Last Liberia trip, my survey staff tried to convince me that Liberian hunters have the power to transform themselves into animals. I bet them otherwise, and they pledged to prove it the next time I came to Liberia.
Staff excitement rose after a reader pointed out there’s a million dollar prize for proof of the supernatural.
Well here we are.
A more or less trustworthy and credible staff member says he has located someone, and promises I can meet this amazing man Saturday, where he will turn into an animal.
What animal? “Dog, hog, chimp, anything” was the text reply. And yes, he says, he has seen it himself.
Clearly I anticipate a scam, though nothing dangerous. After all, it’s not like I have the million dollars.
Reader suggestions on what the scientific test should be?
My thought: he can do the transformation however he wants, wherever he wants. But at the last minute, I get to choose the animal.
I have my flipcam and a couple of friends coming along. And, just in case, I will be sure not to request “leopard”.
I am disappointed in ‘Disappointed’s’ lack of sensitivity towards Mr. Blattman’s supposed lack of sensitivity.
I won’t go quite as far as Disappointed, but this topic does deserve decent attention. ‘Witch animals’ are a very big deal in that corner of West Africa, and have been a major socio-cultural driver of beliefs and actions for at least a couple of hundred years, linked very strongly to memories of the slave trade:
They also played a big part in the recent civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone:
You may or may not be aware of all this; but that being said, they can also be very funny to outsiders. “Witch Dog Attacks 3 in Goderich” is perhaps my favourite headline from my two years in Freetown.
I’m a fan, but this whole post is demeaning, sensationalist, and it casts you on a very bad light. Whether this individual transforms himself into an animal in a way that matches your Hollywood-informed imagination is not as important as the fact that many people around him operate as if this was possible and true. Also, I’m hard pressed to imagine how such a belief could be detrimental to these people. Chalk it up to ‘santa claus’ category and move on to more important and less condescending matters.
Some humility and understanding would do you (and others commenting on this blog) a lot of good, and perhaps help you understand Liberians’s plight and how to help. As a starter, I suggest the excellent book titled “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down”, a primer on cultural sensitivity.
Finally, thanks for pairing this post with the one on witch doctors being effective. And remember that “placebo effect” is to doctors what “error term” is to economists. A measurement of what we don’t know, but attach a scientific-sounding name to it anyway.
If it turns out to be true, and you put a video up, I’ll happily chip in 20 bucks or so towards your million! I’m not sure I’d want a man with supernatural powers trying to call in a debt…
If I were you, I would put yourself in their shoes and ask: how I would go about faking such a transformation, and how do I expect to gain from it? I’m a bit cynical, but do be careful if you don’t know these people.
Something small, maybe a lizard or gecko.
If I was going to turn myself into an animal, I imagine it would have to be one I was familiar with, rather than something I’d never seen. You know, in order to properly visualize my transformation etc. So I’d go local. My vote is dog. Can’t wait to hear your report!
I was thinking moose, yeah. Or seal.
Let me suggest… an animal not found in Liberia. Or difficult to find. Panda? Icebear? Moose?
Or maybe an easy one. Mosquito?