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Opinions of Sunday, 6 April 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Mercy, Teivan, Culture, and Evil

The eerie image of one-month-old baby called Mercy accused of being a witch and afterward abandoned to die in Ghana’s Upper East Region reminds me of the beginning of the Book of Job, where in the mysteries of evil, God and Satan talk to each other about how much pain Job should go through before he gives in. Baby Mercy is no Biblical Job. She is too young to know not only what is wrong and right but also why she should go through any pain and death, more so for not causing anybody pain but a culture that accuses her for nothing of being evil.

Baby Mercy’s ordeal is set in a Ghanaian culture, certain part of the Ghanaian culture, which believes in witchcraft as the cause of misfortune and so dumped baby Mercy in a dark room with the thought that she will to die and go away with her evil. The Accra-based Daily Guide reports that baby Mercy is believed to come from a family of witches, her mother, Zoyen Teiva, accused as witch when in primary school. Baby Mercy and her mother’s witchcraft ordeal, emanating from the irrational part of the Ghanaian culture, becomes doubly disturbing when even schools, as centres of reasoning and rationalization, refuse to admit Teiva because her family and community have accused her of being a witch.

The school has become a supporter of irrational deeds against its core functions of reasoning and rationalization – a reflection of a nation trapped between forces irrationality and forces rationality. Reason fails to enlighten in the face of certain dark cultural practices. In baby Mercy and Teivan, 51-year-old Ghana is simultaneously darker and progressive. A dilemma! Before Teiva died, at only 22, from incessant stigmatization and discrimination, her attempts at being enrolled in schools became pitch-black, became permanently ignorant and unproductive, her talents stifled, her soul amputated, and her future cut short by the very culture that is supposed to nurture and develop her.

And Ghana’s development process suffers. Baby Mercy and her mother Teivan ordeal reflect the irrational parts of the Ghanaian culture inhibiting Ghana’s progress despite strenuous efforts by forces of rationality to develop Ghana. Baby Mercy’s senseless suffering personify not only her Asunge-Zanerigu community that threw her into the dark room to die but a community that “shunned and hooted at by community members and even immediate neighbours” that attempted to rescue her. Baby Mercy and her mother show other thousands of erroneous thinking Ghanaian communities that are entrapped and languishing in such terrible believes of witchcraft responsible for their poverty, diseases, pains, car accidents, and other misfortunes.

Despite advancement in science, technology and mass communication evil still matches on, sometimes neck-to-neck with advances in human thoughts and progress. That’s why baby Mercy and her mother faced such tribulation in 2008 in a Ghana that is supposed to be the “Black Star” of Africa and presumably the continent’s centre of enlightenment. In Modernization, Cultural Change, and the Persistence of Traditional Values Ronald Inglehart and Wayne E. Baker argue, drawing from the World Values Survey, that despite economic development connected with “shifts away from absolute norms and values towards increasingly rational, tolerant, trusting, and participatory” society, certain destructive cultural practices “endures.”

All cultures have their elements of evil but to comprehend it and refine is a great human dilemma. How do you comprehend baby Mercy and Teivan’s ordeal? These are thought-provoking and often unanswerable questions – “Is there anything like evil? If so, why?” The journalist and scholar Lance Morrow explains in Evil: An Investigation that evil is amorphous, intellectually unmanageable, difficult to comprehend, and no explanation as to what it is despite attempts by geo-politics and sociobiology. But the community in Ghana’s Upper East believe evil is witchcraft that causes misfortune and, therefore, should be tackled with equal evil – a trouble and counter-trouble. A complication!

But what is witchcraft in the Ghanaian culture? How did it come about? Who determines what witchcraft is? Why did it exist, for what? Why is it linked to misfortune? What is misfortune? Who are witches – men or women, the rich or the poor? Answer! Yes! You don’t have to go too far. In Baby Mercy and her mother Teivan, evil is simultaneously micro (attempts to kill Mercy by her family) and macro (Teivan’s community terrorizing her in such a way that she died). And to solve it is to draw from the humanism within the Ghanaian culture.