So this is it. That’s how it all started. You know, the crowd, at the end of the day, amassed on the edge of a red dirt road. The ruts of the storm of the day before, still a little waterlogged. Mosquitoes that start to fly without restraint. The smell of the brewers that women light in the houses for the evening meal. Some stars that begin to appear. Children who gesticulate and shout. And there, all of a sudden, this giant covered with colorful clothes, glittering in the last rays of the sun, running faster than a man, causing crowd movements. We are caught by him, and pushed back too. Fascination, fear. Attraction, repulsion. He accelerates as soon as he sees me. He throws himself literally on me, but a helper stops him with a stick, which he interposes between him and me. He is the Egun, the ghost. The soul of a dead person who animates this colored garment. I can smell the smell of his sweat – the dead still sweat?
He leaves in his infernal dance, his race against life, developing clouds of red dust, a warm breath that spreads over his face. Death rode. Spectrum not hideous but beautiful. A man is touched, the Egun caught him with “hands” (they are covered with gloves in black cloth: no skin is visible). The victim lies motionless on the ground, face down. Adepts come to raise the body and carry it ceremoniously to the nearest convent, to revive it ritually. The Egun continues on his way, he climbs the floors, the attics, jumps from one roof to another, and lands in front of me. His hot breath, again. and his voice, now: he speaks to me, I must kneel, and listen to him piously. Throw a few thousand CFA francs, too. His voice is hoarse, beyond the grave, supernatural. He speaks Yoruba, the language of the ancestors. “Achi Baba” I answer. I can only answer these words. “Achi Baba”. It gives me revelations about my past, my future. The present does not exist: as soon as the word has been pronounced, it already belongs to the past. So, there are only two beats, and nothing else. The rest would be a mere invention of the mind. The Egun does exist, however. They are not made of flesh, but of spirit.
Philippe Charlier, MD, PhD, LittD, is a forensic practitioner and anthropologist. He works on representations of the human bodies, and rituals related to diseases and death. He loves words, and more.