[RPT] Postcard From West Africa
LAGOS, Nigeria (PANA) - Scientists explain lightning literally as a "flash or discharge of electricity from the cloud," usually accompanied by a rumbling sound or thunder. In other words, there is no empirical link between this phenomenon with traditional practices let alone religion.
But exactly the opposite is happening in Nigeria's western town of Ota, about 80 kilometres from Lagos, the nation's economic nerve centre. Last Tuesday residents of this ancient town made up mainly of traditional worshippers were woken up by a torential rain, accompanied by sentational lightning and thunder. According to the residents, the lighting struck five women dead during the 30-minute mystery rain. And there began an acrobatic battle between religion and tradition, and the police in between.
Nigeria's private press has latched on to the Ota story, on which the 'weekend vanguard' Saturday published gory pictures of the lightning victims. It not unusual for lightning to strike, or even kill people in its wake in Nigeria. What sets the Ota incident apart is the rift it has created between a christian family and worshippers of 'Sango,' the Yoruba god of thunder. The family members of one of the victims, who claim to belong to the 'Jehovah Witness' sect, say they want the corpse of their relation to be buried according to their religious belief. But the Sango worshippers in Ota insist on performing traditional rites before the bodies are buried according to traditional religion. The traditionalists, who have been immersed in rituals since the lightning have cordoned off the accident scene and reportedly barred doctors from performing post mortem on the dead bodies.
A spokesman of the christian family told journalists "we do not oppose their religion (tradition), or ritual, but we believe in God. and according to our own belief God gives and he takes." "What has happened," he added, "is natural and willed by God, so they should allow us to take the body and bury it in our own christian way."
The families of the four other victims have complied and supplied ritual materials, including fowls and palm oil to the Sango devotees. But the matter appeared far from resolved so it was reported to the local council authorities and the Ota regency council chairman Joseph Dosumu. Dosumu, who professes the Christian religion, however, disagrees with the Jehovah Witness family's position on the matter. According to him, "this is an act of God and purely traditional, and so we must allow the (Sango) worshippers to perform the rituals."
The chief priest of 'Baba Sango' Olusegun Akingbola insists none of the bodies of the victims would be released. In fact, those who ventured to see the bodies, undergo some rituals beforehand, for fear of unexplained repercussions. Akingobola says death by thunder has some traditional causes. "There are various sins that could be committed before Sango (thunder) could strike," he said, adding: "they include theft, betrayal or anything (offence)."
Another mysterious twist to the Ota thunder is that all five victims were non-residents. They were from neigbouring villages. Even more startling is the fact that a two-year-old child strapped to the back of one of the victims when the lightning struck, survived the ordeal.
But Sango devotees are also keeping the child from the public until the rituals are over. They warn it is even dangerous to disclose the names of the victims until the rites had been performed. The divisional police officer M.V. Aletor has visited the thunder striken town and confirmed his men were investigating the case. But the investigating police officer, who pleaded anonymity is as confused as the tragedy striken families. He told journalists he had visited the place "the tent is very frightening with charms and juju and they (Sango devottees) can't allow anyone in." "I am confused myself, who do I arrest? Do I arrest thunder, who killed the women?," the policeman asked.
As the police try to crack the riddle, Nigerian sociologists say the Ota case underscores the complex relationship between modern religions and tradition in the secular west African country of some 100 million people, where christianity, islam and traditional region co-exist.
-0- PANA PE/FON 17Feb96
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