OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Antoine Ouedraogo didn’t run when Islamic extremist fighters killed his colleagues solely ft away from him in northern Burkina Faso. As an alternative, the 53-year-old says, he merely recited a secret phrase and have become invisible.
The daddy of 17, who used to arrest bandits and now fights the extremists as a part of an area protection militia, says a secret drugs he took as a toddler continues to guard him from bullets and machetes.
“As adults, we nonetheless have that drugs within us,” he mentioned. “Even now if one thing occurs, I can disappear.”
Fighters like Ouedraogo are placing their religion in these conventional non secular practices to guard them as assaults linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State ravage the West African nation, killing 1000’s and displacing greater than 1 million individuals. The deeply rooted custom holds that crops, animals and ritual objects blended with verses from holy texts can present safety earlier than going to battle.
“Earlier than somebody faces a problem, they know there are supernatural powers and spirits they’ll name upon in any state of affairs,” mentioned Jean Celestin Ky, professor of historical past at Joseph Ki-Zerbo College in Ouagadougou.
Folks have believed in these powers because the starting of time and it stays sturdy in Burkina Faso as a result of it’s been handed down from generations, he mentioned.
Some individuals say the apply is rooted in animism, the idea that every one issues, from rocks and timber to animals and locations, have a spirit. Roughly 15% of Burkina Faso’s inhabitants establish as animists, based on a report from the Worldwide Disaster Group, which says the idea holds appreciable weight within the majority-Muslim nation.
Nonetheless, cultural anthropologists say whatever the origins, what the rituals converse to is human nature when confronted with violence.
“These fighters are taking unimaginable dangers, typically dangers that they don’t perceive and may’t management and that it’s onerous to think about anyone in that place who doesn’t depend on a extremely difficult set of perception techniques and generally magical considering with the intention to keep protected and perceive their place on the planet,” mentioned Danny Hoffman, chair of the African Research Program on the Jackson College of Worldwide Research on the College of Washington, who researched fighters utilizing non secular protections through the civil struggle in Sierra Leone.
Fighters in Burkina Faso have been reluctant to disclose an excessive amount of in regards to the course of and kinds of crops used, saying these are saved secret even from relations.
However they defined that one approach to turn into “bulletproof” entails mixing 13 crops, inserting the paste into meals and consuming it out of a gap within the floor. The meal is ready with water that was used to soak a metallic arrow for 72 hours — the thought being that because the arrow is metallic, an individual will probably be protected against the warmth of the bullet if shot.
Whereas many Burkinabe grew up conversant in these practices, some by no means participated in them till the jihadis arrived a number of years in the past.
Soumaila, a 19-year-old volunteer fighter tasked with serving to the military fight extremists in rural elements of the nation, mentioned he solely began utilizing non secular safety for the primary time when jihadis attacked his village within the north.
Even earlier than receiving a gun, neighborhood leaders gave Soumaila and different fighters bracelets, rings and particular clothes that will stave off extreme harm and dying, he mentioned. The AP is barely utilizing his first identify to guard his identification as he feared reprisals for talking to journalists.
Soumaila has survived a minimum of 10 clashes with jihadis over a 12 months and a half, a feat he attributes to a custom-made jacket he believes repels bullets. It price practically $90, an enormous sum in rural Burkina Faso.
“While you go to harmful fights and also you survive, and nothing occurs, then you definitely notice that (the jacket) works,” he mentioned. “If we didn’t have these protections, we might lack the braveness to go to some fights.”
Constituted of cotton by an area tailor who studied the Quran for greater than a decade in Mecca, the jacket is soaked in water from leaves and has a number of Arabic phrases written on animal conceal sewn into it. A number of the writings embody the identify of the jacket’s proprietor, whereas others say various things which Soumaila mentioned he couldn’t reveal lest the jacket lose its powers. Being photographed within the jacket can even rid it of its powers, he mentioned.
Some spiritual leaders, although, fear the rituals present a false sense of safety for fighters, a lot of whom are ill-equipped and lack coaching.
“For those who depend on the ability of the shirt after which go and battle and (the powers are) pretend, you could be killed. It’s as if you happen to precipitated your individual dying,” mentioned Ali Kamena, an imam within the capital.
He referred to as the apply “satanic” as a result of the Quran says anybody who wants safety ought to ask God. Anything is idolatry, he mentioned.
Kamena has supplied blessings to members of Burkina Faso’s armed forces from the Quran earlier than going to battle, together with for his son, a soldier within the military. One of many verses he makes use of says: “With the grace of God, it’s possible you’ll come again wholesome and protected.”
However for some fighters, these beliefs transcend faith. The Dozos, historic hunters who’ve been drawn into the battle, imagine individuals can depend on powers from their ancestors. Religious protections could be granted as long as somebody is an effective individual, believes within the course of and undergoes an initiation.
Because the violence broke out, many Dozos have been working with the military to assist shield their nation, counting on traditions to maintain them protected. However many Dozos preventing on the entrance strains say they really feel ill-equipped and need the federal government to supply them with higher arms with the intention to stave off the jihadis.
Soumaila, too, mentioned that if physique armor have been supplied for him to guard himself, he would use it.
At a March celebration of Dozo tradition within the western metropolis of Bobo-Dioulasso attended by the AP, new initiates about to obtain non secular protections along with seasoned Dozos fired weapons, danced and paraded with a useless leopard draped round their our bodies.
Firing his rifle within the air and giddily twirling it between his fingers, Idrissa Cisse mentioned he wouldn’t be capable of assist the military battle extremists with out the ancestral powers he says make him bulletproof.
“After we go into the bush, our ancestors give us their goodwill and we go to battle, to do what we’ve to do,” he mentioned.
Related Press faith protection receives assist from the Lilly Endowment by way of The Dialog U.S. The AP is solely liable for this content material.