June 1, 2008
@ 01:46 PM

A coworker forwarded me a story from a Nigerian newspaper about a cat turning into a woman in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The story is excerpted below

This woman was reported to have earlier been seen as a cat before she reportedly turned into a woman in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Thursday. Photo: Bolaji Ogundele. WHAT could be described as a fairy tale turned real on Wednesday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, as a cat allegedly turned into a middle-aged woman after being hit by a commercial motorcycle (Okada) on Aba/Port Harcourt Expressway.

Nigerian Tribune learnt that three cats were crossing the busy road when the okada ran over one of them which immediately turned into a woman. This strange occurrence quickly attracted people around who descended on the animals. One of them, it was learnt, was able to escape while the third one was beaten to death, still as a cat though.

Another witness, who gave his name as James, said the woman started faking when she saw that many people were gathering around her. “I have never seen anything like this in my life. I saw a woman lying on the road instead of a cat. Blood did not come out of her body at that time. When people gathered and started asking her questions, she pretended that she did not know what had happened," he said.

Reading this reminds me how commonplace it was to read about the kind of mind boggling supernatural stories that you'd expect to see in the Weekly World News in regular newspapers alongside sports, political and stock market news in Nigeria.  Unlike the stories of alien abduction you find in the U.S., the newspaper stories of supernatural events often had witnesses and signed confessions from the alleged perpetrators of supernatural acts. Nobody doubted these stories, everyone knew they were true. Witches who would confess to being behind the run of bad luck of their friends & family or who'd confess that they key to their riches was offering their family members or children as blood sacrifices to ancient gods. It was all stuff I read in the daily papers as a kid as I would be flipping through looking for the comics. 

The current issue of Harper's Bazaar talks about the penis snatching hysteria from my adolescent years. The story is summarized in Slate magazine shown below

Harper's, June 2008
An essay reflects on the widespread reports of "magical penis loss" in Nigeria and Benin, in which sufferers claim their genitals were snatched or shrunken by thieves. Crowds have lynched accused penis thieves in the street. During one 1990 outbreak, "[m]en could be seen in the streets of Lagos holding on to their genitalia either openly or discreetly with their hand in their pockets." Social scientists have yet to identify what causes this mass fear but suspect it is what is referred to as a "culture-bound syndrome," a catchall term for a psychological affliction that affects people within certain ethnic groups.

I remember that time fairly well. I can understand that this sounds like the kind of boogie man stories that fill every culture. In rural America, it is aliens in flying saucers kidnapping people for anal probes and mutilating cows. In Japan, it's the shape changing foxes (Kitsune). In Nigeria, we had witches who snatched penises and could change shape at will.

In the cold light of day it sounds like mass hysteria but I wonder which is easier to believe sometimes. That a bunch of strangers on the street had a mass hallucination that a cat transformed into a woman or that there really are supernatural things beyond modern science's understanding out there? 

Now Playing: Dr. Dre - Natural Born Killaz (feat. Ice Cube)


Sunday, June 1, 2008 3:03:44 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Ah! By telling me what "Kitsune" means, you just helped me know something new about one of my favorite books. Thank you!
Sunday, June 1, 2008 3:03:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The question is, what do we want to believe? Believing in the magical certainly has an appeal to it, but the fact that specific incidents happen in specific culture-places and not others, leads itself to the more conventional explanation i am afraid.
Sunday, June 1, 2008 9:35:23 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Ok, you got me cracking on this one! "snatched penises"? I just went through Lagos last month, I wish I was there to see the cat morphing. The last time I went there, it was a dead/awaken witch walking but by the time I arrived at the location which I believe was sabo, she had vanished into a tree. Darn!
Monday, June 2, 2008 6:13:09 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
All that is required for these events to happen in a suitably primed population is one deluded individual. One person who is willing to stand up and say "I am not guilty of striking a woman with my motorbike because this individual, when I struck her, was actually a cat." A mass hallucination is not necessary. The problem in Nigeria (and in other places were these sorts of hysterical events have taken root) is that people uncritically accept the possibility of these supernatural events, consider them frequent occurrences, and are often far too willing to accept a mere accusation as proof of guilt.
Thursday, June 5, 2008 4:56:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
False dichotomy.
Christian Romney
Sunday, June 8, 2008 2:21:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Hahah, I love it. "No, see, my penis isn't small, it used to be quite large actually until some witch came by and shrank it!"
Monday, June 9, 2008 5:15:33 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I left Nigeria at 8, so my only memories of the newspapers are PowerMan and Pappy Joe comics.

Although I don't remember the sort of story you mention, it's not that hard to explain how something like this could have happened, without resorting to a supernatural explanation. (Mind you I'm not suggesting that supernatural explanations should always be dismissed out of hand. Dismissing supernatural explanations without evidence is completely illogical and a grave mistake. But quickly jumping to supernatural explanations without proof may perhaps be even worse.)

The roads I remember in Nigeria, at least in and around populated areas, were busy and chaotic. Nobody would be paying very close attention to the 3 cats crossing the street. Many things would be happening at once, and most people would only be peripherally aware (at best) of anything but those which they were directly involved in.

So picture a very busy road with people on both sides and every kind of vehicle honking and trying to squeeze their ways through the chaos. Add to this the fact that almost all of the people present share certain beliefs about witches being able to turn into animals. They are spring-loaded, ready to interpret unclear circumstances according to this belief.

Now picture three cats running across the road and one or two getting hit by a motorcycle. At least one of them gets away into the crowd just as a sleeping or drunk woman falls out of a truck ("lorry") next to the accident. Amidst the commotion, nobody sees her fall (it takes a split second and you'd have to be looking at the back of the truck to notice it) but sees that she's suddenly on the scene and one of the three cats is not. They interpret the situation according to their predisposition: the cat changed into a woman, and so she must be a witch.

Notice I'm not following the (extremely illogical!) path of saying "she's not a witch because there's no such thing", but rather simply pointing out that the evidence of eyewitnesses is extremely weak in this case, and an alternate explanation is easy to come by.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 12:38:11 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
it's a glitch in the matrix.
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