Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The witch camps of Ghana

Orla Ryan:

Mariama Alidu was cast out as a witch from her village by her own family, yet she swears she has never cast a spell.

The mere suspicion of witchcraft was enough to see her and 80 other suspected witches expelled to a scruffy camp of mud huts on the fringes of the town of Gambaga in northern Ghana.

"It is the work of the devil. I can't say I have ever practised it myself," says Mariama, who has lived in the camp for about 10 years.

Hundreds more women accused of witchcraft live in similar camps in the cocoa- and gold-producing West African country.

Belief in witchcraft remains widespread in Africa, the world's poorest continent, where Christianity and Islam rub shoulders with animist religions, and where witch doctors wield great power in tribal societies.

Once the allegation is made, it is almost impossible to disprove:

Death, illness, dreams, superstition or even visible signs of success may be enough to provoke accusations of sorcery.

No matter how hard the allegation is to prove -- or how hysterical the accuser -- the fact that witchcraft is virtually impossible to disprove means many women are forced to live outside their communities, some for as long as 30 years.

Some are brought to the witch camps by their families. Others flee there from their homes and villages, fearing a beating or worse. Most of the occupants of the camps are women, although there are some men.

People are sometimes accused by their own relatives:

Mariama Alidu's own brother accused her of witchcraft, following an argument over her daughter's choice of fiance.

When his own daughter fell ill, he blamed his sister and Mariama was taken to the Gambaga witch camp. At first, she thought she was just going on a trip. Only when she arrived did she realise where she was and what was happening.

Gambaga's local chief, who lives in a larger mud hut than the others, requests money from visitors interested in meeting him and talking to the witches.

"In the olden days, when our forefathers were not yet born, when someone was suspected of being a witch, the fellow was killed. It is to eliminate this act of killing, that is why they are in the camp here," he said through an interpreter.

"If you have a witch in your community, you feel the witch is disturbing you. We can keep them here."

The chief said the "witches" worked the fields with his wives, and in return he gave them food and shelter. Many also lived on charitable donations.

People can end up being accused of witchcraft for a variety of reasons:

For many of these outcast women, their crime may be a quarrel with a daughter-in-law or simply that they have passed child-bearing age.

In places where medical knowledge is scarce, illness is also often seen as having a spiritual or malignant cause.

Even an elderly woman's appearance in a dream can be taken as a sign of her malevolent intent.

In some cases, witchcraft offers an easy explanation as to why one person is successful and another is not.

"In cases where successful women, brilliant women, have gone beyond the confines of their status as women, witchcraft is used as an explanation," said Dr Abraham Akrong, of the University of Ghana's Institute of African Studies.

His own mother, a successful businesswoman, feared buying land in case people attributed her success to witchcraft.

Witch hunt

Here, witch is just another word for victim


At 4:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not so different from the modern world, when a man loses his job in American the people he takes his frustration out on is usually his wife and children. The people that love and support him the most are the ones that incur his wrath, and some men will drink or do drugs to forget his plight, thereby increasing the abuse at home.

At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Finn said...

Not so different from the modern world, when a man loses his job in American the people he takes his frustration out on is usually his wife and children

Maybe that's the world you live in but it isn't the one I - or most of the people I know - live in.


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