Sunday, November 29, 2009

Black Magic Justice

Yesterday I witnessed for the first time the use of black magic/witchcraft in Mapaki. There is a very strong belief throughout Sierra Leone in witchcraft, evil spirits, magic, etc. even among people that are well-educated. This has come up in my health research a few times – people believing illnesses are caused by witchcraft or seeking treatment through spiritual means as opposed to medical ones – but I have never seen it in actual practice. Yesterday, I saw the village witch/sorcerer (not sure what the right term would be here) was using it to catch a thief.

Apparently a woman’s phone had been stolen, and she had hired the witch to find the phone and the thief. The witch had a magic circle with various potions, a mirror, a rooster, and a set of sticks in the middle. She then used the sticks to locate the thief. Before this could begin though, the sticks had to be tested. Someone hides a small coin (100 Leones), and the witch uses the sticks to find it. She was successful in doing this, which indicated that she would be able to find the thief. She then used the sticks to locate the thief. I wish I could have taken a photo or video of this process, but I didn’t have the camera with me. Basically she holds the sticks and shakes them, and the sticks seem to lead her around various places. Of course she is followed by at least 50 children and a handful of adults to see what is going on. More adults wait by the circle for her to come back with the thief.

Eventually she identified the thief’s house and his name. It was a teenage boy, about 15 perhaps, but he wasn’t home. So then she used the sticks to find him (he was apparently off doing something in the bush). He was brought back to the circle. However, he denied that he had stolen the phone. A couple of possible witnesses were also brought forward but he still denied that he was the thief. In the end, because he refused to admit it, nothing more happened. I was told that normally if the person admits their crime, they return the property and the witch is paid a fee by whoever hired here. The offender is also fined. However, if the person denies it, the witch then usually produces the stolen property as proof that they are indeed guilty. In this case though, the witch refused to produce the phone unless she was paid 200,000 Leones (a huge sum of money here).

Anyways, it all seemed a bit confusing to me as I didn’t quite understand who paid what to who and why. It was very interesting to see in action though, and many other people in the village turned out to watch as well.

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