I did not intend to. Please, believe me. I was just being a responsible community member helping my people to get rid of those old women who we were told conspired with dark forces to cause harm to others.
Yes, that is what we were made to believe.
That when you lose your job or suffer losses in business, it is the making of the witch. That when you develop a mental illness or any psychological condition, a witch is behind it.
That when a woman gives birth prematurely or to a child with abnormalities, it is the doing of the witch.
That when an up-and-coming young man or woman dies in a mysterious accident, it is the work of the witch.
Old women witch
And you know what, the witch is always that old woman who is an auntie, mother-in-law, stepmother, grandmother and, sometimes, a mother. It is worse when she is an old woman with a bandaged sore leg or disease; an old woman with a walking stick; an old woman displaying menopausal symptoms; or an old woman living in an isolated place.
Even when the alleged witch is a child or young adult, we are told her grandmother passed it on to her. Somehow, when it is a man, we are made to fear and respect him because he is powerful.
We reserve a seat for him during gatherings, shower him with appellations, and try to avoid his wrath. As for the old witch, we despise her. We do not want her near our ceremonies, and we warn our kids not to go close to her hut or assist her in any way.
That is why I took part in conversations to blame those old women for one misfortune or the other.
I was there when people cast aspersions and curses on them and swore to deal with them. I was there when people ignored their greetings and gave them a cold shoulder. I was there when during Eid and Christmas festivities, we shared food to every household, leaving out that of the poor old woman.
I was there when people finally mobilized to eject them from their homes and banish them. Some of them have died.
They died of anguish and feeling blemished. They died of anger and hunger. Little did I know that I was killing those poor old women.
That my actions or inaction contributed to their death sentence. In fact, I should have been dead by now. I should have been killed by one of those supposed witches.
I recollect having once separated a fight between two old women who were alleged to be witches in my area. Neighbors said I was foolhardy. I have engaged with old women I had been warned against.
And I (together with Npong Francis, a colleague journalist) also visited the witches’ camp in Gambaga to talk, drink and laugh with the poor old women. Oh my God! How could I have been so foolish? As you can imagine, however, I am still alive, healthy, happy, and progressing.
And I am not the only one from ‘witches-infested’ communities who are still alive, hale and hearty. Maybe, they fought me and did not succeed. Maybe, the few occasions I was sick or suffered minor setbacks, it was their making. Maybe, I was just not their target. Or just, maybe, I am yet to suffer the consequences.
Yes, that’s how deep I have been indoctrinated. To the extent that even when all is well, I have to still come up with stories and theories to explain why I was not consumed by the supposed witches.
The saddest part of it all is that all those years of education have not transformed my thinking and I still believe those Imams and pastors who say prayers for me and others to keep off the old women they claim are witches. But this will happen no more. Yes, since the lynching of Akua Denteh, a 90-year-old woman in Kafaba, I have had an awakening.
All of a sudden, I am seeing how easily I could have been any of the bystanders. How I might have contributed to the brutality and demise of many Akua Denteh’s whose stories the world never heard of.
I have chosen to break free of all those years of conditioning. I have decided not to perpetuate any injustice against any poor old lady.
If I cannot support them when they are in need, I should not worsen their plight. That is the pledge I have made, and I hope you have too if you grew up like me.
My hope is that justice for Akua Denteh will be served, not because she is a woman, but because she is human.
Justice for Akua Denteh is justice for humanity and justice for all those old women we have killed.
The writer is a Communication and Development practitioner.