Thursday, March 20, 2014


Sitting in my office I heard a woman start screaming.  There is domestic violence here and I thought a boyfriend or husband had come onto the campus to start trouble.  I went over to the classroom to find one of the students screaming hysterically and thrashing wildly about.  Four or five students converged on her to restrain her.  I could see she was having a seizure and had the students move her to the hallway where she wouldn’t injure herself.  It was in fact, a classic “Grand Mal” seizure.  Her eyes rolled about wildly while her limbs become rigid and she closed her fists so very tightly.  Within a few minutes her screaming subsided and her legs and body relaxed though her fists were still tightly clenched. 

Her cousin, also a student suddenly reappeared with some tree leaves and began harshly rubbing them on the face of the poor, moaning girl.  She rubbed them in her hair, then on the belly, and then on the chest. Sometimes she would slap the sick girl.  I asked what she was doing and at that point I was informed that the girl was possessed by a demon.  Yes, a demon.  As an atheist, it took all my strength to remain silent while I watched the impromptu exorcism take place.  Coconut oil was applied as was ‘holy water’ from a container of store-bought bottled water.  But in these cases there is not much you can do but let the seizure run its course.  It is sometimes better to let a family member comfort the patient as they are already familiar with each other.

The cousin seemed satisfied as the possessed girl soon fell asleep.  The sleep stage is also part of a Grand Mal seizure.  I did not mention any of this to her or to the crowd of students that had gathered.  In cultures like this, you simply aren’t going to change their fundamental beliefs.  This girl has been having these ‘possessions’ since childhood.  Her other relatives arrived, shook her violently up and down while mumbling some prayers, and then transported her home.  Alas, I did not get the name of this terrible offending demon.  And of course, I thought it was all a bit crazy.

Later, a student asked me if I believed in ghosts.  I hesitated, weighing the impact of my answer on my community reputation, then finally looked at him and said, “No.  Absolutely not.”   He laughed nervously and avoided direct eye contact.  Because you see, out here in their lush, tropical, Pacific-island homeland, with its haunted ruins and vibrant mythologies, it is me – the outsider - that is the crazy one.

- Just a peasant

The ruins of Nan Madol are said to be haunted with all manner of spirits


Blogger radius said...

Hi Just-a-Peasant, But the form of superstition you describe here is still a relative benign form. The friends and relatives of the patient got used to help her (of course the way they think is best). But they don't discriminate her, which I think is perhaps the most important detail. When the seizures are over, the patient can continue a relatively normal life. There are cults of superstition in some African societies, where patients having neurological diseases are blamed to be bewitched or alienated with the devil, and sometimes they are either isolated, neglected or even killed. And not to mention the way incurable epileptics were treated (euthanized) in Nazi Germany, and this had little to do with superstition, simply with a complete violation of human rights and empathy. We might wonder about the ideas of spirits and extrasensual causes of diseases, but as long it does not really cause additional suffering to the patients I would tolerate it. On the other hand, we might offer a better, more reasonable explanation, but as long as we have no cure for it, it is of little help for the patient.
I had a similar experience many years ago while travelling through the Balkan countries, and quite often met Gypsies there along the roads. They and us were always curious to exchange stuff with them (food for jewellery and the like). And they were always keen to get some pills from us. In fact, the only tablets I had with me were some bicarbonates, against the unregular and sometimes very fat meals. I told them that these tablets of of no particular use if one is really ill, but they believed that it is just the white, round form, and not the ingredient drug that cures a disease. At the end, I decided not to argue with them and gave them some of my bicarbonate pills (and today I am pretty sure they successfully used them to treat headache, flue and hypertension with them).

greetings, best wishes

10:09 AM  
Anonymous just a peasant said...

Hi Michael, That's very true - there was no discrimination against the person at least by her family. People need the comfort that best suits them. If people want to pray then let them. It won't affect the outcome, as studies have already shown, but they gain a certain level of comfort and peace from it. Fair enough.

That's really interesting too about the color and shape of the pills!

3:50 PM  
Anonymous hellopoponta said...

It's a passage--but leading to what?

The walls certainly display a distinctive aesthetic style, whether intended or not. Stacking megaliths on top of one another like that couldn't have been easy. And the way they used smaller stones in between to make the wall stable--that is very clever. Maybe the abundant usage of megaliths in architecture signified power.

The devils and the gods that cohabit the land with the people are there for a reason I guess: offering consolation and salvation to all the adversities that people experience. This Micronesian culture where the devils play as much an important role as the gods is familiar to me (even though I am an atheist); I have never been able to understand that only-one-God-matters attitude of Christianity.

Ayano xxx

2:45 PM  
Anonymous just a peasant said...

Hi Ayano,

I believe this stairway led to an enclosure used by the royalty. Good call! Yes, oddly 99% of Micronesians are Christian. Yet, the belief in these other supernatural entities exists comfortably side by side with their many churches.

Anyway, hope you're doing okay.

7:20 PM  
Anonymous hellopoponta said...

Actually, I'm wrong, aren't I.
Looking at other photos available on the net, I see that the walls of Nan Madol are constructed from stone "logs", not slabs; the logs are lined neatly in one direction on one layer, then topped with a new layer of logs lined in a direction perpendicular to the logs of the previous layer. Duh.
It's beautiful none the less.

#I'm doing fine, thank you.

Ayano xxx.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous just a peasant said...

No - you're not wrong. The base of many of these large walls are indeed large, non-uniform slabs of basalt. It's just that since basalt sometimes crystallizes out into hexagonal, vertical "logs" they used the majority of those after the base was established. And indeed, they used a perpendicular arrangement to stabilize each successive layer. Again, I encourage one to look for them self to get a better idea.

7:02 AM  

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