Africans perpetuate the most interesting superstitions. Think about it: striking your left foot against a stone means bad luck, going out when you hear the shrill cry of a bush baby could get you killed, looking at the mirror at night could make you see demons, and so on. And when it comes to African myths, most people believe without questioning.
Contrary to popular opinion, superstitions aren’t an African thing alone. In Western countries, people fear black cats, the Number 13 and walking under ladders.
Ask Europeans why ships, boats and hurricanes are named after women, and you will not get a logical answer. That’s because superstitions are almost never backed by logical explanations.
Howsoever, there are African superstitions worth believing because they serve the following purposes- they encourage good behavior among members of a society; they provide explanations for strange occurrences—a coping mechanism in the midst of disaster; they empower people to try to control their destinies or to predict their futures.
For instance, legendary basketball champion, Michael Jordan believed that wearing his college shorts beneath his team jersey would boost his performance.
While some myths are irrational, many others have been proven true by science.
Some of these myths are indeed ridiculous, but are transmitted through generations, so as to preserve ancient knowledge and wisdom.
Mirror showing: If you’re in touch with your African roots, you probably know you shouldn’t show a child a mirror. According to the myth, the child might remember their past lives, or their souls might get trapped. None of these can be explained rationally.
A closer look might reveal the real reason behind this superstition. If babies (or very young children) form a habit of looking at the mirror, they might break it and harm themselves. Mirror gazing can also inspire pride in one’s beauty. It can also inspire body image issues.
Here’s a true story: After wearing a Halloween costume, a child looked in the mirror and was alarmed by what he saw. The child screamed and wailed. For days, he was traumatized by his costume and his image.
Sweeping your house at night: Do not sweep your house at night, says the famous superstition, or you’ll lose your wealth. In other words, sweeping at night is symbolic of sweeping out your wealth.
This makes sense when you consider that health is wealth. To be healthy, you have to sleep well. You can’t sleep well, when you’re raking a broom all over the house in the middle of the night. Besides, the sweeping will result in a lot of dust and allergens floating around the house and blocking inhabitants’ airways.
According to research, sleep deprivation can cause cardiovascular diseases, mental health problems and other metabolic diseases. When people don’t get enough sleep, they are likely to spend their hard earned monies and time consulting medical experts.
Then, there are African superstitions which are backed by science:
Don’t eat vulture meat: Vultures are often regarded as scavengers of death. They are the cleanup birds that feast on the dead and all things filthy. It is for this reason that people all over the world avoid vultures. They do not domesticate vultures and they do not eat them.
In fact, in African traditional religion, vultures are regarded as evil and the harbingers of death. When you see a vulture perching on your roof, you are advised to throw a stone at it. Keep throwing stones until it flies away.
Researchers in UCLAs Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, performed a methodical review that showed that vultures have a more complex digestive gut that allows them to tolerate carrion-based meals. Humans stand the risk of getting food poisoning if they eat or handle vultures.
Sacred Pythons: In various African societies, Pythons are either worshipped or revered. In some parts of Nigeria and Kenya, people are forbidden to kill pythons. In Kenya for instance, the people believe that pythons bring rainfall. In parts of Nigeria, pythons are said to protect crops and other forms of livelihood. People who kill pythons in some parts of Nigeria are made to give the reptile an expensive, befitting funeral ceremony.
Science has shown that pythons and other kinds of snakes are effective in reducing the population of rodents and other crop-destroying pests. Pythons play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. Killing them may therefore not be a good idea.
The solution is to find safe ways to coexist with them. It’s actually doable. After all, our ancestors did it for centuries.
Pregnancy disclosure: As pregnancy superstitions go, this is the most common one. African women are generally encouraged to be secretive about their pregnancies. According to the myth, the spirits can hear and jinx the pregnancy.
However, there is a scientific explanation to this. Discussing your pregnancy often brings up a lot of unanswerable questions. And everyone knows that uncertainty brings a lot of anxiety and worry.
Anxiety is bad for you and your baby. Furthermore, a lot of miscarriages happen in the first trimester, so many women choose to keep things quiet until the danger has passed.
According to one research study, psychological stress in expectant mothers increases the risk of early miscarriage. If you’re pregnant, consider adhering to this one.
Superstitions aren’t simply a sign of ignorance or a lack of imagination. Sometimes, they are backed by science. So before you shun that African superstition, look at it critically. Perhaps, science has proven that it is worth believing.