Matter of Extreme Importance
We reprint this bizarre and offensive story from London’s Guardian Unlimited: Observer about the unfortunate murder of a young boy that experts are attempting to link to Yoruba religion. This incident reminds us of the case in Matamoros, Mexico from the late 1980s when the Lukumí religion was blamed for the activities of a psychotic drug dealer and murderer. The current matter is further complicated and becomes even more offensive when the scholar that was consulted for “expert” testimony on African religion appears not to be an expert on the Yoruba but an “Africanist.” To make matters worse, adding offense to offense, a Yoruba, Temi Olusanya, asserts that this murder was the work of “African religion!”
Martin Bright and Paul Harris
A young boy whose mutilated torso was discovered floating in the River Thames last September was the victim of a gruesome West African ‘religious’ sacrifice intended to bring good luck, and was trafficked into the country expressly for the killing.
Genetic tests on the boy – who was found with his head and limbs removed and wearing only a pair of orange shorts – point to a West African origin, probably Nigeria or a nearby country such as Togo or Benin.
Further analysis of stomach contents and bone chemistry show the child, whom police have named Adam, could not have been brought up in London. Detectives are now working on the horrifying theory that he was bought as a child slave in West Africa and smuggled to Britain solely to be killed.
Experts on African religion consulted by Scotland Yard believe Adam may have been sacrificed to one of the 400 ‘Orisha’ or ancestor gods of the Yoruba people, Nigeria’s second-largest ethnic group. Oshun, a Yoruba river goddess is associated with orange, the colour of the shorts, which were placed on Adam’s body 24 hours after he was killed as a bizarre addition to the ritual. The body was then stored for a further 24 hours before being offered to the Thames.
The cultural clues fit neatly with the forensics as the Yoruba are found in Benin, Togo and Ghana as well as Nigeria. Thousands of Yoruba slaves were also taken to the Caribbean, where elements of their religion formed the basis of voodoo rituals.
A close examination of the cuts where the head and limbs were sliced from the body shows that they were carried out by an expert using extremely sharp knives specially prepared for the purpose. In a horrific operation reminiscent of animal sacrifice, the flesh around the limbs and neck was first cut down to the bones, which were then slashed with a single blow from an implement much like a butcher’s meat cleaver. Adam would have been stretched out horizontally or upside down during the sacrifice and kept in position while the blood was drained from the body.
Officers working on the case believe that the level of expertise involved could show the perpetrators imported a magician or priest to carry out the ritual. They also believe the amputated body parts will have been kept as powerful magical trophies.
Richard Hoskins, a lecturer in the Study of Religions at Bath Spa University, who has studied ritual killings across Africa, said: ‘This looks like a deviant variety of a West African religion. Someone would have done it to gain power. But the vast majority of Africans would find this abhorrent.’
In an unprecedented missing-person investigation, the police have even tracked down the origins of the orange shorts, which were made exclusively in China for German Woolworth stores. Police believe Adam may have arrived in England from Germany, a common route for people traffickers.
Police are now awaiting final results of the forensic tests, which should identify a specific country or ethnic group, before moving their investigation to Africa. Scotland Yard officers working on the case then plan to launch appeals to the parents of missing children in Adam’s country of origin.
Commander Andy Baker of the Metropolitan Police, who is heading the investigation said: ‘All we have is the trunk of a little boy and a very small pair of shorts. But when the work on the forensics identifies his home, we will go to that country and make direct contact with the government involved.’
Investigators have now discounted the theory that Adam was the victim of a so-called muti killing, where body parts are taken to be used in medicine. It is a practice widespread in areas of South Africa, and detectives travelled to Johannesburg to speak to experts. But all the evidence is now pointing to West Africa as holding the answers to the riddle of Adam’s slaughter. It now seems clear it was not body parts his killers were after.
Expert forensic analysis of mitochondrial DNA – the first time such a test has been used in a criminal investigation – shows that Adam was almost certainly West African. Other gruesome evidence is the fact that Adam’s genitals were left on his body. In muti murders the genitals are seen as powerful medicine; not so in West Africa where the ‘luck’ of an individual is believed to lie in the blood. Adam’s blood was drained from his body after he was killed, but his genitals were undamaged. A further clue lies in the fact that Adam, who was between four and seven years old, was also circumcised. In southern Africa circumcision happens as a passage to adulthood. In West Africa it occurs shortly after birth.
The case has prompted a continent-wide alert that African ritual killings have been imported to Europe. Last Monday an international conference was held in the Dutch city of The Hague to discuss the phenomenon, and several countries’ police forces are investigating deaths involving mutilations. Even Police believe that rich West Africans imported Adam from West Africa, probably using a specialist witch doctor for the task. The witch doctor would have procured the boy in West Africa, perhaps paying a fee to his family, a fee who may have expected him to be put to work abroad. He would then have been ‘trafficked’ to Europe.
Adam was well-treated before he was killed.. Traces of a common over-the-counter cough medicine were found in his stomach, indicating someone wanted him in good health for the day of his execution.
Could it happen again? Whatever business Adam’s killers wanted to bless has already started. It is unlikely his killers will strike again. ‘If another one happens then it is likely to be a different group of people involved. The ones who killed Adam are already satisfied with what they have done,’ said Dr Hendrik Scholtz, an expert at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand.
Temi Olusanya, the Nigerian vice-chair of the African Caribbean Development Association said Adam’s murder had deeply shocked the West African community. ‘This is a crime that cannot be tolerated in African religions. Murder is murder and we should work together to find the people who did this,’ he said.
Statement re. Observer Article by Martin Bright and Paul Harris 2nd June 2002
Dr Richard Hoskins
It has come to my attention that part of the article which appeared in The Observer on June 2nd has caused offence to some practitioners of Yoruba and Yoruba-derived religions, and specifically those connected with Oshun.
I wish to make clear that I am not responsible for the contents of the article by these journalists, and the piece was not written by me.
The journalists in question appear not to have been present at the Europol conference in The Hague. During my presentation to that conference I presented a number of possibilities in connection with the case. I stressed that:
- these were only possibilities
- there were other possibilities, including non-ritualistic motives
- in every case, were they proved to indeed be right, they would be deviations
- the press must NOT go away and report that I think ‘such and such’ is the deity invoked
- ritual killing is no more a part of African traditional beliefs than Satanism is a part of Christianity
- 99.9% Africans would utterly abhor the killing of Adam
- but a terrible murder has been committed with what appear to be ritualistic elements
Following my presentation, the police commented that my obvious passion for Africa really came through. I have no intention in causing offence to any section of a people I love and know well.
In the briefings I subsequently gave I summarised my talk. Martin Bright was one of many who contacted me for such a briefing.
Martin Bright assured me that he would call me before going to print to show me the contents of the article. This he did not do. Had he of done so I would have immediately requested him to remove, or substantially change, the references to Oshun, which were taken out of context and distorted. Most of the rest of the article seemed to me to have been fine.
It may, nevertheless, be of interest to those who have been asking that none of the possibilities raised by me originated with me. All have been first suggested by world-wide specialists in the field, and have been debated between me and them over several months. I do repeat that were any of the suggestions that I mentioned indeed proved to be correct they would be deviations, and in no way a part of the traditional beliefs of the practitioners. Were Oshun used in a sacrifice of this nature it would be a complete distortion of her true nature (especially as lover of children – which I mentioned in The Hague). But just because something is a deviation does not mean it didn’t happen. We must be balanced about this.
Finally, and more importantly than anything, a horrific murder has been committed. This is not the time to be side-tracked from finding the perpetrators of Adam’s killing. If the media attention has caused any offence, then I urge those people to come forward and help give their expertise to help the police in this investigation. I am not interested in academic point-scoring: I am only concerned that we catch Adam’s killers. I am still convinced that the killers of Adam can be found if we all pull together. I urge that we all do this for Adam, and for the good name of Africa.
Dr Richard Hoskins
11 June 2002
All further correspondence in this matter should be referred to Kate Campbell at Scotland Yard press office: 020 7230 1750.