The following shocking report appeared in Ghana’s most widely-read newspaper the Daily Graphic, on 26 November 2010:
“Grandma Set Ablaze To Exorcise Witchcraft
“A 72-year-old grandmother [Nana Ama Hemmah] suffered one of the most barbaric of deaths when she was burnt alive by a mob at Tema Site 15, after being accused of being a witch.
“A student-nurse, who appeared on the scene, attempted to rescue the old woman from her ordeal but she died of her burns within 24 hours of arrival at the Tema General Hospital.
“Five people who allegedly tortured and extracted the confessions of witchcraft from Ama Hemmah before drenching her in petrol and setting her ablaze have been arrested by the Tema Police.
“But the suspects, including an evangelist, denied the crime and claimed that they were rather praying to exorcise the evil spirit from the deceased, Ama, when the anointing oil they had applied to her body caught fire.
“Two of the suspects are Samuel Ghunney, a 50-year-old photographer, and Pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe, 55, the evangelist.
The rest are Emelia Opoku, 37, Nancy Nana Ama Akrofie, 46, and Mary Sagoe, 52, all unemployed.
“Briefing the Daily Graphic on the incident, the Tema Regional Police Commander, Mr Augustine Gyening, Assistant Commissioner of Police, said about 10 a.m. on November 20, 2010, Samuel Fletcher Sagoe visited his sister (Emelia) at Site 15, a suburb of Tema Community 1, and saw Madam Hemmah sitting in Emelia’s bedroom at a time Emelia had sent her children to school.
“Mr Gyening said Samuel then raised an alarm attracting the attention of the principal suspect, Samuel Ghunney, and some people in the neighbourhood.
“According to him, the suspects claimed that Mad. Hemmah was a known witch in the area and subjected her to severe torture, compelling her to confess [to] being a witch.
“He said after extracting the confession from Mad. Hemmah, Ghunney asked Emelia Opoku for a gallon of kerosene and, with the help of his accomplices, poured it all over her and set her ablaze.
“[Assistant Commissioner] Gyening said a student-nurse, Deborah Pearl Adumoah, who chanced upon the barbaric act, rescued Mad. Hemmah and sent her to the Community One Police Station, from where she was transferred to the Tema General Hospital, but she died the following day.
“In their [statement made under caution], the suspects denied the offence and explained that they poured anointing oil on the old woman and [that] it caught fire when they offered prayers to exorcise the demon from her.
“The docket has since been sent to the Attorney General’s Department for advice while the body of the deceased has been deposited at the Police Hospital mortuary for autopsy.”
Because the suspects are likely to be prosecuted, I cannot offer a detailed analysis of their behaviour, due to the sub judice rule that prohibits comments on cases that are yet to be decided by the courts.
But without prejudice to this particular case, I can confidently state that one thing is certain: a great number of people, particularly old women, are routinely subjected to the most excruciating physical and mental torture in Ghana in the mistaken belief that they are “witches”. The lack of knowledge in the country generally about the physical and mental degeneration that occurs in certain individuals during old age, results in some people taking Alzheimer’s disease and hysterical dissociation in particular and mental illness as a whole, as signs of witchcraft.
This ignorance, fuelled by a patchy knowledge of scriptures, which causes some people to interpret the Bible literally, induce them to inflict ultra-barbaric treatment on these alleged “witches” in the mistaken belie that they are doing what The Lord Jesus Christ would have done, had these alleged “witches” been brought before Him. But Jesus did not burn witches. He showed them compassion and physically touched them with his hands, which acts, even if He were not endowed with divine healing powers, would have affected the sick people positively in psychological terms and hence brought them healing, given the enormous reputation for miraculous performances that preceded Jesus to wherever He went to preach.
Many of the latter-day evangelists who preach in Jesus’ name, are in fact religious mercenaries, some of whom are borderline maniacs, who believe that ‘it is better to be feared that to be loved’ and resort to what amounts to religious terrorism in order to exercise power in their communities. Witchcraft has long formed part of Ghanaian mythology, and to the ulearned, the mention of demons in the Bible translates only too easily into the existence of “witches” among communities today.
So, a marriage breaks down, due probably to infidelity or pecuniary hardship — the old lady in the household is held responsible. A young, unemployed man becomes listless and shows signs of depression: an old lady wants to kill him spiritually and consume him with her coven of witches. A lorry driver gets drunk and crashes his vehicle: an old lady shone a torch into his eyes and blinded him, running his vehicle into a ditch. Even simple things like pupils failing exams, or crops failing, or an inability to save money due to reckless spending, (see story at the bottom of the page) are laid at the doors of “witches.”
Hence, large swathes of Ghanaian society absolve themselves of personal responsibility in almost all things, and, with the aid of both traditional superstitions and the modern equivalent preached by some churches, embark on acts of brutality against helpless scapegoats, such as occurred at Tema.
Evidence in support of my assertion that this is a nationwide phenomenon in Ghana is provided by another report in the Daily Graphic. This report reads:
“The Chairman of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) has observed that the existence of witch camps in the country offends Chapter Five of the 1992 Constitution.
“Mr Laary Bimi, considered the practice as discriminatory against women and [said it was] inhuman and … prevented the victims from enjoying their rights as humans. as enshrined in the constitution.
He wondered why there were supposed to be wizards too but only women were made to endure the ordeal at the witches’ camps, where they are kept against their will.
“Mr Bimi was speaking at a day’s workshop organised by the NCCE in Accra to disseminate findings of a study conducted by the Research Department of the Commission on: “Witchcraft and Human Rights of Women in Ghana: Case Study of Witches’ Villages in Northern Ghana”.
Witchcraft is considered a universal and historical phenomenon, which continues to attract a lot of interest. Suspected witches are regarded as evil and harmful and because of that, people suspected to possess such powers are sometimes killed, maltreated or banished from the communities in which they live.
Against that background, Mr Bimi challenged Ghanaians to abide by the tenets of the constitution in a holistic manner if they wanted to be counted among the democratic people of the world.
The study was conducted in three witches camps in the Northern Region, namely the Gambaga Camp* in the East Mamprusi District, Tindanzie Camp in the Gushiegu District and the Tindang Camp in the Yendi District.
Presenting a paper on the “Objective, Methodology and Socio-demographic characteristics of Respondents”, Mrs Janet Sarney-Kumah said the 1992 Constitution established that citizens were entitled to certain rights and freedoms, which include equality before the law, freedom from torture, cruelty and inhuman treatment, and human dignity.
Mrs Sarney-Kumah indicated that most of the alleged witches interviewed were very old people and said old age was a factor influencing an individual’s likelihood of being accused of witchcraft.
She, however, indicated that 7.1 per cent of the people interviewed [in the study] openly admitted possessing witchcraft.
Mr Derek Gyamfi Yeboah, who presented a paper on “Witchcraft acquisition and conditions at the camps”, said 38 per cent of the respondents indicated that witchcraft was acquired through gifts obtained from persons who were already possessed.
In addition, 49 per cent stated that people acquired it through family lineage either by inheriting it from a dying relative or handed over to them by other family members.
Speaking on “Freedom of association, integration and conclusion”, Mrs Praise Mensah said since the constitution guaranteed freedom of association for every citizen, the alleged witches, irrespective of their conditions, had the right to participate in every lawful social activity of their choice in the community.
In her welcoming address, the Director of Research at the NCCE, Mrs Getrude Zakaria-Ali, commended the personnel for a good work done and said with the findings, the Commission was better equipped to embark on an effective civic education, which the constitution mandates it to do.
*In the UK, meanwhile, The Witches of Gambaga, a film co-produced and directed by a Ghanaian-British film-maker, Yaba Badoe, has won the 2010 Black International Film Festival Best Documentary Award. According to its Synopsis, “The Witches of Gambaga is a haunting 55-minute documentary film about a community of women condemned to live as witches in Northern Ghana. Made over the course of 5 years, this disturbing expose is the product of a collaboration between members of the 100 strong community of ‘witches’, local women’s movement activists and feminist researchers, united by their interest in ending abusive practices and improving women’s lives in Africa.
Painful experience and insight combine to generate a uniquely intimate record of the lives of women ostracized from their communities. Told largely by the women themselves, their incredible stories and struggles are rendered comprehensible to a wide range of audiences by the director’s narration.
It was completed in August 2010 by Fadoa Films Ghana and UK. It was directed by Yaba Badoe, and co-produced by Yaba Badoe and Amina Mama.
REVIEWS of The Witches of Gambaga
“A very good watch, beautifully made” Ingrid Falck, Al Jazeera
“I was gripped from beginning to end” Suzy Gillet, London Film School
“A brave and brilliant production” Hope for the African Village Child Trust
“Thank you for living up to our expectations.” Netright, Ghana
“…will go a long way to promote the rights of women…” African Women’s Development Fund
“ .. a shocking, extraordinary film..” Michael Eaton, screenwriter
“… the unacceptable and abusive treatment of women as witches is exposed…” ABANTU FOR DEVELOPMENT
Below is a link to the trailer of the film of Youtube
The Director of the film,
is a Ghanaian-British documentary filmmaker and writer. A graduate of King’s College, Cambridge, she worked as a civil servant in Ghana before becoming a General Trainee with the BBC. She has taught in Spain and Jamaica and has worked as a producer and director making documentaries for the main terrestrial channels in Britain. In 2009, her first novel, ‘True Murder’, was published by Jonathan Cape. Her TV credits include: ‘Black and White’, a ground-breaking investigation into race and racism in Bristol, using hidden video cameras for BBC1; ‘I Want Your Sex’, for Channel 4, and a six-part series, ‘VSO’, for ITV.
For further information contact Yaba by e-mailor on +44-(0)208 675 5978
UPDATE ON GHANA’S WITCHES’ HAVEN
1 September 2012 Last updated at01:06
Ghana witch camps: Widows’ lives in exile
By Kati Whitaker (BBC) Kukuo, northern Ghana
When misfortune hits a village, there is a tendency in some countries to suspect a “witch” of casting a spell. In Ghana, outspoken or eccentric women may also be accused of witchcraft – and forced to live out their days together in witch camps.
A rusty motorbike speeds across the vast dry savannah of Ghana’s impoverished northern region, leaving a cloud of reddish dust in its wake. Arriving at a small group of round thatched huts, the young motorcyclist helps his old mother to dismount to begin her new life in exile.
Frail 82-year-old Samata Abdulai has arrived at the village of Kukuo, one of Ghana’s six witch camps, where women accused of witchcraft seek refuge from beating, torture or lynching.
The camps are said to have come into existence more than 100 years ago, when village chiefs decided to establish isolated safe areas for the women. They are run bytindanas, leaders capable of cleansing an accused woman so that not only is the community protected from any witchcraft but the woman herself is safe from vigilantes.
Today they are still run by local chiefs, and accommodate up to 1,000 women in spartan huts with no electricity or running water, and roofs that leak.
Once people call you a witch, your life is in danger and so without waiting to pick up any of my belongings, I just fled”
For water, the inhabitants of the Kukuo camp walk three miles each day to the River Otti, struggling back uphill with heavy pots of water. It’s an intolerable way for an elderly woman to live, but it’s a life they are prepared to endure so long as they are safe.
They survive by collecting firewood, selling little bags of peanuts or working in nearby farms.
Samata lived some 40km (24 miles) away in the village of Bulli. There she spent her autumn years caring for her twin grandchildren while her daughter worked in the fields.
It was a happy, fulfilled existence, a gentle winding down after a long working life as a second-hand clothes trader. Then suddenly one day one of her brothers came to warn her that villagers had begun blaming her for the death of her niece, a young girl on whom Samata was accused of putting a spell.
“I was confused and filled with fear because I knew I was innocent,” she says. “But I know that once people call you a witch your life is in danger and so without waiting to pick up any of my belongings, I just fled from the village.”
This is just hatred, jealousy and a way to get rid of you”
The witch camps appear to be unique to northern Ghana. But Ghana shares with other African countries an endemic belief in witchcraft with illness, drought, fires and other natural disasters blamed on black magic. The alleged witches are nearly always elderly.
An ActionAid report on witch camps, published this week, says that more than 70% of residents in Kukuo camp were accused and banished after their husbands died – suggesting that witchcraft allegations are a way of enabling the family to take control of the widow’s property.
“The camps are a dramatic manifestation of the status of women in Ghana,” says Professor Dzodzi Tsikata of the University of Ghana. “Older women become a target because they are no longer useful to society.”
Women who do not conform to society’s expectations also fall victim to the accusations of witchcraft, according to Lamnatu Adam of the women’s rights group Songtaba.
Find out more
- Kati Whitaker’s radio documentary No Country for Old Women is first broadcast on the BBC World Service on 1 September
- See the programme website for the full schedule, or to listen again
“Women are expected to be submissive so once you start to be outspoken in your views or even successful in your trade, people assume you must be possessed.”
One of Samata’s younger sisters, 52-year-old Safia, is also living at Kukuo. She first came here to join her own mother and grandmother, both of them banished from the community for the same reason.
“They are not witches,” Safia says. “This is just hatred, jealousy and a way to get rid of you.”
Like most members of the witch camps, including Samata, Safia believes in the existence of witches but feels many women have been unfairly accused.
Eccentric behaviour may also be interpreted as evidence of spirit-possession.
“In traditional communities there is no real understanding of depression or dementia,” says Dr Akwesi Osei, chief psychiatrist at the Ghana health service, who claims a majority of the women in the camps have some sort of mental illness.
The Ghanaian government sees the camps as a stain on the reputation of one of the most progressive democratic and economically vibrant nations in Africa, and said last year it would move quickly to disband them, possibly in 2012.
But sending the women back to their home villages now would be fraught with danger.
Ayishetu Bujri, aged 40, was cast out from her village after a neighbour’s daughter fell ill, and ended up in a witch camp at Gambaga.
Months of meetings between Ayishetu and members of her former community – part of the Go Home project, supported by ActionAid – resulted in her being freed, nearly three years later.
“Accusations of witchcraft don’t just go away, but Go Home helped persuade my community that the way they acted towards me was wrong,” she says.
About 250 women have been freed so far.
“We have to do a lot of work with their communities so that they are able to return without being lynched or subjected to reaccusation, for example if a cow jumps over a fence and knocks down something,” says Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, ActionAid’s country director in Ghana.
“We are going to have to disabuse people’s minds and that takes a long time.”
In her view, it will take 10 or 20 years.
At Kukuo, Samata has to undergo a ritual which the entire community believes will determine whether or not she is guilty. She has to buy a brightly coloured chicken to offer the resident fetish priest.
The old priest squats on the ground uttering incantations before cutting the chicken’s throat. Samata waits anxiously as the chicken flutters in its death throes waiting to see how it falls.
It lands on its back, a sign that Samata is innocent. With smiles all round, she sprinkles holy water over herself and those gathered to witness the ceremony. She now feels she has been vindicated.
If she had been found guilty she would have been forced to submit to another, far worse ritual cleansing ceremony – drinking a concoction of chicken blood, monkey skulls and soil. A woman must consume this without falling ill within seven days, in order for the exorcism to be deemed effective. If not, she must take it again.
But this doesn’t mean Samata can go home. Even though she has been proved innocent, the beliefs which have condemned her to a life of exile are so deeply entrenched she may never be able to return safely.
“When you are accused of witchcraft, it’s a loss of dignity,” says Samata. “And to be honest, I just feel like ending my own life.”
Her greatest sadness is that she will never see her grandchildren again. “I worry about who is going to look after the twins,” she says in a quiet voice. “I was the one who bathed and put them to bed. Who will do that now?”
Kati Whitaker’s radio documentary No Country for Old Women is first broadcast on the BBC World Service on 1 September – check the schedule or listen again on the programme website.
Man kills grandmother ‘for being cause of his poverty’
DAILY GRAPHIC .
The suspect, Nana Yaw Simon Mensah, after killing his grandmother, called his girlfriend, who was then asleep in one of the rooms they shared with the deceased, and told her that he had killed his grandmother.
The suspect then warned his girlfriend not to tell anybody or she would be the next victim.
Mensah is said to have added that he would himself inform the elders of the community that his grandmother died peacefully in her sleep.
The police said when the elders went and opened the door, the old lady was found lying dead on the floor, with the club used in killing her by her side. Her face, head and the upper part of her lips were swollen, with blood oozing from her mouth and nose.
The police said when Mensah realised that his girlfriend had not abided by the warning, he allegedly attempted to kill himself by drinking a concoction. But it did not work and he was rushed to hospital for medical treatment.
They said the suspect, who had some cases already pending, later confessed that he had killed his grandmother for invoking several curses on him which he felt were the cause of his poverty.
The suspect told the police that the only way he thought he could end his predicament was to eliminate his grandmother for him to gain his freedom.
On the night of the incident, the police said, Mensah had gone home late and knocked on his grandmother’s door but she refused to allow him entry.
After a brief interaction with his grandmother, Mensah was able to convince her that his girlfriend, who had been very helpful to her, was sick and that he needed some painkillers for her.
The police said because the girlfriend had been helpful to the old lady, the latter opened the door to give him the painkiller for the girlfriend.
The Western Regional Crime Officer, Chief Superintendent James Kofi Abraham, confirmed the story and said unfortunately for the old lady, Mensah used that as a bait to kill her.
After opening the door, the suspect hit the old lady’s head twice, sending her crashing to the floor and died before the following morning.
The crime officer said Mensah later confessed to the murder, saying that when the suspect was discharged from hospital, he would be arraigned for the law to take its course.
By Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu/Daily Graphic/Ghana