Fato’s brow furrowed. The Hewa shaman, Watofo, had gone in and out of consciousness with the fevers, but now he was making no sense. Fato, Waina and Kifeson had received news their relative was sick so they had hiked to his village to see him, but now Fato felt the dreaded shadow of hopelessness creep up through his stomach and chest, and then manifest itself with a wave of dizziness.
“Don’t just stare at me,” Watofo said, but then he broke into a cough. Fato waited while Watofo pulled his arms tight to his chest, evidently trying to ease the pain ripping through his lungs. Eventually the coughing stopped, and Watofo lay in a fetal position, with every muscle tensed in agony. “I can’t do this anymore.”
Fato didn’t know what to think and turned to look at Kifeson. Watofo was one of the spiritual teachers. He was one who had learned the art of harmonizing the spirit realm. He had proved himself to be powerful in stopping death with his practice of offering pig’s blood to the benevolent spirits. Everyone respected his ability to ward off the evil spirits lurking in the valleys around his hamlet, but now he was the one who had been eaten by the spirits. Fato didn’t know how to help and it was clear from Kifeson’s blank stare that he also was drowning in confusion also. It was too late to summon a shaman from a different village- they were simply too far away.
After a little time Watofo’s arms and body relaxed, but his eyes widened with fear. “They’re not telling me what to do,” he said through clenched teeth.
Fato leaned forward where he was sitting on the floor by his relative. “Who’s not telling you? What aren’t they telling you?” Watofo’s eyes grew even wider and then he moaned and rolled his head to look down to the slatted floor he was lying on.
Fato sat watching as Watofo’s ribs heaved up and down with a pattern of shallow breathing. He had witnessed this same rapid breathing with others who were near death. Clearly the evil spirits had ambushed him and eaten his soul, something that couldn’t happen to shaman. Fato had never claimed to know the answers. He had simply followed the advice and commands of the different spiritual leaders, never considering they also might be vulnerable. Then he knew what to do. “I’ll kill a pig,” he offered. “I have helped give the blood of pigs to the spirits with you before. I know what to do.”
“No,” wheezed Watofo, but then he started coughing again.
“Kifeson can help me,” Fato said. “We have helped with so many sacrifices I’m sure we can remember the proper words.”
Watofo clenched his chest and bent double again as the coughing took over. It kept going until Watofo began gagging, resulting in blood draining from his mouth.
Fato and Kifeson both jumped up and stood staring down at the dying man, and so did Fauwa, Watofo’s oldest son. It had not been very long since Watofo’s wife died and now Fato watched as his son, Fauwa, wiped away tears and tried to stop his chin from trembling.
But then Watofo motioned with his hand and forced the words through blood red lips. “No, no,” he wheezed.
Fato was distraught. “But there is no other way.”
“No, no, no! No more. They don’t care about us. They promised they would keep us from dying but now I see they don’t save us. They are just tricking us.”
Fato’s eyes grew wide with fear. “Who is tricking us?”
Then Watofo made a broad sweep with his arm toward the painted pictures of spirits that covered the walls of the spirit hut. “We dance for them. We beat our drums for them. We give our best pig fat to them and yet when we need them they turn away. They are just mocking us.”
Fato stared at the pictures the boys had painted under Watofo’s watchful eye. One was of the pine tree spirit, another of the spirits of the dogs. One was of two ancestor sisters, another of the possum spirit. Surely one of them would feel sorry and accept pig’s blood.
“Take them down,” Watofo said, repeating what he had said earlier. “I don’t want them gloating as I die. Rip them into pieces and burn them in a bonfire.”
Fato was stunned. He had never heard anyone speak harshly of the benevolent spirits, especially a shaman.
“What are you doing?” he asked, risking another fit of coughing. His eyes narrowed. “Why are you waiting?”
Fato and Waina stood, but Fato feared angering the helpful spirits. Kifeson wasn’t as bound by fear though, and motioned for Watofo’s son, Fauwa, to help him break the vines that held the bark sheets on the wall. They managed to break one picture loose, and Fato gasped when it dropped, and folded under its own weight, collapsing when it split in half. Another dropped, and then another. Kifeson didn’t seem worried about the consequences, but Fato couldn’t bring himself to dishonor the spirits in this way. Nothing like this had been done before.
“Now get them out of here,” Watofo ordered. “His voice was barely above a whisper, but his intent rang clear. Then his next words stopped Fato’s heart. “I changed my mind. Don’t just burn them. I have a better idea. Take them straight into the menstrual hut and desecrate them by putting them on the floor. Have the women step on them. They deserve nothing better than to be contaminated by woman’s blood and left to rot!”
Fato held his breath, fearing sudden disaster. He felt like bolting out the door and running as fast as he could. What if the spirits decide to strike me dead too? What if their anger wipes out the entire Hewa population? He lay down in dread that night, and decided to leave as soon as dawn broke. Earlier he had admired and even feared Watofo, but now he didn’t know what to think. Can the spirits actually be playing tricks on us? Is it possible we are all doomed? If the spirits weren’t mad before, surely they will be enraged now.
Watofo died that evening and was soon buried near his spirit hut. His son, Fauwa, and other children fled to Fato’s village as orphans, but their youngest sister died with the same sickness on the long hike, and then two more died as soon as they arrived. Then Fato, his wife, sons and father also became deathly ill. It was only by God’s mercy that medicine arrived just in time to save their lives.
Fato later adopted Fauwa and his siblings and by God’s grace the Gospel was taught in their village in 2008. Fato led his village to trust in Jesus for eternal life- not to escape death here on earth as the ancestors promised, but for a joy-filled eternity with God in His new heaven and earth. Fato, Waina and Fauwa have grown in their faith and have developed a passion to teach the Word. Pray for these men and ask the Lord to bring true trust in Jesus to all the Hewa hamlets and beyond.