Our four Pathfinders just finished a few weeks at one of the camps for accused witches set up by Leo Igwe and other humanists, this one in Ghana. Wendy Webber has a remarkable blog post about the experience that is simultaneously appalling and moving. Like blasphemy accusations in so many countries, witchcraft accusations are often made for ulterior motives:
In Ghana, like much of Africa, belief in witchcraft is quite common. So are witchcraft accusations. The vast majority of accusations are levied at old women. Who can no longer produce children. Often they are widows without a male relative who can or will protect them from the accusation.
Most of the women we meet were accused by those indebted to them. In the polygamous society of northern Ghana, women are commonly accused by younger, rival wives. These accusations can come from anyone and at any time. The foundation of an accusation is usually unexplained sickness or death. An appearance in a victim’s dream can be sufficient evidence.
Ghana’s camps for accused witches, more commonly called witch camps, are a depressing place. Here women who have been banished from their home communities, and often beaten and tortured on the way out, find a safe place. They are safe because they are purified in a cleansing ritual performed by a traditional priest at the camp shrine. If they had powers before, now they are gone. Here they are safe from violence and further accusation that would likely come from their neighbors or their own family. But in the camps they struggle to live.
At the camp we visited, Kukuo, women must walk miles for water each day. In the wet season the walk is farther and steeper. At Kukuo, the women cannot afford to rethatch their roofs, which needs to be done at least every three years, so many cannot find a dry place to lay their head. Until the rain stops, they have to sit up or risk pneumonia. When they left their homes their possessions were taken or destroyed. They are forbidden to take anything with them. So at Kukuo they do not have the capital to start a new business or farm. Simply acquiring food is a sometimes insurmountable obstacle. Often a granddaughter lives at the camp with an accused witch helping her to survive. Without a helper, for these accused witches, some of whom are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, the task of survival becomes exponentially higher. But, merely being at the camp, for the granddaughter, increases the likelihood of an accusation of her own. Guilt by association—or inheritance. Kukuo is a safe place, not a carefree place.
But there are small joys to be found and human connections to be made. I’ll leave the rest for you to read at Wendy’s blog. I am proud and continually astonished by our four young Pathfinders and the work they are doing.