A manly figure runs steadily towards Akurigo’s house with a machete in his right hand, while he clutches at a talisman in his other hand. With a belief in the soothsayer’s divination and same as his only source, he firmly lifts the machete up high ready to cut off Akolpoka’s limbs but pauses in the air. He poses a question but expects her to respond in the affirmative!
“Did you kill the industrious young man who visited his family after getting his first paid job?” Akolpoka knew that denying such an allegation would cost her her limb. So she shouts and pleads with these words, “please don’t kill me, I will confess. [Shaking severely], I’m a witch”. Soon an angry crowd gathers outside waiting to initiate a mob action.
The above is not a strange occurrence with my kinsmen and many others around my home in Bongo.
Bongo, a suburb of Bolgatanga in the Upper East region is clothed with norms, beliefs and ethics just like every other society. This discussion has become necessary in the wake of events and conversations following the killing of 90-year old Akua Denteh in Kafaba recently after she was accused of being a witch.
It is important to openly talk about such cultural practices to be able to discourage those which offend the human rights of people.
The cultural understanding of sorcery and black magic makes natives seek answers and solutions to mysterious events such as a delayed rainy season, outbreak of diseases and premature deaths.
We [people of Bongo] hold the belief that there exist both bad and good witches and wizards. While the bad ones destroy families, the good ones protect and increase the fortunes of their families.
Families which experience a series of misfortunes are considered to be witch-hunted through the help of a family member. A Frafra axiom puts it succinctly; “It is with the help of a family member [insider] that another is offered to the outsider to be harmed”. Therefore, there is a belief that there is always a malefactor within a family who causes the downfall of others.
This belief system operates in the male-dominated culture.
Patriarchy is at the core of the Bongo culture, with men serving as traditional spiritual consultants. It is quite rare to find female traditional spiritual consultants. With a patrilineal system of inheritance, most women have no political, social and economic power in their households.
There are, however, a few exceptions where women wield political and economic power in their homes.
This make-up, positions men as the individuals who seek to improve the fortunes of the family with little regard for women as contributors to wealth creation.
Culture evolves, hence, there has been some evidence of women being valued and respected.
Sorcery and the characteristics aforementioned are not exclusive to the Bongo culture, but what may be peculiar is the culture’s approach to diagnosing sorcery or witchcraft.
Traditional Spiritual Consultants
Fetish priests and soothsayers [Bakoligo] play a critical role in our community as they serve as the connection between the people and the Supreme Being. A popular spiritual healing centre in Bolgatanga called Tigari serves as a centre for healing and spiritual consultations.
In the medical arena, families consult doctors and physicians to seek answers on the cause of death of a relative, hence an autopsy report. In a similar way, some families from Bongo, in their quest to find answers to the death of a relative, consult soothsayers.
These soothsayers make claims which are mostly taken as the biblical truth. Their reports include stating the people who killed the dead as well as proposing rituals to avert any premature death among family members.
To verify the authenticity of the soothsayer, the family hides an item in the house and requests the soothsayer to find it. The outcome influences the decision of whether or not to patronize him or her.
Individuals who are accused of being sorcerers are made to drink special water presented by the soothsayer or fetish priest. A guilty person will either start confessing when he or she drinks this water or develop an unexplained insatiable thirst and drinks continuously. The unexplained thirst for the water will stop when he or she confesses to the crime of witchcraft.
With their inability to scientifically query events, natives do not question the authenticity of verdicts given and the outcomes are seen as sacrosanct.
Families with the history of witchcraft and bad happenings can be considered a witch infested house.
We hold the belief that women who are tagged with witchcraft easily transfer the same to their offspring. This places these women and children in a bad light where other members of the society do not want to socialize with them. Meanwhile, men cannot pass witchcraft to their kids. This belief is held in high esteem such that the children of a woman endure emotional stress and social rejection as other members of the society do not want to socialize with them as Frafras believe that “a witch does not have worth [bukata].”
With no laws or bylaws to deal with spiritual matters, natives might not initiate mob justice but the isolation and banishment from the society affect the mental health of these individuals.
Also, some behavioural traits can easily make one become suspected of witchcraft. For example, hatred against persons who are prospering, who have not offended them.
These might seem weird but these are some of the realities of the people.
Christian Spiritual Consultants
It has been argued in some circles that Christianity has reinforced society’s beliefs in sorcery as some pastors diagnose sorcery through prayers and accuse individuals as sources of misfortunes.
This complements the cultural activities undertaken to diagnose sorcery.
Strategies for resolving the cultural elements of killing a witch
Authorities must consider holding stakeholder meetings with pastors, soothsayers, chiefs and fetish priests on the need to educate their clients on human rights abuses and the law after consultations. This can help reorient people in various communities where mob justice on persons accused of being witches and wizards. This helps to tackle the source which is often regarded as authentic.
Also, the provision of hotlines for people to easily report a mob action since individuals who may want to avert the action are most likely to be physically abused could go a long way to forestall such dastardly killings.
In conclusion, what is clear is that the issue of witchcraft is multifaceted and deeply interwoven into people’s beliefs and cultures. No one-size-fits-all approach may be successful in rooting out this human right abuse. A combination of measures, heavy on education and law enforcement will be important in any approach to resolve this social canker.
The writer, Daniel Abugre Anyorigya is a broadcast journalist with Citi TV and Citi FM. He writes for citinewsroom.com