"I am no more a witch than you are a wizard. If you take my life away, God will give you blood to drink."- SARAH GOOD
Dear Brutus my brother from another mother,
At times like this, the folly of trying to understand the Ghanaian 'Bayiee-sphere' (world of witches) dawns on me. I had to fly thousands of miles to South Africa to escape the "gyratik radius" – the furthest distance at which you can feel the influence of a gyrating witch- of these wicked creatures of unliberated human thought, to compose this mail. I have heard that witches will not chase you when you move southward across the ocean for inexplicable reasons. However, to the extent that these creatures heavily dominate the mindset of the average Ogyakromian no matter how scholarly; my foolishness is excusable. In Ogyakrom, the fact that the widow next door has powers to transform herself into a fireball that glows and lights –up the skyline exterminating any evidence of darkness in deep forests, feeding on neighbours in their sleep, is ebbed into your psyche before you are six, and in many instances stays with you for life. You are given the perfect alibi to refuse to help the frail woman cart her firewood home when you are told she caused your best friend's death.
Like many Ogyakromians, my feelings towards my mother are special. This is borne out of years of sharing the challenges that growing up in Africa throws at you rather than residual ambers of libidinal feelings they call Oedipus complex. How can we forget the love that makes a woman sacrifice her beauty at the prime of her life so we will get educated? The earnings from petty trading were too meager to sustain the demands of modern education. As a result, the gold that has been handed over to daughters for three generations was not spared; neither were the Dumas cloths, the remnant of the bridal price that our late father paid for her hand.
When famine struck the land, many times she will sacrifice her portion so that we have enough to eat; I don't know how she made it through those nights. When I was admitted into high school, she vowed to get the money to put me through. My heart was broken when I saw her on her knees in the night, the bible in one hand and my admission letter in the other. She knelt by the candle and wept to God. She had asked for a loan from Opanyin Jones, a respected member of the community, but he will only give her the loan if she agrees to sleep with him. Of course, she declined the offer, but in three days my admission will lapse. Why is God pushing her towards prostitution? She asked in prayer. She recounted to the Omnipotent all the promises in the good old book, and asked, 'why have you forsaken me to be confronted by failure on one hand if my son's education is cut short, and dishonor on the other hand, if I sell my body to pay his way to school?' I wept throughout the night and she was shocked to see my swollen red eyes the next morning. Her instant reaction was to assure me I would go to school; 'no mama I have given up dreams of higher education' was my response. She was shell-shocked. What has happened to obliterate all those big dreams in one night? 'We were still dreaming of the greatness that will follow high education only the night before, did you have a night mare?' She wanted to know. In an attempt to assure me there were still opportunities of getting the money on time, she mentioned Opanyin Jones, 'no you won't take the money from that filth' I blurted out. She was stunned into silence with a half opened gape, she suddenly understood why. 'Did you hear me praying in the night?' she asked tearfully. I nodded my head as the tears freely rolled down my cheeks. We sobbed together in each other's arms as she assured me she will get me to school without selling her dignity.
The next day, we went to see the headmaster. She prostrated before him pleading for time to find the money. The man took a second look at my result slip and shook his head. "Just like you, I almost missed out on education because of poverty and no one told me I was qualified for a scholarship" he said as he handed over the application form for a scholarship. Since that day, anytime I see a prostitute I think of a woman heavily disappointed and failed by society, but that story is for another day.
Brutus, you can imagine the emotions that welled up inside my body when I met this Prophet who told me my mother eats up all the children in my wife's womb hence our inability to have babies after five years of marriage. He gave me a handkerchief doused in anointing oil and asked me to rub it on my wife's tummy as he recited prayers in strange languages. He urged me to say the first name that comes to mind. He kept shouting, 'you can see her, you can see her, name her', that is when it happened in a flash, I saw a picture of my mother, there was some kind of fire around her, and instinctively I said Mama? 'Yes she is the one' he quipped. 'She is what?' I asked? 'Tell me what you saw', the Prophet said. 'My mother, there was fire around her', I answered. 'Yes, she is glowing, my brother this is bayie Kɔɔɔɔ , she eats up the children in the womb'. I told him my mother won't do such a thing and he reminded me that I saw her glow. He warned that if I don't bring her to the prayer camp to be exorcised, she will eat me next when the children are finished in the womb. I saw other witches at the camp, they had been shaven clean and chained to trees with no protection from the sun. Old defenseless women, if they are witches why don't they just fly away, I thought to myself. I was confused, angry and sad at the same time.
Against my wife's advice, I travelled to the village and confronted my mother with what I have seen and heard. She denied any knowledge of those creatures and wept so bitterly, I didn't know what to do. I don't think my mother is a witch, but I saw what I saw. I tried to assure her I didn't believe any of it but it was important to hear it from her. On my way back to Accra I made a detour to see the retired catechist in the adjoining town. We used to say he was boring and not as hot as the new pastors and prophets who could 'see things'. At this point in time, he was the only one who came to mind. When I narrated my encounters with the prophet and my mother, he asked; "Son, between you and the Prophet, who knows your mother better?" "I know her better than any living soul". "Then only you will know if she is a witch', the catechist said. 'But why did I see her glow?' I was pleading for an answer. My son, did you and the prophet understand the vision you saw? As I left him, he said, 'remember what I used to tell you, believe the word of God more than you believe any man of God'.
The next couple of weeks were the most tormenting of my life. I couldn't shake off images of my mum glowing in the night sky and feeding on innocent and unborn babies. But why will she attack my babies? The prophet kept harassing us to bring my mother for exorcism. Then I remembered the catechist's advice and reached for my bible. I remembered Paul's exhortation in Ephesians 6:12 'For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.' Where are the witches located? I asked myself. From the description our society paints of witches, they must belong to spiritual wickedness. Then I remembered that the Prophet Samuel accused Saul of witchcraft in I Sam 15:23, 'For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft….' Rebellion, idolatry, wickedness; I know Mama, she won't fit into any of these. Then it dawned on me. Our people describe witchcraft as spiritual. How dare any mortal maltreat another mortal over contentious issues of the spirit? Spirit must answer to spirit. How does chaining a widow, banishing poor women and denying them of their economic and other rights, resolve a spiritual dispute? The prescription to deal with spiritual wickedness was there, there was no physical confrontation. Then I saw II Cor 10:4 " The weapons of our warfare are not canal…" , So what is the position of the cane in driving witchcraft out of people? If these Pastors and Prophets get their prescriptions wrong, can we trust their diagnosis? No. I can't trust them. Suddenly it appeared again. Mama's picture! I could see clearly now, Mama kneeling by the candle with the bible and my admission letter. That is the picture that was played back to me. Oh yes, she is glowing in the lighted candle. Out of the overflow of love in her heart for me she was wrestling with God himself. But why should I have a playback of that incident that occurred many years ago whiles the prophet prayed? It was as if an unseen hand was leading me back one step at a time explaining what happened at the prayer camp. The talk before the prayer was about women and how they influence our lives positively and negatively. The Prophet touched on females; wives, mothers, sisters, rivals, etc, he was leading me on to a conclusion he wanted. Mind games!
I couldn't wait to get back to the village to put things right with my mum. Mama I know it, you're not a witch!, I said excitedly as I burst into her room. She looked emaciated and sick, and I knew the cause. She saw the sincerity in my eyes as I pleaded for forgiveness. Who else can forgive such betrayal? Only Mama, full of love. We both shed tears just like years ago, when she promised I would have my education with her dignity intact, in that same room. I have heard of Christ's love for me, and I have faith in him to save me, but the greatest testament of love I have seen on this earth is my mother, why did I ever doubt her? The love for me in her heart radiates on her face and she glows brighter than any prophet I have known. My next point of call was the residence of the old catechist. "Catechist, thank you for helping me identify witches", I said, "Mama is not one of them", I added almost immediately. "So, who is a witch", he asked? "They are the pastors, the prophets, the herbalists, the juju men, the traditional rulers, the fetish priests, and all others who weigh others down emotionally and torment them physically by proclaiming them to be witches". "Why are they witches?" he asked. "They destroy beautiful relationships of love which perhaps they never had". "That is wickedness of a spiritual order". I continued, "Unfortunately, I cannot deal with that prophet because it is a spiritual matter requiring spiritual remedy". "One day the spirit will answer to the spirit".
God is love, and I know Mama is love, she must be very close to God and far from witches. My wife had a baby two years after this incident without exorcism.
Brutus, Sadly though, I write to inform you that we have just arrested some witches in Ghana. A supposed Evangelist and his cohorts who set ablaze another defenseless old woman who lost her way trying to locate her son in the city. When the graphic reported that her son has disputed claims that his mother was a witch, my heart went out to Madam Ama Hemmah, the victim and Stephen Kwame Ofosu Yeboah, her son. Our society has again failed to protect one of the weak ones. I pray that the laws of Ghana will deal with the arrested witches, be it ever so severely, not for practicing witchcraft, but for being accomplished murderers.
Brutus something eerie happened as I finished the first paragraph of this letter. I had left a web request in my browser to run while I continued to write. A voice suddenly popped out of my computer "hi I am amber, What's your name?" I felt chills down my spine. Do I have a direct response from the witches? I went back to my browser and couldn't find the source of the sound. "Our witches have been credited with many achievements, but none related to technology, this cannot be, a witch can't take over a computer", I tried to allay my fears. I repeated the web request this time with my eyes and ears focused on the browser, then I saw her literally glowing. It is a popup of a beautiful dame asking me for a chat. This witch I know how to deal with. Now I can hear another sound out of the window, is that a bird or a goat? How can the two be confused? The chills have returned. Is that the real response from the witches? Brutus, believe me I am not making this up. I am still an African, when I hear hoots (cry of an owl) at three o'clock in the morning, I can only think of one thing. I have to stop writing.
P.S. This is a tribute to Madam Ama Hemmah and the many other supposed witches including the defenseless women and children locked up in witches camps and prayer camps. Their human rights have been and are still being abused because we lack the courage and political will to confront beliefs that should have been buried with the tenth generation before ours. We do not want to upset the sensibilities of those who think they have divine rights to appoint witches into camps. The government can cause the closure of these barbaric camps handing back liberty to the oppressed. That will send a strong message to all and sundry that an era has lapsed and we need to find new reasons for the unfortunate things that happen to us. But I do not expect that it will be done anytime soon. Shame on us all!