In a previous post I wrote about the effusive greetings here in Central Africa. Yesterday morning when I arrived in Tiringoulou, in the remote Northeast of CAR (even further northeast and even more remote than Ndele), however, I was told that since yesterday people had forsaken the usual handshakes in favor of a small wave. Why? The day before a Sudanese merchant truck arrived in town. One of the passengers alighted in the village center and went to take tea. He shook the proprietor's hand firmly as he sat down.
The guest left, but the proprietor soon felt an electric tingling all over. He knew suddenly that something was wrong. He looked down: his penis had shrunk to smaller than that of a baby. (Witnesses aver that the penis was in fact teeny-tiny, but unfortunately no one had a camera for proof to convince those who weren't there at the time.) This fate befell one other man before the mob descended upon the visitor, the only one judged capable of committing the crime because of his contact with the men at the fateful hour (bodily contact is sufficient to remove the penis). Under duress from the UFDR (the armed group that runs this town) forces' “interrogation,” he admitted his guilt. He was executed (gunshot) shortly thereafter.
This is the first case of penis snatching seen in Tiringoulou, but a woman in a village not too far from here had her genitals disappear as well. The visitor, a Chadian, worked for some merchants in Nigeria, where, if newspaper reports are to be believed, penis-snatching occurs in epidemic proportions. When I asked why they snatch penises, people here responded that they could be sold for a lot of money in Nigeria, where they would be used by “feticheurs”.
I admit: I'm skeptical. For one thing, the victims have their members back and currently complain only of a bit of testicular pain. But I also find it really interesting to think about how the phenomenon of penis snatching has traveled through West and Central Africa, finally now reaching this most remote corner of the world. How did people here become aware of it, and does it resemble anything they have seen before?
I hope to meet one of the victims tomorrow. Perhaps then I will have more answers.
Do we even need to define ethnographic film?
3 hours ago