Friday, August 31, 2012

More news of African superstition

The Telegraph published a report yesterday about 'witchcraft villages' in Ghana, to which hundreds of women have been exiled, accused of witchcraft.

Up to a thousand elderly women in Ghana have been banished to remote camps as alleged witches.

Six such 'witch camps' in the country's impoverished Northern Region have been established where women have sought refuge from beating, torture even lynching to live a life in exile, ostracised from their families and left to fend for themselves.

Many of the women in the camps have been blamed for using black magic to cause some misfortune in the community, whether a death, illness or drought.

Denied the opportunity to defend themselves, they are chased into these camps where, exiled from their families for up to thirty years, they live in appalling conditions where food and running water is scarce.

Eighty year old Zeneibu Sugru was accused of being a witch after her nephew became seriously ill and died. A mob beat her with sticks claiming she had used a spell to kill him.

"I knew it wasn't true. I have never used witchcraft," she said. "But when I heard that they were planning to bury me alive in boy's grave, I knew I had to escape."

Zeniebu did escape with her life eight years ago but left behind her grandchildren, all her possessions and her former life for ever.

. . .

Typically when a woman arrives at the witchcamp, a fetish priest confirms her guilt or otherwise by a special ritual in which a chicken is slaughtered. If it falls on it back, its beak in the air, the women is pronounced innocent. If not she has to consume a sometimes fatal concoction of chicken blood, monkey skulls and soil to "cleanse" her. Only then can she consider returning home. But not all communities are prepared to accept the women back so entrenched is the fear of witchcraft.

"It is my grandchildren I miss most," said Zeneibu ."They were my pride and joy. But I live in hope that one day I will see them again."

It is not an idle hope. Having been purified, the Gambaga chief has agreed to release her home as soon as a member of her family comes to request her back. She is still waiting.

There's more at the link.

I've written several times before about the problems of such primitive superstition in Africa.  There are similar 'witchcraft villages' in South Africa (such as Helena in what was then the northern Transvaal - I've visited it, and others) and Tanzania, and I'm sure they exist elsewhere on the continent.  An incident last year, when professed Christians accused their pastor of possessing an 'invisible magic penis' that slept with local women, and burnt him to death as a result, shows how deep is this irrational and illogical belief.  It trumps any amount of Western education.  So-called 'traditional healers' (who are often among the worst offenders in 'sniffing out' witches and accusing others of witchcraft) have even used their influence to derail proposed legislation to make such accusations illegal.  'Muti', or witchcraft-based 'medicine', is commonly used by African sports teams and individual sportsmen to improve their performance.  A large-scale 'muti market' is even prominently featured on the official Web site of Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city.

Africa will get nowhere unless and until such superstitions are rooted out - and that's going to take generations . . .



Toejam said...

Do they have an exact address for one of these places?

I've promised my wife I'd pay for the plane ticket so she could have a solo vacation in an exotic place.

Luke said...

I hear that Mogadishu's trying to attract tourists again for what it's worth, but I'm sure your wife is just lovely.

Back on topic, the Ghana story feels personal cause I grew up there. I remember dad coming home from the hospital laughing with a news paper in his hand. Apparently a witch had touched a man causing the penis to fall off and the senior matron at the hospital had come to my dad with the newspaper to ask how it was possible and what to do about it should it happen here. This was just one of many cases including a magic black stone that cured snake bite and some black shape shifting cat that terrorised a village.

However, I've said this before, but don't exclude your own nations from superstition. My dad used to rue a seemingly innocuous magazine in south Africa called the Huis Genoot due to the Rubbish articles it used to publish and the problems it caused the hospital from general people taking everything at face value and getting panicky. All countries have strange people who believe strange things such as Alliens, Elvis lives and so on, but what makes Africa interesting is that these people are in turn taken seriously and can litterally get away with murder.

Btw, the news here in Australia has gradually morphed the shootings in South Africa over the past week. Originally it was explained in detail, but now that it is just "the police who fired into people on strike killing them". I find this troubling having faced mobs in Ghana and Zambia.

Luan - Innisfail, Cairns