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MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Traditional hunters armed with homemade guns, poisoned spears and amulets have gathered in their hundreds, eager to use their skills and what they believe to be supernatural powers to help find nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic extremists.
Some 500 hunters, some as young as 18 and some in their 80s, say they have been specially selected by their peers for their spiritual hunting skills and have been waiting for two weeks in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital and the birthplace of Boko Haram, to get backing from the military and get moving.
With Nigeria's military accused by many citizens of not doing enough to rescue the girls, the hunters demonstrated their skills to an Associated Press reporter on Sunday.
With cow horn trumpets echoing eerie war cries from the screaming and chanting men who twirled knives and swords with dexterity, occasionally stabbing and cutting themselves with no apparent harm. The hunters claimed their magic charms prevented any blood being drawn. They also trust amulets of herbs and other substances wrapped in leather pouches as well as cowrie shells, animal teeth and leather bracelets to protect them from bullets.
The appearance of the hunters from three northeastern states underscores how deeply the April 15 mass kidnapping — and the government's apparent lack of action — has affected Nigerian society. It has spawned demonstrations and a tidal wave of commentary in media including social sites like Twitter and Facebook.
A spokesman for the hunters stopped short of actually criticizing the military.
"We're not saying we are better than the soldiers, but we know the bush better than the soldiers," said Sarkin Baka. The hunters said they gathered here at the suggestion of a state legislator.
A military spokesman did not immediately respond to an emailed question from AP on whether it would take advantage of the hunters' local knowledge.
"We are seasoned hunters, the bush is our culture and we have the powers that defy guns and knives; we are real men of courage, we trust in Allah for protection, but we are not afraid of Boko Haram," said one elderly hunter, Baban Kano. "If government is ready to support us, then we can bring back the girls. But if they are not, they should tell us so that we can disband and return to our homes and family."
The Associated Press