By Toyin Falola
People have different qualifications for art: some say it is therapeutic; others say it is inspirational; there are, of course, those who see it as educational. To Prince Shyllon, art is indeed all of these things, as documented in the impressive Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art based in Pan-Atlantic University (https://museum.pau.edu.ng). However, art’s ability to heal, educate, and inspire is summed up in one of its biggest qualities—the ability to trigger, foster, and sustain peace and amity. Art has a historical precedence of rebuilding smoldering rubble and reaffirming commitments to world peace. France’s gracious gifting of the Statue of Liberty to the United States is a testament to peace and friendship. From 2023, Nigeria will receive its looted Benin bronze artworks from Germany to demonstrate the latter’s realization of wrongdoing, restitution, and an implied plea for forgiveness.
Despite its abundance of human and natural resources, the African continent has suffered so much, and it is still suffering to date. Africa’s woes transcend the colonizers’ warped perception of the peoples and cultures of the continent. It extends from the daylight robbery of shipping African prized artworks off to European countries to robbing the continent of valuable human resources through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. When the Europeans could not comprehend the culture and civilization of a mysterious continent like Africa, they called it a land of barbaric people. On the contrary, Africa had its civilization then, with complex societies and sophisticated systems existing for eons–from Egypt to Mali to Nok.
However, the continent suffers today because its people have post-colonization baggage around their necks. The former French colonies, known as francophone Africa, have not witnessed big transformational changes beyond switching from the garment of colonialism to that of subtly implied neocolonialism, the result of well-planned policies of assimilation and association that leaves the average francophone believing that fulfilment is painted in blue, white, and red, years after their independence from France. The former English colonies are hardly any better – Nigeria is still largely plagued by a haphazard amalgamation; Ghana is surviving but not thriving. What shall we say of Ethiopia? Using the terms Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone to qualify Africans is just another dreg from colonialism shrouded by the claim that it is for more straightforward classification and identification of countries.
Africa was, and perhaps still is, marginalized. Africa was stolen from; Africans were marginalized. In the face of these injustices, art has been a means of expression, confrontation, and reparation. Once Africans got equipped with writing skills, they began to rewrite history, correct wrong perceptions, and stand up to the continent’s brazen degradation. Now more than ever, these revolutionary Africans take the call seriously. They found a use for music, paintings, sculpture, and digital artworks to express the true nature of the African continent and the representation of Africans’ sufferings at the hands of colonizers and trans-Atlantic slave traders. This is done so that generations to come — of the colonizers and the colonized — may have unmanipulated knowledge of what happened when a continent descended on the lushness of Africa to exploit it.
Shyllon’s efforts in collecting artworks from across the world are commendable, and our continent, Africa, is well-represented by thirty-seven art pieces, all collected from different parts of the continent and across varied periods. A careful study of these art pieces shows the different dimensions of the continent. The interpretation of art is generally considered to be subjective. Nonetheless, some artworks have a sharp and poignant message that it would be so hard for anyone to interpret the message otherwise. Some of the concepts popular among the thirty-seven representing arts include the beauty of Africa, African traditions, injustices against women, slavery, unity, and pride in African cultures. The Shyllon African art collection is a careful selection of artworks that portray the good and the bad about Africa; it also includes artworks that can trigger remembrance and spark discussions and debates.
In the Shyllon collections are pieces that depict the realities of many African women. Virginity is an honor to self and family. What then happens when a woman is raped and violated? Instead of giving maximum support to the victim, which would most likely not be enough to make them forget the traumatic experience, society turns on the victim and discriminates against them. A rape victim already feels impure and violated; why should society compound their problems by discriminating against the victim? One of the earliest pieces of knowledge of African women is how they blend with the communalist nature of the average African society—tending to children, contributing their quota to family or communal ceremonies, and being mother and wife. Beyond these, Africa’s resilient women are equally significant contributors to the income of their households as they have always been—farmers or traders in the past and as career women with the advent of formal education. Regardless of the evolving nature of Africa and the exponential growth rate of the number of career women, African women share a special connection with their children. What is a better way to communicate this unique relationship between the African mother and her child than many pieces on Womanhood?
One of the best ways to seek closure from the evils meted out to Africa during the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial eras is to stop shying away from telling our stories, sparking debates, and expressing our anger, pain, and grief in whatever way we can. The slave masters never blinked an eye as they sought to make Africans—kidnapped or bought from different parts of the west of the continent—forget their history, people, beliefs, and culture. It was beyond physical slavery; these Africans were emotionally, spiritually, and mentally captured and manipulated. In the heat of the slave-trade era, there were mentally freed slaves who would not bow to the whims of slave masters, who saw no wrong in their personal beliefs, and who would rather die than be transported to the Americas as slaves.
Art is unifying; art is illuminating and enlightening. Shyllon’s collection of African artworks is commendable. There is hope and belief that the Shyllon Museum of Art will stay committed to protecting these prized possessions of Africa. This piece is also a call on the leadership of other African countries to consider representing their histories on the global map through artworks created by their people. The best way to avoid a warped history of your people and culture is by writing, drawing, or expressing your history and making it accessible. That way, people would hardly be tempted to consider populating a misperception of who and what you are.
Ongoing exhibitions include various works by Ben Osaghae and Uchay Joel Chima, and various works by Nigerian women in Art.
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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How To Enter Sapele And Warri From Benin Now (1)
By Tony Afejuku
Sapele and Warri are two significantly important Nigerian cities that need no introduction, special or un-special, from the historic, realistic and imaginative imagination of this creative creator whose impression of things is often – if not always – determined by features which fit the descriptions that convey meaningfully what must be conveyed – meaningfully. Sapele and Warri, as very many people know, are two unique cities, two uniquely nifty cities, from whichever dominant or un-dominant impressions or perspectives open to us to define the cities. Of course, the cities’ dense and denizenly denizens and brought-ups where-ever they are always have something, something beautifully beautiful, to say about them in the same way that those of Benin, the antique city, allow their imaginations and conceptions to beautify it. Indeed, I have since accepted these three cities for different reasons as my rococo cities: Warri, the rock-oil city of a kingdom that produced the first university graduate in sub-Saharan Africa, Sapele the rock-and-roll city housing the Athletic Club, the first European recreation club in West Africa, at least, Benin, the un-lucidly lucid city of unforgettably rich antiquity. In the beautifully good old days we could comb the three great cities in one day. As a matter of fact, we combed them in one day as we hopped into different cars and jalopies and traversed different latitudes and longitudes in Benin, Sapele and Warri at the same time. Going to Safi and Wafi and Bafi and vice versa to do what we must do show-business-wise, play-hunting-wise, dame-hunting-wise, solid business-wise, education-wise, research-wise and otherwise was a peruked experience, so to say, of a classical theme in our years and years of how we enjoyed and took ourselves seriously. Everything we tried to see, everything we tried to feel, everything we tried to touch, everything we tried to bite and eat, everything we tried to experience proved beautifully un-disappointing – because the centuries we knew and did not know tried to maintain themselves in our imaginations and memories.
But as at today, as at now, time has since travelled by and has assumed a dimension of space that has jeopardized and shattered our compassion for the dead and gone centuries. Why couldn’t they stand still and maintain themselves in the present?
Let’s terminate the sweet rigmarole that remains ever sweet in our recollections of the then and then decades that rolled into centuries.
Four years ago, I did a piece, an engaging piece, on the lamentable condition of the Benin-Sapele Road. Then – if my recollection is not losing its plume – I put the federal government and the governors of Edo State and Delta State respectively on the radar of the deplorable deplorableness. I did that in the hope that the federal government and the respective governments of the two Niger Delta States would do something memorably drastic to return the Benin-Sapele-Warri Highway to its time of artful and civil engineering agreeableness. The deplorability of the road then was such that induced from the eyes of all those living in Benin, Sapele and Warri and inter-city and inter-state travellers tears of unhappiness. The tears compassionated the ever-busy highway/road which I then christened Ouagadougou which I deliberately employed to alter the original meaning of the capital of Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Men” or “Land of Incorruptible people”). I altered the original name that depicts its beauty to mean Benin-Sapele-Warri hole and hell of a road on account of the useless and hopeless hours of delays of travellers and commuters on that road whose rottenly rotten portions have become far more rottenly rotten than they were then. The jaw-breaking or mouth-twisting pronunciation of “Owa-ga-do-gu” or “Wa-ga-do-gu” compellingly makes ugly the essentially original name of merriness in a land of people of revolutionary colour, fervor and flavour.
On Friday, September 15, 2023 I had to make a trip I could not avoid to Warri the once merry rock oil city of ogbologbos and cherishers of decent decency. My plan was to make a brief stop-over in Sapele, Papa’s land of rock-and-roll ogbologbos of ogbologbos who nor dey fear kain. But how would I navigate my way through Benin our Benin where the once popular Benin-Sapele Road has turned itself into a baser and baser road day by day by government’s neglect of it? The terrifyingly and horrifyingly base road has been emboldened by our respective calamitous rulers over the years of calamitous nastiness.
Two days before my expected trip I contracted a driver who I was going to hire to take me to Warri aforesaid. I was away in one of the Western States. I got to Benin at an ample time a day before my trip to firm up my agreement with the chap who was to take me to my destination(s). For the one-way trip he was going to squeeze from me sixty-five thousand naira. I pinched myself. The guy-man don catch mugu wey nor be mugu. I tried to bargain with him as best as I could. He was not ready to come down. He mentioned what the trip would cost him petrol-wise and dwelt agonizingly on the condition of the road – especially the condition of the Benin by-pass and the Ologbo stretch before the cross-over to Delta State. I gaped with amazement. The journey via any transport company would not cost me as a single passenger more than three thousand five hundred naira. In my determination, I suggested that we should go to Warri via Agbor. He said that the Agbor route was even worse than the Ologbo one. In any case, if I was seriously serious about embarking on the trip via the Benin Agbor route he would accept from me nothing short of eighty-five thousand naira. In my desperation I suggested the Benin-Jesse route. He smilingly kept quiet. But when he eventually spoke to open his thought he said he would not dare to take that route even if I or anybody offered him the world. Herdsmen had kidnapped, captured, maimed and killed a number of persons on that axis. I could feel myself swept back through time as when an ancient memory of the Warri wars or the Benin massacre comes back to mind. I jettisoned the chap and reduced my reality to making my trip very early not later than six o’clock in the morning of my trip by a commercial vehicle.
By 5:45 AM on the dot I was at “Warri-by-air” motor-park on the day of my trip. Only one Sienna car was available. On enquiry, I was told that other vehicles and their drivers that were not at the park would likely not go to Warri on account of the road-less road at the Ologbo stretch which no road-rollers could immediately redeem. Before long the vehicle was ready to take us to Warri. In fact, by 7:30AM that morning we were already at Ologbo. O my dear readers, we were held and holed up there even though our road-hog on the steering performed all the magic he could possibly perform. There was no movement to and from the opposite direction. Almost everyone on the steering of each vehicle was a road-hog after all! I lost my sense of arithmetic, algebra and geometry as our dare-devil driver tried to meander his way without gaining any advantage. By four o’clock in the afternoon we were still glued to the muddy mud of a wet road of gullies upon gullies. All the vehicles were plugged into a single outlet-less outlet and charmed, compelled to remain there. And the trucks (trailers) that conservatively numbered well above three thousand appeared to me to have caused a magnetic storm. It was a cloudy day when the rains did not pour down, yet muddy and ugly Ologbo remained muddily muddy and watery Ologbo of wetness. A Benin-Warri journey that ordinarily should not exceed one hour even on a bad traffic day was already taking me ten hours plus! I must do something. My slight luggage and I embarked on a fresh journey on a motor-bike trip of not up to two kilometres from Ologbo to Koko junction in Delta State and which ordinarily should not fetch the Hausa Okada rider two hundred naira squeezed from me one thousand naira. But I was happy to hop on the Okada pontoon taking us – my luggage and I – to the other side – Koko junction aforesaid – where there were several waiting vehicles taking passengers to Warri and Sapele respectively. On the Okada leaping and snaking through the devilish waters of the unfathomable gutters of a wicked road, I made sure that the Okada rider did not mock the storm and spirit of gravity. I compelled him to make his motor-bike to maintain its/his road-holding. No limb must I lose! Others who did what I did boarded the same vehicle that flew us to Warri where a stormy rain welcomed us. The rain beat me and hammered away the sticky potopoto all over me as I boarded a keke that took me to my Warri special haven. When did I arrive? Your guess is as good as a guess that is both right and wrong. My return journey was smoother and better, I now being a thorough expert on how to enter and get out of Warri without the fear of darkness unleashed on us by wickedly wicked or demonically demonic leader-less leaders: the Nigerian man’s burden.
To be continued.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
The Witch, The Pentecostal, And Jungle Justice
By Claire P. Ayelotan
In July 2023, Martina Okey Itagbor was brutally murdered in a gruesome lynching incident. She was dragged out of her home and set on fire in the streets opposite the Catholic Church she attended regularly. Witnesses reported that her perpetrators stood by and watched as she writhed in agony until her body was reduced to ashes.
Afterwards, her remains were swept into a nearby gutter with a broom. The victim’s daughter, attending the church then, attempted to intervene, but was restrained by other congregation members. Among these members, some were Martina’s accusers.
Prior to this incident, other women had experienced a similar fate. For instance, on 27th August 2022, two widows in the Ebbaken community in Cross River State were killed by local youths for alleged witchcraft. No arrests were made. In 2022, Amarachi Okechi, a widow, was accused of witchcraft and publicly beaten by 30 youths in her village after claims from her brother-in-law’s wife. The incident was filmed as Amarachi was tied up overnight and abused for days. The wife of Abia State’s Governor eventually intervened. Four men in Adamawa State killed Martha Mamman on 4th December 2022, accusing her of witchcraft and causing three deaths. After a forced confession, they burned her. Love Nwanyanwu barely avoided a similar fate for alleged witchcraft on 8th November 2020. Prompted by her husband’s nephew, she was attacked by her in-laws. In 2017, in Adamawa State, pregnant Ayina Afraimu was bound and beaten with sticks to death after accusing her of causing some deaths and sickness in the village.
(c) Claire Princess Ayelotan
The month following Itagbor’s demise, two Nigerian police officers in Adamawa State were dismissed for their role in lynching two women accused of witchcraft. Neither faced legal repercussions, highlighting societal tolerance for such actions and underscoring the persistence of patriarchy.
As mentioned earlier, the individuals who were victims of such heinous acts were not merely strangers, but they were someone’s grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunties, friends, and neighbours. Tragically, some of these individuals had their lives cruelly taken away, leaving behind their heartbroken beloved families. For those who survived, the trauma and stigma associated with the accusations of witchcraft will forever alter their lives. The label assigned to them is permanent and carries a heavy weight of discrimination and social exclusion.
Despite their differences, these women share a common experience as individuals who have been labelled as witches. They were often viewed with suspicion and fear, and their reputation as evil bearers was a source of constant stress and hardship. The accusations of witchcraft have put their familial loyalties to the test, causing irreparable damage to familial relationships. In some cases, family members may openly support their accusation and lynching, while others strongly oppose it. The emotional toll of such conflicts is immeasurable and serves as a painful reminder of the deep-rooted social problems plaguing our society.
Is witchcraft a curse in Africa?
In an article published a decade and a half ago by Professor La Fontaine in The Guardian with the headline “Witchcraft Belief is a Curse on Africa” effectively conveyed the detrimental effects such beliefs can have on societies. It is a fact that witchcraft belief is a bane to Africa and its people.
However, it should be noted that this issue is not confined to the African continent, but is a global problem, with historical evidence demonstrating that beliefs in witchcraft have never contributed to the advancement of human personal or societal development on any continent.
While it is one thing to acknowledge the existence of such beliefs, it is quite another to employ them during times of stress, which often leads to accusations. Accusations of witchcraft are a social mechanism utilised to both control and evade personal responsibilities. It thrives in a tension-filled environment and may be used to explain any situation, regardless of its relationship with existing tensions. Individuals with any gender orientation, age, or background are not exempt from such accusations. While women are mostly victims of accusations, children are increasingly being labelled as witches or wizards in various parts of Nigeria, leading to an upsurge in the number of private NGOs that provide shelter to victims in cities and States such as Akwa Ibom. Given its endemic nature, many accusations remain concealed, and cases similar to those of Martina Itagbor only come to light when someone publicly discloses them.
Any accusation of witchcraft that results in the death of a woman is considered a form of femicide, also known as feminicide, and is gender-based violence. Femicide is what Diana Russell coined as “the killing of females by males because they are females”. Although men (and children) were not immune from falling victim to an accusation, as detailed in my research, what set apart femicide because of the charge of the crime of witchcraft is the typology of the targeted women. These are primarily women with aggressive characteristics, widows, single mothers, women with disabilities, older women, and other vulnerable female groups.
Understanding the mind of the perpetrator
Public lynching linked to witchcraft accusations is gradually becoming part of Nigerian extrajudicial attacks, popularly known as ‘jungle justice’. This is self-effect justice perverted to those suspected of wrongdoing by the group of people or the community without involving law enforcement agents. A lack of trust in the judiciary system often compels many people to take the law into their own hands. Plus, to the perpetrators, the police are irrelevant and might release the victims. In addition, where such beliefs are upheld by members of the police officers themselves, the chances of the victims being released or vindicated may be minor.
Most jungle justice in Nigeria is often executed by youth; however, it shows no regard as the universality of jungle justice linked to witchcraft accusations has shown disparities in the age and gender of the perpetrators. As explained in the media journals, some perpetrators were in their 60s. Moreover, the perpetrators were mainly men, suggesting a disguised aspect of misogynism. However, this does not exclude the involvement of women. The mothers of the boys who died and other women validated Martina’s lynching, as some of them came out of the church and stood watching the attack with no remorse or action to prevent her death.
Jungle justice imposes accountability on all parties involved in extrajudicial punishment, which constitutes a form of collective violence that undermines the rule of law. However, the concept of “equal responsibility” can become complicated, particularly when seeking to understand the motivations and cognitive processes of those who participate in such actions. First, moral disengagement is a crucial factor in these situations, as ethical principles are disregarded and acts such as lynching Martina and other women are deemed morally justified. In this instance, jungle justice, as a form of communal purging, is an ideal means of eliminating elements that are considered evil within the community. Second, it is of utmost importance to comprehend Philip Zimbardo’s contribution to the theory of deindividuation, which posits that individuals may lose their sense of self-awareness and accountability in group settings and engage in behaviours that deviate from social norms. In situations where religious fervour is present, it may exacerbate the effects of deindividuation, leading individuals in group settings to be more inclined to engage in extrajudicial actions, such as jungle justice. Combining firm religious beliefs and group dynamics can diminish individual accountability and increase the likelihood of such acts being perpetrated.
Jungle justice, often associated with poverty, may have less to do with economic conditions and more with religious or spiritual beliefs. This is evidenced by the fact that many individuals participating in these acts of violence are not necessarily impoverished. In fact, within a religious context, such as the biblical account of the stoning of Stephen, it can be seen that economic status may not be the primary motivator for these acts of violence. Instead, religious beliefs and doctrinal issues may be more significant in motivating such action. For instance, Martina’s lynching in front of a Catholic Church adds a layer of symbolic spiritual meaning to the church’s setting of the act of jungle justice. Often considered a place of sanctuary and moral guidance, the church becomes a backdrop for an action that contradicts legal and, arguably, ethical norms. This juxtaposition can create powerful emotional and cognitive dissonance for observers and participants, affecting how the act is interpreted and remembered. Similarly, in cases of jungle justice related to accusations, my analysis in the following section suggests that religion may be a more significant factor than economic disadvantage in motivating these acts of violence.
What factors contribute to the escalating incidence of witchcraft allegations against vulnerable populations in Nigeria?
To assert that witchcraft beliefs are not prevalent and flourishing in Nigeria is to disregard the tragic fate of those accused and ostracised, including women, children, and men. This belief system has infiltrated various segments of society, ranging from ordinary folk to educated, religious institutions to the political sphere, university communities to local markets in bustling urban areas.
Two intertwined elements, among others, played a significant role in this phenomenon: Beliefs and Christianity. It is noteworthy that Christianity, as a religion, cannot subsist without the endorsement of beliefs. It is important to note that labelling occurs in other religions; however, Christian missionaries and the Saros aided the promulgation of witchcraft beliefs and eventual accusations during colonialism. For clarity and to inform those unfamiliar with the term, the Saros comprised Western-educated Nigerian Creoles, who, in collaboration with Western missionaries, introduced Western cultural and religious practices to Nigeria and Yorubaland. This led to the dehumanisation of local religions and reinforced beliefs such as evil, evil spirits, demons, and witchcraft. The Saros, along with their counterparts in other regions of Africa, were successful in anglicising several traditional socio-religious rites, artworks, gods, and personalities as witchcraft or witchcraft practices, making witchcraft a generic term throughout the continent.
By the post-imperialist era, Christianity had gained considerable traction in Africa. However, in the 1970s, the emergence of Pentecostalism gave rise to a syncretistic fundamentalist movement. It is indisputable that the foundation of Nigerian Pentecostalism is grounded in concepts from various sources, including traditional religions, Nigerian-initiated local churches, and Western, Asian, and Judeo-Christian beliefs. It is a matter of great concern that some Pentecostal churches today openly promote teachings on witchcraft and its connection with malevolent forces. Furthermore, such ideologies have infiltrated the doctrinal principles and convictions of several traditional churches. Any attempts to discuss witchcraft-related topics are often met with hostility from Christian organisations, primarily due to a fear of the perceived phenomenon.
Consequently, this fear is an exploitative tool by these churches, especially the Pentecostals, in accumulating members, as witchcraft beliefs have become ubiquitous in Nigerian households, states, regions, ethnic groups, academic settings, and the political sphere. The practice of witchcraft is believed to be a manifestation of demonic influence, and those who engage in such practices are considered the emissaries of the devil. Since the spiritual controls the physical, nothing happens by chance. Thus, every misfortune, comprising accidents, job losses, barrenness, illnesses, marital issues, exam failures, disabilities, poverty, and other socioeconomic incapacities, is blamed on witchcraft.
Labelling an individual as a witch systematically means projecting blame onto an external source, rather than engaging in introspection or examining one’s contributions as the root cause of any misfortune. Regular attendance at places of worship in an excessive and compulsive manner can often function as a means of avoiding personal responsibility for one’s decision-making. Individuals who are overweight and spend a considerable amount of time participating in church activities may regrettably attribute their subsequent health issues to the intervention of a witch, despite their own lifestyle choices, such as excessive eating, being a contributing factor. Although they may not all be Pentecostals, those who set Martina alight and the mothers of the boys who died in the accidents were convinced Martina was responsible for their sons’ demises. It is unlikely that they would believe that overspeeding or dangerous driving was the cause of the accident, as someone must have told them that the witch was responsible. Another consideration is that many individuals within the legal justice system may also be members of religious organisations that emphasise witchcraft. This adds a layer of complexity to why the act of jungle justice, which involves sidestepping legal norms, may not be viewed as problematic by some members of these churches.
Moreover, congregants often seek counsel from religious leaders who are aware of the demands for such services. However, this guidance comes at a cost, notably financial contributions through various offerings, tithes, and church-building projects. The relationship between religious leaders and their followers involves a transactional business arrangement. It is important to note that special prayer and deliverance sessions cannot be conducted without the eventual purchase of anointing oils, handkerchiefs, sermon materials, or a monetary contribution to the pastors through cash or bank transfers, if necessary.
When the notorious Dick The Butcher suggests to his boss, Jack Cade, in William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”, it is considered a dark joke that killing all the lawyers for their absence @highlighted the importance of authority figure in maintaining or disrupting social order. Given the potential connections between Dick’s response to Pentecostal leaders, it is crucial to acknowledge their role in perpetuating witchcraft-related beliefs. While they may not directly participate in acts of jungle justice, they cannot be absolved of their complicity. Their teachings and beliefs about witchcraft unleashed Pandora’s box of events and attitudes that were challenging to reverse. The question remains: How many families and households have been torn apart due to their ideologies? Prayer points such as “all witches in my family must die, die, die” indicate their contribution to enabling jungle justice. How many witches are members advised to be caught? Their mothers, aunties, sisters, or grandmothers?
Were these pastors in question aware and willing to acknowledge their role in perpetuating the witchcraft accusation phenomenon, and did they exhibit a genuine understanding of the harm caused by their actions? By preaching on these topics, they create a narrative framework in which others may be interpreted as tacit endorsements of extrajudicial measures against alleged witches. Their pastoral authority gives credence to these beliefs, and their influence can extend far beyond the church walls, affecting community attitudes and actions and lending weight to the ideology that motivates collective violence. This can lead to unintended but severe consequences, such as acts of jungle justice, which are challenging to contain once unleashed. In this way, they bear indirect responsibility for the results, much like Shakespeare’s lawyers, whose absence upends the social order.
Unlike Shakespearean Dick, we cannot kill these pastors because we do not want to end our lives in jails. However, we can curb them. How, then, do we curb them all? Regulating the teachings and contents disseminated by churches could serve as a remedy to curb the prevalence of witchcraft accusations and associated acts of jungle justice. Such regulations can offer a framework for promoting socially and ethically responsible teachings and influencing community attitudes and actions. However, this remedy might be complex to implement, given the issues of religious freedom and autonomy, as it poses ethical, legal, and societal challenges that require careful consideration.
The question is, who has the guts to do that without ‘dying by fire’?
Poisoning And Witchcraft Accusations In Africa
By Leo Igwe
Witchcraft accusation is a form of death sentence. The accused are often attacked and killed. As this case has illustrated, the accused poison themselves or are poisoned. Alleged witches are forced to drink poisonous concoctions, which lead to their death or health damage. The belief is that this concoction removes, or disables witchcraft powers. The concoction supposedly cleanses suspected witchcraft. The taking of this substance is an exoneration process to establish the guilt and innocence of the accused. Some local medicine men or women administer the concoctions. The recipe for preparing these concoctions is known in many communities. As in this case, alleged witches do not wait to be given the concoctions, they prepare and take the substance themselves.
In many cases, family members pressure the accused to take these substances, to cleanse themselves, to free and exonerate themselves. The belief is that if they took the concoction and died, then they were witches. The concoction could make them vomit, and the belief is that the vomiting helps expunge witchcraft particles and powers. Sometimes, the concoction makes suspected witches hallucinate and begin to make utterances often mistaken as confessions. Most often those forced to take this concoction are elderly women and men who can barely resist the process. Poor people in rural communities, widows, and aging persons living alone with limited social support are usually the target.
This form of witch-hunting is pervasive in the villages. It is difficult to know the number of alleged witches who poison themselves, or are poisoned each year. They would be in their tens of thousands because these poisonous concoctions form part of the witch-hunting accessories. In witch hunting, the motivation is to eliminate the suspected witches, to murder and get rid of them. Cases of alleged witches who were poisoned have been reported not only in Malawi but also in Nigeria, Liberia, and Gambia.
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