Black Magic In The Round Game

Maybe it was Solomon Island magic in the form of Robert Mark or the Afro of Jone Ratu that broke the curse. And lifted the nation from the bane of the endless bragging of “Ba Ba Black Boys…” after their six-year IDC winning streak from 1975-1980.
04 Oct 2019 14:55
Black Magic In The Round Game
Suva goalkeeper Emori Ragata is beaten as they take on Lautoka at the Uprising Sports Centre in Pacific Harbour, Deuba. Lautoka are the defending IDC champions.
  • Dr Mohit Prasad is an independent academic, sports historian and consultant. The views in this article are his and does not represent any institution or entity he is associated with. Dr Prasad has written three volumes of The history of Football in Fiji (1998, 2008 and 2013) and Men in Black: A History of Ba Football (2015). He is currently writing A Civic History of Nadi from Town to City.

As the dust settles down in Nadi after Inter-District Championship (IDC) 2019 someone, somewhere will claim victory in the name of an act beyond the gods. Or players, or even of acts of gamesmanship like Maradona’s infamous “hand of god” goal from Mexico ‘86.

An act of black magic, sorcery, witchcraft or in local parlance – the good old “ojha”.

Dust is a good starting point for the local ojha. From mixing the muddy waters of the national brew to putting in a special mix of their black magic into the lime or “chuna” used to mark the grounds both popular ploys to get the black magic started.  Giving a whole new meaning to the Hindi axiom “Chuna lagai dis”, as in to deceive or pull wool over someone’s eyes.  The potent lime and witchcraft mix would protect a goalmouth or so the story goes. Ask any old groundsman or woman in Fiji, and they will relate stories of district officials asking for a few moments to “bless” the “chuna”.

Black magic or witchcraft in football is nothing new nor is it unique to Fiji. As late as 2015, there were reports of African players in the English Premier league and other European leagues, turning to the local witchdoctors or “juju” men for potions and rituals to ensure success.

Given the high stakes games that these players are vying for, the payoff of a few thousand Pounds or Euros, for the peace of mind of a Juju man backed “magic ring” or cleansing ritual, is small change.  Premier League talisman scorer Emmanuel Adebayor while playing for Tottenham publicly blamed his lack of form in front of goal during a season due to black magic by his mother. In Africa, football associations like Rwanda have tried to officially ban the practice of witchcraft, particularly in its more sinister forms, such as spells to make players sick or weak, or god forbid break a leg.

In Fiji, the official response has been less drastic. And the practice of witchcraft itself restricted to more sporting means of ensuring a result. For example, the Chuna method to use local parlance is to “bhaando” or “tie-up” a particular end of the ground to prevent the Opposition scoring.  Or a clove or two stuck in turmeric and vermillion smeared lime to open the Oppositions goal.  Key players or the whole team may be involved in the rituals.

All mumbo jumbo and the privy of urban legends on the game.

Not so, as anecdotal evidence points towards a lucrative source of income, yagona, and the odd black or red rooster and a bottle of rum thrown the way of the ojha. Given the odds at fifty-fifty – win or a loss – a winning streak will boost the stocks of the ojha towards public listing, or at least public acclaim status. A loss can be more easily explained than one might think, when a furious official and fan minus a rooster or two fronts up to the ojha, who gets it wrong.

The endgame of superstition is fear. And fears of a curse from a losing Ojha makes their two-timing tales just that bit more palatable.  An Ojha’s curse may strike as did that of the Pujari after Suva players allegedly consumed meat after winning the 1960 IDC, at the temple grounds adjoining the school in Howell Road, where they had camped. The curse lasted 21 years and was broken in 1981 when they beat Ba in the IDC final.

Maybe it was Solomon Island magic in the form of Robert Mark or the Afro of Jone Ratu that broke the curse. And lifted the nation from the bane of the endless bragging of “Ba Ba Black Boys…” after their six-year IDC winning streak from 1975-1980.

Or the Ojha has had a plan B ready even before the gambit begins.

A case in point.

Not so many years ago, a Solomon Islands club side faced Ba FC for a double header over a weekend in the soccer mad town, due to the civil unrest in Honiara. The odds were already stacked for Ba, as they hosted the mercurial Solomon Island side. The fixer for the Ba side wanted to make it doubly sure. The Ojha in question had been in good form.

A meeting was set up and the fixer placed the required goods. And the Ojhas children with grave looks in their eyes took away the by now half dead roosters. Both black this time.

The Ojha made an opening statement that was dramatic and deeply impressed the fixer. He let it be known that after he mixed the yaqona – A grade Saqani no less – and peered into it he was taking a vow of silence.

But “fear not” he said in a deep bass voice, he would indicate via signs the omen for the match.

The fixer looked anxiously as the Ojha went into a trance. The children lit a fire in the background and boiled some water.  One of the daughters quietly slipped in several black feathers into his hands.  Amidst the smoke and black feathers, the Ojha placed three feathers into his shirt pocket. In true theatrical fashion, the feathers slipped in like goals into the net.  The fixer smiled and placed some match tickets and an extra twenty dollars in front of the Ojha.

Matchday. The Ojha and his children clambered on the wooden stands of Govind Park for the first leg on Friday. The fixer keeping them in close sight. A thumbs up followed by the patting of the shirt pocket with three feathers allayed any remaining doubts.

The Solomon Islands club side scored first. The Ojha looked on serenely patting the three feathers. The fixer relayed to those in the know that all was good. Two goals later the home side were on the wrong side of a 0-3 scoresheet. The furious fixer looked up at where the Ojha was seated and saw the thin air into which the Ojha and his children had evaporated.  The Solo side repeated the 3-0 dose on Sunday.

A follow up visit was warranted. The Ojha expecting the fixer was seated under the mango tree. His explanation was relatively short; “I said three, I did not say which team will score those three, and bound my vow of silence, I could not forewarn you, sorry sometimes it happens, and you know the black magic from the Solomon Islands…well that is another story….”

Superstitious players are found in all sports. Many follow a particular ritual from their warm up to their kits to the colors they wear beneath their playing strips.

In Fiji soccer, superstition and the national cultural belief in witchcraft and witchdoctors that cuts across racial and even class barriers, is the mainstay of the practice. Scientists officially dismiss the science of the witchcraft, but for the soccer fan, player and administrator it is the not the science but the result that matters.

In any case, it adds to the color and language of football in Fiji. From “Murgi Chor” directed at you know who, to – “Dekhna goal baand dis hai” – directed at the goalmouth where no goals are scored – no doubt at the will of the smiling Ojha in the stands rather than the perspiring players.

Given the district obsession with football in Fiji, fixers, Ojhas, fans and officials will have done their little bit extra to ensure a win in the coveted 2019 IDC.

And somewhere a once crowing rooster – jungli murgi – literally translated on the menu board at Tata’s restaurant in Nadi – “Uncivilized chicken” – will be curried in the name of the Lloyd Farebrother cup and the district in which it will roost for the next year.


Edited by  Leone Cabenatabua

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