The Lethal Hut in Lion Country
A Study in the Causation of Disease in Ndamana, Zaire, Central Africa

This picture represents a story that seems incredible to those who are principally familiar with urban modern developed world settings. I am seen emerging from the central hut in the village of Ndamana in northeast Zaire, formerly belonging to the village pastor and headman before something happened in that hut that brought evil to it (my "medicine" was strong enough as a foreigner that I had neutralized the curse and the planned burning of the hut would not take place) and had been the scene of death for its owner. If you request the essay "The Lion, the Pastor and the Cretin: A Study in Causation of Disease from Out of Africa" you will learn more details of this unique tragedy.

The village pastor retired to this hut with his wife after a somewhat contentious day had passed, and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, he was awakened by his wife's scream and a heavy body across his. A prowling adult male lion had entered the hut, and had first seized her by the foot, but dropped her, and pounced on her husband and crushed his skull with a single snap. As she wailed her ululating mourning cries, frightened villagers gathered around to witness by moonlight the grisly scene of the lion dragging the pastor's body out of the hut and into the nearby bush where it began to feed noisily. The men made plans to go after it armed with spears when it was light, but were still too frightened at dawn. When they could no longer hear the lion later in the morning, they came upon the pastor's remains where the lion had left it. The lion returned the next night and actually recovered the half-eaten corpse from the village before the fusillade of spears drove it off. The large black-maned male was followed and found dead several days later, after the pastor's few remains had been buried. The wife was treated by completing the amputation of her foot and dressing changes for the drainage and infection that followed. The properties of the pastor were distributed to his brothers (the Pazande term for "widow" is "poor person") and the hut was to be burned as the source of the spell that had brought this evil so close to the center of village life.

It does not end there. Upon my arrival, the village was still very upset, and not over these very traumatic events alone--as if that were not enough--but because they knew well what caused this mishap. The new headman who had moved into the community had been scheduled to take over and there was a power struggle and divided loyalties. When the new man's pregnant wife was in labor, and the pastor had threatened the newcomers to back off from his turf, she delivered a cretin, a congenitally hypothyroid baby who would never develop--a condition common enough to bring me to this remote area to investigate this problem in the first place. You might think you understand the cause of iodine deficient cretinism, but you would be thinking as a westerner, since the newcomers knew immediately who was responsible for this tragedy and publicly a curse was levied against the pastor--that very fateful night before he went into his hut to bed! It was into this setting that the novice anthropologist/endocrine surgical investigator sauntered into this hut--thereby saving at least the hut from the causative curse. So, the score remained: Africa 1: medical science 0.

Read the essay in its entirety.