GEO Voyage magazine has published my story about the secret society of Nyau in Mozambique. Here is a pdf version of the publication.
Text about how I became one of Nyau (in French). Unfortunately there is no English version yet… And yes, it is me on the picture :)))
I’m back from Vanuatu, where I was working on a story about John Frum cargo cult. If you watched some documentaries about Melanesia, where natives worship wooden planes, and waiting for cargo to arrive from the sky – you know what it is. Unfortunately, time has passed and cargo cults are dying. There are still few in Papua New Guinea and couple on Vanuatuan island of Tanna.
I spend more than a week in a remote village in Tanna, living far from mobile phones, internet and electricity, eating local food and drinking rain water and kava. Although I couldn’t take pictures of wooden planes (they simply don’t exist anymore) I’ve photographed many other interesting things. And can say, that Cargo Cults are still alive. But you better rush to see it, I don’t believe that they will exist, 10 years from now.
During my work on the project “The Spirits of Mozambique”, I photographed more than 40 traditional healers, many of them became my friends, including witchdoctor Arnaldo Rodis from Madamba village.
I met Arnaldo for the first time when I was working in Madamba on a story about rat-catchers. While I was waiting on the road for the mice-vendors start to sell their ‘tasty’ sticks, I asked one of the boys if he knew a local witchdoctor. He showed me Arnaldo’s house.
I believe that Arnaldo was the most successful and the richest traditional healer in Tete Province. I visited his house several times and his yard was always full of clients. People were sitting on the ground and waiting in the queue.
When I first saw Arnaldo he looked like an Apache Indian, especially when he wore his headdress made of feathers. During the possession of spirit, the witchdoctor spoke with a high, womanalike voice. His spirit Manuel always used to drink “refresco” – Coke or Fanta, and because of all this Arnaldo appearance I could not take him too seriously. He was very friendly to me and told me that he could see that one day pictures of him (taken by me) would reach the United States.
Arnaldo’s “hospital-house” was surrounded by other buildings – houses of his wives. When I first met him in October of 2010 he had five wives. He took a sixth wife the year after. IT was difficult for him to give me precise answer to my question of how many children he had. “Eight or nine”, he said, “I’m not sure about it”. When I interviewed his women, they said that they are very happy to live all together. “He takes care of us, he brings food to our table”, said the youngest wife, 16-year-old Gina.
Arnaldo rarely conducted healing ceremonies by himself. He had a helper Fernando, who was some kind of his trainee and did all the “dirty job”. My friend witchdoctor just gave spiritual advises and received payments. As a member of AMETRAMO (“Associação dos Médicos Tradicionais de Moçambique” – Association of Traditional Medics of Mozambique), he had a price-list where all kind of witchdoctor’s activities were specified and priced. Many of them I found to be very interesting:
Call of a spirit (Malombo) – 200 metical (1 USD is about 26 metical)
Treatment of taking “a thing” from the body (Kutombola) – 200 metical
Treatment for crazy people (Missala) – 2000 metical
Commercial activity defense (Massitolo) – 2800 metical.
Arnaldo had his own way of understanding and curing diseases. “There are two ways to cure a tooth pain” – he explained ones to me. “If it’s a general pain I give my patients a special herbal tea and they should drink it twice a day. But if there is a little “bixo” (“a bug” in English) inside, I give a special powder to put on the tooth”. Arnaldo believed that we have little nasty bugs in our teeth instead of dental nerves.
Another “treatment” he used to give to Mozambican families called “lucaho” (price 600 metical). If a husband suspected his wife to be cheating on him, he asked a witchdoctor to prepare “lucaho” – something like porridge, made from voluntary plants, medicinal roots, parts of insects and some other ingredients. The husband was then suppose to add it to the food of adulteress. By words of Arnaldo, when the women would have sex with another man, they would stick together by their genitals and only witchdoctor would be able to separate them.
Although I haven’t seen “lucaho” effect myself, many Mozambicans, including Tete’s hospital nurses confirmed Arnaldo words. However I still find it very difficult to believe.
As for the “crazy people” treatment, there were always mentally ill patients and their relatives hanging out near Arnaldo’s place. In December of 2010 I meet there one of such patients, 22-year-old Gafumu Liksongola. He was laying on the ground and one of his legs was tied to a wooden pole. I didn’t feel good about taking his picture and left Arnaldo’s place. In February 2011 I came there again and I saw the same young man. Two months have passed, but he was still on the same place tied down to a pole. Arnaldo explained that “crazy people” are very complicated and it takes up to 6 month to cure them from mental diseases. I talked a bit with Gafumu, but he didn’t seemed to be able to have a normal conversation. He said to me “Eu estou bem, mas a minha vida ainda não esta online” (I’m good, but my life is not online yet).
People around introduced me to Gafumu’s father, who told me that he lives together with his son, they both sleep on the ground and eat food that villagers give to them. “I love my son very much and won’t leave this place until he gets better, even if it takes a whole year”, – said Gafumu’s parent, who was only 16 years older than his offspring.
One week before leaving Mozambique, I went again to Madamba village to say goodbye to Arnaldo. I found his yard empty and the “hospital house” closed.
“Where is Arnaldo?”, I asked his six wives, who were sifting maize flour in the house yard.
“He passed away”, imperturbably informed me Lidia, the eldest Arnaldo’s wife.
I was shocked. “How did it happen?”
“Malaria. He didn’t start his treatment on time, and when he visited the doctor it was too late. A week ago someone brought him home from the hospital, Arnaldo took pills and fell asleep. Next morning we found him dead”.
“What are you going to do without him?”
“We will find a way to survive… Probably we will all marry his helper Fernando… He mentioned that it would be possible if he can live in Arnaldo’s house and do his job”.
When I asked to show me Arnaldo’s grave, women didn’t want to go to the cemetery. They said that Fernando wouldn’t like such thing and that I should ask for his permission to photograph there.
I didn’t wait for Fernando (who wasn’t home), just said goodbye to the women and went back to Tete. A few days later, in the local office AMETRAMO I found that Fernando came to town the day after Arnaldo’s death and request to be appointed for the empty position in Madamba. His petition was accepted and he was allowed to became a certified witchdoctor.