- Witchcraft as a Social Diagnosis: Traditional Ghanaian Beliefs and Global Health by Roxane Richter, Thomas Flowers, and Elias Bongmba
Roxane Richter, Thomas Flowers, Elias Bongmba, Sjaak van der Geest, witchcraft, African witchcraft, social theory, global health, African healthcare, African magic, Ghanaian magic, Ghanaian witchcraft, modern magic, modern witchcraft, contemporary magic, contemporary witchcraft, sociology of witchcraft
In northern Ghana there are about seven "witch camps" or "witch villages," where women who have been accused of witchcraft and expelled from their communities find asylum. Reports estimate that the total number of women in such places is around one thousand. Some of these women have children with them, but their estimated numbers vary enormously. Most of the women are between forty and seventy years of age. About one percent of the residents in the camps are men, either accused witches themselves or relatives/partners of the women. The camps fall under the authority of local chiefs and/or traditional priests who guarantee the safety of the inhabitants and provide medicine to clear them of witchcraft. When they arrive at the camps, the women are often tested for the presence of witchcraft.
The local people living in the towns where the camps are situated do not tend to worry about the presence of these "witches" and live with them in relative harmony. The women earn a living through petty trading, doing odd jobs at the market, and working on the farms of the local population. In theory, after some time the women can return to their communities if they wish, once the air has cleared, but most refuse to return, out of fear of violence or worse. They prefer to remain in exile. Several attempts by political authorities and humanitarian organizations to bring the women back to their homes have failed in the past.
These are some general features of the witch camps, though there are many details that differ locally. The literature on these camps suggests that they are not a recent phenomenon, but that sanctuaries for expelled witches [End Page 293] existed already in the precolonial period. The expulsion and persecution of suspected witches seems, however, to have increased in the past few decades. It is further believed that Ghana is the only country in the world where such witch camps exist.
This brief description will probably "fascinate" historians who study witchcraft beliefs and practices in Europe between the Middle Ages and the eighteenth century, including the readers of this journal. Ghana's witch camps, with their public management of occult evil magic, might appear as a phenomenon from their own distant past, occurring in present day Africa. The camps present themselves as locations where anthropologists and historians could meet and work together, as was the case in the 1970s and 1980s.
In Ghana, however, the camps are first of all the subject of heated debate between politicians, human rights activists, and humanitarian organizations such as NGOs and churches. Understandably, these debates are fuelled by journalists' reports, Internet blogs, and students attracted by this dramatic phenomenon who choose the camps as a topic for their theses. By now, the literature on the camps, popular as well as academic, is overwhelming. The book under review, Witchcraft as a Social Diagnosis by Roxane Richter and co-authors, is part of this growing interest in the plight of women in these witch camps. Two of the authors (Richter and Flowers) are medical doctors and prominent members of World Mission Possible, a nonprofit organization that "offers vision and medical care to the underserved in rural communities and indigent in sixteen nations." The third author, Bongmba, is a Christian theologian.
The title of the book is somewhat misleading; it suggests that the authors use the phenomenon of witchcraft as a lens or perspective for exploring social conditions in local communities. But the book is rather an engaging plea for relieving the plight of marginalized and stigmatized women with an emphasis on social and medical suffering. The authors' field location is the witch camp near Gbani, a...