A haven for shamans



Tuesday 20th June, 2023

A senior doctor attached to the Peradeniya Teaching Hospital has issued a timely warning to the public following an incident where a woman died after being allegedly forced to consume an excessive amount of king coconut water overnight as part of a shamanic healing ritual. Asking the people not to fall prey to the wiles of shamans, he has stressed that charmed coconut water, etc., has no miraculous healing power. One can only hope that the good doctor’s warning will yield the desired result and the public will act wisely without falling for ritualistic healing practices and other forms of quackery.

Sri Lanka boasts a robust public health system, which is currently in crisis, but sadly many people are still easy prey for spirit healers and other such charlatans who thrive on their ignorance and amass wealth. Widespread occultism is a sad reflection on a country which prides itself on its relatively high literacy rate.

Medical experts have, to their credit, been trying to knock some sense into the gullible members of the public and infuse the latter with some rational thinking, but their efforts have been in vain if the ease with which the crafty diviners continue to take so many Sri Lankans for a ride is any indication. Worse, some of these self-proclaimed curanderos even receive government patronage with Cabinet ministers promoting their snake oil.

One may recall that during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, the then Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi herself helped promote a shaman’s potion which was touted as a cure for the runaway viral infection; the conman, who claimed that his herbal drink had been compiled to a secret formula revealed to him by a goddess in a dream, was invited to meet Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, of all people, and given a photo opportunity, which he made the best use of to advertise his concoction. Minister Wanniarachchi and some of her Cabinet colleagues also performed what may be called a strange pot-dropping ritual to rid the country of health problems among other things.

In a country where business leaders, ministers, and even Presidents fall for shamanic wiles and seek solace in occult practices, how can the ordinary public be expected to be different? One wonders whether the national legislature has become a repository of superstitious practices as it were. It may be recalled that when an attempt was made to impeach President Ranasinghe Premadasa in the early 1990s, his loyalists applied charmed oil on the MPs’ chairs in Parliament in a bid to make them change their minds. Not to be outdone, the proponents of the impeachment motion took lard with them to Parliament and applied it on their chairs to neutralise the effect of the charmed oil! The promotion by prominent legislators of the shamanic ‘Covid cure’ and occult practices shows that Parliament has not changed much where superstitious beliefs and rituals are concerned. How can such a legislature be expected to promote science and technology keenly and usher in national progress?

When influential citizens such as captains of industry, high-ranking military and police officers, public officials and political leaders become slaves to superstition, it is only natural that a country ends up being a haven for shamans.

There is said to be a sucker born every minute, and therefore it may be difficult to prevent greedy shamans from cheating unsuspecting people out of their money and even endangering their lives. But the need to do everything possible to deal with these harmful characters, according to the law, and save the public cannot be overstated.