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Opinions Sat, 24 Jun 2017

Witchcraft accusations and pastoral training

Belief in witchcraft is not uncommon in Africa and Ghana is no exception. “The Bolgatanga District Court, presided over by His Lordship Osman Abdul-Hakeem, has remanded another set of five persons in Prison custody, for threatening and molesting three old women they suspected to be witches, at Gare, in the Talensi district in the Upper East Region” (Source: dailyguideAfrica.com, June 15, 2017).

In 2010, 72 year old Ama Hemmah was burnt to death on the suspicion that she possessed witchcraft. Under the behest of an evangelical pastor, Ama was subjected to torturing into admitting that she was a witch. She was then drenched with kerosene and set ablaze. Her horrendous burns were so severe that she died the following day.

In northern part of Ghana, elderly women mostly widows lived in a camp as refugees because their communities accused them of witchcraft. In elsewhere Kenya, 72 year old Bayacharo Kafuna lived in Malindi. He was sleeping when two men attacked him with machetes.

“He was cut across the mouth, back, and the left side of his body. Had he not raised his own machete to defend himself, Kafuna says he would have been hacked to death. More painful than the injuries, though, was the emotional torment of learning identity of the culprits. His attackers were family: a grandson and nephew.

‘The problem started after [one of my] sons developed liver complications,’ Kafuna says. ‘When he died, my relatives accused me of using witchcraft against him” (Source https://qz.com/945296/young-kenyans-are-murdering-elderly-relatives-they-claim-are-witches-but-it-really-has-nothing-to-do-with-magical-beliefs/ March 30, 2017).

Now let us hear the pepper burning story. It was at dawn in 1996 December and the jolly Christmas season was approaching. I had accompanied my uncle, Kwabina Mensah to his Yam farm. The Harmattan wind was breezing in the misty weather. The ghost-grey fog seeping from the atmosphere enwrapped the entire surrounding. Then we got to our country about four Kilometers away from Techiman Municipality in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana.

The entire village was wailing. The death of a young Man, Yaw Kyeremeh had plunged the whole village into desolation. Looking at the face of my 78 year old grandpa (Now late), shock and bemusement were his portion at that moment. He shook his head and said “we have to burn pepper.” A middle age woman who appeared to be insufferably livid about Kyeremeh’s death gave a nod and responded “Yes Nana we must burn pepper.”

My curiosity knew no bounds, eager as I was to ascertain the meaning of burning pepper. When the sorrowful mood of my grandpa de-escalated, I quizzed him, “Nana what is the idea behind burning pepper?” He replied: “All the members of the bereaved family will gather in an enclosed compound house, a dried pepper would be burnt, anyone who will cough is the witch or wizard responsible for Yaw Kyeremeh’s death.”

I instantaneously responded; “Nkwasia sem” to imply nonsensical practice. The old man was infuriated that I had insulted him and others who believed in the above practice. I had no option other than to show remorse and apologized. I cannot tell whether the planned pepper was burnt or not! Be that as it may, there was an idea demonstrating belief in witchcraft (employment of magical or mystical powers evil in nature in a secret fashion). Do not insult my village folks because they live in Africa. Witchcraft and traditions are trans-cultural. Hang on a minute, Koo, for the history cited below!

The belief in witchcraft and demonology is not peculiar to African culture. In Europe, under the influence of the Church, a useless book known as the “Hammer of the Witches” was published in 1480s. The book authored by two primitive German Dominican priests namely: Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger under the command of the pope in 1484 became almost invariably a symbol of insanity, cruelty and torturing. The book was a textbook for inquisition (Gregorian ecclesiastical tribunal for the suppression of heresy).

The book outlined how to evaluate individuals with witchcraft in order to coerce them for a full confession. Accused witches mostly women were tortured in a lenient manner. Those who resisted the torturing skills were subjected to unthinkable cruelty and sadism. The accused witches were tied and submerged into cold water: if they floated, they were guilty of satanic possession, and if they sank and drowned, they were innocent. Once the women had resolved in their free will to work for the devil, they must be tortured. Double confessions were tantamount to death by hanging, drowning and burning.

So you see Koo! There is a horizontal correlation between the pepper burning at my village and lowering and floating in the cold waters witch identification criteria in Europe. The only difference is that these primitive mindsets still permeate in Africa while the European ones had been jettisoned and consigned to history. Lack of deep-rooted theological and philosophical insights led to the publication of the Hammer of the Witches which tortured innocent women suffering from psychological disorders in Europe.

This means that pastoral mis-education negatively affects society. Somebody misinterpreted scripture and it partly contributed to the institutionalized apartheid system in South Africa of yesteryears.

A suggestion by the Dominican Friar, Bartolomé de las Casas partly led to the most egregious African holocaust; the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Thus, if we do not professionally, theologically and philosophically train our pastors in Africa like Europeans do, issues like witchcraft accusations and human rights abuse will not stop. I have been saying that Bible is one of the most difficult books to study.

The early theologians designed a process of bringing sanity into the study of the bible and to curb nonsense as existed in inquisition era. Every accredited University that offers theology combines with philosophy and logic because ethics which is inseparable from pastoral work is a branch of philosophy. In USA, pastoral counselling is an accredited program at full-fledged universities. Who preaches/counsels our vulnerable citizens must concern all and sundry.

We in Africa behave as if Holy Spirit was only promised and bestowed to us. Those who brought Holy bible to us train themselves before working for God. Pastor Billy Graham is one of the standard bearers of Charismatic Christianity in the USA. He was trained in an accredited theology school in Florida. Today in Africa, ignorance triumph at the expense of knowledge. This partly explains why there is a bald head hunt in a village in Mozambique. In Mozambique, some villagers believe that bald head men had gold in their head. Mozambique police confirmed (Source: BBC.com).

In Africa today, ability to Americanize or Anglicize Bible verses with a sweet accent is a substitute for anointing and righteousness. I wonder if the demons in Africa they claim to exorcize understand those accents. Not until the government of Ghana be bold enough to make theological training compulsory and integral part of national planning, horrifying news like pastors and alleged witch murder or attempted murder will continue. Belief system is part of human social identity. The government and the media must be concerned with those preaching to the citizens.

No matter the size of the church or the status of the pastor, a formal theological training must be a perquisite for pastoring or evangelizing to the citizens. Founding a church does not necessary make one a theologian. The developmental projects carried out by the Catholic Church, Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Anglican Church, SDA Church and others show that the benefits of formal and professional pastoral training cannot be gainsaid.

We must be serious with God in Ghana! Let us stop accusing our innocent senior citizens who might suffer from psychological problems as witches. God Bless Our Homeland Ghana.

Columnist: Nana Yaw Osei