Tuesday, June 01, 2004

more on children, magic, and tribal war, especially general butt naked

here's those articles i promised in the previous post:

vice mag takes insouciance to new levels by examining west african civil war through the fashion statements proffered by west african mass murderers:

We have heard about illegal uranium purchases, rebel armies, warlords, drugs, diamonds and even slavery, but in the center of all this mayhem one question keeps popping up that no one can seem to answer: What are they wearing?
[...]
In the late 90s, Sierra Leone (considered by the UN to be the worst place to inhabit in the world) took “thug life” to a new level, and in so doing showed us what humongous pussies our rappers are. This isn’t a place where you get mugged for your $200 Jordans; it’s a country where you get shot in the head for your hand-me-down Notorious B.I.G. shirt so someone can use it as a uniform (in the B.I.G. Army—no joke). It’s a place that just capped off a ten-year civil war, establishing a tenuous peace that will probably last for only a few days. There’s just too many fucking armies for any kind of peace to last.
[...]
If Sierra Leone’s soldiers can be said to be analogous to Bloomingdale’s shoppers (safe, proven fashions), then the warriors of next-door-neighbor Liberia are strictly Lower East Side boutique habitués (willing to take tasteful risks). The most notorious and fashion-daring Liberian faction was the Butt Naked Gang [Ed. note: This is not a joke. We know you don’t believe us but we swear to God this is serious], headed by the Vivienne Westwood of West Africa, Gen. Butt Naked. According to a phone call he says he received from Satan as a teenager [again, this is fucking TRUE], Butt and his boys would be invincible in battle so long as they fought nude. Understandably emboldened, the general and his followers waged a campaign of gruesome combat. Some chose the undeniably timeless look of birthday suit, fake Chuck Taylors, and rifle. Others went for more chaste ensembles of powdered wigs, purses, and floral dresses. It takes a real man to wear a blouse into combat, but as Butt Naked has said, “We were nude, fearless, drunk, and homicidal.” Today reformed, he pastors a congregation in Monrovia. Can we shoot the words “ooooooh kaaaye” out of a rocket launcher so our reaction can do this guy’s life justice?


not to be outdone, slate has an entire article on the crossdressing-warrior phenomenon in liberia. again, the fact that people are getting dismembered with machettes takes a back seat to the fashion fashion statments of war criminals, but i guess none of this even matters since people are more interested in jessica simpson's itunes playlist anyway.



The cross-dressing "dual identity" isn't just a source of battlefield bravado, though. Cross-dressing has deep historical roots in West African rites-of-passage rituals involving "medicine men" who would recommend wearing masks, talismans, and bush attire as a means of obtaining mystical powers. Rebels dressed in gowns and wigs and adorned with bones, leaves, and other "forest culture" trappings are practicing a modern variation on this technique of using symbolic "clothing" to access sources of power far stronger than their own. And in common Liberian initiation rituals—which exist in memory throughout the country, if not always in practice—a boy's passage to adulthood is symbolically represented by the donning of female garb. He must first pass through a dangerous indeterminate zone between male and female identity before finally becoming a man. A soldier dressed in women's clothes—or Halloween masks, or shower caps, etc.—on the battlefield is essentially asserting that he's in a volatile in-between state. The message it sends to other soldiers is, "Don't mess with me, I'm dangerous."


jet city jimbo highlights his travel-log with a story from the ap wire (presumably "out of africa: butt naked battalion" by tina susman).

"But the Butt Naked Battalion stood out, not just for its nudity but for its brutality and its apparent fearlessness. Blahyi says this was the result of a contract with the devil, sealed at the age of 11 when he was initiated into a satanic society that demanded regular human sacrifice and nudity on the battlefield to ensure protection from his enemies."

"He started out as an armed robber and killer - killing too many people to count, Blahyi says - and was recruited into the war in 1994 when Johnson asked him for help."

"'I agreed, because at that time they offered me a lot of money. Everything I did, I did on a commercial basis.' said Blahyi, speaking in the dingy, shabbily furnished second-floor apartment he shares with several other people in Monrovia."

"Blahyi said he was required to make a human sacrifice before battle. Usually it was a small child, someone whose fresh blood would satisfy the devil."

"'Sometimes I would enter under the water where the children were playing. I would dive under the water, grab one, carry him under and break his neck. Sometimes I'd cause accidents. Sometimes I'd just slaughter them,' he said in a matter-of-fact manner."


pretty crazy, right? fielding's 'the world's most dangerous places' has a nice historical look at the turmoil in liberia. in addition, there's some content there about the preponderance of cruise ships with liberian registry. as the site states:

Instead of freedom for all, Liberia became a free-for-all, reduced to primal clashes among rival clans, randomly slaughtering each other with old machine guns from the back of ancient, dented jeeps. Bands of marauders cut swaths across the rain forest plateau, donning Halloween masks and bolt-action rifles, as they rape and pillage in small villages before finally razing them. Calling the situation in modern Liberia a "civil war" is giving it too much status-crediting it with too much organization and purpose. The reality is villagers slaughtered by tribal-based militias that mark, like dogs pissing on a tree, their territory with the skulls of their victims.
[...]
Ever notice that small type that follows those cool cruise ads? It usually says Liberian Registry. Yes, you read right, Liberia, the country without a postal system, phone network or even a government, sells a lot of flags and registrations. Over 1,600 ships totalling 59.8 million gross tons fly the Liberian flag. In fact, the $50 million in fees paid to the Liberian government comprises 90 percent of the revenue to the government in tough times.


don't think that this sort of rough-housing is limited to just western africa as well -- the secular web has an article about similar battle field antics in uganda:

No longer an Acholi boy but a man of forty years, Kony is the self-appointed successor to his aunt, Voodoo Priestess, "Alice Lakwena." (Lakwena is "messenger"in the Acholi tongue.) [3] It was this charismatic woman, the reputed channeler of a deceased, World War I Italian army officer, who led thousands of Acholi fighters to their deaths in one-sided battles with President Yoweri Museveni's military.[4] During the tribal revolt, from 1987 to 1988, Lakwena's ill-fated Holy Spirit Army tried to storm Uganda's capital city of Kampala, armed with sticks, stones, and voodoo toys. Alice promised her followers that stones thrown at the enemy would explode like grenades.[5] In the bloody battles that followed, with only a few rifles in their possession, the Holy Spirit Army was completely routed by heavy machine gun and artillery fire.
[...]
Not surprisingly, Mr. Kony had been tutored by his aunt, the Acholi Priestess, Lakwena, who herself had engaged in brutal kidnappings (forced conscriptions) into her Holy Spirit Army.[6] From the start, Joseph Kony exhibited a ruthlessness in war noted for an arrogant flaunting of the 1949 Geneva Convention. In one decade alone, over 8,000 children were kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army. Most of these unfortunate children are now presumed dead, killed either in combat or in the murderous crossfire of warring sides. Tragically, these prisoners of war are transported, tied in columns by rope as slaves, to LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) camps.[7] When shooting breaks out, the conscripts often are unable to escape. If the kidnapped children survive the long journey to the LRA camps, they are forcefully indoctrinated into the LRA's grand vision of an Acholi nation based on the Ten Commandments--savage beatings are meted out to all nonbelievers. The child captives are taught the rebel leader's belief in an apocalyptic arrival of "The Silent World." Joseph Kony believes there will be a time in history when all guns worldwide will fall silent and only those knowing how to use crude weapons, like stones, spears, and machetes, will prevail against their enemies.[8]


and if memory serves me correctly, granta #62 also has an article written by richard lloyd parry on indonesian tribal killings entitled 'what young men do'. i can't find any excerpts online, and i would have to dig through some boxes to find my copy, so i'll try to pull out some interesting points from the essay after finals are over.

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