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Opinions of Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

'I've forgotten now who I used to be!'

H ARDLY had the ink dried on my article, “The Evil Consequences of Religious Mania” (The Ghanaian Times 9 March 2021) when the London Observer newspaper published a heart-rending story about a witch camp in Ghana, and how the songs some of its inmates have been singing to themselves have been recorded by a couple of musical researchers.

According to The Observer, the witch camp where the recordings were made is one of six in Northern Ghana. One song bears the unforgettable title of “I've Forgotten Now Who I Used To Be.”

Written by Dorian Lynskey, the Observer article says the singers express themselves “in little-spoken Ghanaian dialects” and are “haunting, spontaneous songs by women accused of witchcraft”. According to the writer, the “are unlike anything you have ever heard”. Here is a link to the piece:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/mar/13/witch-camp-ghana-ive-forgotten-now-who-i-used-to-be-review-magical-sound-of-the-marginalised

Dorian Lynskey writes: “Now that it is fashionable for aggrieved political factions to dismiss criticism as a “witch hunt”, it's worth remembering what makes actual witch hunts so pernicious. It’s not that the women thus accused are in fact innocent – it’s that they couldn’t possibly be guilty.

“In northern Ghana, witch hunts are more than a political metaphor. Even now, vulnerable women are accused of the dark arts because they have a mental illness, a physical disability or simply because their families want them out of the way. They are blamed for infertility, crop failure, bad weather, accidental deaths and much more besides. Lynchings and burnings still occur from time to time. That’s what a witch hunt means”.

The writer points out that while belief in witchcraft is not unique to Ghana, witch camps are. These small settlements, “which still exist, despite government efforts to shut them down”, offer accused women safe haven, albeit within the same framework of belief that drove them from their homes in the first place. The chiefs of the witch camps “claim to ask the local gods to neutralise their powers and render them harmless”.

But the protection they offer “assumes guilt” on the part of the alleged witches. One of them innocently told a journalist that “If we are here, then we must be witches,” Can there be any worse evidence of utter dehumanisation than that?

The women of the witch camps are the subjects of Ian Brennan, a Grammy-winning producer and, and an Italian-Rwandan film-maker Marilena Delli Umuhoza. Brennan has a “21st-century sensitivity to the ethics of field recording” and thereby avoids “the bad practice and paternalistic assumptions” that complicated the work of some earlier researchers.

Brennan and Umuhoza have previously documented the music of prisoners in Malawi, genocide survivors in Rwanda, war veterans in Vietnam and albinos in Tanzania. All these are “persecuted or traumatised communities making music in extremely straitened circumstances.” Brennan argues that “music can be found everywhere and the more unfamiliar, the better.”

Compiled on “Witch Camp (Ghana)”, I’ve Forgotten Now Who I Used to Be is distilled from around six hours of recordings in three different camps. “You can’t tell who the songs are by” (the singers requested anonymity); or what they’re about (their regional dialects are little spoken even in Ghana).

However, “the English track titles offer signposts – from the bluntly explicit (I Trusted My Family, They Betrayed Me) to the universal (Love, Please).

Guitar-like sounds mingle with ad hoc instrumentation – tin cans, teapots, tree branches – and serendipitous interventions, such as the chirrup of birdsong that concludes We Are No Different Than You.

Left to Live Like an Animal, is “a delicate plucked-string motif paired with an intimate murmur and underlaid with a low, droning croon. It is “Exhibit A for Brennan’s claim that emotion makes language irrelevant”. Meanwhile, “the hypnotic overlapping voices on I Am a Beggar for a Home might be mistaken for looped and phased samples, while the shrill burble of I Have Lost All That I Love would seem to come from a synthesiser, if not an interplanetary broadcast,”

This testimony to the way Ghanaians isolate, mistreat and sometimes actually kill sufferers from mental illness, especially Alzheimer's and dementia, in the mistaken belief, that the sufferers are witches, brings me back to a subject I have written about very often, namely: What is the duty of the state with regard to a charge of murder levelled against a mini-mob that burns an old woman of 72 to death because it was believed that “she was a witch”?

The Constitution of Ghana enjoins the state and its judicial arms to protect and defend the right to life of all citizens The Constitution makes no distinction between what citizens think of one another: they all have the same rights and duties. If a section of the citizenry takes it upon itself to kill others to whom they attribute unprovable powers of witchcraft, it is the sworn duty of all judicial arms of the state to punish the miscreants according to law.

Punishing the miscreants would teach the populace that certain illnesses can make people act in strange ways that do not necessarily denote the presence in the person of witchcraft or an “evil spirit.”

CASE HISTORY: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Witchcraft-Grandma-set-ablaze-198244
Friday, 26 November 2010

A 72-year-old grandmother suffered one of the most barbaric 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 the woman 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 (sometimes spelt Ama Ahima) before drenching her in kerosene and setting her ablaze have been arrested by the Tema Police.

Two of the suspects are Samuel Ghunney, a 50-year-old photographer, and Pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe, 55, [an] 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. The suspects claimed that Madam 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 Madam Hemmah, Ghunney asked Emelia for a gallon of kerosene and with the help of his accomplices, poured it all over the woman and set her ablaze.

In their cautioned statement, the suspects denied the offence and explained that they poured anointing oil on the old woman which caught fire when they offered prayers to exorcise the demon from her.

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