It is difficult from the West to truly understand this environment. It is not a superstition; it is a part of life. In Cameroon witchcraft and magic is powerful and strong in the minds of the people.
There are the Masqueraders and Juju’s. These individuals would be initiated by traditional rites. Through these rites they acquired supernatural powers. I was told about Juju’s who could travel from Ndop to Bamenda (a distance of 45km) in minutes. I was told of Juju’s who if seen with the naked eye would result in death. Of Juju’s who could not be photographed (the picture would turn out to be white). Of Juju’s whose shadow if crossed would give the person leprosy.
I stood photographing one of the more powerful Juju’s. The people at my elbow disapproved. “You cannot take photographs of him. The photograph will not come out”
“That’s rubbish. This is a digital camera and look the photograph has come out.”
But they were dogmatic - “it will get destroyed when you try to transfer it onto your computer.”
But the Juju’s owner soon confronted me and drew a line in the dust with his stuck. So I threw some coins into the dust and thus got his approval for the photograph. Hence the photograph is safely at home and available for future interest.
Despite their ancestral powers it seems that the Juju’s are not impervious to commercialization. I am convinced that they pause and pose when they see my camera. Certainly I have seen photographs of Juju’s seated at the feet of tourists – asking for money.
But still very few tourists make it to the celebrations and festivals where the Juju’s dance. There was a large celebration at the nearby village and I made three trips to the village before I finally saw the celebrations – as even the locals could not accurately give me the time and date. Hence there are very few tourists at these events – just the volounteers.
But even then I have had to take refuge in the local palm wine bar because it seems that the masquerades are attracted to different coloured skins and I would soon found myself surrounded by masquerades insisting on donations. And there reputed powers mean that it is not acceptable to cross them.
Fortunately it is against their tradition to ask for or take money from women. But my companions would get the treatment reserved for me and this did not provide me with much respite.
It is not acceptable to put the money directly in the hands of those asked. The money must be thrown at their feet. I once made the mistake of putting the money in the palms of the man and he gasped in shock.
The money we would give would be based on how powerful the masquerader of juju was. The most powerful would get 200 frs (25p) with the least powerful getting 25frs.