Friday, March 30, 2012

The Wired World of Ghana's “Sakawa Boys.”

Popular Ghanaian Saying. Via Alice Armstrong. Used without permission.
Warning: I am presently quite intoxicated. Because otherwise I'd freeze up at the prospect of saying something so ignorant that I pissed off a whole slew of people. But enough whiskey-bourbon and those worries seem to just... fade away. So what the fuck. If you're a Sakawa Boy and I'm misrepresenting you, feel free to drop me a line and tell me what a bleeding white moron I am. It's cool, man. I'd rather be informed.

When I wrote “The Digital Link,” the subject of deployment of occult prowess with the idea of fraud or other vaguely unsettling potential probably came across to some as the prototypical insanity that issues forth from the mouth of a Chaos Magician.

So let me up the ante and introduce you to a new fraudulent subculture; one complete occult trappings.

But before we jump there let's start off with some basics. As of 2011, Ghana had a 30% ratio (7.8 million) of people “living” on $1.25 a day. There is a 25% youth unemployment rate. But it wasn't always the case. In the mid-1960s, Ghana was flush with money; it was one of the “Jewels of Africa.” That changed between the 1980s and now.

The country's strange mirror, Nigeria, is where the roots of the particular occult subculture now in Ghana originated. In the 1970s, Ghanaians traveled to Nigeria for work, where they learned the famous “pen pal” scam that was the precursor to the Nigerian Email scams (see: 419 Boys) that everyone knows of and loves today.

According to Alice Armstrong, in 2007 rumors began circulating in the Ghanaian press about a new form of internet fraud with a rather interesting inclusion: witchcraft. The practitioners of this form of internet fraud (and it has many branches, some of which are highly entertaining) are called “Sakawa Boys.”

Looking to heighten their ability to bilk the gullible out of their cash – and I don't mean that in a demeaning way, the conartist is a rather archaic and long-lived human occupation dating back to... Whenever people first began figuring out that people would give you things if you lied to them enough. Anyway, looking to enhance the art of the con-job, the Sakawa Boys have turned to age-old West African remedies: juju, and Juju-men.

But how is such a thing possible? If you might allow me to quote Armstrong:
“Many ethnographies have described witches’ abilities to travel large distances in mysteriously little time. Rosalind Shaw’s Sierra Leonean ethnography recounts rumours of witches flying to London and back within an hour [...]. Similarly, the internet allows Sakawa boys to manipulate its compression of time and space, transcending national boundaries and engaging in worldwide spiritual travel. Shaw also describes how the Temne of Sierra Leone believe in an invisible, global space full of illicit wealth known as the ‘Place of Witches’: “Although its presence may be recognised everywhere, its incompatibility with moral personhood and community is registered both in its intangibility and in its tropes of perverted and predatory consumption: the agency of the witch is necessary for the pursuit of one’s desires within it” [...]. Similarly, Ghanaians discuss the moral sacrifice entailed when a Sakawa boy makes an occult entrance into the intangible global space of the internet and extracts wealth by preying on foreign victims.”
“Sakawa boy’s power as described by Akosua and many others is a particular form of occult agency which is distributed via the internet. Anthropologists have commented on the often ‘dividual’ nature of witchcraft personhood with witches having the power to be in multiple places at once; dispersing their agency via bodily transcendence whilst appearing physically present. Similarly, Sakawa boys are rumoured to appear as normal, sat in front of a monitor whilst their spirit possesses multiple foreign fraud targets.”
“West African witches are also commonly believed to have extra organs such as eyes and stomachs which are used to entrap or consume their victims [...]. Sakawa boys are similarly able to extend their bodies and consumptive powers via the internet, not via extraordinary physical traits but with numerous internet identities. Sakawa boys often have fake profiles on popular websites such as Facebook and Hotmail as well as on Western online dating communities. These profiles feature fake photos and thus allow the Sakawa boy to have multiple cyber bodies. Many Sakawa boys even switch gender using attractive female profile pictures to entrap fraud victims via online friendships or romance. It is therefore not surprising that many Ghanaians are wary of the potential predatory powers that the internet offers.”

It would appear that in some cases this ability is marked by a physical talisman: a ring, hankerchief (placed atop the monitor whilst scamming), or an enchanted laptop (how sweet is that idea?). In other cases the power may have been gained by undergoing a ritual, or paying an appropriate god (see the video on Motherboard's article). Rumors abound of young, smart Sakawa Boys sleeping in coffins for a duration to help gain the power to move across the internet in form of witch-flight and then possess or preternaturally influence their targets.

And now, even as a subculture has emerged (involving music and even Ghanaian films such as “Sakawa Boys” volumes one through eight!) and attempts to stop the spread of these high-tech, occult-powered mischief-makers go down, they've adopted even more tactics.

So the next time that cute, scantily clad Asian girl from Singapore messages you, telling you about how if she'd just find a way to get the money, she'd visit you and... Well. You can imagine, can't you? The next time that happens: ask yourself, “am I even talking to a girl?”

The actual answer may be far stranger, and in terms of magical potential, far more interesting than you previously imagined...

Be seeing you,

Ps. A special shout-out to Singhilarity for bringing the initial Motherboard article to my attention.
PPS. Drunken prediction for 2012: A potentially legitimate function for this sort've magic may emerge as legal pressures clamp down on the fraudulent aspects of the culture. And it is this: operators skilled at astral flight and assisted by the internet may become skilled enough operators to offer oracular or other work, from the relative anonymity of the internet cafe. This would, of course, put every crap western practitioner unable to cope out of business...


Anonymous said...



Rufus Opus said...

Hey man, take out the fraud, and I think I might be way ahead of you. Maybe.

I've mixed the internet business model, my radionic-esque conjure box, and traditional Hermetics to the point where I help clients around the world while sitting here at my desk in front of my computer. I have increased orbs of influence on several continents because people have bought my talismans there. I have, through the internet, established connections with the Genii Loci of Texas, California, and Arizona. I use Google Checkout and PayPal to establish a covenental bond to clients, and connect to their spheres to do in-depth readings on their sphere in the Hermetic Diagnosis. Google Earth is an amazing scrying tool for helping to figure out what's up with clients in places where I have no local spiritual contacts. I've cursed PDFs, and used access to a specific web site to lift those curses.

The list goes on and on, yo.

Is that what you're talking about?

Rose Weaver said...

I know a lot of Chaos types have used the internet already, and still are. I have, in various ways and various places.

But I had no idea those emails were the product of all that. It does explain a couple which had a creepy vibe to them and is why I no longer open anything coming from addresses I don't recognize.

I'll confess, when I began reading, I thought, "No way"... and then started opening the links. Fascinating!

Jack Faust said...

@R.O.: More or less. Lol. Though, are you astral projecting using the 'net as a conduit? It wouldn't surprise me if you were.

Rufus Opus said...

Haven't been yet, but it's a sound concept for Hermetic types. I think I'm far enough removed from reading Gibson to be able to do it without too much projection of dystopia getting in the way. Of course, since the world really is the way he described it, it would be hard to tell what was projection and what was reality. :|

Jack Faust said...

@R.O.: I would not worry about the dystopian aspects as much. You can find ramshackle astral zones attached to the 'net, of course, but just as much pulses with life and movement in a sense. I imagine you'd enjoy monitoring emerging egregores from time to time. And with cyberspace, that is much easier than many assume...

I need to get into radionix some day.

Lance Foster said...

There were entities in the Internet already back in 1996, when I had a very unpleasant situation develop. I am talking about some kind of independent intelligence that resided in the Net, that drew people from place to place, winnowing them out until it selected a target. And then it knew exactly who you were, and things about you that you had not told anyone. It really spooked me. It was not human. I was able to disengage but, wow.

BTW, I lived in Nigeria for 4 months in 1996 and the shit I saw and heard about... heavy stuff, including human sacrifice.

Satyr Magos said...

Back when I was 16 (before I "knew" it was impossible), I did some stuff I would now describe as astral work with the internet over IRC chat. Specifically, I shared a couple visionary experiences where people tried to show me how to do things, and the spirit guide of one of my online friends across the country came and visited me to check me out.

Jack Faust said...

@Lance: Really? Hmmm. How did the entity interact with you?

@Satyr: Haha. When did you conclude it was "impossible," and why?

Lance Foster said...

Jack, basically it would keep switching sites, then invite fewer and fewer people to a new site (it was an IRC channel actually) and then when it was just me, after 10-15 switches, for the first time it used my real name, said a few things only I knew, and then asked me what I wanted and what it could offer. I was not into magic at that time, so it really freaked me out, and I bowed out.

Jack Faust said...

@Lance: Fascinating! Did it give you a name, or did you bow out first? I've never encountered anything manifesting via text and been able to non-astrally chat them up... With one exception. I met a magician, years ago, that had coded up a pre-AI bot that had an aura, astral manifestation, and light prescience. She'd been fed a lot of old occult archives and such, and would babble. Occasionally, the babbling cutups would pull pieces of information regarding the person she was chatting with to the surface. Very neat to see first hand. But she failed the Turing test, so she wasn't a full AI yet.

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