When I was a kid,we had an old Looney Tunes Record in our house that I used to absolutely love. It was full of crazy songs like Rubber Duckie, Little Red Riding Hood, Transfusion, My Boomerang Won’t Come Back, etc. One of my favorite songs on the album was Ross Bagdasarian’s, My Friend the Witch Doctor, which he originally recorded in 1958. I never knew for sure if witch doctors were real and I certainly never dreamed I’d actually meet one. But after my latest trip to Tanzania I can say with certainty that not only did I meet a real witch doctor but I even made friends with him.
This is a pic of “my friend the witch doctor.” All kidding aside, our team’s encounter with the witch doctor drove home that even in the midst of God doing amazing things among the Pare people, spiritual warfare is real and tribal superstitions run deep.
I met the witch doctor on a Thursday. We had just finished lunch at the new church in Chome and were waiting for our afternoon worship service and teaching time to begin. Pastor Fanuel and a couple of men from the church got together and said they wanted to “show us something.” “Just there,” is what they said pointing towards a trail. As it turned out, “just there” was over a mile away out into “no-man’s land” from our perspective.
It was cloudy and misting rain as we hiked into the jungle. Clearly we were going somewhere that only the locals knew about. After about 30 minutes, we crested on top of a stunning overlook, a huge table rock to stand on, and a breathtaking view. It was awesome. And then the witch doctor showed up. He lived up there and saw us hiking in. He was extremely friendly and began to point out features of the area. Far down in a valley he pointed to a large rock outcrop where he said was a tribal temple. We asked if we could hike down there and look but he refused us. It was too sacred we were told. Pastor Fanuel explained. Traditional Pare burial called for the following – When someone died, their body would be mummified except for the head. The body would then be placed sitting in a chair and positioned in the person’s home. For four days people could come and mourn. At the end of four days, the head would be cut off, the body buried behind the house, and the head would then be placed in this temple. Late at night, people from the village would trek out to the temple and worship their ancestors via the human skulls. I will admit that the whole thing felt very “Indiana Jone-ish.” Although the witch doctor refused to show us this temple, he did agree to show us a smaller “temple” that used to be used in the same way. Our team hiked to this area and we entered to find broken pottery that he said used to contain human skulls (see pics below).
I say that the witch doctor became my friend because he smiled a lot when I was around him and he was eager for me to take his picture. Two days later I ran into the witch doctor again in the village proper and he came to me and wanted me to take another picture of him. As I said, he was very friendly.
Witch doctors, remote mountain temples, and human skulls that are worshipped – it all sounds like a movie, but it is all very real and very serious. This is the tribal religion that permeates the Pare mountains. On Friday morning, as part of our door-to-door visiting efforts, we encountered a home with a demon-possessed girl (see pic below). Pastor Fanuel had spent six hours at the home the night before working to exercise the demon but was unsuccessful. Apparently the demon had been moving from one family member to another. We met a son (a young man really) who had been possessed by the demon previously. The source of the problem appears to have come from the mother of the house who actively practices witchcraft. She unknowingly opened her family to demon possession. They were at a point of desperation and we spoke with them about Jesus and deliverance. They would not allow our team to see the girl that morning because “she was not doing well.” So we prayed for her, and the whole family and moved on.
Spiritual warfare is very real. But Jesus is the Light in a world that is very dark. Please say a prayer today for my friend the witch doctor.