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Juju and Charms: Superstition in The Gambia

My Magazine 2023/09
4 min
In the Gambia, as in many other parts of West Africa, there is a belief in juju and charms made by Marabouts. A Marabout is a religious leader or healer who is believed to have special powers and knowledge. They are often consulted for spiritual guidance, healing, and protection.

Juju refers to objects or practices that are believed to have supernatural power. It can be a physical object, such as an amulet or talisman, or a spiritual practice, such as a ritual or incantation. Juju is often used for protection against harm or to bring good luck, but it can also be used for more nefarious purposes, such as to cause harm to others.

Charms, on the other hand, are physical objects that are believed to have magical powers. They can be made from a variety of materials, including animal parts, herbs, and minerals. Charms can be worn or carried for protection, luck, or to attract love or wealth.

Falikado is a protective juju that is believed to make a warrior's bulletproof

There are different types of charms and jujus depending on the individual request and their unique situation. These also include gender differences. There are different types for women compared to men. Sometimes the scriptures inside of the juju are written for a particular person. If the person's name is written in the scripture, then only he can use that juju. When a name is not indicated in the scripture, anyone can use the juju for the purpose it was made. Jujus only work if they are appropriately made, and the individual wearing them follows the directions given to him by the marabout. It will lose power if the rules involved in making or wearing a juju are not followed.

Why People Wear Charms and Jujus

Supernatural Beliefs

Supernatural beliefs are largely integrated into the practice of wearing jujus. Supernatural beings are believed to have superior power compared to humans. This great power, in combination with their omniscient presence in the African view of the universe, was described by many Gambians to instil fear and uncertainty in their worlds. These mystical beings are seen as the dictators of human fate and the causes of life's various happenings. They have control over things that people do not. Among these beings, evil and good powers exist and affect humans accordingly. God is the governor of all mystical beings and the highest power that humans appeal to.

Religious Beliefs

Religion plays a prominent role in Gambian society, and jujus are centrally based on religious beliefs. They do not have power in themselves but instead are means to appeal for greater power from those who have more than humans do. The main supernatural beliefs involved in the use of jujus are jinns, witches, sorcerers, magic, demons, and God (Allah).

Marabouts are often the ones who create juju and charms for their clients. They may use their knowledge of the Quran and Islamic teachings to create objects or perform rituals that are believed to have spiritual power. Marabouts are also believed to have the ability to communicate with the spirit world and can provide guidance and healing through this connection.

Processes Involved in Obtaining a Juju

While there is a vast amount of uses for jujus, what steps must a person go through to obtain one? The first step that a person must do is visit a marabout. A marabout is a traditional healer specialising in Koranic studies and the knowledge of jujus.

The person will visit the marabout and explain what they would like to get a juju for. It will then be made individually, upon request, by the marabout. The marabout will find a scripture from the Koran that reveals itself to him as a cure for the person's problem(s) or concern(s). 

Many marabouts will make jujus for the same purpose but use different scriptures or methods. The scriptures used are written in Arabic script and are often times the same verses Muslims use when praying.

Kamokungo juju is used for protection against jealousy

When making a juju, there are, at times, certain rituals the marabout must follow. Some jujus traditionally are made on certain days of the week, times of the day, or environmental conditions. They are most often made to be worn or as liquid potions. Sometimes the person requesting the juju will have a choice, other times, the marabout will follow a certain "recipe" that requires one way or the other. Worn jujus contain a verse from the Koran inside.

After getting this verse from the marabout, a person must make a visit to a cobbler to have it sewn with whatever skin the marabout instructed. They are most often worn on the wrist, upper arm, waist, or neck.

Liquid jujus involve the marabout writing a verse from the Koran on paper, washing it with water inside a bottle, and thereby soaking the scripture into the liquid. Other ingredients are added depending on the purpose of the juju. These liquid jujus are washed with or drank in a certain way prescribed by the marabout.

Types of Jujus

There are many different types of juju found in The Gambia, each with its own purpose and symbolism. Here are a few examples:

Protection Juju

These are designed to protect the wearer from harm, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional. They may include amulets, talismans, or charms made from a variety of materials, such as animal bones, feathers, or stones.

Protection from harm and ability to harm 

There are types of juju similar to those that protect from harm mentioned previously, but that also contain an aspect of power that allows the wearer to seek revenge against those trying to harm him/her. 

Chodibingo juju

The Mankaanoo juju is one of the most dangerous, powerful, and aggressive jujus known to the public. When a person has a problem with someone and wants to fight him, the person they are fighting cannot harm them. If the person tries to hit the wearer, he will fall down. If he attempts to grab the wearer, his body will go stiff, and he will feel an electric current so strong it will knock him to the ground.

Protection in times of vulnerability

In times of vulnerability, many people seek protection through the power of the juju. It is said that in the middle stages of life, such as pregnancy, adolescence, and menopause, people are more susceptible to evil. For this reason, there are special jujus for times like these.

Circumcision juju

At circumcision/initiation ceremonies, a juju is worn to protect the wearer from witchcraft and devil jinns. Konomaa safoo is a juju meant to be worn by a pregnant woman to protect her unborn child from evil jinns. Babies and children have specially made jujus, often given to them by a family member at birth. Dindingo Safoo jujus are baby jujus that are meant to protect against small illnesses. Malaria is especially considered under this category. There is also a children's juju that is meant to be worn from the ages of 2-10 years of age.

Protection from the law

In cases of conflict with the law, people may seek jujus to assist in clearing their names and getting out of trouble. The marabout in Bereft spoke a lot about the juju that assisted people in court. When someone goes to court, and it is likely that they will be found to be guilty, the person ties this numbo juju around their waist during the trial. By wearing this juju, the person will never go to jail.

Love juju

These are used to attract or enhance romantic relationships. They may be made from materials such as herbs, flowers, or oils and are often used in rituals that involve lighting candles or burning incense.

Love juju from the cowrie shell

Improving Lifestyle

Jujus developed to improve lifestyle involves asking for power in fulfilling one's personal wishes. They can be used to help in finding a job, ease of travel, restoring mental strength, reducing stress, and more.

Passing Exams

Students oftentimes use these types of jujus in order to improve their academic performance. People who are learning but having difficulty passing exams can go from this struggling position to the top rank in their class. In order to do this, the student would bring his pen to a marabout, the marabout would bless it, and then the student should use this pen during his exams. For students who are having difficulty memorizing what they learn from school, a liquid juju is prescribed. This juju contains honey and goat's milk and is meant to be drunk and rubbed on the face and ears both at night and in the morning before eating.

Wealth juju

These are designed to attract money and financial prosperity. They may include charms made from precious metals, such as gold or silver, or herbs and spices believed to bring good luck.

To assist in getting what one wants in uncontrollable situations

Jujus that assist in getting what one wants in uncontrollable situations appeared to be the most controversial of the most common uses for jujus. This was because it involved a person getting what he wanted without consideration of what those around him wanted. 

Specifically, these are jujus that involve bending someone's will to meet your own. With this type of juju, someone can make someone love them and/or marry them. Additionally, there are those that can be used to get ahead in situations such as elections or employment positions. The most powerful of these types of jujus is the Turasolima binoo because it works against another person to make him unwillingly accept the wishes of the person who possesses the juju.

Improving health

Oftentimes, when people have health concerns, they will go to the marabout to receive a cure for their illness. Many Gambians claim to prefer visiting marabouts compared to Western clinics because of the quality of service they are provided there. The marabout in Bereft claimed that the Holy Koran contains the cure for "90% of all illnesses."

The most common health concerns that marabouts prescribe jujus for are internal pain and seizures.

Timpo Bolo Juju can only be used by elders due to its strong offensive powers

It's worth noting that while juju and marabouts are an important part of Gambian culture and spirituality, they are not universally accepted or practised. Some Gambians may be more sceptical of these beliefs or may follow different spiritual traditions altogether. 

If you would like to learn more about Jujus and other cultural and spiritual aspects of Gambian life, join us on our trip from Bakau to Banjul, where you will be able to see and learn about all the jujus on the photos (taken at Kachikally Ethnographic Museum in Bakau).


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