“I’m not afraid of evil spirits anymore,” said a middle-aged tribal man after we hiked together into a river valley the villagers previously avoided, “but whenever I think of the huge rock up in the Faile Creek I get the jitters. Did you know it has a spirit plant growing out of the top of it?”
I was intrigued. I had heard about the feared rock and was looking for an opportunity to hike to that area of the jungle. What could cause a big rock to hold such fear in my friends? They had many ancestral stories of how the worst spirits inhabited the rocky valleys and I wanted to learn more about their background beliefs.
A few weeks later I struck up a conversation with a newly married believer about the big rock. “We used to be terrified of that place,” said Toni one morning. “My dad told us never to go anywhere near that area or we would be sure to meet a tragic end.” He quickly turned away and stifled a nervous laugh.
I wondered if he had lingering doubts.
But then Toni’s face lit up and he said, “You want to go there right now? I’ll take you. I know the best trails to get there.”
“Sure,” I answered, happy to take a break from my office, “but give me a few minutes to pack a bag.” I looked around wondering who else could come with us. “Faimpat,” I called to my friend who was also in our discipleship course. “Do you have time to go on a hike?” As soon as he heard what we were planning, he eagerly volunteered and I was pleased when the two boys, Kaifas and Ninki, also offered to go with us.
“I don’t know if we can get there and back before dark,” Ninki said. He was the youngest of the group, his peach fuzz only recently starting to thicken. “I think you had better bring your flashlight.”
As we hiked out of our valley and entered the shadows of the jungle, my friends were eager to give more details. “My father used to say that if we ever had to cross through the valley where the Faile boulder is we had to be very careful not to leave foot prints in the sand,” said Toni, “or the spirits would see where we were going and catch up with us to eat us.”
I nodded, hoping he would continue. His father was a prominent witch doctor before his death in late 2005, and people listened to whatever he had said.
“He told us never to light fires near that valley or the spirits might smell the smoke and come get us.”
I had heard many stories like that. Toni’s brother had once told me that their father had said that if the boys ever needed to hike through a valley with boulders they were to get out their arrows and hold them to their bow strings, ready to shoot at any sign of danger. They were told to be very quiet and crouch down to slink through the brush on the river’s edge to avoid being spotted.
After about two hours we crossed through the big Yif River valley and headed up the Faile Creek tributary, passing many large boulders. “All these huge rocks used to scare me,” said Kaifas, “but not anymore. Watch this,” he said, scrambling up to the top of one about the size of a van. “We avoided these rocks before and no one ever dared to climb up on top of them.”
After another 30 more minutes of hiking up the creek we rounded a bend. “There it is,” said Ninki. “There is nothing to be scared of anymore.” I noticed he didn’t worry about leaving tracks in the sand, and he sure was not slinking through the brush to stay hidden from spirits. He ran right up to the rock and jumped up on top.
Toni clambered up on his heels. “See this spirit plant and the other bushes?” he said, motioning to the mass of vegetation crowning the top of the boulder. “My dad said this was like the hair on the spirit rock’s head.” Then he pointed further upstream. “See that other boulder? That was the man rock full of evil spirits and this was the woman rock full of spirits.”
“No, my dad said it was the other way around,” said Kaifas scrambling up behind him. “This is the man rock.”
Faimpat laughed. “Our ancestors were confused. They were deceived by satan and so didn’t know truth from lies. One said this, another said that, and the entire time no one noticed the inconsistencies nor bothered to try to figure out what was true.
Then Kaifas used his feet to kick loose leaves from a deep impression near the top of the boulder. “Look here,” he said to me. “See all these holes? This big one is like the door, and all these little ones are the windows. We were told the spirits could come and go freely through these holes.”
After a while the young men found a level spot on the sand and lit a fire to dry off after hiking through the river valley. Then Kaifas got somber. “They were terrified of this area because they believed Satan’s lies.” He pointed to a flat rock lodged in the sand bar with his bare foot. “My father said to carry rocks like this up to the ridge tops where our houses were and stab them in the ground next to the trails to keep the spirits from swarming up out of the river valleys at night.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I have seen where flat rocks were driven into the ground near trails but what I don’t get is how the ancestors thought a flat rock could keep spirits of big rocks from causing harm. Both rocks are from the same river valley. How does that make sense?”
Kaifas laughed. “They assumed the lies were true and never gave a thought as to why spirits of small flat rocks could somehow protect them from spirits of huge rocks. It was all lies!”
That sparked a lot of talking back and forth, which led to boyish banter and rowdy laughter. “If we had not heard God’s stories from His book,” said Faimpat, “we would also believe the silly lies.”
After a little while I brought up the subject that was eating at me. “So I have another question,” I said. “You have all studied the Bible and have embraced God’s truth, but there are many people in the other villages all around us who are still very scared of this rock, thinking there are terrible spirits here.” They all turned to look at me. “I wonder what we can do to demonstrate to all those people that we have turned to follow Jesus and no longer fear of the lies of the ancestors.”
“I’ve been thinking about that too,” said Faimpat.
“What should we do?”
“Like what?” asked Toni.
“I don’t know. What if we do something to the spirit plant on top of the boulder?”
The young men looked up at the clump of brush with the red and green striped spirit plant leaning out the front. Its odd presence reminded me of a daisy sticking out the front of a hat. “Ninki jumped up and ran around behind the plant and poked his face through the leaf blades. He started laughing and it was instantly contagious.
“We could cut it down,” said Faimpat.
“Do you think we could pull it out by the roots so it wouldn’t grow back?” I asked.
“We could also spend the night here,” said Ninki. “They always say the spirits roam around looking for people to eat in the dark, so if we stayed here all night it would get their attention. Maybe we could build a lean-to shelter up in the jungle behind the rock.”
“Or how about right here on the sand?” said Faimpat.
“We could bring several believers,” I suggested, “and camp here. We could sing, pray and read the Bible. We need to show we are only thinking of God’s power and have turned from any thought of fear of spirits.”
The conversations got more animated and faces glowed. “Let’s return to the village and talk with the believers about doing this just as soon as our discipleship course is finished,” Faimpat said.
Lord please bring the tribal people out from the shadows of the canopy to enjoy the pure, sweet light of your Son.
JK Aug 2018