Creepy West African Urban Legends, Myths & Secrets
Are you scared yet?
All over the world urban legends, myths, and conspiracies play a big part in any society's culture. In the western world, urban legends like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and myths about haunted locations play an interesting role in our social lives. In the motherland of civilization, this is no different. Just like in the west, on the continent of Africa myths, urban legends, and societal secrets have been passed down through oral traditions, literature, and entertainment.
My mother is from the western coast of Africa, from a little country called Liberia, that is full of its own interesting tales that might sound far-fetched, but also might just make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Devils That Dance
For most westerners, when we hear the word "devils" we think red men with horns and pitch forks. In Liberia, however, the Dancing "Country" Devils are street performers. They wear masks, dress in costumes, and go around dancing to earn a "dash" or a tip from bystanders. They're similar to Moko Jumbies in some Caribbean cultures, with some even opting to perform on stilts. Seems innocent enough right?
Well, the story goes that these dancing performers are actually masked for an ominous reason. According to legend, if someone looks at a Dancing Devil while their mask is off, the onlooker will go blind or worse, they'll die. According to my mother, she was so afraid of the Dancing Devils growing up that when they would come through the town seeking a dash, she would hide under her bed until they left. Needless to say, the legend is still enough to make many Liberian children wary of the Dancing Devils to this day.
Liberia was founded in 1822, when some Black people who had been enslaved in the U.S. were freed and chose to return back to Africa. The Black American settlers (who later came to be known as Americo-Liberians) brought certain aspects of their American culture with them, including freemasonry. In the 1800s, the Freemasons were an elite secret society in the U.S., but Black people were prohibited from being a part of it.
When the Americo-Liberians went to Liberia, they established their own form of the elite society, known as the Masonic Order of Liberia and ironically, it also became an exclusive society in which the indigenous population of the country (those who were there before their settlement) were prohibited from joining. For over a century, to be a part of the Masonic Order was a mark of wealth and high social status, but also one of mystery for those who weren't a part of it.
The indigenous population were no strangers to secret societies, however. Commonly believed to have been started by the Vai tribe who resided in the northwestern part of the country, the Poro (for boys) and the Sande (for girls) were secret societies where children would go to essentially learn how to be a man or woman. The most that is known about what happens in these societies is that boys and girls undergo some sort of training, which also involves a special Country Devil that non-members are not even allowed to see with or without a mask, so it is a secret society for a reason.
Up until recently, I wasn't even aware that my grandfather was a part of the Poro society himself. My mother told me some time last year and even her knowledge of it was sparse, being that she was never a part of it herself. All she knew was that children would be taken into the "bush" or rural, unpopulated part of the area and they would come back "different." When she talks about it, I can't help but feel a little uneasy, but maybe I'll never know if there is actually anything to be uneasy about.
In the U.S., when most people hear the word "mermaids" the first thing they think of is Ariel from Disney's version of The Little Mermaid. Mermaids are not unique to American or even western culture however. Most societies in the world have their own version of mermaids, ranging from innocent kindhearted creatures like the Little Mermaid to downright ugly and creepy like the mermaids in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
In many African nations however (or nations of the African diaspora), mermaids are kind of a cross between the two. Known as "Mami Wata" (Mommy Water), mermaids in West African culture are thought to be beautiful water spirits that present themselves as half woman, half fish but they're not innocent. In Liberian folklore, these beautiful creatures are believed by many to use their looks to seduce men and ultimately, steal their destinies or redirect the course of their lives for the worse.
They're not just confined to the sea, however. Being that they are spirits, they can also walk around on two legs, presenting themselves as just normal women. This has led many Liberian people to believe that any woman who is promiscuous is operating as a Mami Wata spirit. So in many ways, these mermaids are more like Ursula the sea witch than they are like Ariel.
The Legend of Bendu Sudan
The legend of a young woman named Bendu Sudan is one that my mother said was commonly told among Liberians in her day. The story goes that a young woman who was about eighteen years old had been having an affair with a "big man" or a man of high social status. After some time, Bendu found out that she was pregnant and in order to hide his affair, the man who had impregnated her decided to abort the baby against her will. The abortion was a crude practice and as a result, Bendu slipped into a coma with the man believing that she had died from it.
The man paid off a funeral director to take care of her body and when Bendu finally came around, she awoke in a funeral home. When the funeral director saw that she was alive, he finished the job by killing her himself, but little did he know that Bendu had been told by her grandmother years before that death would not be the end for her. Years later, Bendu returned in the afterlife to repay those who had harmed her in life and it is said that she still walks the streets of Monrovia, the capitol city, seducing men and then haunting them.
This one is interesting because it comes down to whether or not you believe in ghosts, but many men have claimed to have seen or even been seduced by Bendu Sudan, with one man even claiming that he took her to a hotel and when he woke up the next day, he found himself lying on a grave.
What do you think? Do these urban legends hold any weight or are they just stories?
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