Witch doctors, diviners, and traditional healers, are regarded with suspicion and sometimes paralyzing fear.
In some African communities, people suspected of sorcery are excommunicated. In other communities, the suspects are torched to death to rid the society of the evil tormentors.
While some people are staunch believers in different faiths (Christianity, Islam, among others), there are also those who believe in the power of witchcraft. Some staunch believers also combine the two faiths (good and evil) to yield ‘better’ results in life.
Witch hunting has been part of the world history and will remain because people still seek powers to influence their lives.
There are instances where innocent people have fallen prey and labeled ‘witches’. The consequences of this labeling have inflicted immense pain to affected families.
In a bid to understand, the power or lack of it, associated with witchcraft, a team of anthropologists set out to study why women are accused of witchcraft in rural China.
Armed with the common hypothesis –that witchcraft accusations act as punishment for those who do not cooperate with local norms- the study involved 800 households in five villages in south-western China.
“According to this theory, witch tags mark supposedly untrustworthy individuals and encourage others to conform out of fear of being labeled,” the anthropologists wrote in The Conversation.
Other studies indicate that witch labeling undermines trust and social cohesion in a society.
Using four social metrics; kinship, reproductive partners, gifts exchanged or farm work; the Chinese communities studied excluded some families because of these differences.
“Those from tagged households rarely had children or partnerships with those from untagged households, nor did they exchange gifts or work on each others’ farms very often. However, tagged households were helping each other and reproducing with each other, which mitigated the costs of exclusion from mainstream social networks,” the study suggests.
The study denotes that labeled households were similar to other households, except the tagged households were more likely headed by women and were slightly wealthier than average.
It is also good to note that some daughters inherited the labels from their mothers, meaning, there is no current evidence to show the reasons for tagging.
“Our conclusion is that witch accusation has evolved from competition between households. Labeling may have become a way for people to get ahead of their rivals and gain a competitive advantage in reproduction or resources. However, the sources of competition may be different in different cases.”
Preying on people’s superstitions
In Uganda, St Luke Community Museum was set up to demystify and shutter the mysteries tied around witchcraft and its practice in the eastern Africa country.
Like many other museums St Luke displays objects of artistic, scientific and cultural or historical importance. However, it goes the extra mile to “show you many a trick that modern day witchdoctors use to charm clients, like the use of electronically powered horns and fetishes, in a display that will make you gawk at just how easy it is to give in to superstition,” Daily Monitor reports.
From China to Uganda, mysteries and devastation associated with witchcraft and witch labeling need to be addressed urgently. By so doing, women, and other victims of such societies will be saved. Additionally, people will seek to work harder instead of seeking alternative ‘dark’ measures to attain wealth and power.