When misfortune hits a village

It’s all the fault of that mouthy woman.

When misfortune hits a village, there is a tendency in some countries to suspect a “witch” of casting a spell. In Ghana, outspoken or eccentric women may also be accused of witchcraft – and forced to live out their days together in witch camps.

The witch camps appear to be unique to northern Ghana. But Ghana shares with other African countries an endemic belief in witchcraft with illness, drought, fires and other natural disasters blamed on black magic. The alleged witches are nearly always elderly.

An ActionAid report on witch camps, published this week, says that more than 70% of residents in Kukuo camp were accused and banished after their husbands died – suggesting that witchcraft allegations are a way of enabling the family to take control of the widow’s property.

“The camps are a dramatic manifestation of the status of women in Ghana,” says Professor Dzodzi Tsikata of the University of Ghana. “Older women become a target because they are no longer useful to society.”

And because they’re ugly and everybody hates them.

Women who do not conform to society’s expectations also fall victim to the accusations of witchcraft, according to Lamnatu Adam of the women’s rights group Songtaba.

“Women are expected to be submissive so once you start to be outspoken in your views or even successful in your trade, people assume you must be possessed.”

And then they want to kill you, so you have to go to a camp for safety.


  1. says

    I’m especially interested in the sociological ideas. Could this focus on elderly women be seen as a direct consequence of society’s lack of economic role for old women?

  2. Fin says

    Perhaps my persistent good luck stems from my tendency to listen to outspoken women and converse with them like they were, you know, human beings or something weird like that.

  3. navigator says

    Isn’t this similar to the christian witch trials? Anyone who was non-conformist, and had propery, was likely to be accused so their posessions could be acquired by “right-thinking” members of the community. Whose hands remainded conviently free of blood?

  4. says

    In societies at the hunter-gatherer stage, old women and men were commonly treated with great respect, at least partly because of their store of experience, and the conclusions they had drawn from it. They knew better than anyone which way the wind would blow on the morrow.

    At the agricultural stage, when such people had reached the age at which they could not produce as much as they consumed, they were more likely to be deemed redundant. This was particularly so in the case of women, if they no longer had a husband to speak for them, and no other men wishing to marry them.

    Hence the quaint old Hindu custom of the wife throwing herself (no doubt often with the willing help of relatives) onto the husband’s funeral pyre.

    But there is the extra factor that a woman relieved of her husband’s continual supervision and dominance is likely to be free in mind and spirit as never before, and hence more likely to be deemed a poor example to younger women, and a menace to existing power relationships and social stability.

    “Honour thy father and thy mother” is an injunction for people in this phase of social and technical evolution, and is not just casual enlightenment.

  5. Bob Jase says

    Witch camps?

    Makes me wonder if they really believe these women are witches – if they did then gathering them together to join magical forces would be the last thing they’d want to do.

    Still it may indicate what the GOP is planning to do in the US after they’ve destroyed social security.

  6. says

    Droughts, fires and natural disasters are caused by witches? That’s so primitive and superstitious. Every good American knows they’re caused by gays.


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