Naming the witch, housing the witch and living with witchcraft: an ethnography of ordinary lives in Northern Ghana's witch camps

Mutaru, Saibu (2019-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In Dagbambaland, northern Ghana, people who were accused and proven to be witches and who risked being harmed were banished by village chiefs and local elders (or fled on their own) to special settlements popularly known to locals as accused women’s (or old women’s) settlements, and to the media and NGO world as “witch camps”. Here, an earth priest and anti-witchcraft specialist, the tindana, ritually removed the dark powers of the morally compromised witch and committed him or her to the protection and necessary sanctions of the ancestral shrine. Post-1990 so-called “witch camps” have attracted much attention from churches, state agencies and NGOs interested in the human rights abuses that supposedly took place in these “camps”. This ethnography is an attempt to explore the “afterlife” of witchcraft accusations, when convicted witches settle in new villages after breaking trust with kinsmen and villagers in their original communities. And unlike many studies of witchcraft in Africa that focus on suspicions and rumours of witchcraft, this thesis critically analyses the ordinary lives of known, confessing witches. I look at their insertion in the social world of host communities where they lived as morally compromised strangers, and where access to community resources and networks was largely made possible through a local moral economy. Of paramount importance to ordinary life here was the question of trust. How did local host communities come to trust and accept these “moral criminals” into their midst when their own kinsmen and village friends had rejected them as untrustworthy because of the danger they posed to social order? What role did churches, NGOs and state agencies play in the social configuration of witch villages? My findings suggest that although stomach cleansing rituals played a vital role in villagers’ decision to accept the accused into their communities, such rituals were, by themselves, not sufficient to establish any meaningful social co-existence between locals and the accused. Co-existence and everyday survival were made possible through the enormous generosity shown by both the accused (in terms of the provision of their labour) and locals (who allowed dangerous Others into their midst); a mutually beneficial exchange relationship described by both as songsim. However, songsim was not neutral. In situations where witchcraft had been proven and accepted as a reality, its moral stain defined exchange relations between the accused and locals. Returns on songsim were often skewed in favour of locals who accepted to take on the risks of living with a witch.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In Dagbambaland, Noord-Ghana, word mense wat aangekla en skuldig bevind is op aanklagtes van heksery deur dorpshoofmanne en ouer mans verban na nedersettings wat plaaslik populêr bekend staan as aangeklaagde vrouens- (of ouvrou-) nedersettings. Party mense vlug ook op hulle eie na dié nedersettings toe. Die media en nieregeringsorganisasies verwys gereeld na die nedersettings as “hekskampe”. In die “kampe” verwyder ‘n aardspriester en heksekenner, die tindana, ritueel die donker mag van moreel suspisieuse hekse en dra hulle welstand op aan die beskerming en sanksies van die voorvaders. Na 1990 het hierdie “hekskampe” groot aftrek gekry van kerke, staatsagenstkappe en nieregeringsorganisasies wat geïnteresseerd was in die menseregteskendings wat glo grootskaals in die kampe gepleeg is. Hierdie etnografie poog om die nalewe van hekserybeskuldigings te ondersoek, wanneer individue wat as gevolg van hulle skuldigbevinding aan heksery, bande met familie en vriende moet sny om ‘n nuwe lewe in ‘n vreemde dorp aan te pak. In teenstelling met ander studies oor heksery in Afrika wat fokus op suspisies en gerugte van heksery, analiseer hierdie proefskrif krities die daaglikse lewens van bekende, belydene hekse. Ek kyk na die maniere waarop hekse, wat moreel kriminele vreemdelinge is, hulle aansluit by die sosiale lewens van gasgemeenskappe. Ek is veral geïnteresseerd in die manier waarop hulle toegang tot gemeenskapshulpbronne verkry deur sosiale netwerke wat geskool is op ‘n plaaslike morele ekonomie gebaseer op vertroue. Hoe aanvaar en vertrou gasgemeenskappe hierdie “morele kriminele” wie se eie families en vriende hulle verwerp het as onbetroubaar en as ‘n gevaar vir die sosiale bestel? Watter rol speel kerke, regerings- en nieregeringsorganisasies in die sosiale opset van heksdorpe? Ek het bevind dat alhoewel maagreinigingsseremonies ’n sentrale rol speel in gasgemeenskappe se besluite om hekse te aanvaar, is sulke rituele in sigself nie genoeg om betekenisvolle sosiale naasbestaan tussen boorlinge en hekse te bewerkstellig nie. Naasbestaan en daaglikse oorlewing is slegs moontlik deur die grootse vrygewigheid wat beide hekse en boorlinge teenoor mekaar uitleef; hekse in hulle bereidwiligheid om vir plaaslike boere te werk en boorlinge om gevaarlike vreemdelinge in hulle midde te verwelkom. Beide partye trek voordeel uit ‘n wedersyds voordelige uitruilverhouding wat plaaslik beskryf word as songsim. Tog is songsim nie neutraal nie. Waar heksery bewys en aanvaar word as ‘n lewenswerklikheid, beïnvloed heksery se morele vlek uitruilverhoudings só dat songsim dikwels boorlinge wat die risiko loop om met hekse saam te leef, bevoordeel.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/107326
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