You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2017 03 26Article 522263

Opinions of Sunday, 26 March 2017

Columnist: Osei, Nana Yaw

Kintampo Waterfalls Disaster: Superstition or Mystical Powers?

File photo File photo

“It has emerged that some persons usually students who visit the Kintampo Waterfalls in the Brong Ahafo Region on excursion, allegedly had sex on the site, an act which is an abomination against the river god. According to Nana Effa Guakro, Kyeremanko Hene of Kintampo, he has publicly warned on several occasions the repercussions that this detestable act could bring as the gods are angered by the practice and frown upon it.

The Chief’s comments come in the wake of the unfortunate incident where 18 persons died after hilltop trees crashed on them following heavy rains on Sunday at the Kintampo Waterfalls” (Source:, Monday March 20, 2017). As required by customs, let me start this write up by expressing my heartfelt condolence to the bereaved families and friends.

At the dawn of modern enlightenment was the Greek philosophical writings. A philosophical movement known as stoicism asked for a thoughtful human life of self-devotion, virtue and wisdom. Socrates equally opined that no man would wish for anything less than true good and true happiness, however, many people miscarry in their actions because of lack of knowledge of the true good. Sensitization by reason and dialogue is therefore necessary to fix individual’s actions and the perfection of man.

I think wanton usurpation and disregard of African culture and mystical powers by many educated Africans as well as the standard bearers of charismatic Christian movement in Ghana must be blamed for many unfortunate happenings in Ghana. We are always mis-educated to take anything African for granted, due to lack of knowledge.

The birthing of this article is necessitated by the urgent need to disentangle mystical powers from superstitious beliefs and accord such powers with the necessary respect. Not all mystical occurrences are superstitious. Let us look at the following accounts by a British investigator in Ghana, J. H. Neal.

James Henry Neal was a chief investigative officer of Ghana from 1952-1962. Neal who hitherto denounced African mystical powers and described them as superstitious, later took refuge in the same powers he took for granted contrary to other British or Europeans. During the construction of industrial harbor at Tema in Ghana, building materials were being diverted into private use. Neal was then tasked to investigate the mysterious disappearance of building materials.

The construction supervisors were Europeans and Neal coached them to take stringent security measures to curtail the mysterious disappearance of construction materials. As he was departing the construction site, one supervisor lamented over how they found it increasingly tough to uproot on specific tree. Out of curiosity, Neal resolved to see that tree.

Neal went there to see the tree which he found standing alone in a large compound where all the other trees and shrubs had been uprooted. What was particularly mysterious was that this tree was not a big one for all the mechanical equipment to have failed to put it down (Neal, 1966).

The African foreman on the site argued that it was a magic tree, which could be removed only if and when the spirit inhabiting in it agreed to forsake it and go to another tree. A traditional priest was consulted, who asked for a sacrifice of three sheep and offering of three bottles of gin to pacify the spirit, and about $290 as his payment.

When the sheep was slaughtered and their blood poured around the foot of the tree, and the gin poured as libation at the base, the traditional priest conversed with the spirit, dissuading it to abandon that tree and go to another and even better tree. When the rituals were over, the European supervisor ordered tractors and bulldozers to uproot the tree, but the traditional priest stopped him and stated that a few African laborers could pull out the tree. They uprooted the tree with relative ease to the astonishment of Europeans spectators and satisfaction of African onlookers (Neal, 1966).

Subsequent happenings of this mystery proved beyond plausible doubt to Neal that there was something in or behind these forces and the beliefs connected with them. He became an object of attack from the workers of magic, and he had to seek counter measures to protect himself against them.

Neal narrated how his enemies sent forces to attack him, but since he was already protected by medicine from African medicine men, he was not harm. Instead, the mystical power split two big trees outside his house.

All he suffered was an itching of the body which medical treatment in the hospital could not heal, but was cured by a traditional medicine-man (Neal, 1966). Neal also told us how a magician sent a snake to kill him, arriving at his house while he and two African servants were watching the body of a cobra they had just killed outside the house.

The second snake was, however, a magic snake. As it approached the house suddenly it stopped still as if it had met with an invisible fence. Neal suggested that this was precisely at the spot where medicine had been buried in the ground around his house to protect him (Neal, 1966).

Neal was a Christian who humbled himself to survive African mystical powers. History tells us how the early Basel Christian missionaries in Gold Coast died mysteriously.

I think missionaries embarking on evangelism can only be successful by identifying themselves with the people and their beliefs first. In Acts Chapter 17:16-34, Apostle Paul did a similar thing in Athens. Jesus identified himself with the world first by submitting himself to John for baptism. The problem is that many people, including pastors who read The Holy Bible in Africa, lack understanding. Superstition exists in almost all religions but African superstitions are regarded as useless.

It is worthy of noting that insatiable greed for Guinea gold attracted Europeans into Africa. I am convinced to a very large extent that Europeans were afraid of African mystical powers, and strategically persuaded Africans to abandon their gods and mystical powers for Christianity in order to accelerate the looting of African natural resources.

Jommo Kenyatta of Kenya had a better way of concluding: “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.” The obnoxious land bill of 1897, in Gold Coast, and the institutionalized apartheid system in South Africa justify Kenyatta’s statement. Thus, the king of Kintampo’s claim cannot only be reduced to a baseless superstition. Having sex in the river body is a sacrilegious act which must be condemned.

Underneath some superstitious beliefs are mystical powers. Superstition is readiness to believe and to fear something without proper grounds. Even animals are superstitious.

In 1947, the American behavioral psychologist, B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) came out with his research on a group of pigeons that depicted that even animals are prone to human condition of being superstitious. Skinner conducted his research on a group of hungry pigeons whose body weights had been reduced to 75% of their normal weight when well-fed. For a few minutes each day, a mechanism fed the birds at regular intervals.

What observers of the pigeons found showed the birds developing superstitious behavior, believing that by acting in a particular way, or committing a certain action, food would arrive. Skinner’s Pigeon experiment indicated that even pigeons can be conditioned to develop superstitious behaviors in the belief that they will be fed.

Superstition permeates in every religion. Having sex in the water bodies such as Kintampo waterfalls could have calamitous implications on the individuals. The tourist must be advised to eschew sacrilege when they visit any site depicting wonders of Ghana.

Observing superstition at Kintampo waterfall is, in itself, a component of tourism. Of course, dangerous superstitions like the “charm bullets” could be discouraged while a good superstition aiming at eradicating sexual promiscuity, sexual laxity and preserving water bodies can be encouraged. Such beliefs can also preserve our sacred groves.

J. H. Neal, believed in Ghanaian mystical powers he encountered and wrote one of the bestselling books: “Ju-ju in my life”. That is what happens, our efficacious herbs we throw away are repackaged and ship to us as pills. Even though I concede that Kintampo waterfall disaster could be a natural one, we cannot also afford to disregard the mystical powers behind it as espoused by the Kintampo Chief. God Bless Our Homeland Ghana.

By Nana Yaw Osei (Padigo), Minnesota, USA
Neal. J. H. (1966). Ju-ju in my life, London: Harrap,