Ifeoma* was 22 years old the first time she turned to the dark arts. She had stopped being the most important person in her boyfriend’s world – his touches had become less tender and he had stopped lending her money.
Instead of ending things and subjecting herself to Tinder's endless swipe cycle's endless swipe cycle, she decided to seek supernatural reinforcement. In her local town of Benin in southern Nigeria, she saw a babalawo, traditional spiritual healer, who asked her to eat a chicken that was cooked using an ancient recipe of traditional herbs. After burying the leftover chicken bones, the babalawo recited incantations, and soon enough, the ritual was over. Ifeoma swears that the juju worked as intended, and that her boyfriend quickly came to his senses and fell back in love with her.
Juju is a West African word to describe a diverse range of traditional spiritual practices. The word itself is not specific to any one cultural group or geographic location, but describes rituals that appeal to the supernatural to exact our desires on the physical world. Juju is not a neutral term – it carries with it a history of controversy. Once more common in West Africa, it was erased and made taboo when the British brought their Empire and religion. Now, with popular musicians such as J Hus admitting to using black magic, and juju being sold openly on social media, the tradition is going through a modern rebranding.
Ifeoma and J Hus are part of the growing number of young people turning to alternative methods to fix their problems. Jaruma Empire is an Instagram-verified babalawo, with almost a million followers – marketing a range of products that promise to help with your intimate and fiscal woes. The account is run by self professed mamalawo Hauwa Saidu Mohammed, a popular online figure who has trended on Twitter twice in the past year.
For those who doubt the effectiveness of Jaruma's products, you can always refer to the account's dedicated testimonials page, which functions as a Trustpilot for the goods sold on Jaruma Empire. There you'll find countless success stories: "Used blue eye, it made my husband stop cheating," one happy customer wrote. Another said: "I used curse breaker and attracted not one but two rich white men in one weekend". Customers also share their stories on how best to utilise the products. I reached out to Hauwa Saidu Mohammed, but she declined to comment for this piece.
Jaruma dabbled in various businesses, including hawking kola nut, while getting her first degree, until she settled on what she calls "sex therapy". Her success – there is no shortage of videos that show she's living the good life – is the embodiment of the Nigerian dream: hard work and a little something else.
Jaruma’s Kayamatas, or "love enhancers", are available across Nigeria, and as far as Switzerland, Italy, Dubai and America. The products are sold from anywhere between $35 and $670. Mayowa* thinks it's worth it: "Don’t be put off, life is all about risk." The 18-year-old first came across Jaruma's page on Instagram. A practicing Muslim, she doesn’t feel that the use of Kayamatas clashes with her faith. She isn't even convinced that it counts as juju because the product that she uses – Jaruma’s blue eye – resembles the evil eye amulet sold around the world – a product that apparently protects the wearer from bad energy.
Like Mayowa, many of Jaruma's customers were attracted by her insta-friendly image. Jaruma is consistent with her branding, being careful to curate her consumer centred experience in a manner that almost allows you to forget that she is not selling makeup or ASOS bodycons, but apparent access to the dark arts. It is exactly this uncomfortable give and take makes you question what we know about juju and those who use it. Jaruma doesn't present as your stereotypical babalawo practitioner. The cliche of the African traditional healer, as he appears in Nollywood films, is simple: He is always a man, never has a backstory or any character development, is always dressed in red and offers consultations somewhere deep in the woods of a rural backwater. In reality, it's more complicated: Although women sometimes practice as healers, the form is often only passed down to sons.
Kemi – a Nigerian-American practitioner of spellwork, hoodoo and Wicca – thinks the taboo around the occult is changing. She finds that young people are more receptive to different spiritual experiences. This is clear in the demographic of her clientele, who are mostly Black women between the ages of 20 and 32. Kemi started practicing at age 14. "I came across a Wiccan message board while looking for some herbal information and I was intrigued about everything," she told me. "Like people really do this and it works?” Social media has become an indispensable tool for Kemi; she uses it to plug into different spiritual communities, find clients, and build out her community of like-minded practitioners.
If you take away the filters, I, like many others, still struggle with the ethicality of juju. When I asked if it is ever okay to try to change someone's will through appealing to the supernatural, Ifeoma was dismissive. "Men are wicked," she said, “so I don’t feel bad at all.” Mayowa just laughed. Kemi gave a more holistic answer – she explained that she wouldn't do anything that wasn't in the best interests of the person she was compelling.
Regardless of the ethics, the online juju market continues to grow. Jaruma, although extremely successful, does not have a monopoly on the market. Omoshola’s Place is Jaruma’s biggest competitor, using Nigerian influencer and meme-queen Bobrisky to promote their products. There are countless other smaller accounts on Instagram and Twitter that sell spiritual cleanses and candles, products that promise to attract positive energies or make grandiose statements about there ability to attract lovers and money. So when Oloni, a sex and relationship influencer, recently posted a question on Twitter asking women in the UK if they'd ever used juju on their lovers, it was no surprise to see the dozens of responses flood in. One woman admitted to feeding menstrual blood to a lover. Twitter erupted in disgust; the women who had anonymously contributed were scorned, accused of using juju to nullify consent. Due to a history of Christianity dominating discussions around religion, it is difficult for society to imagine African spellwork as being something other than ominous black powder in an unmarked calabash. Even in modern times, videos of Azealia Banks killing chickens in her closet have not given voodoo a good rep.
However, with or without credibility, the popularity of juju online is proof that it is resilient and will maintain its place in our religious landscape. The idea that the supernatural can stretch through time and space is not new – Christian telemarketers have always sold the idea that healing could be received just by touching your TV screen. So maybe prosperity by other means is also just a DM away.
* Names have been changed to protect their identities.