We have reported on these types of attacks before as the obvious violence against women they represent. The final document – Report of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism on the expert workshop on witchcraft and human rights – from the United Nations conference a few months prior, was released last year January. TWH decided to have a look at international news events over the past few weeks and round up Witchcraft–related assaults to see if we could report any improvements. The short answer is no.
Starting in south Asia, the Tribune reported that in the Indian State of Tripura just on the border with Bangladesh, four individuals allegedly banded together on December 31, 2018 then tortured and hacked to death an elderly man suspected of practicing witchcraft and black magic. Eighty-year old, Mr. Nakuljoy Reang survived the immediate attack but subsequently succumbed to the injuries at a local hospital. Various sources reported that the tribal and indigenous practices rely on rituals to treat illnesses in their community. It is unclear whether the victim actually practiced an indigenous faith. Sources did not identify the tribal origin of Mr. Reang; however the Assam-region of Tripura State where the attack took place is tribal-dominated and diverse in religious practice with a dominant Hindu population followed by a significant Muslim presence. Two men have been arrested.
The current attack is one in a long series of Witchcraft-based assaults in India on victims who are predominantly women as noted by a research exposé by Scientific American. A few years ago, three women were accused of devouring the souls of two men who had died in Gujarat State. The women were attacked by a mob of men holding wooden sticks and iron pipes while yelling the word for witch. That attack made international news by exposing the deeply-rooted tribal misogyny and superstition that permit men of that region to assault women to take possession of valuables such as land. The women reportedly survived but they are added to a list of over 2,500 Indians who have been harassed, evicted or killed in witch hunts since 2000 CE, the year since records have been kept.
Elsewhere, near the town of EmaXesibeni (formerly called Mount Ayliff) in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Eyewitness News of Johannesburg reported a similar attack provoked by accusations of Witchcraft. Community members reportedly attacked Ms. Noxhamla Landa and burned her home to ground. The attack reportedly took place on December 24 at 4:10AM and follows similar attacks in the vicinity on two sisters, Ms. Nothethisa Ntshamba and Ms. Ntombi Ndlanya, who were each burned to death. The Daily Dispatch reported that two teen-aged boys, three adult females and two adult males had been arrested in connection with the arson attack. The district mayor commented that the district would assure that Landa would be given a “dignified funeral”.
The South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) added Ms. Landa, and sisters Ntshamba and Ndlanya to their Remember the Names Project. The web site lists the victims of Witch hunts that have taken place in South Africa. As SAPRA notes, “Many more witchcraft accusations and witch-hunts remain unreported. Refugees of witchcraft accusation receive little or no media coverage in South Africa.”Earlier last month, a man surrendered to local authorities in Baringo County, Kenya near the town of Sibilio. The Star reports that allegedly killed his 82 year-old neighbor, Mr. Kaino Cheptim, on suspicion of Witchcraft. According to the reports, “members of the suspect’s family have struggled with health complications believed to have been as a result of a spell cast on the family”. They were told to visit Cheptim for relief from “ancestral curses”. When Chelimo encountered Cheptim while carrying water from a river, an altercation ensued and the accused allegedly struck the victim in the chest with a stone killing him instantly.
Nearby, in Migori County, Kenya by Lake Victoria and bordering Tanzania, SDE reported that a manhunt was underway for a local pastor, referred to as the “Prophet Ogwang”. The pastor is known for being an exorcist who receives messages from “God” identifying Witches in the local community. He then orders locals to immolate the houses of the declared witches. The Prophet apparently burgles houses in search of magical paraphernalia. On reported incident involved retrieving an embalms hand from the home of an 87-year-old woman. The local police commander is quoted as saying, “[they] are in pursuit of this man who has been inciting members of the public to punish innocent Kenyans on unfounded claims of fatally bewitching their relatives.”
The news continues to speak to the dangers of even being perceived a Witch, and the privileges, those of us living in places with systems protecting freedoms around religious practice experience. We remember these victims of Witchcraft accusations and assaults: What is remembered, Lives!
TWH will continue to follow the impact of the United Nations report.
[Editorial Note: Our friend, blogger and film critic, Peg Aloi, commented a few days ago on our editorial, The Year of the Hex, that she recommended the excellent film I am not a Witch (2017) dealing with this very subject in sub-Saharan Africa. We could not agree more with Peg.]