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Opinions of Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Columnist: Igwe, Leo

Gnani: A Witch Camp and its Wizards in Ghana


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By Leo Igwe

Gnani is another village in the northern region of Ghana that welcomes
‘alleged witches’. It is one of those safe spaces where people fleeing their
communities due to witchcraft persecution can go and find refuge. In Gnani,
alleged witches are allocated a particular section of the village where they
reside. Still they move and interact freely with other members of the community.
They are not stigmatized as evil. They are not discriminated against or treated
as outcasts.The local priest, Tindana, carries out a ritual of purification and
of disabling of alleged powers of ‘witch’ on arrival, as part of the
rehabilitation process.
Like their counterparts in Kukuo, the alleged witches survive by farming
and selling fire wood. But some of them are too old to farm and cannot engage
in any labor. They survive by begging, and they face really an uncertain future. The
inmates of Gnani camp fled their communities following accusations of betwitching
somebody- of killing some one or making somebody sick through magic or
witchcraft. Wumbi(70), a muslim, was accused by the uncle, Mohammed, of killing
his son through spiritual means. Awaabu was alleged to be responsible for the
death of a member of her community. A
local mob threatened to lynch her and burn down her house. The husband’s
brother conveyed her on a bicycle to Yendi and from there she found her way to Gnani
camp.
The inmates have pathetic stories of incredible accusation, abuse, torture and
maltreatment that left them with no other choice but to leave-to flee their
homes and communities. So they all fled or were forced to flee to avoid being
murdered. Now they have made the camp
their ‘new home’.
One distinctive feature of the Gnani
camp is that it has male inmates. Infact it is the only witch camp in the northern
region of Ghana that has ‘wizards’. Like their female counterparts, the
‘wizards were accused of causing death or diseases through malevolent magic. One
of the ‘wizards’, Kareem Mahama is around 80 years. He has been in the camp for
2 years. A boy in his village claimed he saw Kareem in his dream. That Kareem
was jumping on him in the dream. And locally this tantamounts to witchcraft.
A local mob threatened to kill Kareem and he fled to the camp. Kareem has
no plans of going back because he fears for his safety. In northern Ghana, most
people take their dreams seriously. They understand and interprete their dreams
in ways that fuel witchcraft accusation. Witch craze in this region is drived
partly by dream epidemic. Infact, anyone who is seen in a dream is often
regarded as a witch or wizard. Anyone seen in a dream is taken to be involved
in the occult business.
Another alleged wizard, Gbafo, was driven out of his community in Bakpaba
following an allegation of witchcraft. He arrived the camp on December 10, 2012
leaving behind his family members. The members of his community told him not to
return. So he is most likely to spend the rest of his life in Gnani. In the
northern region of Ghana, witchcraft accusation causes people to be uprooted
from their homes and to embark on a journey- a journey of no return.
The belief in witchcraft has a female as well as a male face. Both sexes
are targeted and accused, though most of those who are accused, drived out and
forced to live in camps and make shift
shelters are women- old ladies. The witches and wizards come from very poor
backgrounds in rural part of northern Ghana. The alleged witches and wizards are
mostly un
educated. The women are mostly widows or from polygamous homes. Witchcraft
accusation is often a weapon for the elimination or of getting rid of those are
hated or are unwanted in a family or community.
Any effort to address this problem should take into consideration these
social factors and conditions.

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