Tortured, Exiled, and Forgotten: the Plight of Alleged Witches in Northern Ghana

Shenka Kwame

A wry smile dances at the corners of Shenka Kwame’s mouth. We’ve just asked her how old she is, and she doesn’t know how to answer. After a few moments, she explains that she was twenty years old when she had her first child in 1957.

We do the math ourselves.

This frail woman who just spent the cool morning hours collecting firewood in the bush is 76 years old. She is not strong enough to carry a jerrican from the well, and she has no children or grandchildren at Kukuo to help her. She sells kindling and relies on alms for food and water.

Shenka bore her husband a total of five children, but the two boys died.

If they had lived, things might have been different.

When the husband married a second wife, the new wife beleaguered Shenka, and eventually convinced the husband to drive Shenka away.

Since she was still strong, Shenka sought a new husband and bore him two children, both girls, before he also passed away. Contrary to custom, Shenka continued living with her children in the second husband’s home after his death.

They were surviving.

One evening, Shenka Kwame decided to entertain herself by going to a local dance. At the dance, the festivities were paused for an announcement:

There were witches in the community who were disturbing the peace.

Seven names were read, and Shenka thanked God that hers was not among them. But then her name was also called, and two others. In all, nine women and one man were implicated. The man was alleged to be the ringleader.

A priest performed a ritual to determine which of the ten were truly witches. Each accused person provided a chicken to be slaughtered. A noisy death indicated innocence, a silent death, guilt.

Shenka was the first to be tested, and her chicken’s distress vindicated her. One other woman’s chicken died noisily. But this did not save the two women. Their neighbors threatened to kill them if they stayed. Shenka went to the chief, but he supported the community. He banished her directly from the palace, forbidding her to take any belongings save for the clothing she was wearing.

Shenka’s children were too young to help her make the journey, and she was brutally beaten several times as she passed through the communities between hers and Kukuo.

Somehow, she survived.

That was eleven years ago. Now, Shenka says she wants God to shorten her life so that the suffering stops. She has no thoughts for the future because “she thought the future should end today.” She does not forgive those who accused her.

Like all of the other alleged witches we interviewed, Shenka Kwame continues to believe in witchcraft, yet she seems to understand something of the mechanism performed by witchcraft accusations. She explained to us that communities in Northern Ghana accuse women of witchcraft because of hatred, because they fear what will happen if they allow hard-working women to grow. So they stop their progress.

But God will one day pay back the accusers, Shenka says.

God will pay them back.

Posted Saturday, December 28th, 2013 under Awareness.

2 comments

  1. Peters, Anne says:

    conor – my heart goes out to shenka, as to all women everywhere who are treated like this. peace and happiness to you in the new year. KEEP UP THE RIGHTEOUS WORK!

  2. Just impossible to imagine. Heartbreaking.

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