Who is a witch?

By Sunmola Olowookere

In answering the above question, a ready picture that is universally believed by most humans of African origin comes to mind. “Witches are evil, blood sucking women with wicked thoughts and plans toward the people around them. Most of the fatal accidents on our highways are laid at their doorsteps. They are probably bloodthirsty and want some blood for refreshments, many Africans believe. They are said not to be moved or swayed by any kindness, they are believed to attack even their benefactors when they come into form in the dead of the night.”

It is most convenient to believe they work in groups and hold their meetings in the dead of the nights. Our movie industry has also contributed in a huge way to broaden our imagination. We see horrific scenes where women with straggly hairs, face painted black and wearing black clothes feast on human flesh and blood.

During these nocturnal meetings, a Yoruba mythology claims that the witches would forget any benevolence shown to them in the daytime and say ” woe onto their benefactor”. Yorubas believe that it is inherent in this crop of people to be evil.

How do one identify a witch? Many people have been tagged as witches around us. Some of them would scream their innocence to the high heavens yet many of their accusers would refuse to believe them. The accusers too would have loved to be swayed but the fear in their hearts with regards to how witches operate usually superimposed on any softness.

Recently, a one-year-old girl who was reportedly accused of witchcraft and left to die in a bush in Akwa Ibom State was rescued by a Danish aid worker, Anja Ringgren Loven.

Loven, who is the founder of a charity organization, Land of Hope, disclosed this in a post on her Facebook account saying, “Yesterday, we received a call in a village to rescue a little girl in a very critical condition.

A representative of the organization, Nsidibe Orok was surprised when he saw the girl in a near-death situation. She is said to be one year and a few months old but was abandoned. It is a common practice in the African continent that children who are accused of being witches are usually abandoned to die in bushes.

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Lovén came into national consciousness when she had earlier rescued a starving Nigerian toddler from death after his family disowned him for being a wizard.

Sometimes ago, a mother of eight, identified as Gladys, who was caged for alleged witchcraft for over three years by the husband, Ame Edjeketa (41), was rescued in Orerokpe, Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State. .

The husband has been arrested while the wife, Gladys was rescued.The facebook account of a rights activist, Harrison Gwamnishu, said the man decided to lock Gladys up in their compound for being a ‘witch’.

According to the account, Gladys was impregnated by her husband and gave birth to three of their eight children while she was caged.

Gwamnishu’s account reads ”Gladys was accused of witchcraft and caged for more than three years. She spent the last four years of her life locked up by her husband. She was peeing and defecating in the same room where he fed her bread. She gave her husband eight children, three of which she had while she was locked up.”

Witches have always been part of our culture. There is a small town on the way to Oyo, just behind Fiditi, it’s called Ilu Ajẹ. Literally, it translates to “Town of Witches”. In the late 80s, there used to be a sign board in Fiditi that pointed to the path to the village, the signboard had the inscription: “WAY TO ILU AJẸ, HOME OF SCIENCE!”.

Lots of people used to fear indigenes of Ilu Ajẹ because it was said that every man in the town is born of a witch, and every woman in ilu Ajẹ is a witch!

There are several mythologies that support this claim although they seemed farfetched.

Yoruba people have the belief that Aje (witches) are three categories; Aje dudu (black witches) that are malevolent, Aje pupa (Red witches) that are perceived to be deadly and killed at will and the last categories is Aje funfun (white witches), who are calm and benevolent.

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There is no scientific evidence to support this belief or the existence of witches. However, the belief in witchcraft is widespread in Nigeria and many other parts of the world. In Nigeria, the belief in witchcraft is often used to explain misfortune, illness, and death. It can also be used to justify violence against women and children.

The belief in witchcraft is often based on superstition and fear. People who believe in witchcraft may think that witches are capable of using their powers to harm others. They may also believe that witches can control the weather, cause accidents, and even kill people.

The belief can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. In Nigeria, children who are accused of being witches are often ostracized, abused, and even killed. Women who are accused of being witches may be divorced, beaten, or even killed. It is a complex issue that is rooted in history, culture, and religion. It is important to understand the reasons why people believe in witchcraft in order to address the problem.

Here are some of the reasons why people believe in witchcraft in Nigeria:

Poverty: Poverty is a major problem in Nigeria. Many people live in rural areas and have limited access to education and healthcare. This can lead to a lack of understanding about the natural world and a reliance on superstition.

Tradition: The belief in witchcraft is deeply rooted in traditional African culture. Many people believe that witches are real and that they can use their powers to harm others.

Fear: The belief in witchcraft can be a way of coping with fear and uncertainty. When people are faced with difficult challenges, they may turn to witchcraft for an explanation or a way to feel in control.

People, and in particular elderly women, children, or those ‘who are somehow “different”, feared or disliked’ might be accused of being witches. The phenomenon is more widely reported in the South of Nigeria, but also exists in the North. It is reported that churches, especially those belonging to the Pentecostal and prophetic movement, play an important role in the legitimisation of fears related to witchcraft, and in particular, child witches. Exorcism of evil spirits is practiced during services. These exorcism exercises are oftentimes accompanied by physical assaults as the victim may be hit with brooms or with fists on the head in a bid to “drive out the evil spirit”.

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Witchcraft accusations are often directed towards persons who are related, such as neighbours, extended family members, even own children or parents.

Persons with visible physical disabilities or severe mental disabilities are also potential targets. Elderly women may also be accused of witchcraft, for example in the case of the death of a child in the local community, miscarriage of a pregnant woman, ‘eccentric’ behaviour, outliving a deceased husband. Punishment may involve severe beating, burning or stoning, naked parading, being compelled to drink lethal ‘medicines’, or lynched by a mob.

Children accused of witchcraft may face infanticide, abandonment, physical and sexual violence, stigmatisation. They may be denied schooling and risk being exposed to drugs and prostitution. They may also have to do illegal work or beg.

According to a report on the security situation of Nigeria in 2021, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states are the Nigerian states considered to be the epicentre of witchcraft-related incidents, particularly affecting children.

It is important to note that not everyone in Nigeria believes in witchcraft. There is a growing movement of people who are working to challenge the belief in witchcraft and to protect those who are accused of being witches. While one cannot erase the existence of witches and witchcraft practices, it is pertinent to note that many innocent people are sometimes wrongly labeled and made to suffer terrible consequences.

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