Belief in sorcery exacerbates Christian-Muslim division in Central Africa

The NY Times has a piece on the belief and use of witchcraft, gris-gris and the like, by groups in Central Africa. This is a topic we have covered before. But either it’s getting more attention because of how shockingly backwards it seems or it’s becoming more noticeable as the violence continues.

You can count the logical fallacies of people quoted in this piece.

Sorcery at War.

“Witchcraft is real,” the country’s interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, assured me during an interview at her home in Bangui in late March.

Ms. Samba-Panza, a lawyer, said she knew as much because sorcery “is against the law, and the courts try people for it.” Before the war, the Central African legal system was clogged with cases against the “practice of charlatanism and sorcery.” Lawyers told me P.C.S. is the country’s most commonly prosecuted crime. Some 60 percent of female prisoners were sent to jail for witchcraft.

So that makes it real? That people believe it? That tells you something right there. Truth is subjective.

Central Africans invoke sorcery by others to explain puzzling or adverse events — a roof’s collapse, a long-term illness, a helicopter crash. In times of war, witchcraft is a force to be marshaled for self-protection or greater strength in battle.

Superstition is relied upon during times when things feel out of control and every bit of advantage is tried.

Now sorcery shapes the fighting ethic of the Christian militias, known as the “anti-balaka.” The name is a pun: In the national language Sango, balaka means machete, and in French, balles-AK refers to bullets from AK-47’s. Anti-balaka fighters initiate one another in rituals to immunize themselves against the effects of both weapons.

The week before I met President Samba-Panza, on the streets of Bangui I saw armed anti-balaka swearing by their amulets — typically leather or cloth pouches filled with herbs or scraps of paper and strung around the neck. These tokens, called gris-gris throughout francophone Africa, are believed to ward off harm in battle.

And if they die, it was a problem with their faith or the spell. It does not seem to count against the idea of occult protection. Often these beliefs, whether they be extreme religion or occult, have as much to do with the circumstances as the culture that they exist in. The people are desperate, they live in a violent, unpredictable world. To face it, they must put their faith in magic and convince themselves they will make it out OK.

A similar piece previously was published in Vice. Central African Republic, where almost everyone believes in magic out of necessity

Gris-gris amulet

Gris-gris amulet

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  2 comments for “Belief in sorcery exacerbates Christian-Muslim division in Central Africa

  1. Altus
    May 23, 2014 at 10:11 PM

    For the life of me I don’t see how this is different from the Vatican endorsing exorcisms. There was a recent story in the Washington Post about a conference in Rome. The journalist sat in on an exorcism. Asmodeous was identified as one of EIGHT demons in a woman. I only knew the name from RPGing. Rutgers sponsored a talk by a US Roman Catholic exorcist a couple of years back. It’s on YouTube.

    “The people are desperate, they live in a violent, unpredictable world. To face it, they must put their faith in magic and convince themselves they will make it out OK.” Perhaps this is why seeing it taken seriously it in the United States at at university makes it so perplexing for me.

    • busterggi
      May 24, 2014 at 10:45 AM

      In a rapidly changing society as in the US believers see such change as violent & unpredictable no matter how non-violent & predictable the changes are.

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