a superstitious frame of mind…

I guess it’s not obvious, but Handsome and I are most decidedly NOT of a superstitious frame of mind. There is a twinge of the “everything happens for a reason” and a dash of the belief in fate bringing us together, but in the most part, we believe people make their own luck and the furthest we would probably go is to be sure that we try to treat people kindly, in the hope that karma will bring kindness back to us.

So then, it is with eerie wonder that I contemplate the African warrior mask that now adorns the outside of our house to ward off “evil spirits”… This is a silly tale and I will come back to it, but I will start with the other-worldly charm that sits proudly beside it, the upturned horseshoe.

the mask and the horseshoe...
the mask and the horseshoe…

When we moved into this gorgeous home, the sellers did not leave us anything behind, except those few items mentioned in the purchase contract, namely a house… curtain and light fixtures… a washer and dryer… you get the picture… but they also kindly left… a toilet roll in each bathroom and an upturned horseshoe nailed to the beam above the basement entrance.

When I saw this symbol of luck and good fortune, I smiled happily, considering the luck and good fortune it would bring us, whilst concurrently laughing at myself for such superstitious nonsense. But I equally considered whether we would ever take it down and knew immediately that we would not, for fear of the bad luck such an action could wreak upon us.

If you really, really think about it, that’s ridiculous. Say the online estimates are right and there are 58 million horses in the world. I can’t even imagine how many of them are broken enough to wear horseshoes, but for the sake of it, let’s say a ridiculously low one million. Four feet per horse, four million horseshoes being worn. And that’s to say nothing of the horseshoes that aren’t being worn. Millions and millions! So, practical me wants to know the answer to this question… If you turn every one of them up into a cup to catch the luck, is every horseshoe in the world lucky? And can every person that takes this action rely on the good luck it brings? Well jeez, let’s all turn our horseshoes upside down and then go and bet on the lottery, hey?

So why can’t I take this thing off the wall and throw it out? Who bled such superstition into me that the gut response to it overrides my brain? We are a complex complex species, us humans…

So on to the ugliest African mask you ever saw. I think I was a little bit tipsy when I bought it. We used to go to the artisan market in Gabon after an amazing French lunch at a restaurant nearby, which naturally included plenty of wine. It seems silly, but in Gabon, things in the artisan market aren’t actually made in country. It will be the other African countries, famous for their exports, like Kenya or Nigeria.

So typically, one is a touch loathe to purchase “local” goods, knowing they’re likely from the other side of the continent… But, I guess I was convinced one day that the mask I bought was truly a local product and I suppose I thought it was the best of the bunch… And I suppose I fell victim to the idea that you really can’t walk away from Gabon without some souvenir to point at and say… I lived there once…

So when I left Gabon, I had very little room in my baggage for extras or frivolities, but somehow, the mask made it in (I had never found the correct place to hang it in my apartment there and it gathered dust in to cupboard for a couple of years). Fast forward a year into living in the States and moving into our very own home and unpacking the dreaded boxes and we came to the box this mask was in and we kind of laughed about it because we couldn’t imagine why we hadn’t already thrown it out. The ensuing conversation revealed that neither of us wanted to throw away this mask, for fear that it would bring us some bad ju ju (sp?). And neither of us is even able to describe what ju ju is…

But a little example of previous encounters with ju ju goes a little like this… When I first moved to Gabon in Africa, we were working in a residential villa, which they converted into an office, so each of the bedrooms and sitting rooms would have three or four desks in it. The office I was in had full French window doors out to the garden area and I would often go out there to smoke a cigarette (yes, I used to smoke a lot). One day I noticed what looked like a child’s toy or a bit of old schmutter taped together stuck in the tree.

It was probably the size of a reel of sewing thread, with thicker colored tape or ribbon wrapped around it and a couple of “things” hanging off it. I had seen it before of course, many times over several weeks, but this particular day, I discussed it with a colleague. Previously I had assumed that it was some trash that had blown along and got stuck in the tree, but this colleague and I were discussing superstition in Gabon and particularly the point that you had to be careful, as some of the local folks didn’t like their photo being taken (something to do with having your soul captured and taken away).

At this time, the colleague pointed to the thing in the tree and noted that this was voodoo magic, put in the tree to give us either good ju ju or bad ju ju, depending on the voodoo-er’s feeling towards us. I remember thinking at the time, that if you were going to give ju ju to someone you barely know (we hadn’t been there long), it was hardly likely to be good ju ju, and was much more likely to be of the malevolent kind…

Oh, how we laughed at this. Haha, how silly. Haha, what nonsense! Haha, as if that thing could bring any kind of bad luck or effect upon us. And we laughed with the energy and loudness that bravado brings when Western people cover up fear of the unknown. And I looked across at my colleague and said “then why don’t you just cut it down and throw it away”. He looked at me beadily for a moment, then barked “no way… then I’ll really have bad ju ju on me”, which made me giggle and mockingly comment that he surely believed in its power then. He got annoyed at this and told me to cut it down myself, at which I said okay, started towards the thing, then froze… I couldn’t even step towards it. There was some deep down part inside of me that was afraid of this thing, even though every other bit of me knew it was silly and nonsense and the tiny deep down bit won… From then on I gave it a wide berth and ignored it and a couple of months later, I noticed it had disappeared, presumably attached to some other branch to bring the next round of ju ju havoc.

Fast forward three years… Handsome and I continued to discuss the mask, confessed neither of us liked it and determined not to have it in the house. So here’s the conundrum… don’t want it in the house… don’t want to throw it away… Now what?

Well the answer was pretty obvious when it came to it. We attached it to the wall outside the house, but in a spot where we can’t see it (under the house), so that it can’t give either of us the creeps by seeing it, but it can do its duty of warding off bad spirits from our house (in the extremely small eventuality that it actually achieves its mission in life).

And ironically, as you can see from the photo above, the mask and the upturned horseshoe now sit side by side on the walls of our house, bringing us luck and good ju ju in equal measures. It’s amazing my pockets aren’t stuffed with lottery tickets, with all the good fortune that must be on its way to me right now… I had better go and buy some… just in case… and maybe a rabbit’s foot… or maybe I will look for a four leaf clover…

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