How would you feel if your mother was beaten and tortured owing to unproved claims of her being a witch? Or, worse enough; if you were the parent of a little girl, about a month old, who is charged with the crime of witchcraft? Yes, it certainly sounds absurd; but, this is happening prominently since the last four hundred years, chiefly in Africa.
In Ghana, Africa, there are six camps which are fundamentally an arrangement where women suspected of being witches can flee for safety. These are called the witch camps. It all started around four centuries ago when the Pendle Witch Trials took place in 1612. That year, twelve people were charged for being witches or wizards. The accused lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire and were blamed for murdering ten natives with the help of witchcraft. Finally, 11 of them went to trial. These included 9 women and 2 men. Ten people were found guilty and were executed by hanging while one was set free. However, the attitude and approach of the natives of Ghana, towards witchcraft, did not change, as desired. Some of the six witch camps set up there apparently started over 100 years ago.
Most of the women in these camps are widows whose relatives accused them of witchcraft in order to take control of their husband’s possessions. Also, there is no real understanding of mental disorders like depression and dementia in Ghana. Thus, many women suffering from some sort of mental illness are deemed to be possessed by spirits and are brought to these camps. Some reports claim that normally older women are accused of being witches because they are no longer useful to the society. Moreover, the people of Ghana expect women to be subservient and dutiful. So, if one is outspoken or successful in her job, then she is considered a witch; because her conduct is unlike other typical women.
In one camp in Gambaga, these women are given protection by the local chieftain and in return they pay him and work for him in his fields. Around 700 women and 800 children live in the Gambaga camp and five other camps across northern Ghana and they are virtually cut off from the outer world. Another witch camp is located in the village Kukuo. These camps are run by Tindanas; leaders capable of cleansing an accused woman so as to shield the community from witchcraft. Also, the woman herself is safe from vigilantes who would otherwise beat her and physically harm her because of her tainted image; as assumed by the society. The witch camps enclose flimsy mud huts where there is no electricity or running water. The roofs of the hut leak incessantly and there are very few basic health or education facilities. A group calledAction Aid in Ghana is working to make life in the camps better for the women. The members of Action Aid wish and hope that the attitudes of the natives will change eventually so that the women can return to their home villages safely.
A heart-wrenching ritual is followed once a woman is accused of being a witch. To determine whether a woman is guilty or not, she is supposed to buy a brightly colored chicken and offer it to the priest who takes a decision based on the chicken’s behavior by uttering certain incantations. If the woman is found guilty, a cleansing ceremony is performed wherein the woman must drink a concoction of chicken blood, monkey skulls and soil. Even after the entire affliction, the woman has to go and live in exile. She loses her poise and happiness completely.
As published in a news report in December 2011, the consequences of this superstition reached a wretched point. A month old baby, Mercy, was charged with witchcraft and thus was abandoned to die by dumping her in a dark room. The sinners believed that this way the spirit housed in her soul will also go away. The Northern Ghana’s website stated that Mercy was saved by the founder of a foster home who is currently taking care of her. Also, the baby has taken a new name and identity. Although, some reports assert that she is dead. Similarly, Suuk Lari, 51 was accused of killing her teenage daughter with the use of witchcraft. She was attacked by a mob at her daughter’s funeral by hammering a nail in her ankle. She was beaten and threatened which made her flee her village. Lari is scared to go back.
The Ghanian Government has announced that they intend to close these camps taking into account the fact that witches don’t exist. The witch camps are tarnish on the reputation of the country and the leaders want to educate the population. The idea of disbanding the camps has been received with mixed responses. The apprehension is that sending the women back to their villages might not solve the problem, after all. They might be re-accused and beaten. The witch-camp inmates are also not yet ready to go back as they believe they will be killed. Life for these women has not been an easy one. They suffered, are still in agony and this might go on for sometime; some years. This is an abuse of human rights because they are not treated humanely. I was definitely stunned by looking closely into this issue because I never knew about it. Not many of us do. It is thus imperative for the people of the world to be empathetic towards each other. It always makes sense to strive to make this world a better place to live in keeping aside all these juvenile beliefs and notions. I wish the people of Ghana recognize the same and work towards the betterment of these women. It’s high time they deserved bliss. What are your views on the story? Do think and let me know. That will help.
By Nikita Mandhani, 24 – Author readstuffwithme.wordpress.com
* Photo by ActionAid Group