Patrick Iroegbu

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Large misconceptions surround the notion of juju in society and its form of cultural resource in Nigeria. How can juju medicine and culture be explained and applied to development? This article explores the dimensions in the cultural context of transformation. I am therefore not submitting this updated chapter of a book culled from the Introductioaltn to Igbo Medicine and Culture in Nigeria (2010) for a palliative fun. I am doing so for insight to be gained through ethnographic informative research. Moreover, it is to help to offer awareness and open debates of what this form of cultural resource is all about and why. Despite many incursions and stereotypes around the juju phenomenon, there is for sure a relative poor grasping of the cultural and ethical philosophy involved. However, the belief and practice of juju life has continued to form not only part of the active culture of African ways of therapeutics, but also a central part of African political cultural and social life.

As simple as I can introduce it, let me say that, when the term “juju” is associated with African medical healing and political systems it is quickly feared to be heard in any form of discussion. Yet by the application of “juju” to economic life, it even becomes more confusing to be placed. But why should it be so? In other words, if, as it is often viewed, juju, otumokpo, ija, oluala (literally meaning uprooting or knock-down magical enchantment) is a name, it is such that is assumed no one should mention it with ease or carry his head and shoulders high about it? That means, it is a stigma in some quarters that we know.

At a time when constructionist view of African culture for pejoration and denigration was common place, we had seemed strangely reticent to allow the rubbishing of our cultural essentialisms. The poser here is - what is this juju, otumokpo, ija, oluola all about that no one should mention it with ease? By holding that notion, it implies that there is some supernatural power people address to fortify themselves of which no other should know about. It also bothers on the fact that neither talk around it be openly shared nor references to it consumed in public discourse. Such traditional medicines loaded with secrets for action; need to be explained as core part of political and economic powers to overwhelm others. In some measure and sensibility, juju power is a diplomatic power gained through medicinal and ritual art exploration so to say. As such, it is an empowering medicine in political civilization that modernity needs to grapple with as one of the ritual mechanisms of coping with life and survival issues.

Besides, common folklore has it in use such as when populist singers like the late Fela Kuti talks about Afro-Juju Music and Arts. Sir Shina Peters’ My Life as Obey’s and Chief Richardson of America’s Juju music beats are all big names in the promotion of Juju music art. Juju in this sense depicts common beliefs in traditional folklores and musical thrills and values of a group. But when it is applied to medicine and magic the meaning becomes something else. One needs to mention that the word juju in itself is not Igbo. It is a borrowed term from neighbouring ethnic Yoruba group and alike in West African area, including theCaribbean. The term “voodoo” in a folkloric dimension is another applicable coinage being used in many other areas.

As construction and deconstruction have served as the most recent moving intellectual captivations, they challenge the idea of a single meaning of reality and a single truth. As such, why do Nigerians and more particularly politicians use ija, juju? Of what effect and significance is juju tactics in achieving some ends? What are the consequences of failure? What voice has religion placed on the culture of juju since the colonial and missionization era? Why is juju not disappearing? Is it a science of what? These are some mind boiling questions with which many of us have been confronted when the issue of African medicine is raised. Many of us have felt some discomfort to explain to our western friends what juju really means. In this essay, I will take on the issue and attempt to reflect the meaning of juju in the forces of life, creating and sustaining relationship with others. Doing so is aimed to help in understanding the science of this so-called “dark art” or “black magic” that belongs to the realm of inexplicable science. I posit whether juju medicine is, indeed, inexplicable as it has been alleged or that we have failed on our part to study and write the juju medical science tradition down like other sciences?

I became somewhat passionate about this question since once overhearing a tête-a-tête talk on the meaning of juju between a Nigerian and a White gentleman in a shopping mall-bookshop recently. What did I hear? As soon as the word “juju” turned over into my ear, I became particularly curious and eventually drew nearer to listen to what this excited Nigerian on the subject matter of juju offered as a response. The Nigerian was asked to explain what juju means and why do Nigerians believe in and practice juju medicine? As I have said, I was nearby gazing at books on the shelf but was at the same time really listening to the ongoing discussion on the juju question. Reply offered was — “it is all this rubbish traditional medicine based on oracles and spirits.” Fine reply, he must have considered that response. I mean I was typically not disappointed although his reply was short of much and uncovered much. The catch wording, otherwise, the telling phrase there is this — “it is all this rubbish... medical bla bla bla.” So, I have been wondering what the sense in this rubbishness entails. Since this crucial experience of a turning point in nature to me, I have considered it necessary to re-invent and re-enact that reply and expand what the explanation of juju question and answer he gave amounted to. The very Nigerian I am referring to will not be alone in replying to questions related to African medicine and other issues our most western friends commonly ask about. There is massive ignorance and reduced pride in African traditional beliefs and practices, particularly among the intensively disoriented Nigerians in the Diaspora. It is in that urge to know and deepen our understanding of Nigerian complex issues such as juju phenomenon that I am partly focusing on the topic here. In fact, I did not plan to write this piece but for a few moments before speaking to my publisher about my manuscript, it became obviously irresistible and prompting to address the critical knowledge development involved. As an attempt in the first place, it does not fully represent what a more detailed fieldwork should account for it across Nigerian cultures and politics of healing and social bodying and ritual embodiments.

To set this connection of meaning, I draw inspiration from experiences and readings, for instance, Benedict Anderson’s (1972)1 exploration of Javanese ideologies of spiritual potency, which he terms power. This form of power goes beyond ordinary worldly power as it is oracularly empowered energy. It is a motivated central force and mystical inner strength that enables an individual to control him- or herself, other people, and the environment without the use of somewhat physical, political, or material force. Juju tactics as I will emphasize is enhanced by self-discipline and prescribed rules of social order too. The more self-control one has the more tactical to master superhuman forces and the wills of human beings. In other words, juju diplomacy and tactics though complex are engaged with in order to hold fast some uncertain situations of primary and secondary extrasensory and material demands of life in society.

What Some Others Are Commenting

According to “Love To Know Free Online Encyclopedia”, ‘juju’ is a West African word held by some authorities to be a corruption of Mandingo “gru-gru”, a charm. It is more generally believed to have been adapted by the Mandingos directly from “FT.JOUJOU”, a toy or plaything. The word, ‘juju’ as used by Europeans on the Guinea Coast, was originally applied to the objects which it was supposed the Negroes worshipped, and was transferred from the objects themselves to the spirits or gods who dwelt in them, and finally to the whole religious beliefs of the West Africans. It is currently used in each of these senses, and more loosely to indicate all the manners and customs of the Negroes of the Guinea Coast, particularly the power of interdiction exercised in the name of spirits. Fetishism (objects of sacred power) and taboo are set around the moral chores of using juju in its own applicable religious context.

In August 2003, our columnist Tokunbo Ogunbiyi discussed the topic of “Juju” in Nigerian politics. This productive writer did not only make known the importance and consequences of using juju in playing politics but also expressed that the juju question be made an issue in the constitutional discourse. As Tokunbo Ogunbiyi argued, the Anambra Saga of Dr. Chris Ngige has highlighted the significance of juju, otumokpo, or for English speakers — what the colonist and missionaries labelled as “non-white magic” otherwise “black magic” –as an aspect of Nigerian politics, which has not been properly considered. In the rituals and initiations for allegiance toward becoming the Governor of Anambra Sate, Dr. Chris Ngige was required by his political godfather — Chief Chris Uba to swear at a shrine an oath of allegiance. That he did as we have been told in related agonies of the governor in the political crisis of the state. Mr. Tokunbo Ogunbiyi has helped narrate and reinforce cases of politicians and contexts in Nigeria where juju has been a source of instrument of power, including related cases of masquerading as are quite common in Nigeria and other African societies. I recall strongly the juju or ogwu or magical and ritual clashes, which Chief Jim Nwobodo had with Chief C.C. Onoh on who should occupy the State House at Enugu during the NPP and NPN election struggle in the 1980s. So, cases of political juju and magical fame in life have been common.

Informants pointed out that associates of one Imo State popular politician Senator Arthur N. was noted to bring in a powerful oracle or juju with a healer in his approach for swearing to keep and to enforce the loyalty of his political supporters and followers during campaigns in the local polity. The same was ferociously mentioned of the late House Rep. Member, Hon. Maurice Ibekwe of Okwele during his campaign tour and negotiations with the local leaders and populist individuals in Mbano area. The modern religious temples and Pentecostalist entrepreneurs were figured out by informants as being participants and patronizers to juju in administering healing, economic, social and religious needs of their adherents.

I need not detain readers here with such details as Tokunbo Ogunbiyi has already provided what I will call a general introduction to the phenomenon of juju medicine in Nigerian political culture. For his details please see — Tokunbo Ogunbiyi in (Thursday, August 7, 2003).2 By and large, every village or city across Igboland and Nigeria, depict cases of magical feats by its great healers, powerful medicine men and women in the horizon. These endogenous ritual artists and experts characterize their abilities with the hope to change fortunes, misfortunes of different dimensions. In their everyday cause and effect of reality, juju devices are employed to demonstrate power and influence, including the capacity to intermingle with the human and extrahuman domain of forces of this world and that world in response to effects and needs in a desired context.

Understanding the Juju Question

What is juju? What does this term mean in both literal and professional sense? Is it the same thing as magic? How can a Nigerian explain juju to an outsider? While it is possible to relate the idea of scanning sticks, cards, and various electronic devices to expose the inside contents of bags and so on, to tap secret information and sometimes power, such devices can be said to be oracular as they have features of a wand or so to say juju. Such devices perceive, detect and embolden a sense of search, questioning and caution. It empowers someone at work to take note of items and follow security or whatever meaning is to be put in force for order and safety. Likewise, a juju object is hoped to offer maximum sensitivity to issues affecting its users. In any case, wands or juju objects are of various types. There are sticks, metals or irons, bangles, rings, pebbles, clay and animal bones and so on. A wand is any piece of item with magical or juju effects. It is anything in solid or liquid form considered useable for the purpose of empowering desired effects. Presently, ancient wands used by the notables are now souvenirs and important decorating items in museums and private houses of collectors. A wand cannot be a wand unless it is encoded with a significant tested effect to excel in matters of one’s interest. As the plate or image (see source- This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )3 here shows,Britain alike many other countries of the world has rich history of magic and variety of magical wands. Inscription on the source image is as follows:


Purveyors of Fine Enchantments since 1485


Britain’s Master Wand-Makers

Serving the Magical Community & Crowned Heads of Europe for over 5 Centuries

Key[1] replaced Human Headed Plate showing Magic Wand Shop inBritain

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The question now is to depict whether a magic wand is a juju or not? If it is, why is it sounding bizarre to hear it or chuckle and guffaw when it is mentioned as an African identity? Have those developed countries with history of magic and or juju, stayed out of touch with its value? How can one explain and position juju then in the modern sense? Quickly also, what we have not placed in context is the fact that the use of drugs associated with human hormone functioning appear to have replaced the use of known magic chores in sports and politics and other forms of social activity where juju power may have been applied explicitly. To say that culture is not static but dynamic reflects clearly the changing pattern of modern rituals where, for example, instead of applying charms to sports, athletes nowadays engage in drugs to fulfill the same mission ritual would have accomplished in an endogenous ritual imagination and practice of energy empowerment. Interestingly, every outcome of scientific innovation or technology has always been an adapted local knowledge that feeds the amber of progress and resort.

Informants spoke variously about locking up, that is, ikpochi ihe, madu, agbara – meaning tying up intention, wish, fortune, misfortune, effect, disaster, failure, non-progress, illness, – and such can be attained symbolically using ritual or juju keys. (Fieldwork Note photo from a masquerade healer). See image of ritual keys in the main text: Introduction to Igbo Medicine and Culture in Nigeria (2010).

A Bit of Interaction

Let me start by referring to an experience I shared with a Caucasian not too long ago. In 2001, I had the opportunity to visit a German friend who once lived in Ghanafor four years in a course of international development project. We kind of got connected through a discussion related to ethnotherapies. This friend was so much fascinated in the topic, although not without some surprising bitter experience in Ghana. As a lady in her early forties, and as a para-psychologist, who had just finished training in Englandon spiritual medicine, I came wondering what a German like this devoted spiritual-practitioner was gaining by spending her resources on the knowledge of African, Asian and North American Indian medicines. Apart from the fact that I was fairly knowledgeable about Igbo and other African ethnomedicines, I was amazed at how she discussed the significance of growing western therapies based on African traditional medical models. If instead of spirit, something else of a name has to modernize it. Energy medicine she sometimes called it is a maximization of indigenous African ways of using the spirit to heal. This involves becoming more aware of the extraordinary world that lies behind one’s eyes, a sense of symbolic sight. There is need for an internal method of absorbing the credentials of extra-normal information to make the invisible realm of life real to people and their social and political health. There is no marvel why in 1996 the New York Times Best-Seller remarked of Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Caroline Myss (I996)4 as both an important revelation and major call to awakening. This is true as it should be noted that often healers cannot teach, and teachers cannot heal; but some people can do both.

This book frankly discusses energy medicine and insists that each time we make a shift toward symbolic awareness; we positively influence our energy and biological systems. We also contribute positive energy to the collective body of life — the global whole, a spiritual maturation, and as spiritual homeopathy (Myss 1996:109). In other words, seen symbolically our life crises tell us that we need to break free of beliefs — voluntary or imposed processes that no longer serve our personal development (ibid: 111). Moreover, as healers view people as duplicates of divine power and seeing their problems within a spiritual framework accelerates their healing process because it adds a dimension of meaning and purpose to their crisis. So it is essential to consider that our spirits, our energy, and our personal power are all one and the same (Myss 1996:64). All of this shows that we need to understand what gives people and their culture power. And healing from any illness and or assuming any political authority that will affect the lives of others is facilitated by power symbols and one’s physical relationship to those symbols, and also heeding any messages one’s body and intuitions are sending the one about them. Living with and knowing what one’s spirit informs and directs is helpful and mostly juju tactics facilitates this interconnection between the body and spirit. As such, in juju or magic medicine there is something tenable.

But in order to understand and do that which is tenable, my discussant emphasized, it has to be given a name and process that is written down for rationality and approvability for licensing and practice. She further argued that in Africa, juju medicine is so much down played by the state authorities, and consequently treated as if it is unimportant. On the contrary, it is a rich source of medical knowledge and healing and should be vigorously studied and understood. The World Health Organization has since long resolved and advised countries where indigenous medicine is flourishing should integrate it with the State health care biomedical system (WHO 1978).5 As we discussed further, it was highlighted that in the modern world, a science will never be considered a science until it is written and tested. But that of African juju medicine is already tested and of course with its problems and potentialities which continuous research will ameliorate. And the greatest problem juju medicine is facing is that it is largely unwritten; only thrives in orality, which is not sufficient in today’s so-called scientific process. Deeply spiritual and religious, the African juju medicine is yet to have a place in modern state governments and administration of health care resources.

By juju medicine, I refer therefore to the philosophical belief that African traditional medicine is widely based on the use of Shrines, Oracular and Deital sites in mobilizing the field forces of the water, forest and the air/sky. Thus it relates to interacting with extrahuman forces and with such power symbols that are so sacred and only understood and applied by healers and clients in closed palliative ritual contexts for protection, power and other related purposes. In many other societies, juju medicine is also called voodoo and more properly speaking folk medicine. Juju medicine is grossly misconceived to be mainly demonic, evil, and dark in intention. It is either way – positive or negative – in its very intention. Depending onto which side of the coin a seeker for the medicine wants his or her intention directed, a juju therapist will go into work to manipulate — in so-called scientific way, the process. That is why jujufication is rendered positively or negatively accordingly. In modern terms, that will mean good and bad effects of medical formulation and administration.

Beliefs in sorcery — in which material things are used; and witchcraft — in which spiritual force is entailed, are well known in their forms and practices as they have content and contexts across societies. Juju medicine is part of the whole sequence of causing and curing, providing and protecting, as well as promoting fortune and disciplining misfortune and its agents. It is concerned with psychological and auto-agentic support for excelling in fame and fostering social bonds and wealth accumulation. It is all that needs to be particularly encoded for a particular purpose. It is expressed in religion, social, economic and political activities. So, it is a cultural edifice of thought and action geared towards any urging meaning and purpose as much as its seekers and suppliers prize it. Here, I mean that clients and healers in the juju medical businesses have both intrinsic and palliative and invigorating values in them. Sometimes people use the word talisman, double crosser, and flyer to describe or allude to juju things. Talisman if it is, I have to explain it in relationship with what is today called to be medical bracelets against rheumatism or arthritis and so also on related social and political urgings.

Is Life Sealed or Activated in Juju Medicine?

In juju medicine, it is constantly believed that life is sealed and at the end of destruction. This is not true. As healers and clients told me, juju is just one side of the medical view referring to strong and amazing or what can properly be said, mystifying and influential. It is a high point of wonder and a class of achievement to reach that level of mobilizing and manipulating the forest, water and land forces. Juju is a direct involvement encalled into medical strength to achieve results of pronounced implications – positive and negative. For example, with juju medicine, a politician can influence the electorate to win their votes and on this note it is said to be on the gainful end for the politician. Where the same medical concoction or ritual enchantment is used to destabilize a political opponent, make him or her sick, inarticulate, have loss of mind or insane, and incapable of doing what is required to win an election, it is viewed as outwitting and harmful on the one hand. On the other hand, it is concluded as a show of one having more capability than the other to make things happen. Yet a politician knows well as Ogunbiyi (2003) noted that to come public one has to face direct and indirect forces of which includes belief in the practice and use of juju ability. It is right to say that a common sense notion of juju is that it is a theory of thought and action to face human and extrahuman challenges in life. As it is primarily psychological, it is real and comes to terms with issues at which a culture deals with its political and social contexts. By and large, a politician is expected to act strong and neutralize whatever is suspected to stop his or her capabilities and competitiveness. As much as in other forms of competition, such as trading or doing business, wrestling, and war; juju power is resorted to so as to embolden and activate one’s capacity to attain and achieve results as closely and assuredly as possible. In a way, drug use rather than ritual in which juju comes into play would achieve some measure of the sort.

Nonetheless, since the coming of new life with western education, seeking employment opportunities, and promotions, applying the idiom of juju has not been an uncommon observation and experience to Nigerians. Pentecostalism or churchification (Ofoaro’s term)6 of lives, politics and the economy as a whole has added to the diversity of the juju theory, meaning and politics of crossing of traditional healing boundaries.

Let me point out a little further that the issue of Pentecostalism in Nigeriaas it is across Africa, is a continuity of a cross-border politics of planting foreign beliefs and lives into African and Nigerian lives. The flourishing of Pentecostalism and subsequently the churchification of houses and public centres in Nigeriais a real trend of Disaporism aimed to plant intercultural churches as a diversion points to act out economic and political masochism or suffering of a sort. A large number of PentecostalTemplesor so-called altars are usually prepared, jujufied and ritualized to win and sustain adherents. And what will one call this? Religious persons of different levels approach healers for variety of problems and they receive such helps as many times as they are wanted. And what will one also call this? I think it is high time we started coming out real to explain the meaning of juju as a cultural way of addressing divergent needs and stresses of ancient and modern life. It is an approach considered social and cultural provided by the forces of Nigerian ecological and ethnomedical geography. The distribution of oracles and deities should not surprise us that they are such cultural givens and realities we have to house-train, cope and live with. Research should help expose to what further uses these forces have to be put in health care delivery in Nigeria. As recently, the University of Lagos’ Botanical Department announced to run a diploma program by 2004 academic session to train and use traditional healers in studying and understanding medicinal plants and related resources in Nigeria. I have viewed such development as an important thinking and deciding in the context of juju medical exploration and understanding through its practitioners. I did contribute an article lauding the move and suggested some areas of concern the university authorities should address in order to ensure that healers themselves are not misplaced or de-professionalized from their indigenousness and authenticity in the realm of ethnomedical conception, initiations, mobilizations and practices (see Iroegbu,, Nov. 13, 2003).7

Let me clearly and simply state it that juju medicine is the use of spirits, oracles, deities and all forms of extrahuman forces to heal. Both, it is spiritual and materially based. It also encompasses issues such as causing within others desired opportunities, fortune, progress, as well as misfortune and restoring the same and this depends on the primary purpose of the seeker. Practitioners know well what to do when a client solicits for juju medicine as one must come to equity with clean hands. The consequence of seeking for juju medicine without being clean, or to have not wronged one’s intended victim if it is the case will be nemesissical, that is, have retributive effect. So one has to be sure, and to take oath of pity for oneself, in the event of such retributive development occurring.

As I have shown elsewhere (Iroegbu,, www. lagos, June 5. 2OO3)8 cultural symbols such as juju symbols or also to be literally referred as magic-wands make sense for its users and in various contexts in which they are applied. The idea of magic or medicine of bamboozling effect is strong in the thinking of people. People think magic and therefore once juju is mentioned it is magic; it is something, medicine or symbols or wands with some puzzling influence. Incantations are poured out sometimes silently and sometimes loudly at the time of waving, wading or pushing across magical paraphernalia prepared for situated purposes. That juju works to certain extents means much to its users and it is important to understand that like any other form of medicine — direct or symbolic, juju medicine aims to bring about release from tension and anxiety, as well as foster courage to move on to achieve one’s goal. It adopts both spatial and functional roles in a social context.

Another way to explain juju concept is to refer to it as essentially metaphoric and symbolic. By that I mean how the word juju embodies a sequence of medical beliefs, knowledge and practice and thus display some sort of homophobic social control. Women and men control one another with gendered phobic behaviour also defined by juju devices and references to its symbols and representations. Juju as one must say it is a referent to power and ability to call onto and use of extraordinary power means. It is medical recipe that calls to someone’s special interest to act on something, another person or a group. However, there is a sense of that ‘other’ power means in it. That specifically implies for the Nigerian and African that there is extraordinary power embedded in culture one can use in moments of uncertainty. This has been cultural as opposed to modern police and security agents guarding persons and property today. It is symbolic, reachable and variously appropriated to achieve or launch decisive actions and draw out special interest effects. Physical ability is one way to hit someone and deal with him or her. Another way is to resort to extraordinary power, that is, use of juju force — implying help of interactional effects of herbs, roots, animals and spirits to intervene for someone. This indicates that the use of force is not necessarily a physical force. It can be invisible, here being called juju energy or power as opposed to a physical force, for example, police or military capacity. We should also not forget that Christian religion teaches us to rely on God to do our prayers, much as other forms of religious faith. In whichever way a person is persuaded to domesticate any of the appealing forces in order to attain a goal is a use of force in the context of Nigerian concept of social juju medicine. This is also seeking for extraordinary divine force. Humans and spirits live and work together and juju explanatory theory brings this knowledge and practice and inter-worldly forces real to our fields of existence. Cultures therefore harvest their ethnomedical resources and apply them in ways that serve their needs and psychology of daily life.

The Off-beat of Religion and Juju Politics

I set out to situate a somewhat religious connection of juju phenomenon to the politics of fortification and survival in a hostile world. I will also describe the context of 419 phenomenon and jujufication. The culture of juju and 419ing is such a serious issue today that it deserves some real in-depth study to understand how 419 practitioners prepare themselves from the cultural grassroots before going urban and international to mesmerize sources of financing and thereby become capital moguls, twisters, solicitor generals, wizards and nightmares with amazingly accumulated wealth.

As I have this discussed, a conclusion will be drawn bringing the main issues conversed together. Hopefully, an overall picture of what juju signifies will make sense in demonstrating that people do not just do what is not useful to them, and becoming a candidate of 4l9ing is so easily attractive because of the big gaming involved. The returns have been in thousands and millions of dollars each time an unsuspecting investor is trapped.

In using juju in Nigerian life and political culture, including religious fields as the case may be, its seekers manifest good reasons beyond the action for lack of employment and promising career opportunities for survival inNigeria. It also depicts most underlying Nigerian reasons for greedy lives established by the past successive military regimes and the ongoing corrupt politicians and institutional public office administrators whose ethical responsibilities for generations to come have been questionable.

Religion and ‘Juju’ Normativity

A magico-religious belief in the realm of leadership is not only central to politics and power but also basic to Nigerian political culture and history. This is also significant across cultures of the world, such as American Indians and Asians. Without mincing words, as I have noted in some other contributions, Sir James Frazer launched in 1922 a monumental twelve-volume work he called, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Frazer pointed out magic as an art which assumes that in nature one event follows another necessarily and invariably without the intervention of a spiritual or personal agency. The conception of magic or juju is identical to modern science. Fundamentally, the underlying system of magic is faith, implicit but real and firm, in the order and uniformity of nature, which today translates to culture.

Insights on magic and religion other than the one given by Sir Frazer also exist. For example, there is the Bronislaw Malinowski’s 1974 Magic, Science and Religion, and the 1965 Evans-Pritchard’s Theories of Primitive Religion. Easily found in Nigerian literary works such as Chinua Achebe’s (1958) Things Fall Apart, as well as Ben Okri’s The Famished Road of 1991, including, moreover, ethnological descriptions of societies in Nigeria and Africa are useful references to oracles, spirits, and juju or voodoo constructions touching on issues and aspects of daily life.

As it were, Malinowski who worked among the Trobriand Islanders in Australiadiscerned the functional explanations of magic in times of danger, anxiety and disorder, which people may face in the transactions of their daily lives and needed emotional support to sustain their faith. He noted that mourning magical rites, for example, serve to reintegrate the group’s shaken solidarity on losing a member, and thus the re-establishment of the morale of the community. According to Sir Frazer’s own verification, there are two basic principles underlying the practice of magic. As explained, the first principle of magic stands to be the rule of ‘similar’ whereby like produces like. Thus a juju therapist or so-called magician wanding some forces together to produce effect, will have to imitate the effect (i.e., use the effigy or personal identity or belonging or material effect) of a person or victim he wants to produce or reproduce. He called this form of magic homeopathic or imitative magic. Sir Frazer is saying that a healer is thrown at work to achieve effects in line with what is crafted into the object and subject of the medical, political and social circumstance with all enchanted forces acting as a whole in semblance to one another.

The second principle of juju or magic to which Sir Frazer called contagious magic translating jujufied sensitivity is a form of magic whose underlying theory is that things which had once been in contact with each other continue to act on each at a distance. The common sense and implication here is someone’s part or belonging, such as hair, finger nails, clothing, and so on; can apparently through some focused spell be acted upon to affect the one. In some instances psychologists talk about telepathy, and seeing vision or being deluded as psychiatrists would say, as well as in dreaming to replicate such behaviours of the ‘acting upon effect.’ All these critically make sense when cause and effect are twisted, produced and reproduced on a set of some usually and unusually adapted goals and principles or rules or taboos of life relationships with others and the environmental health resources to harm or to heal.

Following evolutionary theory of knowledge, the age of magic was replaced by the age of religion and subsequently by the age of science, or rational and provable application of knowledge. All of these are but theories of thought. Of course, one can argue that science has come to reject the two previous modes of thought in order to position itself in good place. The most reasonable way to say this is that all knowledge systems are still blending with and reinforcing all the others. None has apparently disappeared from the scene of health and social understanding of causes and their effects in society. It is generally being promoted that science has supplanted its predecessors, so also it is likely to be replaced in future by another form of thought. And what that may be, we cannot imagine it as it is still resting in the preconscious realm. I must have been in one way or another sharing in this curiosity. Let me add quickly that the essence of globalization as we are arguing the concept today is to make the far nearer and the nearer farer across cultures through information technology and moving of people, capital and their cultures. This is also evident in ethnomedicines and the so-called juju phenomenon and its transformations.

As I observed Dr. Chidi Osuagwu at Owerri (October 2-4, 2003) present the world of healers at an international conference on “Harvesting African indigenous resources and knowledge”, at Whelan Research Academy as well as participating through paper contributions in some of the world ethnotherapies such as the one organized each year at the University of Munchen, Germany, the issue of juju and healers across societies do equivocally and multivocally highlight points of interest by its users in political and ordinary economic terms of life and social survival. I am more or less persuaded that to think boldly about juju theory and harvesting what it has to offer will be something good to think about and taken up as a challenge by scholars with interdisciplinary drive. To think of the concept of juju is also to relate it to the tradition of religious importance for community mobilization and cohesion. In other words, there is a need to rethink the so-called African sense of magical skills in ways in which it can formulate both a thought and symbol of political and social importance in the contemporary world.

While ‘magic’ is the embodiment of a whole range of thought about how to frustrate and deconstruct some difficult situations and circumstances in life as well as to foster dimensions of courage, it is aimed to primarily turn uncertainty to sureness, weak into strength, lack into sensibility, illusion into reality all of which will promote surprising result, one of which is overwhelming. To get at the act of juju, there must be symbolic object involved at the same time. One can therefore state that a magic in itself plays out through a ‘wand’ of a stick, rod, staff, baton, bangle, ring, or some other related ritual objects of power. Put together, a magic-wand refers to a power tool transformed into leadership. Its impact is encompassed as jujufication of self-concept of desire and distinction. It is a visible symbol associated with some extrahuman forces to perform influential acts and achievements. All of these depict a range of sensibilities people have shown to mean and refer to as juju concept in day to day life challenging issues.

It is also interesting to note that in Arochukwu of Abia state, the story of the The Long Juju of Arochukwu was known and stood as a revered deity during the colonial age. The deity remains relevant to many Igbo communities up until today. Deity, as explained in many instances is said to be a god or goddess from which people draw their spiritual and supernatural strength. Most deities are kept in an isolated groove area; a site that provides them the needed sacredness for the purpose of mystical value.

Going by history, the worshippers of the Long Juju deity began to worship the deity before the arrival of colonial masters in Igboland in 1857. By 1900, the British Government had taken over Igboland from the Royal Niger Company (RNC) and the era of administration with the Christian missions had been set in motion. The British Government gained a foothold by using force in the interior but not without opposition from native groups like the Arochukwu, whose Long Juju, the government thought, was responsible for slave trade and failure to introduce English cultural terms and currency. The attack on the Aro, the destruction of the juju shrine and hanging of some of the chiefs united the entire Igbo nation against the colonialists and initiated one of the longest wars the British government ever fought with the people ofWest Africa.

The Long Juju of Arochukwu was a powerful and prominent oracle in Igboland. It was one of the Igbos’ greatest oracles whose shrine later became the court of appeal throughout Igboland. To it, the most serious internal and inter-group strife were often referred. Some of the oracles were believed to control fertility and barrenness and people appealed to these oracles to answer problems of bareness in women. Cases were also taken to these oracles for judgment with the common cases in Igboland before 1600 being land disputes, theft and murder. These oracles were believed to be independent, trusted, unbiased, unprejudiced and impartial. Matters given judgment by powerful and reputed oracles are final and therefore deemed resolved – and no one has authority to question the decision of the oracle once it is taken. Moreover, the oracles were also used for economic and political purposes. They are believed to be suppliers of wealth and security of the same in the society. Condemned people in society were sold into slavery via the pathway of the Long Juju of Arochukwu. In general, those who see political power as a matter to outwit the other resort to juju terms in the past and modern times, and in peace time and war moment for some supernatural power and wizardry to command the forces of the events with their will to make things materialize when it is dreadfully wanted.

Juju and 419 Phenomenon

I take up the issue of 419 phenomenon here again to provide more details to the issue of juju in the harbour of life of the operators. Yet, I do not intend to focus on the genesis of 4l9ing in itself and how it functions more than it is relevant to our analysis. All the same, it is important to take note that by the mid 1980s and more significantly, through the 1990s, 4l9ing has become a pattern of political dealing and business life. It did take a strong hold in Nigeria leading to international alarm to watch out the noveaux riche fromNigeria. Both 419 and OBT (obtaining by tricks) came into being as a consequence of the military conjunctures and exploitation on the economy ofNigeria and beyond. The figure 419 was helpless for change as it was derived from the number in the Nigerian penal code for the laws relating to fraud (cf. Smith 2001). It also concerned with obtaining by dubious ways and has since become a common business language of hitting people and ripping off businesses of large sums of money by unsuspecting individuals and groups through ritualized and dubious phone calls, prospecting and soliciting letters promising heavy percentage of benefits from amounts left in banks by dead depositors or so as a means of roping people into the scam.

More important for our understanding is to, however, mention the fundamental connection the practice of 419ing has with juju fortification that makes its operators most often successful. As one commentator to this series indicated, “there is no doubt these 4l9ers are ‘strongly jujufied’ otherwise how can they be all that making it all the time, and instead of the home and international war on the 419 factor bringing their activities down, it is intensifying; more and more people are joining” (Bonaventure Onyekpere from Belgium – once commented this during a phone conversation as I was writing this article). So in its basic capacity, it is much more than people ordinarily perceive it and to describe how juju factor is part of the business is an important exercise. Any research focusing on this area of knowing can help inform the public and policy makers towards fighting this characteristic and puzzling business development that puts everyone at risk. In particular, the banking sector inNigeria is in shambles and it is hard to trust any official these days. This is moreso since even the office of the presidency and most public affair personalities and agencies are commonly used in 4l9ing by its super-masters. There is nothing on earth, informants asserted; the so-called 419 persons cannot do to achieve their goals. More clearly, in terms of forging enabling documents, letters, voice tones, etc., sometimes employing powerful healers to ritualize and empower them add to helping them to go to the extreme to get a deal. Impersonation of important, influential and well connected figures in society by the 419 persons equally became a critical part of their trading skill and networking approach.

Although juju users in different realms of social and economic manners have been historical and cultural, but never a time has it been so internationalized than in the era of 419ers within which Nigerians are currently being stigmatized due to the excessive hot business of the 419 industry, with its Headquarters (HQrs) currently discovered in Holland. A most recent Canadian TV (CTV) video castings (1 & 2) have illustrated the unusual twists 4l9ing has crosscut in the business of even unsuspecting common co-operative independent farmers.

As I have stated already, Nigerians have become more familiar with the 419 phenomenon, and the international business community has increasingly equally become aware in one way or the other of the systemic manners of its operating strategic nuances. To say the most as opposed to the least, it is yet unwritten to show how the juju ritual aspects promote the business of 4l9ing. Apparently when some people talk about juju occurrence, and even as it relates to 4l9 issue, they do so in pronged tongues. Some tend to pretend as if it is an old science and art in Nigeria or that it is something no one should talk about. Others view juju culture as rubbish as we have noted before. This being true for some, it is not so for many others who find it as a process to advance their cause in life and in society. However, there is much discomfort in discussing juju concept in public. And that is what western religion has made us believe. I am also more particularly disturbed when I hear people discuss it only in regard to demonism as if it is the only aspect healers are interested in or it is demons that they work with and serve mostly. This is biased and quite erroneous. I am not arguing that there are no problems associated with the excessive and abusive use of the art of juju medicine due to greed for wealth and political pride and results.

Writing in American Ethnologist (Vol. 28, No. 4, 2001)10, Daniel Jordan Smith typified the true issue of 419 in Nigeria in an Owerri episode in Imo State involving child kidnapping, ritual killing, and fast wealth. The one time Otokoto Hotel and Dimako episodic saga all in Owerri city terribly coincided with the era of popular ritual killings, fast wealth, the law enforcement, insecurity and judicial enquiries (Imo State Gov. 1997).11 Smith further argued that the Owerri stories of ritual killings and riots that went with it in protest against the 419 noveaux riche are expressions of Nigerian’s constructions and understandings of the changing nature of inequality in the maintenance of political power in contemporary Nigeria (Smith 2001: 804). In addition, Smith asserts that, “many of Owerri’s young elite were alleged to have achieved their wealth through “419.” In Nigeria, persons who accumulate fast wealth are popularly known as 419 persons (ndi 419, ndi 4 – plural, onye 419, onye 4 – singular in Igbo language all of which mean those who amass wealth in an overwhelming way – ndi ofuju aku na uba, ndi ofuju akpa). Four-one-nine persons are classically thought to have garnered their riches by conning foreigners and wealthy Nigerians in highly involved financial scams. In addition, 419 in itself is recognized inNigeria as a part of the lucrative and risky drug business within the illegal realm of scamming people. It also stood contrary to, and replicates, the military usurp of political power at another level of the societal decay and loss of faith in the institutional political order, and therefore manifests the hopeless axis of inequality, poverty and oppressive and repressive regime in the country.

Historians and anthropologists have in many ways portrayed the modernity of witchcraft and inequality emphasizing the phenomenon of occult beliefs and practices (Offiong 1991; Geschiere et al 1998).12 They also pertain to moral discourses in contradiction to kinship peace, production and reproduction, economy and society. The 419 noveaux riche are assigned to be witches who craft paths to wealth in a terrible violence. Smith’s article pointed out stories of how people are helped to become rich through juju priests or experts; he called juju man being a sorcerer or witch doctor (see p. 818). Instances where those who sought this way of using a local juju man to get rich emerged in ritual victims being made to vomit money for the seeker and participant. There was also the case of juju involvement where people were turned into vultures to cross boundaries of normality to sacrifice human sense, eat dirts and bodies to seek power and wealth thereby violating moral economy rooted in kinship, patron-clientism and reciprocal obligation of all sorts (cf. Smith 2001:820).

A fieldwork on the phenomenon of Nigerian ethnomedicine with reference to the southeast indicates to me that Nigerian business travelers, namely the internationally unfamed 4I9ers subvert boundaries and even ruined the lives of most healers. Cases of healers hauled to overseas with their tools to continue to fan the successes of these 4l9ers are in some instances shocking as a number of healers I interviewed established. Healers who crashed from their professional ethics do not indicate that the forces behind the juju therapeutic service are unaware of when to co-operate and when to retract. A great number of such healers influenced by their clients with a promise of a better location in a Whiteman’s land did not last long before it is realized that tradition is a great thing.

I point out here that the basis of 4l9ing has strong link with juju rituals and practices as has already been noted by Smith and others. And a real discussion to address the issue of 419 must not overlook this area of invisible power import in defrauding others. What this is showing is that clients direct the use of juju according to their interests at any moment in place positively or negatively. The implication is that it will not be right to argue that juju phenomenon is something outrageous. Not so really. Like any other technology or device, it is cultural device users apply to perceived interests and strategies to achieve them. This is like arguing the left and right hand-side implications of medical therapeutics.

For example, a common visit to healers’ shrines will tell a lot about how many international travelling passports are lodged for ritualization to clear off dangers on the road, sea and airways for the so-called 4l9ers. To apply juju force is believed to remove uncertainties and foster their faith. It is also said to place them at sharp edges of excelling and succeeding in the diplomacy surrounding their transactions. They claim that they will be viewed as genuine sorts in whatever strategies and devices that they can adopt in order to win business and make deep margins (iku deal).

The essence of jujufication is rationalizing success and means. In the same way, there are myths and realities in juju belief and practice in matters concerning marriage, love and friendship, the police, the law and judiciary in conflict resolutions, particularly land disputes. We are often also trailed with the myth and reality of secret societies and occultism, such as Ogboni Fraternity, Rosicrucian Order, Pirates, and Brotherhood of all varying economic, political and social dimensions. Tertiary institutions in Nigeria have for long been troubled by the episodes of violence of occultism. This, it is stressed, a jujufication of power and blood matters are often mixed up confusedly.

The 419 phenomenon is real with juju force and the operators understand quite well how it works for them and the social security it offers them regarding the hot-seat of business violence they fashion on others. In order to understand the deep layer of the force of 4I9ing, it is recommended that behind these fraud entrepreneurs, there is strong mobilization of juju culture versus the state power of the police and crime experts both at home and in diaspora.

Summary and Conclusion

This paper has attempted to articulate the meaning and representations of juju concept in Nigeria in the political life, business and social health context. It made it clear that jujufication is not new and has been called different names in different cultures, such as ‘white magic’ in Britain and ‘black magic’ in Africa, including ‘voodoo’ as its compliment in the Caribbean region.

We have focused on common impressions that people have had about juju culture. It also illustrated the general notion people draw when the issue of juju is referred to. It argued that there are other realities as it showed and it outlined some of them. We moreover, furthered the diverse reality of juju and explained interactions related to juju phenomenon beyond Nigeria. Juju was defined as a sequence of ritual actions that are culturally edified, which address peoples needs in social, cultural, religious, economic and political scenarios of day to day lives.

We, furthermore, understood that juju theory deals with psychological needs facing uncertainties. Dr. Malinowski and Sir Frazer discussed the role of magic or juju medicine as approaches cultures adopt to address uncertain situations, and thereby become stable and skilful in conducting daily life demands. Juju medicine is viewed to be re-studied and placed in modern context away from colonial and missionary stereotypification and categorizations. It is hoped that it will come along to balancing both of its sides in handling crisis and transacting justice, politics, social and economic responsibilities as it mattered to its makers and users.

An important observation is that juju action is strongly behind the 419 phenomenon and there is need not to ignore this aspect in addressing the dangers and opportunities of corruption through 419 forces. All in all, juju is metaphoric and a conceptual ritual, religious and health theory in its own right. It is such a practice that embodies a larger context of forms of pursuing fortune, misfortune, providing, sustaining, healing and achieving goals in a set out society, both in Nigerian political culture and elsewhere.

While it may seem odd for some, it is clearer to realize that juju also serves religious institutions to foster in their own contexts. It is central idiom of culture that penetrates all aspects of life. Let me then make bold to conclude that juju is a reality in the past and present political life and culture of Nigerian society, irrespective of the fact that a number of people can argue against it or are seemingly ignorant of the centrality and continuity of juju force in the politics of everyday lives in the contemporary socio-political challenges of surviving, being well, excelling or not, and secured in every array of life it may be put, especially in political life struggles and transient accumulations.

Across the ethnic societies in Nigeria in particular and Africa as a whole, juju adopts different specific names but its ritual intuition and foray is nonetheless the same and so it fits as a common culture experienced and observed by both practitioner, clients and observers. But one question that remains unanswered is this. Why is juju flourishing despite all the noises of intensive Pentecostalism and Churchirization of Nigeria and elsewhere? Is it not suggestive that cultures that persist with time and circumstances be better understood and given realistic policy for re-evaluation and development?

I hope to express great thanks to readers that have shown interest in this juju debate. I dedicate this piece to all who may wish Nigeria a new political cultural face and advancement of knowledge for action and reality that can bring on a better life than as we are culturally and politically experiencing things today. Do not rest your pen and ideas; because there is still much uncovered out there. We can help bring out deeper meaning of things such as juju medicine to the table for knowledge and application for a better society.


1. Benedict Anderson. 1972. “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture” in C. Holt et al (eds.) Culture and Politics in Indonesia, pp. 1-69. Ithaca:CornelUniversity Press.

2. Tokunbo Ogunbiyi, in, Thursday, August 7, 2003.

3. Image source — see This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

4. Myss Caroline. 1996. Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing. New York: Three Rivers Press.

5. World Health Organization - WHO, 1978.Geneva

6 Godson Ofoaro, “Churchification in Nigeria (11)” in , 3lst., Jan., 2004.

7. See Iroegbu,, Nov. 13, 2003

8. See Iroegbu - in, &, June 5, 2003

9. i. Bronislaw Malinowski’ s 1974. Magic, Science and Religion.

ii. Evans-Pritchard’s 1965. Theories of Primitive Religion.

iii. Chinua Achebe’s 1958. Things Fall Apart.

iv. Ben Okri’s 1991. The Famished Road.

v. Sir James Frazer’s 1922. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic

and Religion.

10. Smith Jordan Daniel’s “Ritual Killing, 419, and Fast Wealth.” In Amarican Ethnologist Vol. 28, No. 4 (Nov. 2001).

11. Imo State Government’s 1997 Government White Paper on the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Disturbances of 24-25 September 1996 inOwerr,Nigeria. In Office of the Secretary of the State Government.

12. i. Offiong, Daniel. 1991. Witchcraft Sorcery, Magic and the Social Order among the Ibibio of Nigeria.Enugu,Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishers.

ii. Geschiere, Peter and Francis Nyamnjoh. 1998. Witchcraft as an Issue in the “Politics of Belonging”: Democratization and Urban Migrants Involvement with the HomeVillage. In African Studies Review 41 (3):69-91.


Culled from Chapter 11 of the Introduction to Igbo Medicine and Culture in Nigeria (2010). Available online @ This book is being used in an Online Course at where Dr. Patrick Iroegbu is instructing it. You can take advantage of the ongoing free of charge classes and lectures to get more of the underlying basis of African medicines, cultures and knowledge systems for development in the modern world.

Introduction to Igbo Medicine and Culture in Nigeria (2010)