Tuesday, April 12, 2005

faith stories: elka of the wai wai -introduction

The faith stories I’ve been reading here sent me to my bookshelf to find more. The book Christ’s Witchdoctor caught my eye. It is one of most gripping faith stories I’ve ever read.

The story of Elka, a respected witchdoctor of the Wai Wai tribe of British Guiana is told by Homer Dowdy, a Wheaton College grad and Michigan journalist. In order to write it Mr. Dowdy spent an extended period in intensive research in the jungles of British Guiana, becoming intimately acquainted with the tribespeople and recording long interviews on tape.

Unfortunately, the book is out of print (Harper and Rowe, ©1963) and doesn’t look to be widely available. For that reason and because a big part of the story’s impact and charm is in the way it’s told (this is creative non-fiction at its best), I’m going to quote Chapter 8 of this book in its entirety – but it’s long, so I'll break it into seven installments.

(I’m sure this sample of Mr. Dowdy’s writing will whet your appetite for more so if the book ever becomes available again, you’ll want to read the whole volume. I picked up my copy when our church library was getting rid of old, rarely circulated books.)

Here is a paragraph from the dust jacket notes, which describes the setting and briefly tells the story to this point:

"Elka shares the Wai Wais’ debaucheries and fears. He tells the reader of the ways of jungle witchcraft– how a witchdoctor can cure his patient by blowing over hot pebbles onto the sick person, how he is transported into a world of eerie spirits by swallowing smoke and chanting spirit songs, how he can kill by blowing on the belongings of another person and "eating his spirit." Elka’s belief in his powers of witchcraft are shaken, however, when a young child (Little Crab) dies despite his treatment."

Influenced by the missionaries’ teachings about God’s power, Elka begins to both blow and pray...

part 1 ...


Anonymous said...

I have just read Christ's witchdoctor and found it the best read in a long time. Does anyone know if Elka is alive or his son? Are the Wai Wai people still Christian?

violet said...

Hi MEG, thanks for coming by. Isn't Christ's Witchdoctor a great book!

An interesting thing happened in March this year. I heard from a man named Marcos in Brazil, who said he had just returned from a Wai Wai village where they had run a VBS. He also sent me some photos of the Wai Wai and a photo of Elka's brother. Elka has died, however.

You can see that post here

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