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When Societies Take Stress, Strange Things Happen

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 10, 2020 07:10

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We do not always act logically when under stress. When the structures of our society are threatened people revert to old, sometimes atavistic, occult rituals and patterns. Reason seems to make way for superstition, fear and hysteria.

In early 1994, Mauritius breathed a sigh of relief as another cyclone came, dropped badly needed rain on the island, and departed to wreak havoc on Madagascar. Many pointed out that, since the then Prime Minister had come into power, no major cyclone had hit the island.

Calm before...

Days later the island was locked down as Tropical cyclone Hollanda, one of the most intense in decades, scored a direct hit. Trees that had overgrown took out power lines, construction cranes were wrapped around buildings. A fisherman recounted: "We stayed in the house, but when a door blew out I grabbed the wife by the hair and pulled her to the school. (a designated shelter) The next morning I picked up my TV 100 yards down the road." Another fisherman sat, smiling, in his beautifully varnished pirogue. He could not afford to take her to shelter, and the waves, even in the sheltered Grande Bay, had pounded the boat on the sand, smashing the bottom to a pulp. Smiling? Yes, crying wouldn't help. 

Grand Bay, cyclone shelter. Photo by the author.

Half the electricity and telephone infrastructure of the island was destroyed. And then the stories came. A werewolf had been seen! It soon became known as touni minuit (all naked at midnight) and, lo! One night police found a crowd holding a naked man, and about to do whatever one does with werewolves. He threw himself in the arms of the police, explaining that he had been visiting a certain lady when her husband returned unexpectedly.

Soon it was said that a certain shrub, found on old gardens, and known as diboi pyonneden, would keep the werewolf away, and gardens were ransacked in short order. Then word came that the werewolf was a Muslim... No, a Hindu. And soon tensions began to rise until people feared that the deadly intercommunity clashes of some thirty years before would return.

And suddenly electricity was back, work resumed, the Muslim President inaugurated a major Hindu shrine, Hindu leaders presented food to a Muslim old age home... Society had found its balance, and knew where the dangers of ethnic tension lay.

Fishermen at work. Photo by the author.

South Africa is under a lot of stress at the moment. As the government ramps up its COVID-19 testing program, and an extension of the lockdown is announced, many wonder if their jobs would still be there, or where the next meal will come from. Someone shared a video on social media claiming that health workers are not doing testing in suspect areas, they are, in fact, spreading the virus! He was arrested in short order and brought before a magistrate, but not before the video had spread throughout the country.

Globally, though, people seem to revert to atavistic practices and beliefs because science is not telling them what they want to hear. Fake cures are grasped at as we face this unknown danger.

Take a deep breath, stay calm and be safe. 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 10, 2020 07:10

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Source: The Guardian

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