Outrageous: The lynching of “witches” in Kisii
April 17, 2009
Warning: The link below contains extremely graphic content. It is not for the squeamish!
To say that I am totally disgusted with the “witch” lynchings that routinely take place in the wider Kisii region of western Kenya would be an understatement. I am ashamed of my community. We’re in the 21st century for christsake! Civilization has no place for arbitrary condemnations such as those being meted out by mobs wielding machetes, clubs, rocks and other crude weapons—without first holding a fair trial. Witch-hunts are almost always based on accusations without hard proof; which is why the vigilante prefer to evade the legal way as they know it wouldn’t accommodate their accusations. But I’m not interested in arguing along legal lines here.
My major concern is the fearful fact that modern, educated, grown humans who should know better actually believe in witchcraft! Sorcery is a myth. Why can’t people understand that there isn’t any mysterious, supernatural power controlling their lives?
The failure to recognize this has led to a great many persecutions and a rise in vigilantism in Kisii against people perceived to be different. Poor, lonely, old and powerless people whose sole crime was oddity at a time when crops failed or milk spoilt have paid the ultimate price. People have been targeted for no reason other than a strange birthmark, living alone, mental illness, cultivation of medicinal herbs, or simply because they are falsely accused, sometimes out of jealousy.
What can be more atrocious than the condoning of murder under whatever guise? It is the height of primitivity to believe that misfortune is directly caused by witchcraft. If the crops failed, someone loses their job or a you or a loved one falls ill, blaming a witch is the “convenient” thing to do. Sadly, this is not a fallacy held only by ignorant peasants but also by the educated (including Christian preachers who actively perpetuate the myth!) amongst the Gusii who often juice up their fantasies with elaborate satanic theories. Indeed the community even has a saying that goes “tiyanya gokwa etaberegeti getondo” loosely translated, it means that nobody dies without a reason (we all fucking die, stupid! It is natural!). The Gusii have this outrageous idea that some people(witches) domesticate wild animals i.e. snakes and hyenas, which they then use as means of teleportation to remote and far off places for their evil work. (If there was any such science we’d be the most advanced society ever, don’t you think?)
Some five centuries ago Europe experienced a similar superstitious uprising. An instructive book was even crafted during that time purporting to prove that witchcraft existed. “Malleus Maleficarum” was meant to be the guide-book for magistrates on the procedures that should be used to find witches out and convict them. Consequently, the manuscript became the handbook for witch-hunters and inquisitors during that dark period. Among other crazy things, it described what were then known as “ordeals”. If you passed the ordeals then you were innocent and if you failed you were guilty. One such ordeal was the “ordeal by cold water”. The long and the short of it was that if a suspect was brought forth, they were tied up and immersed in cold water whereby if they sank, they were innocent and there was to be no punishment but if they floated, they were guilty! Talk of a“catch 22”situation! The Malleus Maleficarum should serve as a horrible warning about what happens when intolerance takes over the society. Sadly that has not been the case.
Like the then Europe, people who are being accused of witchcraft in Kisii now are mostly old women that often take care of children or are out begging for money. Sometimes if a child died in her care, there is always a chance that she would be accused of bewitching the child.
The enlightenment that occurred in Europe starting 400 years ago helped to end the witch-hunts there. It brought empirical reason, skepticism and humanitarianism which helped defeat the superstitions of the earlier age. It gradually occurred to people that there was no empirical evidence that alleged witches were responsible for any calamities and taught that the use of torture to force confessions was inhumane.
What shall it take for us to be enlightened?