Zimbabwe: Superstition Entraps Zimbabwean Minds

editorial

Very few people in Zimbabwe have come across the term penis captivus, but almost everyone has come across the word runyoka. The two expressions describe the same condition namely, "a rare occurrence in heterosexual intercourse when the muscles in the vagina clamp down on the penis much more firmly than usual, making it impossible for the penis to withdraw from the vagina." (Wikipedia)

The condition was reported in the British Medical Journal in 1979 by Dr FKräupl Taylor. He concluded that the condition existed but "almost all the cases mentioned in medical publications and in textbooks are based on hearsay and rumour". His conclusion of the existence of the condition was however based on two papers published by two 19th century German gynaecologists who had personally dealt with cases of the condition.

Kräupl Taylor concluded the cases by two gynaecologists left in him "no doubt about the reality of this unusual symptom" but continued to say the condition however, "is so rare that it is often regarded nowadays as no more than a prurient myth".

One of the gynaecologists described how his patient who had always had intercourse normally with his partner narrated the experience:

"He reported that just at the moment when he thought intercourse, which had been quite normal till then, had come to an end, he suddenly felt that he, or rather his glans [organ], was held back deep in the vagina, tightly gripped and imprisoned, while his whole penis was in the vagina. All attempts at withdrawal failed. When he forced the attempts, he caused severe pain to himself and his wife. Bathed in perspiration through agitation, alarm and his failure to free himself, he was finally forced to resign himself to waiting in patience. He could not say how many minutes this lasted, his imprisonment seemed endless. Then -- the hindrance vanished on its own; he was free."

Perhaps it is the rarity of the condition that has spurned all the myths around penis captivus in Zimbabwe linking it to black magic. What is very interesting is Dr Kräupl Taylor's observation that most reports are based on hearsay and rumour. We have head a handful cases reported in Harare but no one has ever confirmed that he or she personally witnessed the occurrence. News about it is almost always second hand as in, "My neighbour told me he had been told by a friend who had personally seen it."

Zimbabweans believe that a husband can lock his wife using black magic in such a way that if she has sexual intercourse with another man they won't be able to separate. Street lingo in Zimbabwe calls this "durawalling". Durawall was originally a trade name for a locally-made precast concrete wall but now has become a generic name for all perimeter walls. Almost everyone in Zimbabwe believes in "durawalling" which scares the daylights out of all men inclined towards adultery, yet it may in fact be "no more than a prurient myth".

Zimbabweans are such a superstitious lot that any rare occurrence is quickly explained as black magic. That black magic exists cannot be dismissed entirely; it is practised right across the globe whether it's in western capitals, in the jungles of the Barbados (voodoo) or in sangoma dens in South Africa, but it has not had the same petrifying effect on the whole national psyche as it has in Zimbabwe.

In a world of nanotechnology; in which science has gone so far to explain all sorts of phenomena, in an information age in which people communicate in real time like magic across impossible distances, Zimbabweans think that snakes can rob banks. Any successful businessman is looked at with suspicion as someone who owns some supernatural object he uses to steal money from banks. Not only that, but some people go about masquerading as prophets who can make automated teller machines spew wads of notes of the greenback at the command of a prayer! Recently we have had rumours about buses and vans that talk and grinding mills that ask their operators to give them a rest. This means the omnibus that brought you to church today may not have been running on an engine but on the back of some superhuman life called a tokoloshe.

Last week the country was bound in a spell by a bomb that went off in Chitungwiza. The story was too juicy to attribute it to a simple bomb: the scene of the incident was the residence of a n'anga/sangoma/witchdoctor, the

dramatis personae were the n'anga himself and a businessman in the transport sector, the climax was the demise of both and a few others who constituted collateral damage. The conclusion was that the businessman was consulting the n'anga so he could either, through black magic, enhance his business or was trying to dispose of a troublesome charm or was trying to destroy a rival. The explosion was the result of either the charm refusing to be destroyed, or the rival was too powerful magic-wise to be destroyed, etc.

The complication of the whole episode was a supine authority (the police) that would not release a preliminary report of findings; and a complicity Press that fed the speculation, rumour and hearsay that reigned supreme for a whole week.

Even when the 24-year-old man at the centre of the whole episode turned out to be a simple crook who masqueraded as a prophet at night and sorcerer during the day conning people of their hard-earned money, people remained enthralled by the power of the explosion which they concluded was unnatural.

But why is the Zimbabwean mind so superstitious? A simple explanation would be the all-pervasive poverty engulfing the nation. Why is this explanation valid? Most, if not all the stories fuelling the belief in supernatural phenomena are to do with hunting for money. People follow churches in pursuit of riches; they also consult n'angas in pursuit of the same. This proves true the adage, "Money is the root of all evil."

What has happened to good old-fashioned hard work? Money can only be acquired through an individual's enterprise and hard work. There cannot be shortcuts; any attempts to acquire wealth through magic or criminality usually have a bad ending as happened in the Chitungwiza case where it is now known with certainty the victims were handling a bomb, trying to extract something from it.

But at what point in time is Zimbabwe going to make the transition from the belief in witchcraft to science, which switch most of the world has already made?

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