When misfortune hits a village, there is a tendency in some countries to suspect a “witch” of casting a spell. In Ghana, outspoken or eccentric women may also be accused of witchcraft – and forced to live out their days together in witch camps.
The camps are said to have come into existence more than 100 years ago, when village chiefs decided to establish isolated safe areas for the women. They are run by tindanas, leaders capable of cleansing an accused woman so that not only is the community protected from any witchcraft but the woman herself is safe from vigilantes.
“Women are expected to be submissive so once you start to be outspoken in your views or even successful in your trade, people assume you must be possessed.”
Eccentric behaviour may also be interpreted as evidence of spirit-possession.
The Ghanaian government sees the camps as a stain on the reputation of one of the most progressive democratic and economically vibrant nations in Africa, and said last year it would move quickly to disband them, possibly in 2012.
But sending the women back to their home villages now would be fraught with danger.
“We have to do a lot of work with their communities so that they are able to return without being lynched or subjected to reaccusation, for example if a cow jumps over a fence and knocks down something,” says Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, ActionAid’s country director in Ghana.
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A psychiatrist noted in this piece that traditional communities have no real understanding of depression or dementia and that a majority of the women in the camps may have some sort of mental illness. I suppose the good news from this story is that the women have managed to survive their situation and have not been killed outright. Yet. But it’s a very sad state when these conditions continue to exist in what seems like a time warp of centuries of ignorance.