TWH – Last year the gruesome and brutal murder of 90-year-old, Akua Denteh drew international attention and outrage and brought a new focus to the unjust persecution and murder of many women, mostly elderly and poor, in the country of Ghana.
For a number of years, Human Rights advocates, and a host of organizations including the United Nations, have been calling for action to better protect older citizens and those with disabilities from “witch-hunts” which have continued to escalate in a number of countries.
Since Denteh’s murder last July, there has been a renewed demand globally for action to end the injustices of witch-hunts and to abolish the “witch” camps where women accused of being “witches” take refuge since they can no longer safely live in their own villages.
August 10 was declared “World Day against Witch Hunts” by the Pontifical Mission Societies which is under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Pope. In September, the Akua Denteh Foundation was formed with the mission of educating residents in the Savannah region of Ghana and preventing the attacks and abuses targeting women who are alleged as being “witches.”
The Ghana Sociological and Anthropological Association issued a report in November with their recommendations to mitigate the violence directed at those accused of practicing “witchcraft.” And in December, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW) founded by Leo Igwe announced its campaign, “Decade of Activism 2020-2030” focused on ending abuses linked to “witchcraft” allegations by 2030.
While the number of “witch” murders reported in Ghana appears to be declining, there are still dozens of reported cases each month in other countries.
Two recent projects in the news maybe help to garner more support for ending the injustices of witch-hunts and continue to bring greater awareness globally.
The documentary did not receive a nomination from the Academy, but its submission for consideration has continued to call attention to the underlying causes of “witchcraft” accusations and murders in Kenya. The Letter was reviewed by Variety last November and has continued to receive attention.
The Letter follows the Kamango family’s journey through an accusation of “witchcraft” leveled against the family matriarch, Margaret Kamango. While the movie does not address the broader impact of “witch” accusations and limits its focus to one family, it does shine a light on how evangelical beliefs inspire witchcraft accusations; and how those accusations are used for profit, in this case taking possession of Margaret Kamango valuable ancestral homestead.
The film also delves into how patriarchal and colonial damage continues to impact Kenya. A recent article published by News 24 examined some of the current oppressive laws trace their origins back to colonial laws and ordinances, like the 1925 Vagrancy Act (repealed in 1997), and the Witchcraft Act. While the majority of the original colonial ordinances and the laws that replaced them were either repealed or amended, many still exist in a slightly diluted form and continue to be seen as oppressive and having a negative impact by Human Rights advocates.
The second project is the release of the album, “I’ve Forgotten Now Who I Used to Be” which is a collection of field recordings from the “witch” camps in Ghana. The album was produced by Ian Brennan and his wife Marilena Umuhoza Delli and is scheduled to be released on March 12 by Six Degrees Records.
The recordings feature untranslated lyrics in regional dialects and the minority languages of Mampruli and Dagbani. Some words may be indecipherable with little connection to dominant languages of the area like English or Akan. Umuhoza Delli and Brennan made the recordings at three different villages and they feature compositions that incorporate a variety of common objects, like branches, teapots, corn husks as accompaniments to the songs.
In an interview with Broadway World, Umuhoza Delli recalled her own experiences growing up in poverty as being part of the inspiration for the project, “My own mother is a disabled widow from Rwanda and is the same age as most of these women we met at the Witch Camps. We grew up poor, living in a factory. It is impossible for me to look at these women’s circumstance and not see my own mother and an inhumane fate that but for a matter of geography could as well have been hers. It is impossible to think that this practice continues in the 21st century.”
She went on to say, “Belief in witchcraft is sometimes used as simple scapegoating for the arrival of bad luck such as foul weather or illness. More commonly, it is a justification for pre-existing hate and prejudice. A member of my own family was driven out of her village in Malawi as a child after she was accused of being a witch due to having a white father–a fate that could have been my own if our places of birth were simply swapped.”
Brennan is an author and Grammy award-winning producer, and Umuhoza Delli is an author, filmmaker, and photographer and both have focused their careers on shining a light on those whose voices might otherwise be silenced or remain unheard. Some of their past projects have included the abuse and exploitation of those with albinism on Tanzania’s Ukerewe Island, genocide survivors in Rwanda and Cambodia, the homeless community in Oakland, California, and the prisoners at Zomba Prison in Malawi.
Editorial Note: TWH uses quotations on “witches,” “witchcraft” to delineate that there appears no association between the use of these terms in the article and modern Pagan or Witchcraft practices. The victims of these witch-hunts are typically not Pagans, Witches, or participating in any spiritual practice typically considered Pagan.