I first learned about my host family’s belief in the super natural when I asked my host father about the belts made of thick cord and string the family, and many other Senegalese, wear called gris-gris. I was told that the pouches attached to the belts contain plants and verses of the Quran to help with life goals such as finding a job as well as protect from vampires and sorcerers. They received the gris-gris from a marabout who also helped them a few years ago when a series of misfortunes fell on the family. The marabout took a mirror and walked around the house pointing out places in the floor and walls where people had snuck in during the night and buried evil spells causing the family’s troubles. The family proceeded to demolish and rebuild each section of the house where the marabou had pointed out the spells.
A few nights ago the topic came up again when one of my host sisters entered the living room covered in a sticky liquid. My host mother explained that it was a powder from a tree to protect her from vampires because she was sick and vampires prey on sick people. This led her to tell me even more about vampires such as how a person can become a vampire and how only people with special abilities can tell vampires from real people. The conviction and gravity with which she explained her belief was quite intense, especially considering it was coming from a woman who is rarely serious.
Throughout the past few months it has been intriguing to see how large of a role these beliefs play in my host family’s daily life and how easily they mix with the family’s Islamic religion. Sometimes I have difficulty knowing which practices come from African spirituality and which from Islam for example using words from the Quran for healing.
Before learning about these practices and beliefs when someone said sorcerer, as most likely many other young Americans, Harry Potter came to mind. Similarly Twilight was my first thought if Vampires were mentioned. I previously viewed beliefs in magic such as these like a belief in Santa Clause, fun and exciting but also childish. Living with my current host family however has made me come to see them as something that can be completely different and have a very serious tone.