We have written about Helen Ukpabio before. For those who are unaware of this issue?
Culture and Religion sometimes intermingle in unexpected ways. We often don’t realise how the adoption of a new idea will work. Sometimes you get curry, the combination of new world ingredients and asian spices.
Sometimes you get Witchhunters.
[warning]Contains descriptions of witchcraft related torture in Africa and the UK. Contains a Christian Horror Movie Video.[/warning]
And Nigeria has a plague of them. None more infamous than Helen Ukpabio, part of the Liberty Gospel Church.
To us Witches are a joke. The Witchhunter sketch from Monty Python takes a more sinister meaning in Nigeria where accusations of witchcraft can lead to a modern day recreation of the Salem Witch Trials.
But there are some key differences, witch-craft accusations traditionally are not specifically aimed at women but our idea of witches as women directs our minds to this sort of violence.
We can joke about this. Witches? Ancestral Spirits? Mermaids?
Do we fear the Rusalka? The scorned mermaid of Russian lore, drowning men in revenge for a broken heart? Or in some tales doomed to drown men because she falls in love with them and they with her and they follow her to a watery death?
These jokes are necessary, but in reality? Ukpabio has exploited superstition around daemons, witches and the supernatural. By fanning the fear she drums up support for her Ministry and gets more seats on bums for the collection plate.
And the price? It is paid by those who are different. The disabled both physically and mentally have long been targets for the accusation of witch-craft. By claiming to be an ex-witch, Helen sets herself up as an insider. An expert in the detection of witches. And she flogs dangerous advice.
“If a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health he or she is a servant of Satan.”
Nice right? But what sort of parent would leave their child? One who believes in witches of course. Many children are abandoned for fears of possession.
Ukpabio has fancier production values too. This tactic was seen in the laughable but influential Chick Tracts. Strawman Witches are created to drum up fear on her movies using child actors to scare people. This is a clip from one such movie. Don’t worry, this is from a group that tries to combat this sort of thing.
Children accused of witch-craft are often beaten, tortured, neglected and abandoned. Many such children are chronically sick. Many have neurological issues. Many are mentally ill. Fear of the unknown, superstition and the unscrupulous usage of Christianity along with an ethos that encourages belief in witches has lead to their persecution.
Many children die. I have reported before about an eight year old child who was murdered for being witch. There is a case of a young girl left brain damaged by an exorcism where a nail was driven into her head. And this scourge has even reached the UK.
This is Kristian Bamu, a 15 year old boy from Paris. He was looking forward to spending Christmas with his sister and her boyfriend (Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi) along with his brothers and sisters. What occurred between the 16th of December and Christmas in 2010 can only be described as madness because it is so unfathomable to us as an event.
Kristian Bamu was discovered by paramedics in a bathtub and was declared dead. He was missing teeth, his body was covered in a variety of injuries ranging from bruises to deep cuts and stab wounds. His two sisters aged 11 and 20 were also subjected to some of these. His brothers aged 13 and 22 joined him in being tortured. Tortured by Eric and Magalie for the crime of being witches.
Kristin Bamu’s cause of death was drowning as he was either held under water or slipped under the water of a bath he was placed in. Over the four day ordeal he was attacked by a variety of implements ranging from a knife, pliers, a wooden beam, a weight lifting bar and a hammer. His teeth were knocked out. His ears were torn with pliers. He was struck repeatedly by different objects and was cut. He was not allowed to eat or use the bathroom. His other brothers and sisters were forced to torture him or face the same punishment. Kristin Bamu’s older sister was forced to tear his ears with pliers while the youngest aged just 11 was forced to watch.
Why? Erik and Magalie claimed that they were witches and were bringing witchcraft into their house. For an understanding of that we need to go deeper.
Erik and Magalie and indeed Kristian and his siblings were from the Democratic Republic of Congo and were firm believers in one of the many sects of baptist and charismatic Christianity that settled there as part of the mission movement. This kind of Christianity believes in witchcraft as a real and tangible force and that this witchcraft or Kindoki is a genuine threat. Kindoki is said to manifest itself in children hence a series of these brutal assaults. Erik in particular was subject to the same type of treatment as a child. He too was one of the children who was “corrected” by such methods. Erik showed a history of abuse, with Magalie having to seek intervention with a women’s shelter at least once with a black eye after she was beaten after she refused to eat food off the floor. Whether Magalie was a willing participant or a further victim is not for us to decide, the evidence from her sister is certainly damning. Erik’s mother’s death was blamed on him and he showed the signs of mental disease and brain damage from a childhood fall. He is an epileptic.
As his condition manifest in the UK, rather than seek medical help he sought Nigerian pastors and researched Kindoki online resulting in a paranoid delusion about the existence of witches.
Kindoke is the Lingala word for witchcraft and is one of the hundreds of words denoting a spiritual evil in various African languages and dialects. It’s western equivalent would be witchcraft or demonic possession. These beliefs have made their way across Europe with immigration as a method of explaining good and bad fortune.
To many Africans particularly those of the protestant faiths, this evil power is seen as witchcraft. In areas where society has broken down such as the Congo and southern Nigeria these accusations are epidemic. Many are taken seriously with some children taken to pastors for exorcism and others subject to home made remedies such as the ones attempted by Erik.
These are not traditional beliefs, these changes are obvious in the history of these peoples. Witchcraft was part of the traditional faith of Africa. Modern Christian belief sees the power of witchcraft as something evil and belief of possession by demons and witches is a common theme in all Christian faith in particular the fundamentalist Baptist and Pentecostal faiths. Thus many Africans maintain their former belief in witches with the approval and support of their new faith. Many newer churches spring up with the self proclaimed divine mission to hunt and destroy witches and profit from these services actively. Many pastors offer detection and exorcism services. Most of these are violent with beatings, cold baths and starvation used to purify the child.
The most recent trend is the accusation of children by parents and guardians. These are children who may have bad dreams, bed wetting, children who are stupider or cleverer, who have different likes and dislikes… the list practically covers every type of child out there. The accused are often outsiders, step-children, refugees, orphans, trafficked children and witches. Many are those who are mentally ill or are survivors of debilitating diseases.
A suspected child MUST confess. To this child the only choice is to say that there are five lights. Denials are not acceptable but ensures further exorcism attempts are made. After all? Denial is just what Satan wants you to think. Much of the violence is believed to be due to pastors trying to force confessions. Obviously children under such a horrific ordeal would admit to anything under torture. Children agreeing to being witches may face further violence after their admission. These children are not treated like children but an empty shell. It is believed that if the shell is made uncomfortable, the evil spirit will be made to leave.
Many people believe in this and it’s hard to find a politician who thinks this is a major problem. Any attempts to legislate this have been met with little to no success. Many politicians actively utilise this issue to paint a fear of a scourge of witchcraft with which to further their campaigns. Even in places like the UK it is believed that an unknown number of children are treated like this in impromptu and makeshift churches. And if anything the numbers of these type of churches is growing and being treated as an underground movement where we persecute them for their beliefs.
The official guidelines maintained note around eight cases a year of witchcraft related abuse a year and this is what we find. The numbers are probably much higher as families involved don’t see this as torture but as saving the child’s life. The blame lays almost entirely with the beliefs of the various pentecostal and evangelical baptist churches. The various African pentecostal churches in Africa have a well witnessed history of witch hunts. In the Democratic Republic of Congo alone it is estimated that nearly 50,000 children have been forced out of their homes because of fears of Kindoki in just Kinshasa.
It’s a faith that isn’t unique to Africa and Africans, as many people in the west are educated and still consider witchcraft as a threat. How is this different from the exorcism of the Catholic Church? How is this different from the exorcisms that take place in the USA whose literal interpretation has turned into a genuine witch hunt on a scale unheard of in human history. How many of us thought the fears over music and the fears over D&D were stupid? How many atheists have watched Jesus Camp and snickered over their denouncement of Harry Potter as an agent of Satan? How many of us laughed when we hear that people genuinely believe in the Chick Tracts? I certainly laughed.
I don’t feel like laughing any more.
Say no to Helen Ukpabio
[important]I seldom ask for people to pass things on but this is important. We cannot condone this sort of violence, not in Nigeria and definitely not in the UK. We cannot ban her from the UK but we can protest and we can make sure our eyes are on the people who do this terrible thing. If you wish to help out then please donate to Stepping Stones, a Nigerian Charity that protects at risk children and this includes children accused of being witches. If you are Christian and wish to help? Then start looking into what missionary work your Church supports and convince them to stop supporting Missions that push this sort of thing. Encourage secular charity that comes without religious overtones. If you feel your Bible is that strong then they will come to it of their own accord rather than through the ulterior motives of charity. This is genuine harm created by such beliefs and it must be stopped..[/important]