All around the globe people love cats as companions or as vermin hunters, furry little creatures coming in a variety of colors and sizes who are seen as being very playful from kittenhood to their adult years.
But in parts of rural Kenya, especially along the Indian Ocean coast, some people have a different and decidedly hostile view when it comes to cats. Most believe cats are evil and are associated with witchcraft, especially black ones. On the whole, the little creatures are met by hate and fear.
Peter Mwadime Charo, 36, loves his five cats despite living in a community where they are generally loathed.
One of his three adult cats currently has two kittens – one black as night and the other flame-colored with patches of snow white and golden gleaming eyes.
“The kittens are happy. You can see how they’re purring,” Charo said, pointing to Melo, poising himself to jump down from a high table to the ground.
A few seconds later the cat had reached the ground silently, making hardly a sound. Its tail was flicking in the air, triangular ears alert, and it curled into a ball and went to sleep.
“I love cats but people here don’t. They believe cats are evil,” Charo added.
“The community here has so many cases of witchcraft, and spooky stories always fill the villages. If they see a cat in their house at night, they call out loudly, rebuking evil spirits or accuse a neighbor suspected of being into witchcraft as having shapeshifted to spy on them,” he added, chuckling.
“It sounds silly but it’s true. It’s not even just here, it’s all across Kenya and East Africa that these things happen,” Charo said, pointing to the ground, where Melo was fast asleep.
“Look, (it’s like) the cat is gone. They have an ability to just melt away silently. Such things baffle villagers, and if they can’t explain it they say it’s witchcraft.”
-Mating calls trigger backlash
One of his female cats has a burn mark on its back – the mark of a hot-water attack.
“Mating time for cats is when everybody loses their minds. Everybody knows that female cats make strange noises to alert males around their area, and they respond in turn with strange noises,” he explained.
“People attack cats, and some are killed just because of this. The mating call makes for a horrific time for cats.”
Jacky Salil, 30, a student at Taita Taveta University, said: “It’s not just the coast region, everyone is afraid of cats. Some love them but many are afraid of them. If you live in the village you’ll hear stories you can’t imagine. They cry like babies sometimes … the stories and superstitions are just too much.”
“They are cute and cuddly. Nothing about them is evil. They’re not a bad omen,” Phineas Telewa, a university student, told Anadolu Agency.
“I have two and they’re loving. They get frightened easily. They do have claws and scratch me now and then, but it’s in a loving way. Mostly the claws are retracted into soft pads and are very playful,” said Afwani Evans.
Baba paka, Swahili for “father of cats,” is a nickname Hussein Ahmed was given in recognition of his love for cats. Ahmed, who lives in the coastal city Mombasa, has more than 20 cats that he sees as family.
“Cats are better than people. They take care of themselves mostly,” he said.
“I feed them three times a day. They won’t gossip about you or abuse you. I’ve named all my cats, it’s only the kittens that have yet to be named,” he added.
Ahmed said that at first, he faced a lot of resentment from neighbors who associated cats with witchcraft.
Even in major urban settings in Kenya, cats are still labeled a bad omen with a lot of superstitions surrounding them.
But most cat lovers and even those who do not keep pets in Kenya are opposed to the hostility shown to cats, calling it unfair, unfounded, and irrational.