Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween - It's a strange one.

Halloween. Come on, it's a strange holiday. I suppose they all are.  Sure, they start out innocently enough, commemorating an event, like the resurrection of Christ or the miracle of Hannukah or throwing off the yoke of colonialism. But somewhere along the line, things change and you end up moving large foliage temporarily indoors or hiding pagan symbols of fertility around the yard while eating bunny-shaped sugar-coated marshmallows.

Halloween began in order commemorate our ancestors and martyrs and saints. Somewhere it morphed into a fun kind of spooky and communal candy sharing was added (gotta have something for the kids, right?)  Then it became almost entirely about the kids and the scary costume element was optional, replaced by superheros and princesses. So now Dora the Explorer and Bob the Builder knock on your door, demand candy, and if it's not satisfactory, they reserve the right to do commit petty destruction to your physical property. You know, to honor our ancestors.

And then this happened: When Dora and Bob got to college, Halloween became license to don a mask and shed all inhibitions in grand bacchanal of sexy cat women and inebriated pirates.  When they got a little older the costumes became a demonstration of their wit, a way to out-clever their neighbors through puns and political satire.

Puns like this:
It's a thinker. Think back to Psych 101

Add caption

And Satire, like this:
It's Anthony.. um... you get it...

But Halloween has remained a day to celebrate the id. The closest thing America has to carnivale.

OK. So, it's a strange one.  And try explaining the whole thing - especially the still-present ghoul, gremlin and fright element to a country wholly unfamiliar with this debauchery.

When we first moved to rural Kenya we were advised NOT to celebrate it.  Dressing up as a witch or a devil in a country where many people still have a strong belief in the existence of actual witches and devil-worshipers goes down well... not well.

In a related story: a shipment of actually quite frightening looking Halloween-type paraphernalia was impounded in Mombasa recently as the authorities investigated allegations that it was tide to witchcraft.  The title of one article was "SHOCKING: DEVIL WORSHIPING paraphernalia in Mombasa belongs to politician."

The kicker: despite it's timing right before Halloween, this stuff might not have been intended for a Halloween party.  The article goes on to say "insiders report that a Mombasa-based witchdoctor had ordered him to buy the goods in order to save his dwindling political career."

Seriously. If you had no experience with Halloween, this stuff is pretty suspicious.

So, for this one, we are seeking refuge in our expat community, which has organized a trick-or-treating event in Kisumu. The one year-old will be an animal (spider) and the 4 year-old a super hero (spider man).  As is ordained.  We will take copious pictures and implore all facebook friends to comment on their adorableness.  Because that's the final element in our modern Halloween tradition.  You know, to pay homage to our ancestors.


  1. Eeeeeee I remember meeting a real-life witch in Zanzibar. Scared the hell out of me. (I only saw his shrunken head!) There is definitely something very blasé about the treatment of ghouls/witches et al in the North/West (for want of a better term). In Spain they have incorporated the trick or treat thing (anything for an excuse to shower kids with candy) but they still go to the graves and pay their respect to the dead. Which, in a weird twist, are not buried at all but suspended in concrete mini-bunkers, decorated with plastic garlands, which have to have rent paid on them yearly or the coffins get thrown into mass grave...sigh. Doesn't look like anyone deals with death well! I love this piece and especially the man dressed as a Che Guevara T-shirt!! Kila la heri x

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