Skip to comments.The Most Unconventional Weapon (cannibalism)
Posted on 10/24/2003 1:57:51 PM PDT by Pokey78
In Beni, a town of one paved street where motorbikes buzz past a dusty clothing shack called the Armani Shop, Amuzati Ndjoki sat in a white plastic lawn chair on a guest-house porch. He is a Pygmy. As he told what he had seen, the soles of his shoes didn't touch the concrete. But his voice was steady enough.
He had heard, a few months earlier, that a rebel army was approaching his part of the jungle, nearing his clan's encampment of low round huts roofed and sided in banana leaves. He recalled the warnings from those who came through, escaping ahead of the attack: ''They are eating people. They are cutting the bodies as they do for animals. They make fires.''
But in this northeastern region of Congo -- whose civil war has killed, between bullets and spears and war-spiked levels of starvation and disease, about three million -- fighting had been raging around the Pygmies for over four years. The Pygmies had gone on with their ancient lives. Amuzati and his clan decided they had a day or two to spare. They could put off flight.
So he went hunting alone -- for monkeys in the lower branches, for birds perched higher up -- with his poison-tipped arrows and small wooden bow. He stepped barefoot along the narrow paths, beneath the palms whose long, cascading leaves drown out daylight and the giant mahoganies whose sheer, magnificent trunks pierce the lower canopy and rise to demand their own relationship with the sun. Then, from the direction of his settlement, he heard gunshots.
He made his way back along a hillside; he crouched just above the camp. Except for the rebels, 40 or 50 of them, the settlement seemed deserted. But on a patch of bare ground he saw the bodies of his mother, his brother, his sister. A cluster of soldiers -- a few in camouflage-patterned tank tops, a few in khaki shorts, others in full uniforms -- stood around the dead. Some held machetes as well as assault rifles. ''They were cutting the adults into fragments,'' Amuzati said. A fire burned beneath a large raised latticework of branches, the grill Amuzati's family had built to roast game near their huts. His sister's 6-year-old son had been hacked open down the chest and belly, apparently to remove his heart and liver. The body lay on the latticework.
''They had started to eat,'' Amuzati recalled flatly, slouching halfway toward horizontal in the lawn chair. In this posture, his feet touched the floor. He clutched a floppy pink sun hat in his right hand. His slouch was somehow rigid; he drove his shoulders against the chair's flimsy back. The plastic bent behind his neck. He seemed to want to force his squat, muscular body through the slats of the chair. ''I am remembering so many things,'' he said. His mother's body was being butchered. They were eating pieces of his brother's corpse, or his nephew's. After a time, he fled over the hill. And now he seemed to wish again for flight. He covered his face with the pink denim hat. There was the sound of restrained, muted weeping, a single strangulated treble note, barely disturbing the Sunday morning stillness. But the slight disturbance lasted a long while. He pressed the fabric hard against his face, digging the hat into his mouth and the sockets of his eyes.
Congo is not a nation of warrior-cannibals. It is a country of market women and schoolteachers; a land of farmers, millions and millions of farmers, who till their fields with short-handled hoes and backs bent double; a nation of businessmen who, outside Beni, push decrepit bicycles along a hilly, 100-mile trading route, the seats and bars laden with miraculously balanced loads -- towers of bananas, pillars of rusty tin sheeting, mountainous sacks of cassava or sandals, whatever might be sold for a tiny profit and turned into goods to push back in the other direction.
But in May, two United Nations military observers stationed in northeastern Congo at an outpost near Bunia, a town not far from Beni, were killed by a local tribal militia. The peacekeepers' bodies were split open and their hearts, livers and testicles taken -- common signs of cannibalism. Battles for control of Bunia last spring, waged between the Lendu tribe and their rivals, the Hema, left more signs. To follow the U.N.'s news bulletins about Congo is to come across lines like this: ''Mayi-Mayi militiamen accused of cannibalism were disarmed last weekend in the Haut Lomani District'' in the country's southeast. And in a recently released report, U.N. investigators documented 12 incidents of cannibalism during the failed rebel advance on Beni -- by an army from yet another region of the country -- that overtook Amuzati's family late last fall.
All of this has come within a civil war so devastating that Congolese talk nostalgically about the 32-year tyranny of Mobutu Sese Seko, probably the most corrupt ruler in the world until his exile in 1997. Since then, five neighboring countries have sent troops into Congo to fight for political influence and control of the country's resources, its gold and diamonds, its timber and coltan, a mineral used in cellphones. And while U.N.-brokered accords have lately brought a tenuous degree of peace to much of Congo (through desperate and scarcely tenable compromises, like awarding a national vice presidency to the head of the army accused of the cannibalism Amuzati witnessed, a figure whose commanders may well be the first defendants tried by the U.N.'s new International Criminal Court), the northeast remains a territory of anarchy and violence that could easily spark nationwide conflagration again. Three weeks ago, a Lendu raid against a Hema village left 67 dead, most of them children. At the same time, farther south along Congo's eastern border, a village attack that may have involved rebel soldiers from next-door Burundi (itself shattered by civil war) killed 16 by ax and machete.
In northeastern Congo, Uganda and Rwanda have backed an ever-splintering array of rebel movements that proclaim the causes of ''liberation'' and ''democracy'' while being driven by the agendas of local warlords and foreign leaders. Lendu and Hema massacres are spurred by both rebel power plays and longstanding ethnic hatred. The Mayi-Mayi, a multitribal and loosely organized legion of militias, adds to the mayhem. Recently the national government has allied itself with various rebel groups and declared its supremacy in Beni, and a brief intervention of French peacekeepers has perhaps done something to slow the killing around Bunia. But when I traveled to the northeast not long ago, it was so chaotic as to be part of no country at all. One rebel army had just tried to shoot down a U.N. helicopter. On the ground in Beni, U.N. military observers relied on the preteen soldiers of another rebel group to guard their compound. Throngs of young troops dressed in rags and slippers jogged up Beni's main street, rifles raised. Power in Bunia was changing hands between warlords and would soon change back again. And in Beni I had to apply to a rebel government, not to the government of Congo, for a visa. It seemed at times -- as I heard the accounts of cannibalism -- to be a visa not only to a war zone but to a distant past.
Kakule Muzekiana, wiry and bearded, belongs to the Nande tribe. He has an uncle wealthy enough to own a chainsaw and was out logging at around the time when the Movement for the Liberation of Congo slaughtered Amuzati's family as the rebel army surged through the jungle toward Beni. Kakule and his two helpers were surrounded by a squad of eight M.L.C. soldiers. At gunpoint, the rebels ordered two of the loggers to hold the third to the ground. Then the squad's commander took off his red beret. He inverted it, put it back on his head with the black side facing outward and yanked a knife across the throat of Kakule's assistant. He cut the tongue from below and pulled it out through the throat; he cut the belly down the middle and claimed the liver; he stripped off the trousers so he could slice off the testicles and penis. One of his squad hacked up the body. The commander gave Kakule his knife, told him to pare the skin from an arm, a leg. He told Kakule and his other assistant to build a fire. From their satchels, the soldiers brought cassava bread. They sat in a circle. The commander placed the dead man's head at the center. He forced the two loggers to sit with them, to eat with them the pieces of boiled limb. The grilled liver, tongue and genitals had already been parceled out among the commander and his troops.
Afterward, the commander restored his beret to normal. The rebels headed off single-file along a jungle trail. The two loggers were made to march directly behind the commander, who, within 50 yards and without voicing any instruction, disappeared into the underbrush. Someone from the back took his place in the lead; the march continued without pause. Then the new leader, too, veered and vanished. It went on this way, in this steady pattern of evanescence, until Kakule and his helper were left alone in the forest.
As we sat in a shanty in a village north of Beni, Kakule, recounting what had happened, could not be completely sure of the soldiers' reasons for cannibalism. Congo is about two-thirds the size of Western Europe, the M.L.C. originated in a distant part and Kakule could not comprehend the tribal language the soldiers spoke much of the time. But his explanation echoed the understanding I heard repeatedly from his countrymen: that eating the flesh, especially the organs, of your enemy is a way to augment your own power.
Nande and Pygmy civilians were viewed as enemies of the M.L.C. because of their apparent support for a rival rebel army. And though Pygmies are scorned as subhuman by other Congolese (for their miniature bodies and their abject lives, impoverished even by the standards of one of the poorest countries on earth), they were seen as a source of coveted knowledge and resilience. ''The acts of cannibalism,'' write U.N. investigators, ''particularly concerning the Pygmies' internal body parts such as the heart and liver, can be considered to be pure fetishism aimed at helping the perpetrators to acquire the capacity and ability of the victims to hunt and live in the forest.''
Fetishism can't explain why, according to testimony given to U.N. investigators, M.L.C. troops forced one woman to eat from her husband's corpse. It can't explain why some victims were ordered to swallow their own ears or toes, why Kakule had to eat the less desirable parts of his assistant's body alongside his captors or why, after the butchering of a Protestant priest, others were forced to pay money or eat his flesh -- or be butchered themselves. The inflicting of vengeance and spreading of terror -- aspects of war that are as modern as they are ancient -- have played a part in Congo's cannibalism. A Human Rights Watch report released in July suggests that ''perpetrators have found that fear of cannibalism terrorizes victims more effectively into compliance with their orders than does the simple fear of death, so frequently faced in daily life.''
But to travel on the visa sold in Beni, to travel around the northeast, is to be taught that by eating another man's heart (especially the heart of a Pygmy, whose people are considered the original tribe of the country, possessors of a primal strength), a man can make himself bulletproof. It is to be taught that only such cannibalism, along with the gris-gris of traditional priests, allowed the M.L.C. to come so close to seizing the town. It is to feel, in the Congolese ways of seeing the world, the pervasive hold of the atavistic, the magical.
To glimpse the depth of magical thinking, of spiritual vision, that lies beneath the cannibalism, I arranged for a display of spiritual power. In khaki slacks, a neatly pressed white dress shirt and a gaucho-style hat made of ''witch material,'' Vita Kitambala, a Mayi-Mayi military general and traditional priest, demonstrated his capacity to deflect bullets. The strength he claimed was not due to cannibalism, as far as I know. He would not reveal the rituals or substances that allowed him, according to his troops (who ranged in age from 8 to adulthood), to make his soldiers fly or to make himself invisible. He would agree only to give evidence of his ability. So, one morning, he directed one of his soldiers to set a green flip-flop on the patchy grass of his Mayi-Mayi garrison. Amid the rectangular huts, another gunman shook a black jerrycan. With AK-47's and grenade launchers, a great crowd of troops had gathered in the sun, amused but not terribly excited. Water from the jerrycan was splashed onto the flip-flop -- the same sanctified water, blessed secretly by the general, that the soldiers had often splashed on themselves.
They all knew of the water's bulletproofing power in battle. They had laughed, the previous afternoon, at my skepticism, my deprivation of faith, when they told of the things their general could do. ''The mzungu cannot believe,'' they said, using the Swahili word for ''white man.'' They had their knowledge, a truth they took for granted, and there was no ceremony, no fanfare, to the demonstration now. A teenager standing over the flip-flop fired down so suddenly that I missed the aiming. The green rubber was unscathed, but I requested another display. The general offered to let me choose any gun in the crowd, to let me fire it, so I would know there were no tricks. He offered to let me shoot at the chest of any soldier.
I declined. I suggested we place my notebook on the ground, douse it with water, shoot and see if it survived. No, he answered, for I might already have performed my own magic, my own mzungu gris-gris, upon it. He worried, too, that when I returned home I would have the notebook analyzed to learn the water's secret elements.
At last a camouflage-patterned hat was drenched. This time I focused carefully on the gunman, on whether he aimed downward precisely at the target. He didn't. He lifted the barrel several inches as he fired. Dirt spattered up three feet from the hat. His move seemed so awkward, so obvious, that for a moment I believed I felt everyone's embarrassment.
But the general didn't look embarrassed at all. The spiritual force of the water bent the barrel, he explained matter-of-factly, causing the bullet to veer off target. He showed me the rifle, whose tip did look a bit battered from years of use but hardly bent.
And then there was the film he and his officers had requested. They had told me the previous evening to rent a video camera, which I managed to do in town, where the modernity of foreign machines is intermingled within a world of supernatural causes. Now, right after the demonstration, they wanted to view the film my translator had made, to watch the demonstration replayed on the camera's monitor. The general urged me to turn on the tape. Apparently no one had seen the gunman avert the barrel; apparently, now, no one saw it on the film. Huddled around the monitor, we watched two different events. We were seeing two different realities.
Their way of seeing wasn't limited to their particular army or, more generally, to the lives of Congolese soldiers, who often fight under the leadership of men like Vita, traditional priests as well as officers. Nor was it limited to the vision of the uneducated. My translator, Horeb Bulambo, who had held the camera, wasn't fully convinced by Vita's display, wasn't completely sure he had the ability he advertised, but Horeb was certain that many did, that I might simply have wound up with the wrong general, the wrong ''witch doctor,'' to use Horeb's words. And when I asked whether he himself believed that eating a human heart could make a man bulletproof, Horeb replied: ''That is a very good question for me. I know that it can be difficult for you to believe, for you from the West. It can be difficult for you to publish it. But here, the spiritual impacts on the natural. Here in Africa, I know it is possible.''
Horeb is a 33-year-old man of remarkable learning. His father was a government border guard, redeployed often from frontier to frontier, yet as a child Horeb managed to stick with his schooling. He recalled, while we traveled, the competitions he had won, mission school battling mission school. He remembered the rapid-fire questions on the orations of Roman emperors and the discoveries of Archimedes. Then, after a year at university, his formal education came to a halt when his father died and family money grew even more scarce than it had always been. Determined to teach himself, he kept reading -- Greek history, British history, Congolese history -- and as we hiked through the Pygmy forest or drove to Vita's headquarters, he talked of Che Guevara's revolutionary venture in Congo, of the linguistic influences of Britain's wars against France, of the Latin origins of the word ''militia.''
But he spoke most often about the witches -- ''flying with fire behind them'' -- that sprinkled dust on his roof at night. In this way, they paralyzed him so they could enter his room and hover over his bed, their naked bodies oiled, their eyes ''red as blood.'' He had been lucky. They had only visited, taunting silently, never touching him, never claiming him. (And lately he had been even luckier, becoming a Christian, a force he embraced as a counter to witchcraft -- though he could never again visit his family's ancestral village, where, he explained, the traditional priests would cast spells and kill him as punishment for his conversion.) Others had been less fortunate. So many people, Horeb said, had been stricken by spirits and made to appear dead. They had been buried alive by their families, then taken by witches to be slaves, to till the witches' invisible fields. In Horeb's world, spirits lurked everywhere.
And Horeb's friend Roget Kadima, an accountant of rare education in Congo and also of rare progressive ideas (he is helping to pay his fiancee's university tuition and spoke eagerly about her future as an attorney), told me of sorcery -- and cannibalism -- in the capital, Kinshasa, the country's locus of modernity, where he grew up. I asked about the tens of thousands of Congolese children who, according to Western aid groups, have been cast out of their homes -- and sometimes killed or mutilated -- after being accused of witchcraft and blamed for the troubles of their parents, their rural villages, their city neighborhoods, their nation. Hordes have wound up as vagabonds in Kinshasa. But Roget didn't see the problem the way the Westerners do at all. He cited the number as proof that Congo's night air is filled with occult invocations, that it teems with supernatural forms and otherworldly beings. And gradually, quietly, he confided that his grandfather had been killed and eaten by Roget's uncle, a witch.
None of this belongs to Congo alone. In South Africa, the continent's most developed nation, the police are dispatched about once every month to investigate a muti killing, a murder committed to satisfy a traditional priest, to present the priest with a severed hand or clipped genitals or an extracted heart so that he can cure a disease or, frequently, so that he can guarantee the success of a supplicant's new business. In Uganda, before I made my way over the border into Congo, I read this, buried routinely amid the pages of Uganda's most respected newspaper: ''The police in Iganga are holding three traditional healers for allegedly stealing a human skull from a grave.'' In Liberia, just as in Congo, soldiers sometimes eat the organs of rival factions and tribes in order to enhance their own strength. Reports of cannibalism have also come from Angola and Equatorial Guinea and the Central African Republic. And in Sierra Leone -- where the recent list of charges (to be tried by a U.N. war crimes tribunal) against the government's former deputy minister of defense includes human sacrifice and cannibalism carried out by his troops -- soldiers on all sides of the country's civil war dabbed themselves with the blood of ceremonial victims, often pregnant women and children, to ensure victory in battle.
Africa is a place made up not only of farmers and market women and bicycle-pushing traders but also of a thin scattering of accountants and a thinner scattering of attorneys and -- though there are scarcely enough to justify the word ''scattering'' -- medical doctors and scientists. It is a continent suspended, trapped somewhere closer to the ancient than to the modern, a continent where so many visas lead to places that feel utterly lost, not only for their wretched poverty and cataclysmic civil wars and devastating histories of exploitation and neglect but also for the primitive understanding their people have of all that happens in their world, an understanding that may, along with the wretched and the cataclysmic and the devastating, allow for little in the way of modern development. Africa's desperate wish for progress may be somewhat attainable because of the determination and learning of men like Horeb, men nevertheless defined perhaps as much by the old as by the new, but its yearning for modernity is mocked by the images I was left with as my visa was stamped on my way out of Beni.
Before leaving, I heard accounts of a recent trial in Mongbwalu, a nearby town. A leader of the Lendu tribe, a traditional priest known to the region as General Kiza, had been shot at in an attempted assassination. Kiza is a widely revered figure (even the troops of his rival, General Vita, speak admiringly of his powers). To enter battle alongside him, the Lendu say, is to fight with tremendous inoculation. Within five miles of Kiza, whose biceps are adorned in animal tooth amulets, there exists a kind of force field. No bullet or spear can pierce you, as long as you haven't broken the tribe's spiritual laws.
The would-be assassin had been thwarted. His many bullets, fired at close range, were deflected by Kiza's immunity and did little more than scrape his forehead. The gunman managed to sprint away, but members of Kiza's tribal militia -- one of the most feared militaries of the northeast, though it makes war as much with bows and arrows as with rifles -- seized him quickly and brought him to the center of Mongbwalu to be tried. The hearing, held on the street before a gathering of hundreds, if not thousands, had an element of deliberation. Serving as judge, Kiza considered the testimony of a co-defendant, a local chief accused as the gunman's accomplice. He listened to the chief's story, weighed the various opinions of the yelling crowd and fired a gun inches from each of the chief's ears. He pronounced the chief not guilty and let him go.
Then he turned to the gunman, who sat on the ground, stripped to his underwear, elbows roped behind his back. With a large knife, Kiza slit his throat. He directed one of his officers to finish the beheading, to open the torso. The crowd was told to bring salt, to come with cassava bread. The liver and heart were removed. A fire was built in the outdoor courtroom. In this way, Kiza added the man's power to his own.
We have democracy, where a majority of your neighbors can simply vote to destroy you.
No you've got the mantra wrong; it should be "Our culture is no better than any other, it's worse. Because of out ethno-centrism we've stolen and deprived these more superior cultures of their's and gone so far as denied their contributions to civilization." Repeat that as often as necessary.
On the otherhand, given it's rather difficult for these feeble minds to memorize perhaps yours is better.
So, it's not a stretch to suggest that Hillary Rotten has Met and consumed the Devil himself ,correct? After all, with the most travelled Skunk and his alleged spouse trapsing the world for 8 years, surely it happened more than once.
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