Iwol Village, Bedik Tribe
Africa’s Undiscovered Myths, From a personal interview

When asked about powerful dreams, Chief Keita told about a mother’s dream. “Some of the young boys went to a certain village to work for money. After two years, one of the boys died.

“Just after the death, the rest of the group said: 'Hey, we must go back home. But, let's keep this a secret. Let's never tell people that our friend is dead. Let’s keep the secret.’ So they came back home and said nothing.

“And that night, the dead boy’s mother dreamt that her son had come back. She didn't know that her son had died because the friends had said nothing.

“The following night, the dead boy’s friends heard a noise that night, they ran into the room to find the dead boy standing there. And they said: ‘You don't need to go away. We have said nothing.’

“Then the dead son appeared exactly like other people and lived for another 40 years.
He died only last year.

“You see, the mother’s dream has become true.”

Initiation to learn the Secrets of Life, Bedik tribe

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Iwol village, Bedik Tribe

These 12 and 13-year-old Bedik boys ran around the village all day in this traditionally prescribed way. It was hot: perhaps 50 degrees C (120 degrees American). With the chief’s son usually in the lead, they ran from sunrise to sunset, with only a short break in the middle of the day.

Chief Jean Babtiste Keita explained that they would run like this for a month. After that, they would spend another five months alone in the bush. Chief Keita said the initiation was a chance to learn the “secrets of life.” It’s the Bedik initiation to become an adult.

At night I wrote in my journal: “A baby bird knows when it can fly. They stay on the branch until they know they can fly and then they fly. Inside they know this. These kids are on their first flight to manhood.

“Likewise, on this African trip, I am like a baby bird wanting to fly like a spiritual adult.”

Warning from Water Spirit, Konso tribe

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Iwol Village, Bedik Tribe


Chief Jean Babtist Keita tells of another experience with a spirit.

“Some time ago our women went to the village spring to fetch water. But they did not take care of the place. They were spoiling the water. One day when they went there they saw in the water a face. A white face. A bearded face.

“They were afraid. They rushed back home.

“When they arrived, I asked the women: ‘what did you see?’

“’We saw a white face on the water.’

“’Are you sure it was not your own faces. Did you bend down and see your own faces.’


“And then I knew certainly it was one spirit. Maybe the spirit in charge of water, who wanted to come and tell them to take more care of the water.

“From that day, the population got up and tried to take more care of the place. Since then, no more spirits appeared in the water.”

Creation Story, Konso tribe

Red cattle dream, Konso tribe

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Busso Village, Konso Tribe, Ethiopia

The third elder explained that when he sees red cattle in his dream, he will have a good harvest. Several of the others also told of similar dreams connected to harvest.

It wasn’t until we were reviewing the dreams that we all realized that most of the Konso dreams involved the color red.

Mursi tribe God

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Mursi travel village, Omo Region, Ethiopia

Africa’s Undiscovered Myths Journal January 22, 2001

Interview with Charkro Ramai, a Mursi elder.

When asked how the earth was created, Charkro Ramai points upward to the sky and replies: “the God.”

Charkro Ramai continued: “I have seen God. God looks like a human with arms, head and no legs. He is a very young man, perhaps as young as seven years old. (Later he said God could be older.) God lives in the ground and flies in the sky. God is very powerful. He walks very fast.”

“God came just last month.”