Do You Believe in Witchcraft?

If you do and you live in Ghana, you are not alone.

According to a recent survey carried out by Gallup, three out of four (or 77%) of Ghanaians believe in Witchcraft.

Only Ivory Coast (with a staggering 95% ) and Senegal (with four out of five) have larger shares of the population suggested to be witchcraft believers. Mali, Cameroon and the DR Congo has around the same levels as Ghana. The average for Sub-Saharan Africa is around 55%. Surprisingly, to me at least, Nigeria came out under average with less than half a population believing in witches. Rwanda and Uganda being the only countries in the sample in which less than 20% answered yes to the question: Do you personally believe in witchcraft?

I just threw myself over this survey. The aspect of witchcraft is a very intriguing one for a westerner moving to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Intrestingly, the Ghanaian witch does not have a pointed black hat and a cat that talks, nor does she need a broom to fly and need not wait until Halloween before she comes out. No, the Ghanaian witch lives close to you and me and can cause harm to anyone she – or he – wants to hurt. Diseases, deaths and ill fates are often blamed on a malicious witch.

In Ghana, the absolutely worst thing you can call anyone is “a witch” (well, apart from stupid, but that is a different blog post). Read this post by Nana Kofi Acquah on a street quarrel. I have also heard people talk about meeting witches, witches casting curses and occasionally lifting them, see for instance this recent account by fellow blogger AntiRhythm on a curse over a lost mobile phone.

Also, the newspapers report regularly about witches flying here and there. Last time I remember reading about witches in the news it was a witch from the Volta region who had mysteriously found himself landing on a house roof in Ashaiman, close to Tema where I live. A few years ago, reports on a witch conference taking place in Kumasi, Ghana spurred on newspaper Daily Guide to suggest the following:

The numerous road accidents, boat disasters, floods in the north, gas explosions in Kumasi and collapse of buildings that the country has witnessed in recent months may not be for nothing.

A global meeting of witches, currently underway in Ghana, is targeting thousands of lives through fatal road and other accidents.

So the accidents on our roads and floods in the north are due do a 2007 conference of witches? Let me tell you that these have not really subsided after the conference was over and done with…

On a more serious note, in Ghana there are sadly a need (?) for enclosed areas for witches or “witch camps”, predominately for women who have been named witches by their community. For more info on this, read this account about life in Gambaga Witch Camp or this insightful and frightening article about What Makes a Woman a Witch? by writer Yaba Badoe.Β  Recently the plight of those women have been recognized, for instance by SOSYWEN and Stop Witch Trials.

The GALLUP survey also suggest that witchcraft believers live worse lives than those who do not believe. Of course, that seems plausible but possibly with a spurious or false relationship, with education for instance being the real explanatory factor. But when I look at the presented numbers, I wouldn’t say that there is really much of a difference in percieved living standards between witchcraft believers and non-believers.

Those who believe in witchcraft rate their lives at a 4.3 on average, while those who do not believe or don’t have an opinion rate their lives higher on the scale, at 4.8 on average.

Is it very marginal, or am I not getting it right?

Anyway, this survey gives me scientific proof of something I already knew: thatΒ  most people in Ghana do believe in witches.

So, do you? And why?

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  1. Growing up, you learned dwarfs existed with feet turned backwards, and one should be fearful of encountering them in the woods. You learned owls were witches flying around, ducks could turn to snakes if sprinkled with and covered with a basket, etc. I could go on and on… none of these really made sense, but we often need something to explain what we can’t comprehend, and sadly, I grew to be fearful of all these. Although, I’ve long discarded those “facts,” I do allow the idea that there could be forces in the universe greater or unique to my experience as a human being. After all, we’re only a small planet, circling one star, in a galaxy of billions, of which there are maybe 100 billion? Do I believe these forces come in the form of witches? No, neither do I believe any organized religion explains what we don’t understand. But, I understand where those least informed would cling to those beliefs about witches (and others) to explain everything that happens in the world they know. That said, I don’t mind pointing out the fallacy in their lunacy when those beliefs threaten to prey on the innocent.

  2. I think education might not be a factor for belief in witchcraft–or it could play only a role. One needs to understand that it has been with the world for long periods (not only with those pictured with broomsticks etc coming out at halloween–I want to think there’s sorcery still in Europe and elsewhere, in practice. Old English for witch is ‘wicci’). So not education. My example is my Nigerian friend (I didn’t ask her permission to write this) who’s dad is an ambassador and well-educated believes in witchcraft. I think Christianity and its demonisation of anything traditional (even those hated by local communities) led many in Ghana and Africa to have such attitudes towards witchcraft leading to the condemnation of persons perceived to be in the practice, especially women. Sad.
    The thing is, Christianity and education has yet to eradicate the belief completely and that makes me laugh and ponder on what i’m reading and the survey.
    On the survey, I think people would respond yes or no may be because they would want to distance themselves from it. WHen time tests them (FOR INSTANCE IF SOMETHING INVALUABLE OF THEIRS IS STOLEN and things like that), that is when we will really see.

    P.S. Kajsa I don’t know what the question means really. But I think it exists in many forms and has worked for people I know (like they’ve gotten back their stolen mobile phones from those who stole them). So what will you call that?

  3. I’m yet to hear of an affluent person being labeled a witch. It is usually the poor & handicapped that catch this label a lot.

    I believe in karma and I also believe our wishes can come true.
    Wishes whilst blowing a candle on a birthday cake or wishes yelled out in anger or out of frustration.
    You don’t have to be known as a witch for your wishes (good or evil) to come true.
    I think all it takes is to really believe what you wish for with zero doubt and it will come true.
    Don’t know about humans transforming into cats or bright shining UFO’s …… yet

  4. @ Nana Yaw: actually, truth be told, Christianity is not friendly to anything/reigion that doesn’t follow its path – not Islam, not african traditional beliefs. Besides, I don’t think we began to believe in demons and witches only after Christianity came to Ghana. I think when the Christians came, they capitalised on what we already believed – in witches and dwarves and stuff to demonize african traditional religion.

    That being said, I am educated and I truly believe in witches. (I am just not so sure about mmotia (dwarves, hehe)).

    I just don’t believe that they go about in black hats or that they are feeble,helpless old women or that they are responsible for every bad thing that happens in the world. Maybe it’s upbringing, mebbe it’s not. I stopped trying to analyze it a long time ago. What the hell, I trly believe in witches. Sue me πŸ˜€

  5. I’m surprised the figures are that low for Ghana.

    I have not met any believer in witchcraft that has actually seen anything. Belief appears to be the result of cultural transmission and the testimony of others who claim to have either seen something or confessed to being a witch. In the USA many people have confessed to crimes that they could not have committed but the knowledge of this phenomenon does not seem to be widely known in Ghana.

    My theory…..I think that Ghanaians (and perhaps Africans generally) have not been exposed to magic as entertainment and programs such as the Masked Magician which expose the secrets. They are, therefore, not accustomed to the possibilities in which trickery can take place.

    I watched some demonstrations of ‘powers’ in Ghana and they were clearly just tricks yet everyone was convinced it was real. Showing friends my own magic or films of magicians, they immediately believe they are witnessing ‘powers’ and it is difficult to convince them otherwise.

    There are Africans, like Leo Igwe, who run anti-witchcraft campaigns and challenge us to think more critically about this issue.

    However, as the post on AntiRhythm shows, witchcraft is ‘real’ in that belief in makes it work, regardless of whether ‘powers’ exist.

  6. Wow, while I was aslep a nice discussion has sprung up here…showing first of all that witchcraft is a very interesting topic to more people than myself. So lets see what we have here:

    I LOVED Mike#1s list of things he believed as a kid. I hope you have a blog so you can expand on that!
    Nana Yaw that I know as Obed, you have some interesting points on why education and Christianity has not had bigger negative impacts on these beliefs – maybe it is pragmatism, as you write – it works!
    Mike#2 has a belief that is more like my own, the power of thoughts etc. Interesting to to bring out the class perspective, I think you’d like Badoe’s paper that I liked to in the post.
    Lady Jaye, how did you know I collect new Twi words, mmotia. I will impress someone with this one soon! If you believe in witchcraftm well then you are just so mainstream πŸ˜‰
    Graham raises the issue of that believers rely on hearsay and are not accustomed to magic. Hm, does that mean that a regular western magician would be considered a witch if he (almost always a man) came to perform in Sub-Saharan Africa?

  7. @Kajsa: some friends have refused to believe that David Copperfield is only performing an illusion when he ‘flies’. They think he has real powers. I ask them if they think powers can work at the same time every evening for a 4 week run in a theatre? Or would it be safer to rely on trickery!
    @Lady Jaye: I’m interested to know why you believe in witchcraft. What leads you to that belief and sustains you in it?

  8. Hi there Kajsa, great to meet up with you again on line. What a shame you won’t be in Gotenburg for the book festival! I love Dobet Gnahore too. She’s incredible. A very talented, generous artist. I’ll let you know what happens. BTW, I’ve just finished a documentary film – ‘The Witches of Gambaga’ – about a community of women condemned to live as witches in the Northern Region of Ghana. The film has taken 5 years to make and has been completed with the help of Netright- Ghana, the African Women’s Development Fund, the Commonwealth Broadcasting Trust, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and Dobet Gnahore – who gave us permission to use her music. I shall soon be creating a website for the film where testimonies of alleged ‘witches’ can be viewed. I shall keep you posted. Yaba Badoe

  9. Hi Yaba!

    Thanks for reading my blog and being my eyes and ears in Gothenburg. Maybe your interesting film could be shown at Ashesi UNiversity where I work? I think this is a very important topic in Ghana right now! Lets talk after Afrika2010. Enjoy!

  10. Hi Graham,
    Let me add this question to your friends: why do Copperfield take commercial flights in between cities – wouldnt it be cheaper to fly himself? πŸ™‚
    I am also interested in your q to Lady Jaye, lets hope she checks back in!

  11. Hi Yaba!

    Thanks for reading my blog and being my eyes and ears in Gothenburg.
    Ayekoo on your film! Maybe we could arrange for it to be shown at Ashesi University where I work? I think this is a very important topic in Ghana right now and would love fore my students to be exposed to your work. Lets talk after Afrika2010. Enjoy!

  12. You see! I am not the only one to believe in witchcraft! Its me and 77% of people in Ghana! Maybe its in the definitions/ understanding of witches that fear comes in. For example, Ghanaian dwarves absolutely scare me, as opposed to Finnish dwarves. Someone should research this topic and write about it. I would definitely buy the book.

  13. Hey Kajsa, I hope we will all be invited to the film showing. I would love to see it. I’ll remember the flying question for next time!