Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Mysterious Dwarfs

The Mysterious Dwarfs

“Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs Ltd.” The bold green letters leaped shrilly off of the lorry.  What an auspicious omen!  I snatched my camera triumphantly and jammed it out of the back window of Wofa’s car, wildly clicking the shutter at the rapidly diminishing lorry.  Looking back on all of it now, those blurry dark pictures were as close as I ever got to an actual Mysterious Dwarf.

For that was the object of this weekend trip to Cape Coast; discovery and contact with an actual mmoatia, a Mysterious Dwarf.  Not a Mysterious Ghanaian, not a Regular Dwarf, but a Mysterious Dwarf, endowed with magical powers, born to raise mischief, an elusive and some might say, nonexistent denizen of lower Ghana.  Cape Coast in particular has embraced the legend of the mmoatia, seeing fit even to name their soccer team after the legendary little men.  And paint “Mysterious Dwarfs” in green letters on lorries in homage to either the team, or the legend, or perhaps both in equal measure.

Angela and I had traveled to Cape Coast to visit Dr. Wofa, a professor at the University of Cape Coast and one of our instructors at Peace Corps training that previous Summer in Koforidua.  We were captivated by the legends of the mmoatia as told to us by Wofa, and for my part not a little skeptical as well. We wanted to dig into the mystery a little bit at any rate.  Wofa gave us an open invitation to join him and meet a Mysterious Dwarf or three, and we eagerly took him up on the offer.

Now near as I could tell, the mmoatia were a legend created to explain less than savory behavior on the part of antagonistic tribes and ne'er-do-well rakes in bygone years.  The mmoatia were small and stealthy, it is said, and only active after dark.  They could travel great distances quickly and without making a sound.  Probably their most distinguishing feature, however, was the fact that their feet were affixed backwards to their legs.  This made tracking them very difficult, because their footsteps would naturally lead their pursuers to where they came from, and not to where they were going.  People attempting to follow Dwarfs would become hopelessly lost in the process.  The mmoatia are said to be about one foot tall, and come in three colors; black, red, and white.  They amuse themselves with petty mischief for the most part, stealing palm wine and food, but are also known most seriously to steal babies and take them into the forest to become new mmoatia.  Because of this they are ultimately feared and viewed with trepidation, particularly among young mothers I would presume.

Mostly the Mysterious Dwarfs keep to themselves deep in the forest, but apparently there are Wizards who can communicate with and even sometimes control them.  And at the time I spotted the lorry we were heading in that circuitous African way into the green hills above Cape Coast to see just such a man, a man who claimed that he had talked to and even met the elusive mmoatia.  A Wizard.  A Witch Doctor.  A Dwarf Guy, if you will.  If all went well – and all portents pointed now dramatically to a successful conclusion – by midnight we could be up to our kneecaps in Mysterious Dwarfs.  I wondered what they were like; did they dance and sing songs?  Did they think tall white people were creatures of fantasy as well?  Quite frankly I was skeptical that we would actually see any sort of Dwarf, Mysterious or otherwise.  But I enjoyed the legend, and I wanted to believe.  But could I believe in their existence?

For it was for me, essentially, an argument of faith.  Can you believe in something that you can not see?  Like God and Jesus?  Trolls and Dragons?  Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy?  Mysterious Dwarfs with backwards feet?  As our car wandered slowly up the wet coast towards the Wizard’s village, I pondered the following idea.  The Dwarfs are mystical, magical creatures.  Since there is no tangible proof of their existence, they require our belief in them to be real.  An existential creation, made flesh by the will of our collective minds.  Put another way, if you can not bring yourself to believe in the Dwarfs, then you certainly stand no chance of seeing any.  But if you can believe, really believe, then, well, why not?

The key to successful Dwarf viewing, I concluded as our car stopped for the second time in front of the Wizard’s house (this time well stocked with akpeteshie, unlike the first time we stopped there), was true faith.  Did I really believe in the Mysterious Dwarfs?  I was not sure if I did or not.  I felt like I was being subject to one of those theoretical discussions we used to have in physics class regarding the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics.  As I recall it, the Copenhagen interpretation states that light can be viewed as either a wave or a particle, but not both simultaneously.  If you set up an experiment to prove that light is a wave, then by gosh light will appear as a wave.  But on the other hand if you set up an experiment to view the same light as a particle, then of course the light will appear as a particle, and not a wave.  And light can never be both a wave and a particle simultaneously.  Perhaps neither wave nor particle correctly describes what light really is.  Perhaps the concepts of wave and particle box us in to a particular way of thinking that does not allow use to understand the true nature of light.

What does this have to do with Mysterious Dwarfs, you ask?  The way I see it, the experiment this weekend was to ascertain if Mysterious Dwarfs exist nor not.  And if you go into the experiment trying to prove that Dwarfs exist, then you will be given proof that they do exist.  But however if you go into the same experiment trying to prove that the Dwarfs most certainly do not exist, then by gosh you will be given proof that they do not exist.  Problem was, I wasn’t sure which proof I wanted to make, and there wasn’t much time to make up my mind.  Being a bit of a skeptic and saddled in this instance with a scientific mind, I think I was leaning towards “don’t exist”, but I was captivated by the legends and by the sincerity of their telling, and part of me wanted to believe.  But there wasn’t much time to make up my mind because finally we had arrived once and for all at the Wizard’s house.

Stepping out of the car we were unceremoniously led into the Wizard’s simple home and introduced to him.  The Wizard was a small, old, ruddy man with large expressive eyes and expansive arms.  His hair was turning grey, but still full nonetheless, and he had the fit wiry physique of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors.  In the forest, with the Dwarfs, perhaps.  He led us into the back of his house in to a small dark chamber, and I couldn’t help but notice how small he was.  But he wasn’t a Dwarf.  Not yet.

As we partook in the usual akpeteshie libation ceremony with toasts to our health, and to the health of the Wizard’s family, and the health of the mmoatia, my eyes became accustomed to the dim light and I couldn’t help but notice something that looked an awful lot like dried blood on the far wall of the room.  West Africa is known as the birthplace of Voodoo, or Vodun as it’s known in Ghana, and creepy shrines and dried blood always put me a bit on edge.  But I also knew that we were in the Akan part of Ghana, and Vodun is not practiced by the Akan, just the Ewe on the East side of the Volta River.  Still, Africa, dried blood, shrines, Wizards, you know, it was enough to get my attention.  Maybe there was something here, after all.  I was a little frightened, but a little excited as well.  Other than that the room did not have much to offer in terms of creepy mysticism.  No enticing runes painted on the wall, no silent flickering candles – just a couple of small uncomfortable chairs and a dingy curtain which was pulled across the far corner of the room like a Japanese divider.

Angela, Wofa, and I all took seats, and the Wizard began by trying to sell us some magic rings.  We politely declined.  Next he offered to cast spells of healing and/or destruction for another small fee, which we also politely declined.  In retrospect I really think we should have pooled together and bought something from the enterprising old Wizard.  Eventually after some subtle and diplomatic prodding on our part he got around to our request.

“So, you want to see a Dwarf?”  He commented inquisitive and slow, taking us all in with a suitable air of suspense.  He aimed his large eyes right at mine, binding me uncomfortably with the hollow stare of someone who has seen way too much for his own good, and asked me if I really really wanted to see a Dwarf.  Why do they always know to ask the guy who isn’t sure?  I could only nod my head and manage a hoarse, unconvincing “yes” sound.  I swear he was singling me out, it wasn’t fair.

Form behind his stool the Wizard then produced an old gin bottle filled with a nefarious-looking black powder.  “Take some of this,” he casually intoned, “it will protect you.”  Protect me from what, exactly?  Why do I need protection all of a sudden?  I was suddenly very unhappy with this whole arrangement.  The powder looked like crushed charcoal.  I sprinkled a small pile into my left hand, and armed with a chaser of akpeteshie in my right hand, downed that choking dry powder and quickly followed it up with a shot of straight-up African moonshine.  Well, I figured, the akpeteshie should kill anything harmful in the charcoal at least…  Seriously, what the heck did I just get myself into?  Was I about to start hallucinating about Dwarfs?  And that was probably the best-case scenario here.  Various thoughts of foaming at the mouth and dying slowly in a hot dark room far from home filled my brain as the Wizard proceeded to conceal himself behind the thin curtain in the far corner of the room. 

In a clear voice, the Wizard, in English, commanded the Dwarf to appear.  Nothing happened.  I was strangely unexcited by the conjuration in process, being slightly more fixated on the fact that I just, by my own volition mind you, ate magic charcoal.  The Wizard tried again.  Still nothing.  But then, after a suitably dramatic pause, another voice filled the space, ancient, laconic.

“What do you want?”  It was a Dwarf.  The Dwarf curtly demanded, “I am very tired.”

“I have some people here who want to see Dwarfs,” the Wizard faithfully replied.

“Hummmmph,” the Dwarf half-chuckled, half-grunted.  “I see.  Well I, Kra-Dasi-Dasi, can not see anybody today.  Come back Friday.”  So – contact was established, but the Dwarf was busy.

Hummmmph, I thought as well.  We drove all this way to eat charcoal, sit in a hot dark room, and listen to a bad ventriloquist show.  The chance seemed awfully slim that we were listening to an actual Mysterious Dwarf.  I just couldn’t be real, could it?  Or maybe it was that I just couldn’t really believe in it, I countered to myself.  You cynic.  Mr. Enlightenment, Mr. Quantum Physics, Mr. Atomic bomb, you are quite simply incapable in believing in magic.  Face it.  There’s nothing magical in your modern world and you can’t let real magic in anymore.  You have laughed it all away to Hollywood and Disneyland.  You have actually forfeited even the right to see Dwarfs, Trolls, and magic rings.  You are to be pitied, quite frankly.

But right here was my change to try, to cast away all those veneers of cynicism and step for once, for the first time maybe, into another world, an older world than I even thought could exist.  I closed my eyes tightly, and for a moment I tried.  I really tried.  Slowly, small fingers curled around the edge of the curtain, and it opened to reveal not one, but three Mysterious Dwarfs.  First a black Dwarf, with wide smiling eyes.  Then a red Dwarf, with wild hair and large hands.  Finally a white Dwarf, with teeth filed to sharp points and a fierce expression on his ghost-white face.  The white one looked at me, beckoned me towards him.  I prayed that the powder would protect me as I leaned in close.  He could read my mind. He fixed me with his gaze and said, “You are foolish not to believe in magic, obruni.”  Then he opened his mouth to reveal his teeth, filed sharp as the fangs of a snake and gleaming white in the black vastness of his open maw.  Wider and wider his mouth became, until it filled the whole room, until there was nothing left except the blackness inside of the mouth of the Dwarf

With a start I opened my eyes, and there I was again sitting in a small hot dark room, listening to this old man having a conversation with himself, sitting with a sour conceited enlightened smirk on my face.  The magic was not there, and I felt bitter and disappointed that I had been deceived into wanting it even as little as I did, and that I couldn’t really believe in it when the time came.

Perhaps that’s the essence of the downside of my modern Western developed world, I contemplated glumly as we picked our way through the bland dusk towards the semi-order of Cape Coast once again.  We have lost our capacity for true faith.  It has been pushed aside by the space shuttle and the silicon wafer.  All the things that we know have made irrelevant all the things we used to believe, including magic.  And something inside of us that was once wondrous and full of color has been lost for good, and been replaced by something cynical and grey.  Secretly I was still hoping that we might take a wrong turn somewhere just so I could say, mockingly, “those damn Dwarfs.”  But it all seemed mean-spirited and wrong to mock, somehow.  I didn’t feel like I proved that the Dwarfs did or did not exist.  All I proved was that I was tragically incapable of believing in them, and that knowledge made me sad. 

We may have lost our way with magic, but we managed to not get lost on the way back from the Wizard’s village, which was no small feat given the meager navigational skills of the three of us in the car. However we did get into a car accident while crossing a small bridge – a minor collision with a gruff little slab of concrete which was quite obviously the work of trolls, right?  Right?  Right.

No comments:

Post a Comment