Yoruba myths can be fascinating.
Most of the explanations given to justify myths are very confusing and it is still confusing today even with Christianity ever present in the country – rather than shedding lights into the paths of people, religion is just making everything even more difficult to make any sense of anything.
My uncle’s wife, Esther in her 60s now, a very nice woman that I have known since I was little, hard working, minding her business most of the time. She is as normal as any human being could be except that she is epileptic.
When I was little, she used to have seizures quite regularly, because of this she is usually very guarded and only get out when needed to. She became a source shame to everyone around her. Actually, she was treated as if epilepsy is contagious. I grew up seeing loads of people periodically coming to the compound, running back and forth preparing different concoctions for her to eat. Most of these potions will be mixtures of lizards, tortoises, chameleons, cats – just about any creatures that Yorubas consider to be too weird to eat.
When I was about 14, I asked my father what his knowledge of epilepsy was, his response was that Esther is the way she is because there are three very powerful witches behind her seizures – thankfully one is dead but they needed to keep doing sacrifices for the remaining two. Apparently, Esther offended three witches in her village when she was a wee child and the revenge is the epileptic she suffers from. I sighed as my confusion was only getting deeper.
A few years after that Esther was in my parent’s house helping to attend to guests. In the middle of this she had a seizure, within a minute or so, she was carried inside and laid on the bed. With a metal spoon in her mouth to prevent her from bitting herself, my uncle help lit a candle against her feet so she could come back to life.
In 1992, I was in Lagos working at a factory in Egbeda. This was my first real job. A few months after I stated at Emmans, Peter joined us. He was an attractive man about 6 feet tall, well mannered and wore tailored suit on his first day. I chuckled when I first saw him as his job was really to use his hands to do decent jobs quickly while he is allowed to let loose his mind to wander wherever – that was what I did.
Just a week after he started working, he had a seizure after lunch, it was a full blown and non of us at the factory could provide any practical help, there I stood up perplexed wondered which witch he had offended and how many were they and if they have been the same one from Esther’s village, the thought I dismissed immediately as I have heard there were witches all over Nigeria, and that the Southeastern ones were the worse – they don’t forgive. Needless to say, Peter did not come back to work after the incidence – stigma prevented him.
My breakthrough on the subject came sometimes in the year 2000, I met Bosede from Abeokuta. One day we were chatting and she told me her life story of living with epilepsy, my eyes widened and wires in my brain sparkled as I wanted to hear all about the witches in Abeokuta and how her dad, being an educated and well to do managed to get witches off her back. Bosede is a devoted Christian like many Nigerians but I was eternally grateful that she told me the truth about how her parents had been incredibly helpful in given her a normal life. She was lucky, her parents were educated and they understood that epilepsy is a neurological disorder – result of abnormal activity in the brain.
With this in mind, they sought for medical help and with prescribed medicines Bosede’s seizure was more controlled and frequency reduced. A few years ago when I ran into her, she was with her new baby boy and was pleased to tell me she has not experienced seizure in the last few years.
I was greatly relieved that my uncle’s wife epilepsy was not from the three witches after all. Esther lives with the shame that was totally not her fault. She still does.
In today’s Nigeria epileptic patients are still treated as outcaste. Most people are not aware that they can get medical help. Medicine costs used to be so costly but I heard that it is not as expensive as it used to be. People will sort for medical help if they understand the real cause of epilepsy. Talking about this amongst ourselves, drawing on personal experiences as examples to create awareness so those suffering in silence have confident to seek help especially if they knew that their seizures isn’t caused by that old lady in the village.