Wednesday, 8 June 2011

the Lyin’, the Witch, the Tech Probe

So I’ve been here in Chereponi for about 3 weeks and here’s a very interesting update on my social life and work life:

Recently (Sunday May 5th) I heard what sounded like a rooster incessantly crowing outside of my room in my families house. As it seemed pretty distressing to everyone involved, and it was 5 am, I decided not to wake up to take part. Moreover as the argument was taking place in Anoofou, and I only understand less than 2% of this language, I decided my joining in would only make a confusing situation more confusing. So I decided I would ask someone, who can speak a little English, to give me the low down later. On that day I was invited to attend an farmer group (FBO) meeting in my own community with an AEA named Alhasan (whom I’ve been calling Elisan until now), which was to cover a returning project called N2Africa (which I hope to find out more about during this meeting).  But because of this heated argument the meeting was cancelled, and when I woke up I asked a boy who lives nearby and is a part of the FBO what had happened. He said, “one woman who is a part of the FBO has something wrong with her head and was shouting she wanted to go into the bush”, this didn’t make to much sense to me so for the time being I accepted it and let it go.

Just yesterday morning I met with Alhasan and had the opportunity to ask him why the meeting had been cancelled. He told me that the woman who was screaming (like a rooster) had a daughter who is very sick. The chairman of the FBO, and my host father, was accused of causing this and many other sicknesses in the area over the years. Supposedly Quujo-Ghandi is believed to be a witch of sorts and is very feared in the area, he has been blamed for causing many sicknesses and the locals fear him because of this. The screaming woman was asking him to remove the curse or she would beat him and finally she decided she would go to some temple in Tombo village (I believe) and have this curse assessed or removed by a witch camp and that upon her return he would be sorry. When I asked why these people believe my landlord is a witch Alhasan said the didn’t really have a reason, but the belief is so strong that his song cannot even find a wife because nobody will marry the son of a witch.

When I probed into this matter further I found out that Quujo-Ghandi’s side of the Ando-Yamano village also comprises his FBO. Quujo-Ghandi is also a contact farmer for Ando-Yamano, which means that all the information and projects that come to his village are first told to him because he is considered to be the most serious farmer in the area. On the other side of Ando-Yamano is where the chief resides, but because of some internal struggle between the chief and Quujo-Ghandi most information and projects stay on Quujo’s side. It is my conjecture that because of this struggle, and withholding of information, that this rumour of witchcraft has spread wildly. As for specifics on this struggle I think I will need more time to suss that out, but for now I think it is safe to assume that the source of the witchcraft is Quujo’s withholding of extension information. Apparently these witch accusations are very common, and often push even small girls out of their own towns and into these witch camps mentioned above. The accusations can become so widespread in some cases that, Alhasan said, sometimes the accused will begin to believe them as well. Furthermore these people will be compelled to leave the village as instructed, because they fear persecution for being some type of monster.

As I’m here to work on extension this information is very troubling for a few reasons. If these types of struggles and accusations are common, and Alhasan claims they are, then the withholding of extension information by contact farmers must be somewhat common as well. By theory MoFA reaches out to these contact farmers, whom usually hold a fair amount of resources already, with the implication that they will disseminate this information among their community members who trust them. But in this case this theory has completely broke down and in-turn caused a sort of internal struggle resulting in serious accusations of witchcraft. Secondly the AEA responsible for this area (Alhasan) is well aware of this struggle but continues to do his work just the same as always, using the same contact farmer although this man is not disseminating the information properly. Finally these accusations are a fundamental violation of human rights, forcing people out of their homes with groundless rumours spread by powerful people for corrupt reasons. I’m not sure how to react to this, maybe the readers could give me some insights here!!

Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think (if your thinking)!


  1. It's crazy that you ran into this so soon in your placement, and so close to home!

    When I was a JF I lived not far from the witch camp at Gambaga, and did some research about the whole mess because I found it so...interesting. The accusations can seed from anything from fever dreams and malarial hallucinations, to calculated attacks in order to remove someone who troubles you--so it wouldn't surprise me if the issue between your host father and the chief was at the ultimate root of the whole thing. (Unfortunately, in my experience, Konkombas have a bad reputation in the north for causing conflicts like this).

    But the belief is so deep that simple explanation isn't going to stop the problem. In Ghana there's so much terrible stuff (and good stuff, for that matter) that happens that you can't explain, that belief in witchcraft is a way to assign cause and effect to often-random tragedy. It helps people feel empowered by assigning a supernatural cause to something, even if removing that cause doesn't necessarily fix the problem. Plus, the people standing accused have been raised in the same culture of belief--in a small minority of the time, they truly believe that they're either intentionally or unintentionally at fault for the things they're accused of. It's difficult, oh!

    The good news is that it's your host father, and not your mother, standing accused--if it was a woman, she'd probably already be gone to a camp, but they seem to be more respectful of men. The overwhelming majority of people accused of witchcraft are older women--and I have a feeling that the majority of your AEA's are men, so I'm not sure how much it should impact your MoFA work as a whole. It's also less likely to be accused of witchery if you're a person of prominence in the community (which a good AEA usually is, right?), although it does happen (and actually, from rumours, it seems to happen more among Konkomba communities, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about).

    Basically, the best thing I can suggest is to ask questions at the periphery, but try to stay out of the overall core of the issue, and try to get an understanding of what's going on here.
    And maybe visit the Konkomba witch camp (unless they send them to Gambaga, in which case TOTALLY go visit). It's an education.
    Stay safe, Bill--I know this is nuts, but you're rocking it out!

    PS: If you wanna talk about this, shoot me a message or something, I'd be glad to.

  2. Hey Bill,
    Great post! This is an amazing explanation of why things are never as simple as they seem. It's not just about doing extension, but about doing it to the right people so information is spread as widely as possible. Such an interesting issue!
    Thanks for writing about it.