Academics, NGOs and the struggle to explain why Ghana has had witch camps for over a century.
I don't know anything about Ghana, but it's also possible that to the extent it has a functioning democratic state, taking witchcraft seriously is in fact a response to the will of the people. Where I did my fieldwork in rural Bolivia, more than once people expressed frustration that the state didn't assume its obvious responsibilities in the matter of witchcraft: they saw this straightforwardly as a matter of good public order.
It is the case there as well that a central attraction of evangelical Christianity is direct access to the Bible in Guarani: many Bible passages straightforwardly assume witches exist and are evil. Catholic priests --- even very beloved ones -- were seen as pitifully naive when they discouraged witch talk and witch persecution. When I told people that back in my homeland no one really believed in witchcraft this was similarly treated as laughably unworldly, not as evidence of modern sophistication.
The whole story is quite confusing, but your writing helps to untangle it. This sort of highlights for me the uselessness of having foreign organizations come in and attempt to impose a solution to a problem that they don't understand.
One of the great problems with modern society is the large number of people who don't 'have a place'. We tend to have a few categories and anyone who doesn't fit neatly into one of these categories has no place and winds up 'homeless', on drugs, essentially a lost person. The camps, problematic as they may be, offer these people a better place in society than our lost or homeless people often find, although like anything I suspect that this is highly situation dependent.
Masterfully written, I learned a lot, thank you!
Great, illuminating piece. Sounds like the punishment of witchcraft is useful, and unless it stops being useful then it will continue. The public hanging of anyone making allegations of witchcraft might work, as might less draconian punishments combined with the creation of other social institutions that replicate at least some of the functions of the punishment of witches (state funded old age pensions? Nunneries?). Extensive NGO support targeted at those in witchcraft camps would be a plausible proposal if you were looking to increase the role of witchcraft in Ghanaian society.
Professor Sean Redding of Amherst College, writing in the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia seems to have little difficulty explaining the cause of modern witchcraft in Africa:
"Systems of global trade, including the trans-Atlantic slave trade and later colonial production of various commodities, both created wealth for a few and inflicted harm on many people. The perceived immorality of these economic and social networks was often captured in stories of witches ambushing people and selling them or consuming their life forces. The spiritual insecurity represented in these beliefs in witchcraft has continued into the postcolonial era."
I'm not sure which is more repugnant: the the persecution and murder of harmless old ladies or the crass cretinism of modern academia.
Reading this text about witchcraft and witch-burning in Europe changed my views on the topic significantly:
Is there anyone here knowledgeable about the subject who can comment on how reliable this account is?
I read years ago, somewhere, that people accused of witchcraft were generally old women who owned land. The suggestion was that the accusers wanted to inherit the land. I don't take that as a proven fact, but a suggestion that most witchcraft accusations are at root competition over resources. Outside of the most marketized societies, a lot of resources are controlled within families, so within families there are plenty of resource conflicts. If one takes these situations and "turns off the sound track", that is, strips off the reasons people give for their behavior, do their actions appear to be rational from a realpolitik viewpoint?
Do you have a specific citation for claims of penis-stealing mobile phones? I could only find claims of killer mobile phones with Google.
I think the formatting to this bit might need a quick edit:
> In another source from 1969 Cardinall writes: In Dagomba, Mamprussi and Nanumba and to some extent in Gonja, separate villages are set apart for the use of witches. In Gonja confessed or “convicted” witches become the slaves of the sub-divisional chief (Cardinall, cited in Parker 2006: 353).