Tag Archives: bimbilla

Memunatu Dokurugu

This was one of the accused witches that we interviewed who was reintegrated in a separate community.

When she was 7 months pregnant, thunder killed her first husband. She had 3 kids with her second husband and 3 kids with her third husband. Her trouble all started when her third husband got more wives.

Her third husband’s second wife died. Then his third wife’s kid died. Memunatu was blamed for the death.

She then stayed with her brother and then her brother’s son died. The accusations started.

She ran to Kukuo for safety. She stayed peacefully there until she was reintegrated recently. Her 4th born built a house nearby and asked the elders to let her stay with him.

As she was preparing to leave, she needed to find two chickens and return to the shrine. The chickens were there to ask for permission to return to another community safely.

She said that leaving Kukuo was like being released from all the hardship and discrimination associated with her accusation. Her current house is like heaven to her. She’s surrounded by food, firewood, and water. She says that living here is a huge relief.

She’s 80 years old and has been reintegrated for 1 year. She spent 8 years in Kukuo.

She was lucky because her son was so faithful to her. Each month her son would give her a part of his salary. She says that the women should always pray that their families have them at heart.

Her brother was the person who accused her. When she was reintegrated her brother came back and begged her for her forgiveness. He thought she would die the night of the accusation and didn’t think she would suffer for so long. She accepted his apology.

She feels that this place, which is like heaven to her, is her final destination and that the accusation was part of the journey. She says that Bimbilla is a place where you can buy land and you can live on it without worry. The people will leave you alone. Because of this, many accused witches are reintegrated in Bimbilla

Fetish Priest

The fetish priest cleanses the accused witches of their powers

The fetish priest cleanses the accused witches of their powers


Right after arriving

He is one of the first people to receive news about an alleged witch arriving. It is his job to accept her in good faith.

The first thing he does is tell the accused witch to find two chickens of any type and bring him money.

The amount of money varies depending on the type of case. Those who run away from their community voluntarily can pay any amount of money. Those who are sacked from their community because of a mysterious death or sickness must bring 40 cedi (around $20) because they must wash their deaths down in their stomach.

The ceremony

The day of the cleansing ceremony the alleged witch wakes up at 4 in the morning, doesn’t take breakfast, and enters the shrine.

The priest says incantations and oracles, and then slaughters the two chickens. The chickens will testify as to whether she was accused falsely. The results of this test aren’t shared with anyone; the alleged witch and the priest will be the only people who ever know the results. The accused then drinks a special concoction composed of water and a special stone, and neutralizes their powers. The second chicken is slaughtered to ask for permission to stay or leave the community.

The accused then confess that they have witchcraft and drink a concoction. The special concoction was prepared by the priest’s great-grandfather and is in the form of a stone. The stone is soaked in water. If the accused is not lying, she will take the concoction peacefully. If she denies having witchcraft, the concoction will give her diarrhea and she will die in 3 months.

But the chicken doesn’t tell the whole story, which is why the chickens are wrong sometimes.

Priests

The fetish priest says that his powers come from God to do the purification ceremony. The chicken has the ability to do the interpretation.

When the Priest dies, the title is passed on to someone else. The day that the priest dies, the chief consults the oracles. The next day the talisman and the staff will appear at the new priest’s house.

Prior to becoming the priest, his father was the priest and he observed his father performing all the ceremonies.

The village revolves around oracles. The oracles were brought by a nigerian man who founded the community hundreds of years ago. The priest interprets the oracles based on the way the wind blows through the camp. The priest can also ask the oracles for favors.

For example the oracles used to not allow electricity in the camp. Each time electricity poles were put up, the storm would strike the posts. The villagers asked the priest to consult the oracles to let them have electricity. After a sacrifice of a ram, cow, and chicken at the shrine to pacify the gods, they were able to install electricity successfully.

The oracles are different than the gods. The oracles are simply the gods’ messengers.

We asked how these oracles and smaller gods work together with the almighty god since many of the villagers were muslim. He said that these smaller gods that they worship get their powers from the almighty god. They then worship the almighty through the smaller gods.

There are many oracles. When he leaves the village, 1 or 2 oracles travel with the priest and the majority stay at the camp, this way he is signaled if something bad happens.

Problems

He says that the biggest problem in the camp is feeding – many of the women don’t have any supporters.

He also says that the women should be allowed contact with her family. After the purification ceremony she is born again and can’t harm others.

Shenka Kwame

Shenka Kwame was part of a group of 10 people who were accused of witchcraft in her community. There were 9 women and 1 man who were all publicly accused and immediately taken to the camps for alleged witches. To this day, the women are all living in the camps, but the man has returned and lives with his family while she is here alone and suffering. (her words, not mine.)

She was born around 1937 (she knows this because she had her first child when she was 20 in 1957). When we came she had just arrived from cutting firewood; she doesn’t have anyone to take care of her.

She had 3 kids with her first husband: 2 sons and 1 daughter.

Her trouble started when her husband married a second woman. The other wife kept harassing her until her husband told her to look for a new husband.

In this second marriage she had 2 girls, and then her second husband passed away.

There was a local dance and all the chief and elders were in attendance. Someone publically announcced that there were many witches in the community who were disturbing the peace. Shenka remembers hearing 7 names called and being relieved that her name hadn’t been called yet — but her name was last on the list.

She was going through menopause, which is why she was accused of being a witch. Unfortunately she had no one to support her so she had to accept the allegation.

The accused lined up in front of the chief and were each given a chicken. The belief is that a chicken can detect witchcraft. If you are innocent, the chicken will scream and testify that you are innocent as it is being killed. If you are guilty, the chicken will fall without screaming.

Shenka was the first to hand over her chicken. It screamed and she presumed it meant that the community would believe her innocence. The process was repeated with the other 9 who were accused. The chicken didn’t scream for 8 of them. She was one of the two innocent people. She returned home.

But the community didn’t accept the chicken’s testimony and didn’t believe that she was innocent. Shenka had to flee because her community wouldn’t accept her.


She has no one to take care of her, and she asks one of the community members to check on her regularly. Without his visits, no one would know if she had died.

During the wet season, she can walk the mile to the nearest water source. During the dry season she isn’t strong enough to make it over the hills to the river, so she has to sell some firewood to buy water.

She’s been here for 11 years and if she was asked to return to her community, she won’t go. Where would she go? She’s accepted at Kukuo.

She doesn’t forgive those who accused her and she wants god to shorten her life so her suffering ends. She doesn’t have a future and wants her future to end today. (her words)

Shenka believes communities do this out of hatred towards those who are hard-working, especially women. They must think “if we allow this woman, then she will grow. We should stop her progress” (these are her words that were translated to me). She believes that god will one day pay them back.

She doesn’t understand the accusations; why would you think bad against a colleague?

Shenka believes that witchcraft exists, but she’s innocent. After all, the chickens said that 8 of the 10 people that were accused along with her had witchcraft.

No one has paid her a visit here. She didn’t do anything wrong, but now her family rejects her. When she is gone, she doesn’t even care if she gets a funeral.

Her hut leaks everywhere and so she wanted me to put out an appeal to help her get a new roof. A bundle of thatch is 5 cedi, and she needs 8-10 bundles for a roof.

Aminetu Iddrissu

Aminetu Iddrissu just arrived to Kukuo and doesn’t understand the language there. Fortunately her daughter came with her and can translate. We were using two interpreters to hear her story.

Aminetu Iddrissu with her daughter and grandson

Aminetu Iddrissu with her daughter and grandson

Aminetu is about 70 years old. Prior to the witchcraft accusations, her life was normal and she was living peacefully. She had 5 boys and 3 girls.
Then her husband died.

She had to make a living, so she began selling 2nd hand clothing. (Ghana receives second hand clothing from western countries and many people buy gigantic bundles and re-sell the clothing inside.) She was very successful and rich. In fact many people would ask her to loan them money; She was even able to support another woman.

Then the woman she was supporting bled out as she was delivering a baby. The death was blamed on Aminetu.

At this time, her 5 sons had already left the community. So she had no one to support her.

Aminetu went to the shrine and was purified. She decided to return to another community where a young couple took her in. The woman was about to deliver and Aminetu helped around the house.

But then the woman bled out as she was delivering.

Aminetu was forced to move. People believed she still had witchcraft powers even though she had already been purified. But there was no where she could stay so she was brought to Kukuo. The priest didn’t even purify her this time, she was already clear of any powers.

Aminetu said that when people see that their colleagues are progressing, they try to bring them down. Her accusation was their way of bringing her down.

Aminetu’s mom lived in Kukuo earlier, and Aminetu frequently made visits to the camp. People attributed these two deaths to Aminetu because they believe she had inherited the powers.

Aminetu is sick and can’t carry anything so one of her daughters takes care of her. Her daughter’s life has been destroyed because of the allegation too; as soon as the daughter’s husband heard of the allegations he broke off the marriage.

Aminetu doesn’t have money, which is a huge difference from just a few years ago when her business was prospering. She showed us this small collection of spices outside and said that she would like to be able to make and sell more of these, but she doesn’t have equipment. Her daughter can sew, and that’s how they earn money to survive.

The daughter is concerned that she will be accused of witchcraft. Many people believe that witchcraft powers are inherited. She believes that witchcraft exists, but that her case is different.

If she were to relocate, she wouldn’t return to her old community – she would go to where her kids are living.

She explained to us that when a man has witchcraft, it is seen as wisdom or power and the men are then made to be chiefs. But when a woman has it, it is witchcraft. She also said that when a woman picks a fight or challenges a man, she ends up here [at the camps for alleged witches] or beaten.

Fuseina Naetogmah

Fuseina recently arrived at Camp Kukuo

Fuseina recently arrived at Camp Kukuo

Fuseina had 7 kids in her first marriage; two died and she was left with 3 daughters and 2 sons. She had 2 twin girls in her second marriage.

Then her second husband passed away and she was left without support. She began farming and was very successful. People would come to her for extra seeds and to borrow money. People started to notice her progress.

Then her own brother accused her of witchcraft.

On the day she was accused she was selling at the market with her mother. When her son told her about the accusation rumors and she ran home and left everything behind.

A mob formed in her community, and those who were in her debt joined in on the accusations. No one in her community died or was sick – they said they saw her in their dreams. She said that 90% of the people in the mob owed her money.

In order to protect her her son locked her in the house, told everyone she was at the farm, and called the police. When the police arrived, the mob threatened the police. The police realized it was a family issue and brought her to Kukuo to protect her – it was the only place she could go.

When she arrived she wasn’t sent to the shrine because the priest realized that her accusation was false.

She was banished from camp with 9 kids – 7 of those are back in the community and the twins are with her. She couldn’t argue against the accusation because her own brother was accusing her. The mob took everything and invaded her farm. She was left with nothing. She didn’t even have time to take anything with her.

The police charged the mob a small amount of money.

She is mainly concerned about her kids. They’re all students. Who will pay for their education or their books? Who provides food to her elderly mother?

Luckily she is still strong and she helps others on their farms, but she depends on their tokens. On other days she sells firewood or water that she collects. She’s tried farming here, but the land is unsuitable for farming.

It’s been 10 months since she was forced to come to Kukuo and she wants to be relocated. She won’t go back to her original community and wants to settle somewhere else.

She says that she was innocent and that nothing happened. No one died or was sick, but the mob said that she was planning to kill soon. She believes that there are people out there who actually have powers, but she herself doesn’t have them.

Camps for Alleged Witches

Entering the camp

It all starts with an accusation of witchcraft.

Evidence of witchcraft can be multiple things: death, sickness, missing testicles, seeing someone in your dreams.

According to one of the women we met, certain factors increase the likelihood of a witchcraft allegation: going through menopause, being economically empowered if you are a woman, speaking out, and a community member dying. Hot flashes are seen as a spirit attacking you. Speaking out and being economically empowered is a sign that your spirit has something extra. Mysterious deaths and sicknesses are attributed to witchcraft – during malaria season or cholera outbreaks the number of witchcraft allegations increase.

These alleged witches are then beaten and tortured until they leave the community either by force or out of fear. There usually isn’t a warning or enough time to gather belongings. All they have are the clothes on their back. Most alleged witches never return.

The accused are then sent to one of 6 camps that are well-known for accepting accused witches. We visited Kukuo in Northern Ghana.

I imagined the camp would be small and only contain alleged witches, but the camp is huge. Kukuo alone currently holds 136 witches — that’s not including regular community members and family. Many of the accused women are elderly and cannot care for themselves, so the majority have daughters, granddaughters, or other family members that stay with them. When family members come, they are also banished from their community; many people believe that witchcraft is inherited.

After accused witches arrive at Kukuo, the chief and the priest take care of them until the accused goes through a purification ceremony. It involves drinking a special concoction and killing two chickens. (There will be more on the ceremony in a later blog post.)

The purification ceremony cleanses the alleged witches of their powers and the alleged witches are considered born again. Their supposed powers are no longer there, but their communities still won’t accept them back – unless they’re a man. Men are allowed to return and continue life right where they left off. Women risk death if they return.

Kukuo is there as a safe place for these women and accepts them with open arms. According to the chief, women are not powerful and not recognized in society. These women had their human rights abused and wouldn’t be at Kukuo in any other circumstances. The other communities don’t handle accusations properly, which is why so many end up at Kukuo.

Kukuo’s goal is to socialize these women and integrate them back into their community and make sure they don’t face any discrimination. After all, the alleged witches have been neutralized through the cleansing ceremony and don’t have powers any more.

The chief allows the alleged witch to pick some land, and then the youth build her a small hut for her to live. The community provides her with counseling and some clothes to get started for her new life in Kukuo.

The government is trying to ban these camps from happening because they are considered to be violations of human rights. Kukuo supports the idea of not having camps for the accused witches, but knows it’s not realistic. Unless Kukuo is there, where will these women go?

Reintegration

Action Aid and Songtaba are the two organizations that work most frequently with Kukuo. Their ultimate goal is to get these women reintegrated back into other communities, but it takes a lot of work.

They must assess the woman’s individual case and her accusations. The community needs to be checked to see how accepting they would be of her return. Their family must also be extremely supportive. If all of those conditions are right, the women return to their community for a few days. Then Action Aid watches to see how the community reacts.

Most women are never reintegrated and many don’t ever want to return to their communities. Why go back to a community that almost killed them?

Conditions at Kukuo

The women have to walk miles to the closest source of water. (It’s a female-only chore.) If that well is dried up, which is most of the year, then they must walk many more miles over a few hills to reach the next source of water.

Feeding is difficult. Many of the women talked about going without meals or depending on scraps.

Housing is another universal concern. The huts are covered with thatch which must be replaced every 2 years. Unfortunately many can’t afford new roofs. During the rain it leaks heavily and the inhabitants stay standing until it stops so they can mop out the water and have a dry place to sleep. It’s impossible to sleep.

Clothing is another concern. The accused women literally only have the clothes in their back when they enter. Accused witches aren’t allowed to take anything when they leave their communities.

Kukuo isn’t an ideal place to live, but it’s the only place where many of these women are accepted. Water, food, shelter, and clothing were universal concerns and came up often during interviews.

This past week many of these women shared their stories and voiced their concerns to me. I’m incredibly grateful that they opened up their houses and shared these difficult memories. Their biggest request was that I tell their stories to others so that others know of the terrible discrimination and conditions they face.

I took a lot of notes, and over the next few days I’ll be sharing their stories with you.