Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Treadwells Talk: “Witchcraft Accusation in Africa”

Treadwells Talk: “Witchcraft Accusation in Africa”
by Zoe Young and Saskia Evans.
Monday 06 December 2010

The talk was introduced by Christina and although the number of attendees was not as high as some other talks I’ve attended – it filled up as the talk progressed (which is unusual as the front door is normally locked during talks).

Zoe started by outlining how she got involved through the Women’s Empowerment Network in making a documentary on witchcraft accusations in Ghana. She stated that missionaries are very active in Ghana and that misogyny and gender inequality were at the root of witchcraft accusations. The problem was as prevalent in the Christian dominated areas as the Islamic dominated areas.

(Picture courtesy of Simon Albury on Flickr)
Times of stress and change in lifestyle combined with lack of understanding of mental illnesses also contribute to witchcraft accusations. Witch accusations are not done in a systematic way, such as being led by a witch-finder General. Rather is it more spontaneous and the root is quite complex to unravel. Whether the accusation is because someone is impotent, a child has died, jealousy between a man’s wives (he can have up to 4) or simple alcoholism. Once the accusation is made and the woman (or man) survives the assault, they are then taken to the local chief or fetish priest.

Ghana’s hereditary spirit workers are called fetish priests. Accused women are taken to them for de-witching, he then does a ritual to test her and even if she passes the stigma of the accusation does not go away. Because an accused woman cannot return to her village, she ends up living in a witch camp. There are at least 6 or 7 of these camps with upwards of a thousand women (with some men) living in these camps. Because communication is so bad in parts of the country – new camps are being found all the time.

The aim of the documentary is to highlight this problem of witchcraft accusations. The TV in Ghana is dominated by American bible bashers in the South and Iranian influence in the North.  97% of people in Ghana believe in witchcraft and although none of the people interviewed who had been accused of witchcraft admitted to using witchcraft – each one knew of someone else who did.

Fetish Priests hold respect in society and will advertise their services next to for example church billboards advertising prayer camps. This syncretistic worldview highlights the complexity of the environment in which witchcraft accusations are made.

However, the processes of accusations follow a fairly familiar path:
  1. someone has a dream about a person
  2. accusation is made against that person
  3. if the accused has children, they will speak up and fight on her behalf
  4. there may be a mod assault on the accused
  5. the accused is dragged to see chief or fetish priest
  6. the fetish priest tests the person with a “concoction”**
**  - whose components they would not reveal. If the accused lied about using witchcraft, then the fetish priest’s shrine could kill that person.

The women who were shown in the film at the end of the talk were mostly old women, often without living children or were women who were too assertive and successful. The aim of the documentary is to focus on the human rights violations with a feminist slant. The documentary also did (in my opinion) a good job of showing the situation with the layers of complexity that exist, rather than trying to simplify it and viewing it through “white European lenses”.

Zoe and Saskia are looking for more investment to complete their documentary. Please get in touch via (remove spaces in email address) zoe at zoeyoung dot net