Monday, March 03, 2008

A certain Ms. Smarty-Pants (aka babzee) just sent me an e-mail:
You have been posting so much it's almost hard to keep it all straight! You went to an orphanage in order to collect sacrifices to the crocodile gods and thereby divert their attention from your pet goat. Adorable chickens wore hats in honor of the twins and your husband took notes and refused to pass judgment.

OK-maybe my posting lately IS a bit chaotic. If any readers are new to this blog, my best advice is to go back about two weeks and start from there.
As for the rest of you, my ever so loyal family and pals all over the world that have put up with so much lately- Today we get to the "good"stuff:

The Winyé Earth Shrine Ceremony at Nanou
All too soon, yet not soon enough somehow, we were called into the inner sanctum. Everyone but the girls had to bend to get through the doorway of the ancient mud brick hut. We entered a big room holding several of the huge clay pots used for making millet beer. At the far back, on the left side, there was an even smaller door. This was the portal to the Earth Shrine.

We all left our shoes in the outer room and squeezed into the smaller chamber. It only measured about 6 feet wide and 8 feet long. And, as in all old, traditional huts, there were no windows- just a couple of smoke-holes in the ceiling. These are covered by overturned jars on the roof during the rains.

So, it was very dim in there and very, very crowded. Mallory and A. were in the far back corner crouched on a tiny wooden bench. Alexa squeezed in between JP and I on a slightly bigger bench in front of them.
The rest of the chamber was filled up by Isseuf, the Earth Priest, the Earth Priest’s son/apprentice and the altar itself, which took up about one third of the whole chamber. It’s was a mass of hanging bundles, dried plants, wooden figures, piles of dried mud, old blood and animal skins. ( It was hard to get an image with no flash, but I did my best. You can see it in the posted picture. The other picture is the girls in front of the outer doorway to the Earth Shrine.)
I could hear Mallory and A. whispering furiously behind me as the Earth Priest began chanting. Alexa pressed against me and I reassured her “You can close your eyes when they kill the chickens. And remember, it’s their lunch! People kill chickens everyday and it’s no worse than this.”
She’s a pretty good sport, so when the apprentice brought in chicken number one, she gamely grabbed its legs and handed it over to the Earth Priest.

Then it hit me. We were doing a sacrifice at the Winyé Earth Shrine. The chickens would die, blood would be splattered and much chanting to the spirits of the bush would be done. And I had brought along the daughter of Protestant missionaries.


I could see it all: A. would go home traumatised and weeping. She’d report to her parents how Mal and Al’s folks had brought her along to a horrible heathen ritual of animal sacrifice.
I would be forever disbarred from the missionary community in Burkina and possibly all of West Africa.
This kind of thing can get you a rep.

Well, it was too late to get her out without making a fuss and ruining the ceremony. Luckily, she was stuck in the back, with JP’s back obstructing her view of the shrine. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad…

The Earth Priest cut the neck of Alexa’s chicken. He poured the blood onto several of the small piles of dried earth at the front of the shrine.
The chicken shuddered, flapped and pretty much refused to die. It wasn’t pretty.
Alexa buried her head in my lap. I told the other two behind me NOT to look.
“Don’t worry” Mal whispered “We don’t wanna look!”

The Earth Priest threw the not-very-dead chicken into the outer chamber, near our shoes.
Then it was time for chicken number two. Mallory had to climb over us and come forward to present her half of the sacrifice. She hesitated at the sight of a beautiful civet cat fur spread out on the floor in front of the shrine. I could tell that her animal-loving heart had had about as much as it could take, but she bravely handed over her chicken and then quickly retreated back to her place.

There was much chanting and waving of objects. The spirits were thanked for their attention to Alexa’s case and their efforts to improve her health.
Then millet beer was served. Nothing important in the village is done without dolo.

We left the shrine chamber and retrieved our shoes from their place near the small heap of still-twitching chickens.

I was thinking furiously. “Spin!” I told myself. “It’s all about damage control! As soon as we’re out of here, I can make a few well-chosen comments about how:
1). Traditional religion is NOT evil.
2. People in the Old Testament had to sacrifice animals all the time, because God liked it then. So, it’s not that strange that some folks still do it.
And, most importantly:
3). We are glad that Jesus saved us from having to kill animals for sacrifices. Lucky, lucky us.
It could work!”

I was planning all this and was just about out the door and into the sunshine again, when Isseuf told me “The Earth Priest says you can’t go yet. You have to go in there.” He indicated a very small, dark doorway just to the right of the exit. It was so low and dark that I hadn’t noticed it when we entered.
I thought he was kidding.

The Earth Priest ducked down and went through the small door.
Bats came POURING out. They were small bats, but there were many, many, many of them, sweeping past me just inches away, heading en masse for the Earth Shrine room at the back.

I clutched at A and Alexa, trying to shield them with my body. I didn’t say anything, but inside I was screaming “RABIES!” and mourning the fact that NO amount of damage control was going to get me past this one. A. might forget to give her parents the full details on the chicken sacrifice, but coupled with a massive bat attack?
It all spelled “scarred for life” with capital S and capital L.

I scurried into the doorway leading out as the bat flood lessened and the way cleared.
But Isseuf said “You have to go into the other shrine. Really! The Earth Priest has a special ceremony to do for you. And the bats are a good omen, you know? They are special Shrine Bats. If one of them clings to you as it passes, it’s a bad sign. It means that problems are hanging on you. But if they go past, it means you are ok!”

Yes it WAS a good sign that none of the millions of bats had “clung” to me, because I would have freaking LOST my mind and had to be committed to a special, very restful hospital somewhere in Switzerland for the rest of my life.

The Earth Priest called out something.
Isseuf translated: “He says the bats are all over at the Earth Shrine now, so you may as well go on in.”

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