We have five camps for women accused of witchcraft in our Diocese. In one of our witch camps in Gnani community, the rough estimates show that the women are about 350 with about 280 men. At present I have no available data for the rest of the witch camps.
1. Some men are also accused of being witches and so they end up living in the witch camp. Some come with their wives and children to the witch camps.
2. Our people are not so much interested in the question ‘what’ as compared to the question ‘why’. The question ‘why’ has to deal with philosophical, cultural and theological explanations.
3. No person is accused in a vacuum. Witch craft accusations are always linked with issues of jealousy, suspicion, hatred, etc.
4. The role of the ‘witchdoctor’ is a follows:
to make sure that new arrivals to the camps are settled down, i.e., that they have rooms to stay, land to farm, etc; that he has the power to neutralize the powers of the witches so that they do not cause harm to anybody; he performs the necessary sacrifices to the traditional gods protecting the people in the village; he has to see to it that basic rules and regulations are observed by everyone in the camp.
5. Why does the belief in witchcraft still persist?
Because it forms part of the traditional belief and practices. Because of illiteracy. Because of the belief that everything needs explanation. By explaining, one is able to control or contain the situation. By containing or controlling the situation, one is able to predict or foresee what happens depending on the circumstances. For the traditional people, witchcraft accusation is one way of explaining an unfortunate event.
6. Who are those often accused?
Those that are poor and cannot defend themselves
those that have certain peculiarities – a woman who has no child, a person who behaves ‘abnormally’ due to mental illness, a person who has an ulcerous sore, etc.
Those that are wealthy can be suspected to have acquired their riches by means of witchcraft but very often people are afraid to accuse them publicly.
Old people who are still alive while younger people are dying.
7. The role of Pentecostal churches as well as Evangelical movements:
Some Pastors claim to have the power to exorcise witchcraft and associated works of the devil. Some people flocked to these Churches for healing and deliverance.
Some of these Evangelical movements also have prayer camps where the alleged witches can stay and pray for deliverance
While some pastors speak against the belief in witch craft and stress on the power of God; others perpetuate the belief by pointing fingers to others who want to use spiritual means to harm others.
Many pastors also stress the need for education. Hence many schools have been opened where children are going to school and becoming more aware of alternative ways of explaining events.
8. What the Catholic Church is doing to help the alleged witches?
At Gnani, we have a witch camp. The Catholic Church does ministers to the alleged witches
Provide them with food, clothing and medicine.
We have drilled a borehole for the people in the witch camp.
During the dry season we do repairs on their huts with thatch roofs
They take part in social gatherings organized by the parish
They come to Church regularly and they receive the spiritual support they need. The Church does not discriminate. The Priests visit them regularly and those who are sick are taken care of.
9. Is the problem of witchcraft getting worse?
In the towns and cities, the problem is less. First of all, people are not closely knit together; hence everyone minds his/her own business. In the villages people know each other, live in extended families, hence suspicion, jealousy, etc give cause to witchcraft accusation
Today, there are more schools in the villages. As he young ones become more educated the less people will accuse each other as a way of explanation.
Again, there are many socio-economic programs being put in place to help people out of their poverty.
There are people who are afraid to accuse others knowing that they could be taken to Court to prove their case.
In some of the witch camps, some women who are young get married and raise children. As the camp expands people will come to see it as another village and no longer a witch camp.
Today there are many organizations calling upon the Government to do away with witch camps. Such Organizations believe that witchcraft accusation is outmoded custom.
Most Rev. Vincent Sowah Boi-Nai is the Catholic bishop of Yendi, in northern Ghana.