I enjoyed this programme on BBC World Service today.

In it Naomi Wellings visits a village of the Baka people in Cameroon, who worship the forest god (I’m guessing on the spelling here) Ajengi.

The village’s witch doctor is leading an expedition into the forest to call upon Ajengi to restore his waning witch-doctory powers. They incant and chant and invoke for a bit, and are rewarded with some banging-clapping noises in the trees. Ajengi is near at hand! He wishes it to be known that the witch doctor’s problems are soon to be solved.

A bit later, some carefully chosen leaves and a quietly spoken incantation later, Baka from other villages start to visit again, wishing to be healed by the witch doctor, aware through some form of spiritual communication (or possibly jungle IM, who knows) that his powers have been recovered.

The whole village has a big celebratory feast and tribal dance, at which they are overjoyed to find that Ajengi himself appears to join in the dancing, and whirls frantically. Wellings points out that it looks like a man wearing a mask and a dress made of palm leaves… but how to ask, tactfully?

Sadly, we are not permitted to learn more, because we have not been initiated. Only the initiated can be told the answers to such questions as: “What does that banging-clapping noise actually mean?” “So how did they know you were open for business again, then, Mr Witch Doctor?” or “Is that supposed to be a God then? It looks more like a bloke wearing foliage to me.”

If you take the experiences heard in this documentary at face value then the Baka people are lucky enough to have a god who actively seeks them out and talks to them, who protects and restores their witch doctor, who is in some way connected with the out-and-out miracle of technology-free long distance communication and who likes to come to dances wearing leaves and showing them all a good time. It must make one’s spiritual life very simple.

I’ve yet to think of a “rational” explanation for these phenomena either (if we let alone the man in leafy garb, pretending to be Ajengi, I mean). Spooky…?

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