Modern-day accusations of witchcraft often end in lynch mobs and terrible deaths. By contrast, accused witches in the Congo may be spared their lives, but not their meager savings.
“The Lucrative Business Driving Congo’s Witchcraft Courts,” via Worldcrunch:
In the Uvira highlands, the Bafuliru tribe holds Kihango court three or four times a month.
Men and women who are accused of practicing witchcraft are brought before the court to be tried. When a person is found guilty of being a witch, the typical sentence is forced exile, and at least three weeks doing forced labor for the Mwami – the tribal chief.
“The person must leave the community immediately. This saves them from being lynched,” explains tribal elder Edmond Simba.
In this remote Congolese region, many people still believe that sickness, death or accidents do not “just happen” – they are caused by individuals, that must be identified and neutralized. This is done through a tribal justice system based on traditional customs and superstition.
To detect signs of witchcraft, the “judge” uses a nylon thread that is “extraordinary and resistant,” explained the tribal elders that we spoke to. The thread is put on a metal plate, which is heated with fire. If the thread breaks, the person on trial is a witch.
It should be noted that the witchcraft trials are not free, and are an important source of revenue for the tribal chief. Before the dispute can be brought to the court, each party has to pay a mandatory fee of $200 – the price of a cow – whether they can afford it or not.
The headmaster of a primary school situated in Rubanga, 10 kilometers from the village of Lemera, says the witchcraft trials are just a way to exploit the local poor farmers in order to generate revenue for the tribal chief. “It would be naïve to think this is a real test of witchcraft. The tribal judges, who are pawns of the Mwami, are bribed to hand out false verdicts,” he says.
In August 2012, one of the judges admitted that he faked the result of the nylon test so that the woman on trial, the granddaughter of a friend, could be spared.
Being extorted and exiled is still preferable over the alternative, I suppose. Consider the fate of one accused witch from Africa, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu. For days,
Kristy was attacked with knives, sticks, metal bars, ceramic floor tiles, bottles and a hammer and chisel by [perpetrators] Bikubi and Bamu, who also used a pair of pliers to twist his ear. He drowned after he was placed in a bath for ritual cleansing.
Where do you reckon that lovely scene took place? Kinshasa? Kigali?
[tip of the miter to John Zipps; image via Worldcrunch]