Witchcraft and Performance Anxiety

What do you do when a human-headed snake is found sneaking up on your child?  This is the problem Crispin, a member of the team at Chanyanya had on his mind.  His wife, unhappy with the situation, left the community to go live with her family in the nearby town, leaving him to live in the community by himself during the week and return to his family on the weekend.  Crispin said he was having trouble sleeping because of other strange noises at night.  The scale of the farm was increasing, and Crispin had growing responsibility on his shoulders.  Witchcraft was an unwelcome burden.

Word had spread, and I heard the story of the snake again from some other people in the community.  I probed to find out more.  Though most were thrilled at Crispin’s performance to date, some members of the community were unhappy that an outsider had been brought in to manage operations: motives.  Crispin leaves his house during the day for work, and his wife often has to fetch water a distance from the house: opportunity.  But the human-headed snake?  The means were still unclear to me.

I spoke to Crispin about the situation.  Our chat quickly turned away from the snake and on to the job.  The responsibility of the work was starting to wear on him.  He said he felt unqualified and didn’t want to let the community down.  We agreed that we would add some extra support, see how things went for a month, and then reassess.  He left less than a week later without a word.  It was uncharacteristic behavior.  Eventually we got hold of him; he was thousands of kilometers away near the Tanzania border.  He revealed that he was collecting some loan money to finance a year in school.

Performance anxiety, alternative plans, a family unhappy with conditions in the village, some tension with a few community members.  The evidence started pointing away from a human-headed snake, but Crispin’s story and the talk of witchcraft in the community can’t be dismissed wholesale.  Regardless of whether or not there was actually a snake, the story appeared to have strong effect on Crispin and the discourse in the community.  In that sense at least there’s something real behind it.


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Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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