The Witches of Gambaga

I confess that a lot of things in Ghana, indeed across Africa, annoy me to the core.  Belief in witchcraft is close to the top of the list.  Annoy is really a mild word.  I mean, WTF!  Witchcraft, really? It continues to shock me how prevalent, how persistence the belief in and hence the practice of witchcraft is in Ghana.  How dangerous.  The other day, I was once again ranting about this to a cousin of mine.  He told me that “well, if you believe then it works, if you don’t believe then witchcraft will not have any effect on your life”.  So I said something to the effect that he was describing the belief in witchcraft as a self-fulfilling thing and that he is also saying that each of us, individually, are in charge of our own destiny.  He goes, okay.  Then I asked him if he believes in witchcraft.  He says: ” Sister Kinna, witchcraft works.”   If I had it in me, I would have pummeled him.

Yaba Badoe, the author of True Murder, is also a  film maker.  Her latest documentary is The Witches of Gambaga.  In parts of Northern Ghana, the practice of accusing women of witchcraft and then holding them as captives in camps has been going on for decades.  Some of the women are successful traders and businesswomen, some are farmers, grandmothers, sisters, mothers.  They are accused of using witchcraft to cause infertility, diseases, misfortune, etc.  Often, the inmates will live out the rest of their lives in captivity, exiled from their families.  Quite an effective tool in silencing and oppressing women.  I’m yet to hear of a successful man, traditional healer, male politician accused of witchcraft.

Here is the trailer of the documentary:

And here is a short article that Badoe wrote on her research and work with the camps of  Gambaga titled “What Makes a Woman a Witch?

I will pass on the release date for the full documentary when it is announced.

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21 comments

  1. Kinna,
    Good job but when you say ‘we are matrilineal’ we who? I wonder whether the Gamei, Ewe and three savannah regions are not patrilineal? I also wonder whether there are witch camps in the Upper East and Upper West regions? Great that the Akan recognise the special gifts of women and are matrinlineal. BTW how many ethnic groups are there in Ghana? Anybody knows? Regards. Jogobu

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    • Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. About the matrilineal bit: I had began the section with ‘in some parts of Ghana” and I just continued from there. Should have clarified with “Akan parts of Ghana”.

      I’m not sure on the ethnic groups in Ghana. Like most African countries, might be many to count. But that also depends on how we classify people.

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  2. I just dont have words to express this beliefe,pratctice or whatever. . I mean .. really… seriously . . ???!!! I thin Kinna said what needs to be said.
    I am just wondering what the chalenges could be for the director to make such a documentary. I believe it is a hard task for her to be wise enough to document all this and bring it forth
    What will her challenges be though?

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  3. That’s really a sad fact. More so because people in this day and age continue to believe in this. Very similar to female infanticide in India. It continues to happen in many parts of India, especially Northern parts. I cannot understand on what belief these things take place.

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    • Female infanticide, any type of infanticide is just wrong, as though children have a say what sex they are born with. In some parts of Ghana, girls are desired more than girls although we don’t practice infanticide. But people talk when a woman does not have a daughter because we are matri-lineal.

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  4. How fascinating. I knew the belief in witchcraft was much stronger, at least in Nigeria, from what I’ve heard from friends. I’ve been told over and over again that witchcraft is real and that he’d seen it work before, and that you had to be careful to avoid it. Not having any real knowledge of the area or subject, I never really know what to believe, to be honest.

    The article you link to is fascinating, and I’m definitely intrigued by both the documentary and the longer report that she mentions. I’m also reminded that I should pick Lila Abu-Lughod’s book off my tbr pile and read that some day soon 🙂

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    • Oh, and this article really shows that this isn’t witchcraft but straight up oppression. It’s sad to see. Sure the camps might give protection, but I can’t imagine that is a huge help to these women who have lost everything because of prejudice.

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      • And that the other thing! Why is it that those accused of practicing witchcraft are women, children and albinos. It is about oppression. Obviously, a good-looking successful man would never practice witchcraft. The camps actually allow for the practice to continue. Allows society to not address the issue because those falsely accused have a place to go that is safe.

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    • It’s completely amazing how Africans continue to go on about how witchcraft is read even those who should know better. have to go and check out the book that you’ve mentioned.

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  5. Okay so I needn’t read this to agree with you. I have heard of this over and over again. I have even heard some people saying that it was created to help those accused witches. But, if so, should it be given a derogatory name? I only blame religion. It is religion that finds witchery in almost everything. The BIGGEST blame goes to the dumb authorities. Yet, laws are nothing if the people don’t change their attitude.

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  6. We should congartulate Badoe for her research work on witchcraftcy. I think the only antidote to eliminate it among our people is to find out about it’s origin.

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  7. Lady of Mercy! this is nothing but their society’s ways of oppressing women (and in the case of certain parts of Nigeria, children as well). what is up with people? i still have no idea why people choose to believe in witches and demons that are intent on holding them back. why? just…why? and what they choose to ignore are the INNOCENT people that are being harmed by silly outdated beliefs.

    “I’m yet to hear of a successful man, traditional healer, male politician accused of witchcraft.”

    THIS! i say this all the time. it is only marginalised bodies that have to bear the burden of the witchcraft label. again, what is up with people?

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    • What is up with people, indeed. And what will it take for us to abandoned this belief. I’m always amazed at how very little of our lives in Africa is based on sound scientific and logical reasoning. ‘Lady of Mercy’ – I love that!

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