The Viral Infection Of Witchcraft Belief In Our Communities

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 Source: Appiah-Adjei, Daniel




The Viral Infection Of Witchcraft Belief In Our Communities

The spate at which people accuse others as witches and wizards is becoming so alarming that only last Sunday, a friend of mine said her grandmother sensing danger of being beaten and humiliated to death ran away from the house and hid in the bush. Why? The answer is very simple. This friend of mine who uses a Toyota Corolla saloon car had an over-heated engine. In the process of opening the lid of the water tank, the heated water in the tank evaporated and caused some bruises in the face. News then reached the house that her grandmother considered as a witch had wanted to use her witchcraft to kill her. The old lady had no other alternative than to run away on top speed from the house in the bush for safety. Indeed, the young men and women in the vicinity were trooping to the “witch’s” house for action. My friend sensing danger boldly stopped the mob and told them in plain language. “It was my own fault, leave the old woman alone”

Samira Edi’s Message

As analogous, to what happened in Kenya, I would want to share with my readers what Samira Edi wrote as a response to what happened, where the Police “jailed 19 people suspected of burning to death, 11 elderly Kenyan men and women accused of being witches and wizards. It is on record that, a mob in the Kisii area of west Kenya went from house-to-house identifying people on a list and burning them to death in their homes.”

Samira wrote...“This is manifestly a remnant of a gory past…which preys on the gullible minds, the primitive instincts of the emotionally vulnerable, the unsure, the challenged, the weak, the easily manipulated, the insecure… With certain mystical beliefs, Africans are hunkering in the bunker, offering themselves up to be brainwashed, in the monumental mistaken belief that through some cryptic power of black magic or other mystical forces, they could influence situations and things around them….And they all come crawling out; the dark deeds of the devil -- voodoo, witchcraft, ritual killings, exorcism, barbarism, hallucination…”

In a similar incident in 1983, “eight elderly people from Kisii were also accused of witchcraft and burned to death in their huts by a mob.

The Ghanaian Uniqueness

Ghana is not exceptional. Ghana, a unique country, rich in complexities and contradictions; rich in nature’s wonders, yet, filled with man-made miseries and rotten smells. It is both rich and poor and is inhabited by people who are at once happy and miserable. The Ghanaian life is pulled and pushed and contradicted by different poles: primordial sentiments, superstition, religion, culture, and modernity. The biggest challenge, of course, is the morbidly superstitious life fueled by poverty and ignorance.

Superstition, poverty and ignorance accounts for why, many decades after most societies have progressed, the Ghanaian life is still loaded with long-long ago passions and mysterious conditions.

Within the year and other past years in Ghana, stories have appeared in the Newspapers about the wonderful machinations of witches and wizards. A young man suspecting that he has been bewitched by his mother because he had been suffering from chronic malaria locked the door and set the room ablaze, burning his mother, himself and two other children. at Kwadaso, a suburb of Kumasi. According to people, the Ghanaian witch or wizard lives close to you and me and can cause harm to anyone she – or he – wants to hurt. Diseases, deaths and ill fates are often blamed on a malicious witch or wizard.

In Ghana, the worst thing you can call anyone is “a witch” (well, apart from stupid. I have also heard people talk about meeting of wizards and witches, especially on the Big tree at the centre of the village, casting curses and occasionally killing people.

Also, the newspapers report regularly about witches flying here and there. Last time I remember reading about a wizard from the Volta region who had mysteriously found himself, landing on the roof of a house in Ashaiman, close to Tema. A few years ago, I again read from the Daily Guide, a reports on a conference of witches and wizards taking place in Kumasi, In Ghana, the numerous road accidents, boat disasters, floods in the north, gas explosions in Kumasi and collapse of buildings that the country has witnessed in recent months may not be for nothing. We even heard that, a global meeting of witches, was underway in Ghana, targeting thousands of lives through fatal road and other accidents.

So the accidents on our roads and floods in the north are due to a 2007 conference of witches?

On a more serious note, in Ghana, there are enclosed areas for witches or “witch camps”, predominately for women who have been named witches by their community. But of course, these types of events are very common in Ghana -- a country rife with delusion and mass hysterias induced by tales of the missing penis, missing scrotums, missing breasts, shrinking brains, and witchcraft lore.

Witchcraft in different context

There are several interpretations of witchcraft. Used in different context in different societies and in different era, it could mean a number of things. In general however, witchcraft is associated with the supernatural, with magic and with evil deeds. There are historical testaments of witchcraft in all societies, one of the most famous being the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. About three dozen innocent people were killed and hundreds more suffered unimaginable indignity. But more than any society in the world, the Ghanaian society and belief system is excessively rife with such belief. Even though, such beliefs are dying out in most societies, it continues to thrive and assume epic proportion in the Ghanaian society.

In Ghana, the incidence, accusations and extrajudicial sanctions against supposed witches are routine where kids as young as 10, and even younger, are ostracized or beaten on mere suspicion. One young boy of about 12 years old in a village near Kumasi was tied up to a tree and beaten with ‘itching’ leaves when he was declared a wizard by a self-styled Man of God who had gone to the village to spread the Gospel. Widows are sometimes accused of witchcraft in cases where their husbands suffered sudden or unexplainable death. In some parts, tragedies and misfortunes that are beyond the consciousness or comprehension of the people are mostly credited to witches. It doesn’t matter the level of education, virtually all the inhabitants of the nation share in this belief: what cannot be explained, is caused by witches.

Amongst some ethnic groups, the cost and implication of witchery are expensive. For instance, the so-called witches may generally never be accorded the dignity of land burial as their remains may be thrown into the river. I sincerely suspect and feel it is therefore not uncommon to find corpses floating rivers and waterways. The children and immediate family members also suffer from public ridicule and suspicion; they may be maligned, shunned and disassociated from village events. To be thought of as the children of a witch carries heavy penalty.

Ghanaian Films

The proliferation of certain Ghanaian films has worsened the situation. The portrayal of characters and settings leave much to be desired. As soon as the scene changes from the urban area to the village, witches and wizards come into the film. No wonder most people are so afraid to go to their villages. Belief in witchcraft and all such phenomenon, I think, is a product of deep-seated fear, ignorance, backwardness, illiteracy of the mind, gullibility, self-loathe and an inability or refusal to take responsibility for ones failings and shortcomings. The songs and other cultural activities are not different in this regard: if your car malfunctions, you blame the witch; if you have any ailment or other medical conditions, you blame your father’s second or third wife or your mother’s sister; if you do poorly in school or if you are denied admission to the school of your choice, you blame somebody down the road; if you are denied a visa to another country knowing perfectly well that, you did not use the correct channel, you blame your mother or somebody.

Pastors’ Pronouncements

Witches are to be blamed for everything! Children and babies branded as evil are being abused, abandoned while the preachers make money out of the fear of their parents and their communities. Indeed, pastors have now taken the leading role in pointing accusatory fingers at the innocent. Some of the One-man Churches are especially notorious for these. One wonders how many men and women -- especially women -- have been accused of evil, and who forever lived a lonely and dejected life? Even in death, they are slandered. For generation thereafter, their children and grandchildren may even suffer from such labels.

Ironies in Life

There are several ironies to the belief in witchcraft; one being that even among the western educated Ghanaians, there is a widespread belief in the omnipresence and omnipotence of witches and wizards. There are Ghanaians, who, even with advanced degrees in science and technology and resident in other western countries still belief in witchcraft, and other so-called supernatural entities. Perhaps, there is something about the Ghanaian mind that makes it difficult to wipe it clean of what I call; witchcraft viral infection of our minds.

In the middle Ages people were convinced, there were witches. They looked for them and they certainly found them.” Today, Ghanaians are still looking and finding and throwing stones at them on the football fields in the night when praying. Innocent men and women are psychologically traumatized. How sad! And of course, such humiliations happen again and again and again. From North to south, it happens on a daily basis. We should not forget that the tongue is a powerful tool to kill.

The old and the poor

Let me end this article with a true story which happened in one of the African countries recently. A woman in her eighties, living alone in her house, all alone and looking after her eight-year old grand-daughter suffered an untold cruelty. At 6.30 pm, one evening, when it was getting dark, and the only light coming from the skies was that of the moon and the stars, three strange men appeared;

"Your days are over, old woman," they said after smashing in her front door with a rock. Her grand-daughter ran into the next room. "Stay there and shut up, or you will die, too," they shouted after the grand-daughter. Then, they slashed into the skull of the old lady with machetes, and tried to cut off her hands -- suggesting this was a witch-killing. Her grand-daughter hid until morning, then ran for help. It was too late. The old lady’s blood still stains the walls and the small wooden chair, where she sat in her last moments of life.

By His Grace, I shall be back

Columnist: Appiah-Adjei, Daniel