Audrey Ardine, 129 TESS
The house we arrived at was surrounded by rubber tree farms. I heard my counterpart whisper something to me – and as soon as I heard the words “oracle” and “black magic,” I tried to save the location on my phone, but it wasn’t working. This was different than anything else I had ever experienced – and I was caught off guard by my interest. I was a non-believer, a skeptic. My counterpart, Pii Ree, answered my questions and explained the situation as best she could. We and others filled the room and were now sitting facing a man dressed in traditional Muslim clothes. Pii Ree referred to him as an oracle.
Before him sat a woman who had come to him about her husband. She showed the Oracle a picture of him. He had just recently taken a second wife, a practice that is not uncommon here in Muslim communities, and the husband now treats his first wife badly. She had come up with her own justification for this loss – she thought the second wife was using black magic. The Oracle explained that there was no black magic involved. Her husband had a new wife and he was allowed to. He told her that she should focus on her two small children and her work, to try not to care about her husband.
I felt her pain.
She must have had some hope that her husband’s behavior could be explained, excused, even resolved. She came here with hope, in search of what was lost. Everyone around me was laughing at the Oracle’s comments, but I wasn’t. She paid him for his time and left.
I realized that all the people watching were waiting for their turn to see the Oracle. One by one, people sat before him as he listened to their problems. An older woman complained to him about pain she had as a result of childbirth, one mother couldn’t understand why her child wouldn’t sleep, another woman wanted her children to stop fighting. Almost everyone left with instructions, coconut water to sprinkle around their homes or a bottle of water that the Oracle had breathed into.
An older woman, and I assumed her daughter, had sat patiently waiting and now it was their turn. The mother was first. The Oracle took some time with her discussing her problem, forgetfulness, and then said words over her body as she laid in front of him. Next, it was her daughter’s turn.This time, there was no listening, no review of a problem. He asked her how old she was as he instructed her to lie on her stomach.
And so it began. The seemingly simple process of checking for black magic. He took a piece of a green plant that was intricately folded and used it to trace the air above the her body. He then tucked it between her toes. After this, he took a knife and started to poke the back of her right knee. He gently touched the left side of the knee and twisted the knife around and then did the same to the right side. It didn’t look painful, but this woman began to moan and cry as though she was actually being stabbed. He continued to poke her right knee and then started on her left knee. She kept crying, but he took his time.
There was no laughter, no chatter. Everyone was dead silent. My mouth was hanging open.
The atmosphere was tense. I felt scared, in this strange room with no cell service and unsure of what I was witnessing. I leaned over to Pii Ree for confirmation, “black magic, right?” and she nodded her head yes. The woman turned onto her back and the Oracle tried to calm her. Slowly her breathing returned back to normal. Looking up, he cracked a joke about how silent everyone was and, as though given instructions to do so, noise began to return to the room. With laughter and a teary smile, the woman waied to the the man and hugged him to show how grateful she was for his help.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget what I saw in that house that day. I’ll probably never understand it either. I don’t believe in black magic or the ways in which people rid themselves of it, but I believe in the power of faith.
Pain is strong and can be all consuming. We try to make sense of it, we try to share the burden and we try to find a way to heal. Who am I to be skeptical or critical of something that seems to be helping people deal with their pain even if an unconventional way? As much as it is hard for me to believe in spirits and black magic, I know that most who seek the Oracle’s help are finding comfort in something bigger than themselves.