A Brush with Magic

We return today with a curious object resembling a small brush – except that on closer examination you can see that it has lengths of fur pelts, not bristles extending from the handle. The wooden handle itself is shaped like the head of a bird and is wrapped with textiles, beads and champagne corks. So what is it, you may be wondering?

Toka Witch Doctor Wand
Toka Witch Doctor Wand

It is in fact, a witch doctor’s wand originating from the Toka tribe of southern Zambia. It was used for detecting the presence of witchcraft and was worn around the waist of a diviner. It was bequeathed to the University, along with a range of other ethnographic items, in 1997 by Ladislav Holy, who was Professor of Social Anthropology here from 1987-1997. Holy conducted extensive fieldwork amongst the Berti of Sudan and the Toka of Zambia from 1968-1972 when he was Director of the Livingstone Museum in, Zambia.

The witch doctor’s wand inspired Gordon Jarvie to write this poem:

With a swish of his whisk, or wand
Remembering Chief Olaiya Fagbamige, of Akure (1925–1983)

Describing their proposals as superfluous,
he asked if his compound didn’t already contain
within its walls the temples and shrines
of seven hundred and twenty deities?

Then, with an appropriate swish of their wands
the Deji’s courtiers dismissed the Christians
from his chiefly presence. End of audience.

Gordon Jarvie

Gordon Jarvie worked in schoolbook publishing for a decade in the 1970s, with a brief covering Africa. His bestseller was a set of objective tests in English, but he also commissioned poetry; one good collection was called Reading African Poetry (1978).


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