Quick Note: Witches & Wizards Getting Organized in Nigeria

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 24, 2011 — 29 Comments

News was made in Nigeria last week when a unique lobbying group warned presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar to drop his bid lest he face humiliation at the polls.

“Atiku should withdraw now if he loves himself. He would be humbled by President Goodluck Jonathan. If he withdraws now, it will be a saving grace for him, but if he insists on going ahead with the primaries, that will be the end of his political career. “During our emergency meeting to deliberate on the state of affairs in Nigeria, it was clearly revealed to us that the days of Atiku’s relevance in Nigeria’s politics are over.”

It wasn’t a political advocacy group sending this message, or at least not a typical political advocacy group. It was the Witches and Wizards Association of Nigeria (WITZAN), and they have a message to send to their fellow Nigerians.

“The way some people look at witches and wizards is as if we are evil-minded people. Not all witches are bad. Our own type of witchcraft which we practise is a progressive one. The day government and other stakeholders invite us to intervene in the affairs of Nigeria, we will gladly do so. We have the antidote to bring lasting peace to this nation. Nigeria is a great country, witches and wizards can help restore its lost glory.

Considering the fact that Nigeria has seen fearsome persecutions against children accused of witchcraft, the fact that a public association of Witches and Wizards has come forward could be a positive step. Could this mean that Nigeria, home to several traditional religions, including Vodun, is starting to organize itself in much the same way Pagan groups have in the West? Since they have a Facebook page, we should keep track to see how this group develops. Depending on their goals and outlook, this could be an association that Pagan and indigenous groups outside Nigeria could find solidarity with.

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  • Robin Artisson

    These Nigerian sorcerers must have balls of solid steel, considering where they live. May the good Gods and powers that dwell in their land protect them mightily.

    • chuck_cosimano

      And may the divine spirit of Kalashnikov bless their efforts because they may need to use a few to get their point across.

    • Peter

      While this post does interest me, upon viewing their Face book page "info section" there is little to substantiate or support the claim that this is an organized group. Waiting to see what develops seems prudent.

      • Ymptree

        Good idea. 98% of everything coming out of Nigeria these days, at least on the 'net, is often a scam.

        • Robin Artisson

          To imply that 2% of what comes out of Nigeria is legit shows remarkable faith and charity on your part. I'm still waiting for the transfer of money to my bank account that MR. HOUNSEE MALITRITA said he'd be depositing in exchange for all that information I gave him.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    As a general rule, practitioners of traditional religions in Africa do not refer to themselves using the English terms "witch" and "wizard". Normally they would use the rich religious/magical vocabularies of their own indigenous languages. On the other hand, the words "witch" and "witchcraft" are usually associated with vicious Christian propagandizing against traditional beliefs and practices.

    Nigerians practicing some form of traditional magical religion (essentially all traditional African religions are magical religions) would probably use either the Lingala term "ndoki" or the Yoruba term "babalawo" (Lingala is not one of the native languages of Nigeria, but the Lingala term "ndoki" is widely used there).

    The media in Africa will print just about anything if it allows them to put the word "witch" in the title of a story. This particular story appears to be 99.9% horse-manure.

    • Ymptree

      Apuleius, would you mind giving me your source for saying that "ndoki" is in wide use in Nigeria? I've never run across that before, and as one with an interest in West and Central African cultures, I'd be interested in following up on this potential cultural linkage.

      By the way, "babalawo" is a specialized term: a priest of Orunmila in Yoruba traditional religion. Not all (not most) practitioners of YTR would use that term to describe themselves; and practitioners of traditional religions from other Nigerian ethnic groups would of course not use it.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

        I gave "ndoki" and "babalawo" as two likely terms one would encounter (as opposed to "witch"). Certainly not as the only possibilities. On the other hand, the odds of an authentic practitioner of any form of African traditional religion using the term "witch" are essentially zero.

        The terms "ndoki" and "kindoki" are associated with "witchcraft" accusations in Nigeria, especially against children. But this might be a reflection of African Christian usage of the term, not it's traditional use. The "child witch" phenomenon began in the Congo, and then spread to Angola and then to Nigeria. So it might be that the use of the terms "ndoki" and "kindoki" in Nigeria is only due to the spread of this witch-hunting craze on the part of the Christians.

        • Ian

          Could you throw up some links/book refs to the use of ndoki to refer to witchcraft in Nigeria, by Nigerians that I could use to get a bead on this usage? I have only seen it used in reference to the Congo region and haven't been able to turn up any instances of it on my own in Nigeria.

          When the Yoruba use native terms to talk about witches and wizards they tend to use the terms 'aje' and 'oso'; those terms better (not perfectly) match the ambivalent tangle of associations of 'witch' and 'wizard' in English.

          However, it is worth remembering that English is the official language of Nigeria; many Yoruba people will just use the English words 'witch' and 'wizard.' Even 'authentic' practitioners of a traditional religion might do so, because they aren't just talking to other people who share their language.

          I feel more than a little uncomfortable, though, with either of us saying whether a practitioner in Nigeria 'authentic' or not based on word choice. It seems presumptuous.

          Babalawo, btw, really isn't used in a way comparable to oso, aje, ndoki, witchcraft, or wizardry. All of those terms possess a certain generality and ambiguity in their application that the term 'babalawo' does not.

          A babalawo isn't a 'kind' of wizard, but a specialist whose knowledge and initiation provide them with the capacity to counter and disable oso/wizards and aje/witches who have become destructive. The forces drawn upon by the babalawo are different than those of wizards and witches; that difference is part of what gives the word and the role its meaning.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Ian: "Could you throw up some links/book refs to the use of ndoki to refer to witchcraft in Nigeria, by Nigerians that I could use to get a bead on this usage?"

            I know about "ndoki" primarily as it has been used in connection with the "child witch" phenomenon, which is a big issue in Nigeria, but actually started in the Congo. Here is an article by Dr Olusegun Fakoya published online at NigeriansInAmerica.Com in Nov. 2008 on Africa: Child Abuse and Persecution of Children. Here is an excerpt:

            "Nigeria being a land of opportunities and brimming with opportunists, both real and sacrosanct, did not lag behind in wholeheartedly adopting the concept of kindoki or child witches. It is instructive to note that the end of the civil war in Nigeria, despite its resultant hardship with social disruption involved, did not lead to an upsurge of this phenomenon. It took the ingenuity of an evangelical preacher, who is prolific at producing socially potent and misguided DVDs (to illustrate the concept of the powers of child witches), to unleash the terror of this phenomenon on unsuspecting Nigerians."

            The way in which the term is used is complicated by a number of factors:

            (1) Lingala is widely used as a kind of lingua franca outside of its "home" region.

            (2) The term "ndoki" has been picked up (and perhaps over-used or misused) by journalists, experts, NGO's, etc, who have taken an interest in the "child witch" phenomenon, which started in Congo but has spread (especially to Angola and Nigeria). In this category there is a Sunday Times article in which it is asserted that "ndoki" is used in West Africa: Exorcist Trio Face Trial. And here is an article at "ReligiousTolerance.Org" in which the term is used with reference to witchcraft accusations against children in West Africa: A West African / Fundamentalist Christian syncretistic religion in the UK.

            (3) The first "child witch" cases that caught people's attention in the West were actually in London and these involved people from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Angola and the Congo. Around the same time, Gary Foxcroft began his work in Nigeria and media reports began appearing in the West on "child witches" in both the Congo and Angola. Robert Hoskins, who worked with London police at the time, wrote a good overview of the roots of the child witch problem in the Congo, in which he discusses the term "ndoki": "The Torment of Africa's Witch Children".

            (4) Also, the term "ndoki" is found in Afro-Caribbean religions as well (where it is sometimes spelled "endoqui"). Here's an article by Eoghan Ballard (whose PhD thesis was titled "Ndoki Bueno Ndoki Malo"): "Jewish" and "Christian" Palo in Cuba. The term ndoki is even found in New Orleans Voodoo (see Ned Sublette's book, "The World That Made New Orleans", p. 186).

            Many of these sources (and many more) are all gathered together in a "Timeline of events, key sources, and media coverage" related to the "child-witch" phenomenon here: http://egregores.blogspot.com/2010/06/pentecostal… (Scroll down to get to the timeline.)

          • Ymptree

            Gracias. I'm familiar with the Palo/KiKongo use of "ndoki" but it's good to have the other links to check out. Africa's intricate and complicated, to put it mildly, every little bit of info helps.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            de nada.

          • Ian

            Thanks for the links. Digging around on them, I still can't find any direct use of ndoki in Nigeria.

            Part of this seems to result from a pretty basic confusion of terminology on the part of the journalists. When we talk about West Africa in a cultural sense, that generally refers to the region around Nigeria, Benin, Togo, etc. Angola and the Congo form part of a Central African cultural complex.

            Several of these articles talk about a' West African' Angola–which is technically true (angola is on Africa's western coast) but allows them to confuse Angola with the cultural groups of West Africa (e.g. Nigeria). Langala's use is found within the Central African cultural group, not the West African cultural group.

            I haven't seen anything to suggest folks like Ukpabio use the term 'ndoki.' I am also not sure that Ukpabio can be directly connected to the Angolan exorcism movements. She is interacting with folks in the UK, though, so it is possible that a direct line exists–I just haven't seen it clearly shown yet.

            (The appearance of the word in the Americas is straightforward–there were a lot of slaves drawn from the Central African regions. As far as I know, though, the term did not cross back from the Americas to Nigeria. fwiw, Todd Ramon Ochoa's recent book,Society of the Dead, portrays an alternative use of the terms 'jewish' and 'christian' in cuban palo, which suggests Ballard may be overstating how universally the terms are applied in the Palo community.)

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Ian, the very first link I provided is an article written by Olusegun Fakoya, a NIgerian living in the UK. In addition to "Nigerians in America", he also writes for NigerianPolitics.Com, MyOwnNigeria.Com, TheNigerianVoice.Com, NigeriaPlus.Com …. It is Fakoya who states that Nigerians "did not lag behind in wholeheartedly adopting the concept of kindoki".

            And I wouldn't be too quick to assume that Ballard is overstating anything, especially if you are just relying on the popular article he wrote for the NY Latino Journal, without reading his thesis: Ndoki bueno ndoki malo: Historic and contemporary Kongo religion in the African diaspora.

          • Ian

            Re Fakoya: That's all well and good, but all he says is that they adopted the concept of child witchcraft, not the term. Moreover, I'm not sure he is actually right about the vector of adoption. Most people want to identify an unpleasant concept as something foreign and all he does is assert the adoption, not demonstrate its adoption.

            There are quite established routes for child witchcraft to develop in Nigeria without reference to the ndoki child witchcraft of central Africa. Witch hunting in Nigeria isn't exactly a recent phenomenon.

            Re Ballard: Yes, I've read Ballard's dissertation, some parts quite carefully. That reading informs my statement.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

            Ian: "Witch hunting in Nigeria isn't exactly a recent phenomenon."

            Ian, the "child witch" phenomenon is new to Nigeria. That is the whole point of Fakoya's article. That is why he talks about it in terms of "kindoki", because violence against children in the name of "witch-hunting" came to Nigeria along with this evil conception which is not really "kindoki" at all, but a malevolent distortion of it dreamed up by the Christians.

            And this is not some theory of Fakoya's alone, either. Not at all. All of the people who have looked into this terrible situation in Nigeria agree that it can be traced back to Congo. Not because this is somehow rooted in Congolese culture, but because that is where this malignant idea was first formed by some Christians. It's a complex phenomenon, but not in it's broad outlines. These reports by reputable international agencies all agree on the commonalities between what is happening in Congo, Angola and Nigeria, and that it is not representative of indigenous African culture:
            Save the Children 2006 report: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/en/54_5212.htm
            Human Rights Watch 2006 report: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/drc0406/index.htm
            UN High Commission for Refugees 2009 report (link will download pdf): http://www.unhcr.org/4981ca712.html
            UNICEF 2010 report (this link has a summary and excerpts and a link to the full pdf): http://egregores.blogspot.com/2010/07/child-witch

        • Ian

          Could you throw up some links/book refs to the use of ndoki to refer to witchcraft in Nigeria, by Nigerians that I could use to get a bead on this usage? I have only seen it used in reference to the Congo region and haven't been able to turn up any instances of it on my own in Nigeria.

          When the Yoruba use native terms to talk about witches and wizards they tend to use the terms 'aje' and 'oso'; those terms better (not perfectly) match the ambivalent tangle of associations of 'witch' and 'wizard' in English.

          However, it is worth remembering that English is the official language of Nigeria; many Yoruba people will just use the English words 'witch' and 'wizard.' Even 'authentic' practitioners of a traditional religion might do so, because they aren't just talking to other people who share their language.

          I feel more than a little uncomfortable, though, with either of us saying whether a practitioner in Nigeria 'authentic' or not based on word choice. It seems presumptuous.

          Babalawo, btw, really isn't used in a way comparable to oso, aje, ndoki, witchcraft, or wizardry. All of those terms possess a certain generality and ambiguity in their application that the term 'babalawo' does not.

          A babalawo isn't a 'kind' of wizard, but a specialist whose knowledge and initiation provide them with the capacity to counter and disable oso/wizards and aje/witches who have become destructive. The forces drawn upon by the babalawo are different than those of wizards and witches; that difference is part of what gives the word and the role its meaning.

  • Rombald

    I've seen it argued that allegations of "witchcraft", in the sense of malicious sorcery, and persecutions of "witches" were widespread in pre-Christian Africa, and that Christianity has, if anything, reduced their frequency. I've also seen it stated that witch hunts are common in modern Hindu India, and occurred in pre-Christian Rome.

    Does anyone know whether there is any truth in these claims? Robin and Apuleius – no shouting now – this isn't defence of Christianity – I'm genuinely unsure about this.

    • Robin Artisson

      Malicious sorcerers were hunted everywhere in every pre-modern culture I know of. Rome had laws against malicious sorcery, and so did most Greek states. Of course, "malicious sorcery" isn't "witchcraft" generally, though the term "witchcraft" has taken on precisely that meaning in the last 10 centuries, and the process of that conflation probably began earlier. Of course, "witchcraft" is an Anglo-Saxon term, and the original meaning of that word wasn't malicious, as far as I know. It's villainization is particular to the English cultural sphere, and, after a certain point, it was applied by priests and then anthropologists to evil sorcery in any culture, European or otherwise. It was the English term used in translation, too, for any sort of evil sorcery in any culture.

      If Christianity has "reduced" the frequency of witchhunts in Africa, it wouldn't be because they brought compassion, but because they told people not to believe that native sorcerers were anything other than charlatans, and thus lowered the demand, and then the number of people that might be hunted on the off chance a village had a bad rain season and decided to blame a local sorcerer. Belief that "god" is in charge of everything *can* lead some knuckle-draggers to cease blaming a sorcerer for a drought and decide that it was all God's will that they just starve . In other places, a leftover belief in sorcery may still be enough to get a blame game going, and to inspire some hunting, even among Christians, particularly "new" Christians.

      Evil sorcery is a real thing, and, I believe, an anti-social threat, just as much as any form of assault. Romans and Greeks were right to outlaw it. But under the Christian cultural regime, ANYONE doing anything remotely spiritual and outside of the purview of priests was liable to get labeled "evil sorcerer", first as a conversion tactic, and later as a political convenience.

      I can't speak for modern India, but nothing would surprise me.

      I know that Shaka, a chieftain of the Zulus, had professional witch finders working for him, and one day, he called 100 of his best witch finders together to ask who had painted evil blood symbols on one of his houses. They drummed all day, did their thing, and rounded up the men and women they believed were responsible. He then revealed that he was the one who had painted his own house up, and declared these witchfinders incompetent and a danger to his people, and had them all executed, just as the people they rounded up were going to be executed before.

      Sounds like quite a guy. And, the story is evidence enough that a pre-christian ruler of Africans had witchfinders on his staff, and a death penalty for witches- witches in this context meaning, again, "evil sorcerer".

      • Rombald

        "Evil sorcery is a real thing, and, I believe, an anti-social threat, just as much as any form of assault. "

        An important point. For someone who doesn't believe malevolent sorcery to be possible (eg. a modern atheist), then witch hunts are deluded or insane. For many Christians, even sorcery with benign aims is unacceptable. However, surely most "Pagans" don't belong to either of these camps, and must accept that sorcerers should sometimes be stopped, punished, or even killed?

        I mean; I think that someone who kills someone by sorcery should, in principle, be punished for murder (eg. hanging, or life imprisonment). However, how could that principle possibly be built into a legal system, especially of a country in which there are people who do not believe in sorcery, and others who think ALL sorcerers are punishworthy?

        • Robin Artisson

          It can't be built into a modern legal system, but fortunately for us, the instances of people in our western, modernized societies being able to access the ability or skill or learning necessary to really kill another person with sorcery are so rare as to be non-existent. So, the law isn't failing us in this respect. We just live in a materialist society that has no room for sanctioning anything other than the most obvious and blunt forms of behavior or activity.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      Rombald, you have zeroed in on three very important and contentious issues.

      1. I don't think that anyone has ever seriously and explicitly argued that "Christianity has, if anything, reduced [the] frequency" of violence against people accused of malefic magic in Africa. Christians routinely demonize African religions and make outrageous claims about child sacrifice. Christians also routinely insist that African "superstition" leads to all kinds of irrational and violent and antisocial behavior. But I do not know of any argument of the kind you are suggesting. However, something like what you are suggesting is often suggested, but without ever being spelled out. There is a reason it is never spelled out, because it cannot be substantiated.

      2. People, including Jason Pitzl-Waters, have claimed that there is now a "worldwide epidemic of witch hunting", and the "evidence" cited for this usually includes isolated reports from India. However, there is no real data to support either the contention that "witch-hunts are common in Hindu India" or that the frequency of witch-hunting is on the increase anywhere in the world except in parts of Africa where witch-hunting is unambiguously linked with the activities of Christians. None of these incidents in India has ever been shown to be connected to the Hindu religion (whereas such a connection between Christianity & witch-hunting is well documented in many parts of Africa). People do make use of those isolated cases from India in order to divert attention from what Christians are up to in Africa, and, unfortunately, many Pagans are taken in by this. One of the primary sources for the "worldwide epidemic of witch-hunting" meme is a book by Wolfgang Behringer, in which Behringer makes his own hatred for both modern Paganism and feminism painfully obvious.

      3. Reports of witch-hunts in pre-Christian Rome are greatly exaggerated. Magic was an integral part of the Greco-Roman religious scene. Spiritual healing, divination, the use of "spells" and amulets of various kinds, etc — this was all quite common and for the most part perfectly legal (the primary exception to this being cases in which magic was used to cause harm or to otherwise commit acts that would be criminal even if they were committed non-magically). "High-magic", much like what we think of as Ceremonial Magic today, was also practiced and is well-documented in late antiquity. There is only one well-documented case of prosecution for malefic magic, and that was a case of a fellow named Apuleius who was exonerated.

  • http://dvera.wordpress.com/ Diane Vera

    The relationship between Christianity and witchhunts has varied over time. In the 1800's and early 1900's, Christian missionaries more often than not discouraged any local propensities toward witchhunts. However, these days, the fastest-growing forms of Christianity are the Pentecostal, Charismatic, and new-Apostolic movements, which notoriously promote paranoia about demons, curses, etc. Hence TODAY's witchhunts are, to a large degree, inspired by a particular form of Christianity.

    • Robin Artisson

      Their "particular form" of Christianity cannot be meaningfully separated from Christianity as a whole, nor the originating tradition of Christianity.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      Diane Vera: "TODAY's witchhunts are, to a large degree, inspired by a particular form of Christianity."

      Actually there happen to be precisely two "particular forms" of Christianity actively involved in the demonization of all African traditional religions as "witchcraft": Catholicism and Protestantism. And this is nothing new.

      Here are two quotes from the journals of early (late 1800's, I believe) missionaries:

      (1) "May many come willingly to labour in pulling down the strongholds of Satan's kingdom, for the whole of the Ibo district is his citadel."
      (2) "All those who go to Africa as missionaries must be thoroughly penetrated with the thought that the Dark Continent is a cursed land, almost entirely in the power of the devil."

      These are both taken from Elizabeth Isichei's A History of Christianity in Africa. They are found on page 82.

      The real issue is this demonization of traditional beliefs and practices. This is the ideological justification for Christian witch-hunting, just as anti-Semitism is the ideological justification for anti-Jewish violence.

      When Pope Ratzinger visited Angola in 2009, he warned against the continued prevalence of traditional beliefs and practices in Africa. The Pontiff himself used rather circumspect language, but when his speech was covered by the National Catholic Reporter, they were less diplomatic in their headline: Condemned by Pope, Witchcraft a Reality in Africa.

      But this wasn't just some overzealous editor at the NCR. Here are the headlines from the "mainstream" press, starting with the New York Times:
      "Pope Tells Clergy in Angola to Work Against Belief in Witchcraft" (NYT)
      "Pope Warns Clergy Against Witchcraft" (BBC)
      "Shun witchcraft, pope tells Angolan Catholics" (Reuters)
      "Pope tells Angolan Catholics to shun witchcraft" (Die Welt)

      All the above, and more, can be found simply by doing a google search on "pope angola witchcraft".

      Catholic clergy also organized an academic symposium on combatting witchcraft in Africa in 2007. This was held at the Catholic University of East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. The headline for the article reporting on this symposium at the Catholic Online website was: "Witchcraft destroying the Catholic Church in Africa, experts say".

      • Robin Artisson

        "Actually there happen to be precisely two "particular forms" of Christianity actively involved in the demonization of all African traditional religions as "witchcraft": Catholicism and Protestantism. "

        Ahhahahahah! Superb!

  • LordFanny

    You know who gets labelled as a Witch most often in that country, aside from orphans?

    Preachers. Dead serious – rival preachers call each other witches to get each other run out of town at the first sign of weakness. Read a book, or do some actually digging into conditions in Africa.

    While it's nice to take notice, a lot of those who you're clamoring to "protect" via the internet are the same sort of preachers you want to stop.

    QUIT MAKING EVERYTHING BLACK AND WHITE, HONKY.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      When these preachers accuse each other of practicing malefic magic, it is one of the few times that they are telling the truth. Also, this is nothing new. Pentecostalists in the United States have been accusing each other of this since the early days of the 20th century, when Pentecostalism first started in the US.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    It's exciting news that indigenous Pagans have gotten organized on the front line of the actual clash of civilizations in our world, the Abrahamic war on native religions.