Gethin Chamberlain, Daily Mail, November 13, 2014
Ebola is a ‘plague’ sent to punish ungodly Africans and sinners who have angered God and their ancestors, according to a government witch-doctor fuelling the spread of the disease.
In an astonishing video rant filmed by MailOnline, the ‘holy man’ appointed as head of culture in Liberia’s Bong County claims only prayer, herbs and tobacco can save the millions of people in danger from the deadly disease ravaging Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Waving a cow’s tail, Joko Moses Kuyon, a high priest of the African Traditional Religion, shrieks that the virus is a ‘curse’ that only traditional healers can lift. He shouts: ‘We have sinned against God and he has brought his wrath on us by bringing a plague.
‘This is a plague and it has a spiritual connection. We have sinned against God and he has brought his wrath on us so we have asked the ancestors to appeal to God.
‘We have the cellphone number for the ancestors and we dial the number and they relay the message to the almighty.’
The highly-respected government figure–who preaches to tens of thousands and is the ‘head witch doctor’ in his region–is simply one among dozens driving the epidemic underground.
MailOnline also spoke to senior pastor Idris Wright Samura, who preaches to his large congregation in Monrovia that Ebola is a punishment from a God who is angry that Africans drink alcohol and don’t go to church regularly enough.
‘Ebola is a plague and a plague can come upon the people as a result of sin,’ says Samura.
‘Liberians have not been living right which may have brought the plague upon our country. They have been drinking alcohol, not going to church, indulging in witchcraft and unfaithfulness.
‘There are demonic powers. You must fight Ebola spiritually. God can heal any disease. Ebola can be healed by the word of God.’
Witch-doctors and preachers are increasingly being blamed for preventing ordinary Africans from complying with crucial hygiene methods.
Only today a burial team was prevented from removing a contagious body in New Kru Town, a Monrovia slum, because local people wanted to perform traditional healing rituals for the dead.
Unicef accuses these community leaders of being highly irresponsible–and claims by healers that they can make a direct ‘cell phone call’ to ancestors to drive away Ebola are making it worse.
The belief in God-sent plagues, witchcraft and the power of herbs goes right to the top of Liberian society.
Kuyon is a high-ranking Liberian government official–the entirety of his region respects him and listens to what he says.
Standing on a rock behind his house–‘my rock of wisdom’–dressed in traditional tunic and trousers and holding his wooden staff – a symbol of authority, he continues his rant: ‘Ebola has two dimensions – physical and spiritual,’ he says. ‘We have sinned against God and he has brought his wrath on us by bringing a plague.
Kuyon, 58, says that he has given Ebola a deadline to leave the country or face the wrath of God.
‘When we gave a three week ultimatum for Ebola to leave the country, it began to work,’ he says.
‘The international community only came to our rescue after they heard Ebola was going down. It is good that they come to the rescue but they should be happy that it is going.
‘We have invoked the ancestors, spirit of our land, and they will use the whirlwind to drive Ebola from our land.
‘Most of the cures are being done spiritually. Those who are being saved from catching Ebola are benefitting from the prayers sent by us to rescue them.
‘Those that did not benefit are those who are cursed. God doesn’t curse just one person, he curses down the generations. There is no cure for a curse. People are cursed for failing to show respect to their elders, for taking things that don’t belong to them, for lying, for so many things.’
The high priest lives with his wife and some of his nine children in a single storey building on top of a hill surrounded by lush foliage, at the end of a long and bumpy dirt road out of the regional capital of Gbarnga.
Ebola has claimed the lives of many other traditional healers who thought they could fight the disease with herbs and by carrying out rituals which brought them into close contact with victims who in turn infected them and continued the spread of the disease.
But Kuyon–who studied architecture before moving into farming–dismisses those who failed as frauds.
‘For the greed of money some impersonators boasting to be herbalists, boasting to be people who can remedy issues, put themselves and those they were supposed to be helping in harm’s way,’ he says.
‘So they have brought the wrath of the ancestors and the wrath of God.’
He secured his job as director of culture with the ministry of internal affairs because of his influence, he says.
Several members of his family–he has a wife and nine children–are sitting around in shade outside the house listening to him talk. Like many houses in Liberia now, he has a bucket of water outside where people must wash their hands to prevent the spread of the virus. Most places use chlorine, which kills it. But Kuyon is using soap he and the family made themselves.
Ebola can be fought using African herbal medicines he says, gesturing to the table outside his door where two bottles of herbs are infusing. Tobacco leaves are the answer, he says. The solution came to a colleague in a dream. But he complains that the Western scientists won’t take them seriously.
‘We should boil the leaves and get the extraction and give patients three glasses per day,’ he says, pointing to a glass on the table. People have tried it and lived, he insists.
Kuyon complains that while potential scientific cures are hailed as breakthroughs in the West, no-one wants to try the traditional methods.
He points out the cassava trees being grown by the Naymote Farmers Cooperative, of which he is a member, and his favourite tree, the moringa, growing outside the front door. Remedies made from the tree can cure some 100 illnesses, he says.
Kuyon explains that the African traditional religion was the first monotheistic religion in the world, far more ancient than newcomers like Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Its first prophet was Imhotep, an Egyptian who lived in the 27th century BC and is regarded as a significant figure in the development of early medicine. His face is carved on Kuyon’s staff above a snake, which winds around the handle, itself an ancient symbol of medicine.
‘I want to let it be known that African science is one of the best in the world but it has been downplayed by conventional scientists who have financial strength more than the herbalists in the villages like myself.
‘What we do has been denounced as archaic, mediaeval, as backwards, as having no meaning to modern civilisation.’
But African medicine is better than anything the West has, he says. If his chicken breaks its foot, he can put herbs on it and within a couple of days it is up and walking about again. If someone from the West breaks their foot, they are in plaster for weeks.
‘If a snake bites me I will be up and walking again in minutes but you,’ he says pointing with his stick, ‘you will be in hospital for months. Leaves and herbs. It works.’ And he jabs again with his stick to emphasise the point.
But he says only those who deserve it are treated.
‘We only give our knowledge to boys and girls who are not rude.’
African medicine can also quickly ease the pain of a woman in labour, he says.
‘We take a leaf and rub it on her and her pain is gone and you can hear the baby singing a song.’
As he finishes his explanation, a chicken hobbles past, limping awkwardly. Kuyon is unabashed. His herbs worked, he says. ‘It is walking and feeding itself. In Europe you would have killed and eaten it.’
Even in the heart of the capital city, the place hardest hit by the disease in Liberia, many are happy to place their fate in the hands of God.
Regional boss Sheldon Yett, the Unicef Representative in Liberia said: ‘Community leaders that give contrary messages on how this disease is spread are irresponsible and put the lives children and others at risk.
‘It is damaging to the entire response effort when opinion leaders and others deny that Ebola is real.’
Kuyon is defiant–re-enacting the ultimatum he gave to the ancestors to rid the country of Ebola, calling on them to drive the disease from the land within 90 days.
Then he throws his head back, holds out his staff, shakes the cattle tail at the sky, and lets out a mighty ‘Bwa-hah-hah’ that echoes away across the hills.