We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Gory and Gruesome: Reality not Make-Believe

With black capes and pointed hats in fun displays next to sweeties and fancy dress costumes, it is easy to think of witches and witchcraft as some harmless make-believe. But it is not so easy in Tanzania. Far from harmless, it has led to the murders of hundreds of people, and many even just this month.

For Josephat John, on Monday, October 6th in Murufiti, Kigoma Region, witchcraft was far from harmless make-believe. "When I returned home in the evening, I found the body of my mother lying 10 meters away from our house, while the body of my father was burnt inside the house,"  (Mwananchi newspaper, October 13th). Seven people accused of being "witches" were brutally murdered that day; bodies hacked with machetes and people burned to death. Men, women and children of the village fled. Later, 23 people were arrested for the rampage attack, including local leaders and witchdoctors.
In Shinyanga on the following Tuesday, two more women were brutally murdered. Three men slit their throats and chopped their bodies into pieces with machetes. They accused the women of casting spells that made them sexually impotent. While children in other countries this week play at gory and gruesome, this is tragically real.
For the three men in Shinyanga, their belief in witchcraft explained their impotence. For many in Tanzania, witchcraft is used to explain why bad things happen, why someone dies, gets sick, has a bad crop or loses livestock.  People believe that magic users (witches) have the power to cause disease, death, crop failure, impotence or bad luck of any kind. Diviners (or witch doctors) are consulted to determine what and more importantly, who is to blame. Those blamed tend to be those least defensible, often elderly women. These women are blamed because of their red eyes which are quite simply a result from cooking over a very smoky three-stone fire (often burning dung) in unventilated huts.
According to a Religion and Public Life study, Tanzania has the highest population of people who believe that sacrifices to ancestors or spirits can protect them from harm or bring them good luck. Over 60% of Tanzanians (which includes Christians and Muslims) practice or incorporate elements of witchcraft into their daily lives. Fishermen on Lake Victoria believe that a successful catch depends on a sacrifice from human organs (particularly from people with albinism). Gold miners in Geita believe their good luck will come from human body parts. African dance groups, political leaders, football players … so many people believe that a visit to the witchdoctor and magical potion will bring them success. Even at the extreme cost of another’s life.
The Legal and Human Rights Center recently reported that in Tanzania, in the first six months of this year, there have been 320 reported killings (actual numbers are assumed higher as many cases are unreported) related to witchcraft . These figures have gone up significantly since last year. In 2013, the total deaths reported were 303; in 2012 there were a total of 336. And the region with the highest percentages of witchcraft practices (and killings) is the Mwanza and Shinyanga regions of Sukumaland. The Sukuma people are widely known for their strong magic powers and ancestral "living dead" beliefs.
We are becoming increasingly aware of the evils of witchcraft here. We have already shared much on this blog about the plight of people with albinism due to witchcraft. In addition to this, recently a secondary school on one of the islands on Lake Victoria completely closed down due to witchcraft. Socerers are known to go around from school to school with a drum, literally "drumming" demons into students. This is particularly prevalent amongst teenage girls (for sexual reasons and due to their vulnerability). The consequences are many. This is no light-hearted trick-or-treat round.

This is a sombre post and with witchcraft a bit of a "taboo" topic (even here), I hesitated to share it. I know many of you may have the funky witch costumes ready. But whatever you are doing this Halloween, do remember that witchcraft is not make-believe and it can have tragically real gory and gruesome consequences. Tomorrow many children will be actually trying to look like murderers or butchered, scarred victims. Why do we make-believe gory and gruesome, pretending that killings, blood and scars are funny and witches are imaginary?

But although witchcraft is a powerful force of evil, it is not something we need to fear. Jesus did not hide from it. It was at Golgotha, the gruesome Place of the Skull, that Jesus defeated the powers of evil. Jesus did real gory with real blood that dripped out of real love. But although stripped of ultimate power, the power of evil is still roaming everywhere, (maybe just a little more vividly and tragically here right now in Tanzania), so don't turn out the lights; shine the light into the darkness. Our Father in Heaven, HALLOWED be Your Name ... 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net


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