Witch hunt
‘Warlocks’ cast out by black magic claims
Witch hunt
‘Warlocks’ cast out by black magic claims

Sorcery accusations are common in Kenya. Officials are turning to superstition to end a surge in ‘witch-lynchings’ terrorising the elderly. Adrian Blomfield reports. Pictures by Simon Townsley.

This article has an estimated read time of six minutes

Of all the medicine men along the Kenyan coast, none was said to have been a better witch catcher than Tsuma Washe Guro.

Kajiwe, to use his magical name, could sniff them out at a hundred yards, a skill honed during the three months he reputedly spent under the seabed, eating mud and learning from the spirits of the deep.

Yet it was the quality of his mercy as much as his wizardry that won Kajiwe fame. He cured rather than killed the witches he caught, drenching them in his spirit-exorcising urine.

三级成人视频A quarter of a century after his death, Kenyan officials are hoping to revive Kajiwe’s methods (minus the urine) to end a surge in witch-lynchings that has spread terror among elderly people in coastal regions.

A fear of sorcery is common in many African societies, particularly in rural areas where the deaths of children during unexplained disease epidemics are blamed on witchcraft.

三级成人视频It is not uncommon for people to accuse relatives of witchcraft as a ploy to seize their land

In extreme cases, this can manifest itself is mass killings. In 2001, following the deaths of a number of infants from an unknown ailment, the Lugbara people of northeastern Congo turned on each other, stoning and beating 900 people accused of witchcraft to death over the course of a month.

The killings on the Kenyan coast, however, have been both more insidious, taking place over months and years rather than days, and less visible.

三级成人视频Just how many have died remains undocumented. Only one of Kenya’s six coastal counties seems to have anything approaching official documentation, with police in Kilifi calculating that more than 500 lynchings of suspected witches have taken place over the past six years.

三级成人视频It is not just mere superstition that drives the killings, however. The motivation is often much more cynical, with local officials saying that younger people frequently accuse older family members of witchcraft in the hope of instigating their murder and then inheriting their land or wealth.

“The stumbling block standing between a kid and his dreams of wealth is often his dad,” says Teddy Mwambire, MP for the Ganze constituency in Kilifi.

三级成人视频“So to get Dad out of the picture they come up with accusations of witchcraft. If someone is accused of this they are seen as a threat to the community and the community takes action by lynching the suspects.”

三级成人视频Duni Nzahi Mseche fled his home amid witchcraft claims after his grandsons demanded he sell his 12-acre farm

In many rural areas, child deaths from unexplained disease epidemics are blamed on witchcraft

The phenomenon of land-related witch killings on the coast was first reported a decade ago and can partly be attributed to poverty, politics and over-population, community elders say. 

三级成人视频Kenya’s coast is one of the country’s poorest regions, the result, members of the local Mijikenda ethnic federation say, of decades of political neglect.

Education levels are lower than in many other parts of the country, while a lack of development means there are few jobs to go round the burgeoning number of youngsters in their 20s and 30s.

The Mijikenda say there is less land, too, because much of it has been acquired by members of the inland Kikuyu, the powerful ethnic group of Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta.

三级成人视频The competition for subsistence farmland, often the only prospect of acquiring an asset of value, is so intense that a growing number are willing to kill to get hold of it.

三级成人视频A man accused of being a warlock undergoes a ritual cleansing

三级成人视频The refuge, built on holy ground, provides sanctuary to those accused of witchcraft

三级成人视频It is hoped cleansing rituals help reintegrate those shunned by their community

三级成人视频Two years ago, Duni Nzahi Mseche, 89, was forced to flee his home after his three grandsons demanded that he sell his 12-acre farm, which they were in line to inherit after their father died.

When he refused — and then successfully went to court after they sold it behind his back — they stirred up fellow villagers by accusing him of being a warlock and blaming him for the recent death of a child.

三级成人视频Mr Mseche got wind of the plot and managed to flee to Kaya Godhoma, a refuge built on holy ground near the remote village of Mrima wa Ndege to provide sanctuary to those accused of witchcraft.

Mr Mseche is one of ten residents at the kaya, safe because no-one would dare carry out a murder on such a hallowed spot.

All have a similar story and while they regard themselves as little more than prisoners, they know they are the lucky ones.

Witch doctor Yembe (left), whose real name is Kazungu Karisa, conducts a ritual cleansing

“I know between 10 to 20 people who have been killed after being accused of witchcraft,” said Katana Charo, 62, who escaped after hearing his younger brothers were planning to denounce him for witchcraft in order to lay claim to his farm.

“I’ve seen four of their bodies with my own eyes. There was no point going to the police as they don’t do anything so I had no choice but to come here.”

三级成人视频But the Kaya Godhoma has a more important role than just providing sanctuary.

Although it is funded by Mr Mwambire, the MP, it is run by a witchdoctor, Yembe, who has resurrected the traditions of the legendary Kajiwe to come up with an ingenious way of addressing the problem of witch lynchings.

While witches may be feared and detested in Kenya, witch doctors Yembe, whose real name is Kazungu Karisa, have long played an important role in society as herbalists and the purveyors of charms. MPs often consult them.

Murdering witches, Yembe has told locals, is not the traditional Mijikenda way. Just as Kajiwe did before him, he believes those who are accused of witchcraft can be ritually cleansed before being reintegrated into the community.

A ceremonial trumpet is played as part of the ritual

A female volunteer at the refuge who helps care for those accused of witchcraft

It takes two hours to perform the ceremony, during which the shaven-headed accused witch or warlock lies on the ground blindfolded. After potions are administered and chickens slaughtered, he or she pledges on oath never to commit witchcraft again.

It usually works, Yembe insists. He has performed the ritual 40 times since 2016. Although Kaya Godhoma’s ten permanent residents were rejected by their communities, 30 others were allowed to return home safely.

“Most of those whom I cleanse have, of course, never done any witchcraft,” he said. “But they are accepted back and most importantly they are now protected. Those family members involved in plots would never dare touch them now they have been received back by the community.”

The cleansing programme has proved so successful in reducing lynchings in the Ganze district that neighbouring regions are talking about implementing similar projects, according to local chief Samson Chai.

三级成人视频“These lynchings are not things the government or police can do much about,” he said. “They take place at night and the police are rarely able to identify the culprits.

“But the cleansing ceremonies are a traditional, cultural solution to the problem. At a time when so many of the traditions that bound communities are breaking down, this symbolises a powerful return to our roots and has far more chance of success than anything imposed from the outside.”

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