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Witch-hunting at funerals in Africa

Witch Hunt Conway Hall Fortean Africans need to become advocates against witch persecution

Wed, 16 Feb 2022 Source: Leo Igwe

As in other cases, these abuses took place in public, people stood by, watched, or videoed with their cellphones. Nobody has confirmed what eventually happened to the frail-looking woman, but as is usually the case, the woman would be killed in revenge, or if she were lucky they would banish her from the community.

Another form of witch-hunting at funerals involves a post mortem witch trial. In some communities, many alleged witches are tried when they pass away; when the dead person is suspected to have been a witch while he or she was alive.

The post mortem trial is conducted to ascertain if the person was actually a witch. The confirmation would help determine how and where the person would be buried. The corpse is taken to a traditional priest who conducts some rituals and divination to confirm the witchcraft status.

If the traditional priest certifies that the dead person was a witch, the corpse will be taken to a forest where it will be buried. In some parts of Nigeria, especially in the coastal areas of Edo, Delta, and Rivers, the corpse is thrown into the river. The corpses of alleged witches are buried far from the family so that they would not come to hunt, harm, and destroy the lives and property of relatives.

The practice of witch-hunting at funerals predates contacts with foreign religions and persists in contemporary Africa despite the spread of Christianity and Islam. These religions reinforce these ritualistic beliefs and practices.

Many Africans still strongly believe that human beings do not die as a result of natural causes, that some humans magically cause the death and other misfortunes of others. Many people do not take seriously the notion that human beings die as a result of old age, accidents or ailments. Whenever a death occurs, especially the death of a young person, or death through accidents, people suspect witchcraft; they think that some enemy has used spiritual means to kill the person.

Some family members who identify as Christians or Muslims would secretly consult a traditional priest or include corpse bearing ceremony as a part of the funeral rites. If the dead person were suspected to be a witch, they would carry out a traditional autopsy to confirm the status before the burial.

These witch-hunting practices turn funerals into occasions for horrific torture and abuses of innocent persons. Government should take necessary measures to stop witch finding activities linked to funerals. There should be a functional health center in every community and all elderly persons should be enrolled in a social welfare program.

Family members who want to ascertain what caused the death of relatives should consult medical experts, not traditional priests, pastors, and mallams; they should go to hospitals, not shrines, divination, and spiritual centers. The police should arrest and investigate all who indulge in witch findings during the funeral and ensure that they are brought to justice. Nigerians, nay Africans, should realize that people die of natural causes; that nobody can kill or harm another person through magical or spiritual means as widely believed. Ignorance and misconception about the real cause of death or harm inform such suppositions.

AfAW urges all Africans to abandon superstition and embrace scientific and critical thinking. Every African should become an advocate against witch persecution, witch hunting at funerals, and other superstition-based abuses!

Columnist: Leo Igwe