Sunday, 14 August 2011

Grease devils

Six youths dressed in black posing off as ‘grease devils’ are alleged to have entered the Uduwara Tea estate in Badulla and after forcing the female tea pluckers to kneel had performed a devil dance. Estate labourers who were alerted by all the commotion had rushed to the scene had caught the youth who were believed to have been from Halpe and after giving them a sound thrashing had handed them over to the Ella police.Police said a three wheeler used by the youth had been taken into custody. They said some women were injured when fleeing from the grease devils who had also attempted to harm a school girl.The Ella police under the direction of OIC Bandara Ratnayake are investigating the incident.

Source: Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), 11 August 2011
Photo from the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), 11 August 2011

Reports on the Grease Devil story have been numerous: for examples of other accounts, see the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka), Daily News, Reuters and the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka).

An excellent overview of this long-running and complex phenomenon also recently appeared in The Fortean Times (no.281, November 2011).

Railroad therapy

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Ignoring the red-and-white danger sign, Sri Mulyati walks slowly to the train tracks outside Indonesia's bustling capital, lies down and stretches her body across the rails.

Like the nearly dozen others lined up along the track, the 50-year-old diabetes patient has all but given up on doctors and can't afford the expensive medicines they prescribe.

In her mind, she has only one option left: electric therapy.

"I'll keep doing this until I'm completely cured," said Mulyati, twitching visibly as an oncoming passenger train sends an extra rush of current racing through her body.

She leaps from tracks as it approaches and then, after the last carriage rattles slowly by, climbs back into position.

Pseudo-medical treatments are wildly popular in many parts of Asia — where rumours about those miraculously cured after touching a magic stone or eating dung from sacred cows can attract hundreds, sometimes thousands.

That may be especially true in Indonesia, where chronic funding shortages and chaotic decentralisation efforts since the 1998 ouster of longtime dictator Suharto have left many disillusioned with the state-sponsored health system, said Marius Widjajarta, chairman of the Indonesian Health Consumers Empowerment Foundation.

Medical experts say there is no evidence lying on the rails does any good.

But Mulyati insists it provides more relief for her symptoms — high-blood pressure, sleeplessness and high cholesterol — than any doctor has since she was first diagnosed with diabetes 13 years ago.

She turned to train track therapy last year after hearing a rumour about an ethnic Chinese man who was partially paralysed by a stroke going to the tracks to kill himself, but instead finding himself cured.

It's a story that's been told and retold in Indonesia.

Until recently, more than 50 people would show up at the Rawa Buaya tracks every day. But the numbers have dropped since police and the state-run railroad company erected a warning sign and threatened penalties of up to three months in prison or fines of $1,800.

No one has been arrested yet, and none of the participants in train track therapy has died.

But the dedicated dozen a day who still come say they have no plans to stop.

"They told us not to do it anymore, but what else can I do," said Hadi Winoto, a 50-year-old stroke victim who has trouble walking.

"I want to be cured, so I have to come back."

Source: Associated Press, 2 August 2011

Georgian portents

Out of a swelter come apocalyptic visions

TBILISI, Georgia — Word that scorpions had been sighted on her street clinched it, as far as Nana Beniashvili was concerned.

In the asphalt-melting, earth-parching, brain-scrambling heat of midsummer, residents of Tbilisi need something to talk about.

The giant locusts had been bad enough, and the snakes, which are known in Georgian as “that which cannot be mentioned.” She actually hadn’t seen any scorpions herself, but she believed that one of her neighbours had, and in the asphalt-melting, earth-parching, brain-scrambling heat of midsummer, she was not in the mood to be fastidious about evidence.

“This means the apocalypse is coming,” said Ms Beniashvili, 72, who was leaning out of a window. “I cannot tell you exactly when, because I am not very knowledgeable about this. But it is clear that the apocalypse is coming. The world has gone crazy.

“Anyway, I hope we will survive,” she sighed, and went inside to look for lemonade.

There were theories being propagated in Ms Beniashvili’s neighbourhood: that the locusts were mutants caused by the meltdown at Chernobyl; that the snakes had been imported in train cars by some shadowy enemy; that all these natural phenomena were the result of certain explosions that happened 11 years ago on the surface of the sun.

But the most incisive commentary belonged to Tamar Khardziani, an entomologist at the Tbilisi zoo, who has spent much of this unusually hot summer attempting to soothe her excitable countrymen.

“It’s Georgia,” she said. “There has to be something to talk about.”
There is something biblical about Tbilisi under any circumstances.

It proved immune to the poured concrete that homogenised the great cities of the Soviet empire. Here, narrow cobblestone streets cut into the side of a mountain, and wooden balconies hang out over the sidewalks. In the heat, which last week was recorded at 106 degrees, fruit sellers stack watermelons into pyramids and then vanish into the high-ceilinged shadows. Real life begins after dark, when people gather under grape arbors smelling of roses, pour glasses of chilled wine, and talk.

Every summer there is something to talk about. Last year, it was people trying to kill themselves by jumping off bridges into the mud-coloured Mtkvari River. This summer, television news has reported on pestilence, starting with snakes, followed by a swarm of unusually large locusts that were migrating through the city. Guram Tsiklauri, a herpetologist who responds to calls from citizens, is exasperated by the topic, saying that in 30 years he has observed no variation in the prevalence of snakes, and that none of the local species are poisonous anyway.

“I’m just fed up with seeing this on television,” said Mr Tsiklauri, who heads the zoo’s reptile house. If there is one natural anomaly he has recorded, it is the extravagant emotions that serpents arouse in Georgians. Occasionally, he said, he will arrive at an address where there has been a complaint about snakes to discover that the house has been locked and the family is standing in the street, vowing to sell the property.

At a recent call he located a snake under the floorboards, and though he assured the family it was harmless, they were so distraught that he offered to pry up the floor to retrieve it. By the time he left, he said, “we had basically destroyed the whole house.” The family was so grateful, he said, that “they were almost carrying us around on their shoulders.”

Asked to explain this, Mr Tsiklauri looked thoughtful.

“Georgians are very emotional people,” he said. “They want to have this emotion of fear. They like the feeling of threat.” They are also capable of calming down very quickly, he added.

Passion seems built into the foundations of Georgia, one of the first countries to accept Christianity.

A cathedral outside Tbilisi commemorates Sidonia, a first-century Christian convert said to have died from the emotion that surged through her when she held the robe of Christ, gripping the fabric so fiercely that it had to be buried with her. The name of a church on Tbilisi’s main thoroughfare can be translated as “a stone was born,” after an unpleasant tale from the sixth century: when a Christian ascetic was accused by a nun of impregnating her, he became so incensed that he wished that, if she was lying, the baby would be born a stone.

By those standards, this summer’s plagues are nothing special. Small, harmless scorpions have always sheltered in the dark corners of Tbilisi’s old wooden houses, along with what Ms Khardziani described as “a lot of other very interesting invertebrates,” occasionally appearing in public and producing a brief panic. (A visit to a neighbourhood where an infestation had been reported found not a single resident who had seen one.)

By mid-August, when the summer heat breaks, all of the creatures will have drawn back from populated areas, where they often go seeking shade or food. But snakes will almost continue to trouble Georgians; in Georgian, the word can also mean Satan. When citizens call Mr Tsiklauri for help, they often try to avoid using the word, telling him only, “I saw that.”

Indeed, inside Ms Beniashvili’s house, a discussion of snakes so unnerved one elderly relative that she felt the need to interrupt.

“Don’t say that word!” the woman called out from the other side of the door. “It means that someone is saying something bad about you.”

Source: The New York Times, 2 August 2011

Monday, 8 August 2011

Lions and tigers in the streets of London

According to Channel 4 News, Russian TV coverage of the riots in London reported that lions and tigers had escaped from London Zoo and could be heard roaring in the streets.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The devil-worshippers' playground

Rumors of devil worshipping in Lufkin, many of which take place at Ellen Trout Park, have been circulating at school lunch tables since the 1980s

This week we travel into the dark woods across Ellen Trout Lake to a semi-circle of stone benches rumored to be a devil worshiper’s playground.

“I followed this girl dressed in black across the bridge and then hid behind a tree so she wouldn’t see me,” the teen told his circle of friends who leaned in around the lunch table, listening intently to his tale. “From where I was hiding I watched her and three others take a bunch of candles and light them. Then they stood in a circle around the candles and chanted while she took a rat and a dagger out of her backpack.”

“And then, let me guess,” one girl said huffily rolling her eyes. “She sacrificed the rat to the devil. You really expect us to believe that?”

“Well, she did,” he said firmly, trying to shrug off her doubt.

Stories like this one have been passed across East Texas lunch tables since the ’80s, likely stemming from the “height of the Satan worship movement,” according to a “20/20” expose.

Charlotte Henley, Ellen Trout Zoo director of educational services, has lived in Ellen Trout Park, not far from the stone benches, for the last three decades and had no knowledge of the devil worship rumor until she got a phone call from a Lufkin Daily News reporter last week. She didn’t have to do much asking around before finding a source close to home.

“I talked to both of my kids who are now grown and they had heard the same rumors — rumors of people being over there sacrificing animals and tying rags to trees,” Henley said. “My daughter told me that any tree they tied a rag on was supposed to die.”

Henley’s son, who is now in his 20s, told his mom about seeing something suspicious as a kid while riding his bike in the woods, as he often did.

“He said he rode his bike over there and saw some people sitting around the old fireman building,” she said. “When they saw him, he said one of them stood up. He said he didn’t stick around to find out what they were doing.”

The building Henley is referring to was a concrete structure used by the city for the fire department, she said. The stone semi-circle, Henley said, has been there at least 35 years. She said she believes it was put there as a Scout project.

Lufkin Police Det. JB Smith said he has no knowledge of any calls the department has responded to in regard to witchcraft or devil worship at Ellen Trout Park. He pulled a report that dated back to 1997 and found nothing documented in police record.

“I’ve never heard the rumor of witchcraft at the zoo,” Smith said. “But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.”

Lufkin Daily News, 10 July 2011

Capitalist ritual murder and workers' riots

Sacrifice rumour spurs project ransack

JAMSHEDPUR: A group of villagers ransacked the premises of Abhijeet Group's upcoming integrated steel plant at Seraikela-Kharsawan and assaulted company officials and policemen on Monday following rumours of two children are taken for sacrifice, prompting the law enforcers to lathicharge and fire in the air to disperse the mob.

Police, however, said the suspect might have come to the company with his two children to seek a job.

According to a villager, some people saw 60-year-old Santosh Singh, a resident of Burkundi in Ramgarh, with two children Bulu (3) and Bajrangi (4) near the company gate. Suspecting foul play, a group of local people immediately stopped him at the company gate and inquired his purpose to visit the company with the two children. "When Santosh failed to give a satisfactory reply, the people lost their cool," said the villager.

With rumours of a recent human sacrifice still fresh in people's mind, the villagers not only attacked the suspect but also the security personnel at the company gate and ransacked the company's property. They were so violent that plant head S Ramkrishna and his colleague C S Chandrashekar, too, were beaten up severely. By the time, senior police officers reached the site, much damage was done to the company assets and its officials were assaulted.

Times of India, 18 July 2011
For more reports on this story, click here and here.