Shapeshifters and the shadow world

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023 09:01 | By

Chomz-the first book by writer Farrah Bhaijee’s from Umbea Mtaani series, takes readers through an experience out of the hidden world. The book tells of a shadow world trapped in a mirror that’s well archived in an old house at the coastal town of Mombaaz. There is also a revelation of a shapeshifter from that world coming to the natural world as a lizard and the main cast Chomz, who is trapped in a goat is working to release others like him into the natural world.

Umbea mtaani is an exciting and fun read, but the stories in there are a rather popular talk in Mombasa streets, especially among natives of the Old Town. There are stories about jini and witches that can shape shift into animals such as cats, dogs and house crows. Growing up in Mombasa, Farrah, popularly known as Nanu, says was a major inspiration for the book. 

“My experience with the supernatural world started from childhood. I would get numerous warnings such as ‘Nanu don’t ever answer any voice that calls your name at night. Nanu if you hear footsteps coming up the stairs, but don’t see anyone, say your prayers.’ Often, at home, we would hear dishes knock against each other at night and I was told ‘Wenye nyumba wanateta na wageni’. Be wary of people who walk around at night with their feet backwards or off the ground! Lizards, bees and ants all bring different news to you, treat them kindly and with caution,” shares the writer.

In her early teenage years, she shrugged such talk off as a child’s wild imagination; everyone has things that seemed like magic to them at that age.  But even in her older years, some of those warnings echo at the back of her mind.

“Writing about the lores and the supernatural was a no-brainer. Originally, I had started some of my research online and in books that spoke of the beliefs from a religious point of view. But the true flesh comes from the small clusters of people. The old wazees who not only understand how to identify, but explain these things. There is not a single person I have met in Mombasa who does not have a supernatural story and we share them so willingly with our friends and family… whether fact or fiction, the shadow world teaches us to see the world in much more than black and white,” she says. 

While the story holds a thrill that adventurous young readers gravitate towards, it also raises a lot of questions as to whether shapeshifters in both animal and spirit forms do exist. According to female Mijikenda elder, Dama Kirao Wa Kenga, the shadow world is as real as the day and if one is attentive enough, they will experience its existence at some point in life.

“When you are very aware, you can feel that sometimes something is following your movement. Sometimes it is such a small house animal such as a lizard or a bee. You notice its presence around you at some very strange time and maybe place… and sometimes seem to really be trailing you. There are times when you will see them with your naked eye and sometimes it’s just a feeling that something or someone is around. I know it because I myself have experienced it, in my sleep and when fully awake. So it is real,” Shares Dama.

Traditional and divine protection

According to the elder, it is important to always pray to God whenever you feel a strange presence around you.

“When you start praying and asking God for protection, you will notice something happen. For instance, a movement or a fall of some kind inside or outside your house. Shapeshifters can use any form of animal, bird or just be invisible to come do or take something from you. How to pray so they have no access to you or your home: Put clean water in a basin then put the water in your room. Pray and leave the water to sit there throughout the night. Early the next morning, take the water and pour it on the ground slowly right outside your door. If you stay in a storey apartment, pour the water outside the gate. These creatures will have no more access to your environment,” she educates on the traditional ways.

While there are biblical indications of a lot of supernatural existence, Mombasa-based Pastor-Jolline Katama shares that the gospel does not sell fear of any kind towards them.

“Psalms 91, from verse five talks about animal features such as lions and cobras, but also the same verse gives the reassurance that if you make the most High your refuge, you will trample over them all. You will be rescued from all that come against you and that God’s angels will encamp around you. All these things might be true; the lizard can observe you if it wants, but if you are under the covering of God Almighty, what else can it do to you? All this is just noise and fear and not healthy for any believer to indulge. You have been told that He who lives in you is greater than any force in the world,” say the pastor who is also a lawyer.

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