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Opinions of Thursday, 1 January 2004

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The Trouble With African Miracles

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong writes that in the mist of abject poverty, ignorance and some aspects of the African culture that promote superstition, miracles, like the ones reported in Ghana via satellite from a Nigeria preacher, should be approached thoughtfully

People at a spiritual retreat at Asante-Mampong say their diverse illness have been healed at the end of a religious revival. The congregation, like most miracle seekers throughout the world, gazed at the sky while listening to the ministration of a Pastor William F. Kumuyi from Nigeria via satellite transmission. The Ghana News Agency (GNA) reported that among those who said they have been miraculously healed are Charity Amenya, 35, a teacher, who said she had received divine healing and that the fibroid she had lived with for the past 7 years has vanished, making her registration for surgical operation in January, 2004 unnecessary and Emmanuel Osei-Sarfo, 65, a paralyzed mason also said he has regained his strength and “started jumping and praising God to the stunned congregation.

In a continent where poverty is massive, resulting in weak sanitation/medical systems and a culture some of which aspects are troublingly mired in superstition, gullibility, and disturbing ignorance, the deep hope for miracles to cure diseases and other distresses is high, bordering on the tacky or fanatical. From the Gambia to South Africa, Africans believe in miracles are legendary. In West Africa, where spiritual churches are most prominent compared to other parts of Africa, people attend churches 24 hours a day with the hope of visions and miracles. Aside from the spiritual churches and the old, tied orthodox churches, juju and marabou mediums and witchdoctors abound, attracting miracle and vision seekers helpless in the face insurmountable distress. Miracle is invariably proportional to the nature of a society, the more traditional the society is such as Africa, the more the believe in miracles. The more scientific or modernized the society such as Canada, the less the believe in miracles.

As Boston University’s Lance Morrow explains, “the realm of the miraculous sometimes lies just across the border from the fanatical or the tacky.” As we see at either Ajenguli (Nigeria) or Makola (Ghana), most miracles can just be a street-side entertainment scene, drawing the unemployed, busybodies or the plain curious, ignorant that are too weak to think and explain their daily problems in clear terms. As West Africa shows, the boom in spiritual churches and the juju-marabou mediums have seen the commercialization of miracles, making it unsacred and undermining its divine nature. In South Africa’s Soweto, confused young men who have HIV/AIDS have been told by spiritual mediums that if they have sex with a virgin their disease will miraculously vanish. This has seen HIV/AIDS infected young men secretly entering villages at night and sneaking into homes and raping virgins with the hope of curing their disease. The result is massive infection of young women with HIV/AIDS. No doubt, South Africa is one of the leading HIV/AIDS infected societies in the world.

Throughout Africa and the rest of the world, as Morrow explains, “the territory of the miraculous” are “approached carefully, by stages, passing from the gaudiest, shabbiest outer display toward what may, occasionally, turn out to be a deeper truth.” We see this in one of the most remarkable miracles in Africa (and the world) in the legendary Okomfo Anokye. In a stage-by-stage preparation towards commanding of a Golden Stool from the sky to unite the disparaging Asantes, Okomfo Anokye observed the deep disunity among the Asantes. He assembled the slaves, families, clans, and tribes, cut their fingernails, burns them, mixed the ashes with some herbs and uttered some prayers. A miracle: a Golden Stool came down from the sky and used as unifier among what is now called the Asantes. The result, or rather the truth, today is the Asante ethnic group, one of the largest in the world.

Despite miracles such as Okomfo Anokye’s, experts in divinity and theology caution against miracles, more so in an Africa where poverty is high and some aspects of the culture is entrapped in high irrationality. The juju-marabou medium that helped the various coup makers topple democratic and elected governments in Africa will tell you they are miracle makers. The juju-marabou, witchdoctors and other spiritualists that aid armed robbers in criminal activities work in the same notion. But the practical truth is that the juju-marabou medium’s miracle borders on subverting a structural system, and, as West Africa shows today, undermining development (West Africa is the poorest region in the world partly because of the activities of juju, marabou, ‘spiritualists’ and witchdoctors). “A lot more people testified they had been healed of their various ailments and others said they received inner peace for their souls,” reported GNA, but a Dr. Samuel Adjei, Afigya-Sekyere District Director of Health Services, said to be a member of the church, confirmed the Asante-Mampong miracles “but asked them to go for medical check up.” What Dr. Adjei is saying is that miracles have to be proved beyond all reasonable doubt since there is the potential for hallucination.

Morrow explains, “A miracle is a wonder, a beam of supernatural power injected into history. Up There descends Down Here for an instant. The world connects to a mystery—a happening that cannot be explained in terms of ordinary life.” Morrow asks whether miracle is “an external event occurring in the real, objective world? Or is it a sort of hallucination, an event of the imagination? Morrow says the noblest miracles that arise from creativity such as Okomfo Anokye’s are events of the imagination. If miracles are events of the imagination it will be hard for a society part of which culture believe miracles are from some supernatural powers. If miracle occurs it means it negates the general rule of cause and effect. What informs the imagination or the objective world when miracles occur? Is the hunger for miracles driven by extreme distress or some aspects of ones culture that feeds on unrealistic yearnings to solve a problem? It is such uncertainties that make some people skeptical about miracles, saying there is are no miracles.

Despite all these, miracles do occur, creation itself is a miracle. Our existence itself is a miracle. Just like Pastor William F. Kumuyi sparking miracles in a village in Ghana from Nigeria via satellite transmission, the computer I am using in writing this essay and when finished sending the essay by e-mail is itself a miracle. In West African believe system, Jerry Rawlings, a two-time coup-maker, and Siaka Stevens, a dog-catcher who became President of Sierra Leone, are miracles of some sort, and so is Kwame Nkrumah and his Pan African visions. As Morrow educates us “a miracle makes an opening in the wall that separates this world and another. Divinity, another dimension, may flow through the aperture. A dark force could pass through the aperture as well. Or the whole thing may be only a magic trick.”

Though what pass through the aperture, whether divinity or a dark force or a magical trick is informed by a society’s culture, in all measure, the true miracle, which cut across all cultures, is love, and as Morrow says “cannot be faked.” This is what informed Jesus Christ’s 35 miracles and that of Okomfo Anokye and our everyday existence.


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