Spitting, Prayers and the Spread of Diseases

Spitting is believed by some people to be a way parents, elders and diviners pray and bless children, relations and followers. So, to some people, spitting is a sacred practice and spittle is revered as a purveyor and conveyor of divine benediction. In some cultures, anyone being prayed for by an elder or a diviner looks forward to being spit upon as a mark of benediction. I don’t know how human beings came about this dirty, unhygenic and medically unhealthy prayer habit, but I guess it must have been one of those faith based exploitative devices invented by diviners centuries ago. I am really shocked to know that this primitive and useless ritual persists among Africans even in this 21st century.

In his essay “Anger as a Metaphor of Witchcraft”, published in a book, Imagining Evil: Witchcraft Beliefs and Accusations in Contemporary Africa (2007), Umar Habila Dadem Danfulani stated that among Mupun people in Plateau state, “parental blessing, which is absolutely vital for personal wellbeing, as the rite of bwet/ zet n-ka laa-‘spitting on the child’ or ‘anointing the child with spittle’.” According to him, an elder may tell his son, “come let us get reconciled, so that I may spit on you before I die”. (Spit on me before he dies? Why doesn’t he die with his spittle?)

Umar noted that if a woman is childless, she may go to a diviner or an elder who may utter the following as he throws out spittle. “I have nothing against you. If I was the cause of your childlessness, go now and let us hear the cry of a child in your house by this time next year. You will be a mother of children.” It is believed that this medically hazardous and evidently nonsensical prayer ritual by a diviner can make a barren woman give birth to children.

This harmful practice also obtains in Senegal and Gambia. Marabus spit on their followers who come to them for prayers and blessing. They pour saliva on them in exchange for gifts. In these countries, followers of marabus visit them occasionally for special prayers and blessing. They bring marabus all sorts of gift items. After praying for them, these self-proclaimed earthly lieutenants of Allah spit into their outstretched palms as an act of blessing. And these poor follows rub their faces and bodies with the spittle as a mark of claiming or accepting the supposed blessing or favour from God.

Because this ritual takes place mainly during private consultations, it is difficult to know how prevalent it is. It is difficult to ascertain the number of people that wash their faces daily with the spittle of marabus and pastors in their despearte quest for divine favour, but the fact that it takes place at all is disgusting.

And I am calling upon all our so called priests, pastors, marabus or imams, prophets and prophetesses who indulge in this despicating ritual to stop it now. They should stop endangering the health of the society. Ordinarily it is unhealthy – in fact it is an insult – to spit on somebody. And so spitting on people should not be tolerated in the name of prayer or blessing. I call upon all enlightened and civilized minds to join hands and eradicate this unhealthy and primitive practice.

Those who go for prayers should not allow the pastors, marabus or the so called elders to spit on them, because they could, by so doing, contract infectious diseases like tuberculosis. They should resist them, stop them or draw their attention to the health implications of spitting on people.

Again there is no evidence at all that spitting on someone can confer blessing on him or her. There is no evidence that praying for somebody by pouring saliva, holy water or olive oil can alter the person’s fortune. It is all superstition. Unfortunately most Africans believe strongly in this mythical and irrational idea and as a result indulge themselves in risky and hazardous behavior.

Instead, there is overwhleming evidence that spittle contains disease-carrying micro-organisms that can endanger your health and that of the society. There is evidence that people can spread diseases by spitting or throwing saliva at others. Parents, elders, marabus, diviners and witch doctors should stop spitting on people in the name of praying for them. They should conduct their prayers in ways that do not endanger the health of people and of the society at large.

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