Wednesday, 27 November 2013
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Last september documentary maker Peter R. de Vries visited our projects in Malawi and our representatives helped them make some undercover footage of how children get accused of being witches by self-styled prophets. It is our sincere hope that the airing of this international documentary will lead to more awareness and support for the affected children.
Thursday, 4 July 2013
Thoughts about de-constructing the evil-self image of abused ‘witch children’
For the so-called ‘witch children’ and other abused children it is often easier for them to accept that they are indeed witches than to accept that they are innocent and have been victims of abuse. They have been dehumanized so that they no longer see themselves as valuable human beings but have adopted the identity imposed on them by the abusers. Jewish victims within the Nazi death camps were not only tortured, starved and killed, there was also a systematic attempt to destroy their self-image and sense of identity and being unable to resist the perpetrators of abuse the victim may turn to self-hatred (Herman 1997:92-95).
Children are even ore vulnerable than adults in this respect because their identity was not yet fully formed by the time the abuse took place. A child entrapped in the horror of being accused of being a witch or in other forms of child abuse may due to the severity of the abuse develop the belief that he or she is somehow responsible for the crimes of the abusers. Surely if the most powerful people in his or her life do such terrible things to me, I must be thoroughly evil (Herman 1997:105). Survivors of severe childhood abuse may think of themselves in terms of what they consider the ultimate evil or filth, such as witches, vampires, whores, dogs, rats or snakes (ibid).
It is important for any counsellor involved in counselling such severely traumatised children to know that they may have developed a stigmatized identity whereby in an attempt to make sense of an otherwise senseless situation and have internalised the evil of the abuser. Even after the child is brought into a safe environment this inner sense of badness does not automatically disappear as it has been integrated into the child’s personality structure. As a result the survivors of such abuse continue to view themselves with contempt, carrying the shame and guilt of the abusers upon their shoulders (ibid). Outwardly the child may be working very hard to appear good and display an almost perfectionist zeal and yet inwardly loathe him or herself. It is essential to help the child to overcome the sense of being evil and bad, and learns to accept that the evil and bad was done to him/her.
It is not easy to undo witch-indoctrination in a culture in which the prevailing belief-system affirms the existence of witches and interprets most disasters, illnesses, deaths and misfortunes to the activities of witches. A young orphan who has been brought up in this context and loses his or her parents due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic will need very little coercion to be convinced by the relatives or community that he or she is the witch responsible for the death of the parents. Already traumatised by the loss of the parents and in desperate need to placate the powerful adults in his or her life the child will quickly agree to every accusation in the vain hope that this well bring an end to hostilities and bring the protection, care, love and affection he or she craves for. For the child to construct a more positive sense of self it is essential not to just deal with the physical and psychological effects of the abuse but to address the underlying worldview which provided the rationale for the abuse and which still holds the victim mentally captive in a sense of guilt, shame and self-loathing.
Erwin van der Meer
- Herman, Judith Lewis 1997. Trauma and Recovery. London: Pandora.
Saturday, 22 June 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Robert Priest
Professor of Mission and Anthropology
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Church Leaders and Theologians Tackle Challenge of Witchcraft and Witch Accusations in Africa
Deerfield, Il., April 4 — Fifty Christian scholars and church leaders, a majority from Africa (Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania), but including participants from Asia, Europe, and North America, gathered at Africa International University (AIU) in Nairobi early last month to discuss how the church should respond to witchcraft and to witch accusations. While a variety of secular human rights groups have organized against witch accusations and violence, this historic gathering marks the first large-scale, international and interdenominational effort within the church and within the framework of Christian theology to address the growing presence of witch accusations and violence.
Health problems, death, infertility, and financial problems are widely attributed to “witches” thought to be acting through evil occult power. Elderly women are the ones most often alleged to be witches. Orphaned children are another vulnerable group, often willing to falsely confess to practicing witchcraft. Rev. Haruna Tukurah, a Nigerian pastor with ECWA (Evangelical Church Winning All), reported that 250 out of the 300 children in the orphanage he ran had been accused of being witches. Even pastors are often accused of being witches.
The consequences of witch accusations are devastating, ranging from social ostracism to exile from one’s community to beatings and murder. According to Tanzanian police records, in Sukumaland alone more than 200 women (mostly elderly widows) are lynched as witches each year. Those most frequently mistreated as witches are also society’s most vulnerable: the elderly, widows, orphans, and strangers. Dr. John Jusu, Dean of the School of Professional Studies at AIU, stressed that these are precisely the categories of people whom God calls on us to protect.
Dr. Timothy Nyasulu, Synod Moderator and Education Secretary of the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, Malawi (the largest Presbyterian church in Africa), highlighted the role of traditional diviners in witch accusations, reporting statistics on 586 church members (from ten congregations over ten years) who received church discipline for consulting diviners when they felt someone had bewitched them. Diviners are often more accessible than either health services or police. They may be motivated by hope of profits to tell their clients that a family member or neighbor has caused the sickness or misfortune. Christian “prophets” and “prayer centers” also frequently endorse witch accusations. Henock Banda reported on his research into “child witches” of Malawi, and said that when pastors pray for or attempt to exorcise accused “witches” this sometimes has the effect of providing pastoral endorsement to the charge that they are witches, rather than freeing them in the eyes of the community.
Some alleged witches seek exorcism, often after confessing under duress. Dr. Opoku Onyinah, Chancellor of Pentecost University College, Accra, Ghana, and Chairman of the largest Protestant denomination in Ghana, the Church of Pentecost, cautioned that discernment is required and that exorcism is often inappropriate because the accused is neither a witch nor a person possessed by demons but a person suffering psychological and social problems.
Researchers suggested that “neo-traditional witchcraft” was the most appropriate term for the contemporary phenomenon because both traditional and modern influences contribute. Contemporary influences such as Nollywood movies and the popular Ghanaian film genre that was analyzed by Professor Asamoah-Gyadu of Trinity Theological Seminary in Accra, were cited as contributing causes. Deliverance ministries and the prosperity gospel (sometimes influenced by ministries from the USA) also reinforce the belief that witches are harming others through evil supernatural means.
The assumption that witchcraft fears would wither away with increasing access to modern education has proven flawed. The wearing of amulets as protection against witchcraft is common among even Christian high school students in Kenya, as demonstrated by Justus Mutuku, Chaplain at Kabarak University. According to Nigerian theologian Dr. Samuel Kunhiyop who is currently serving as General Secretary of ECWA – a denomination with over 5 million regular attenders – there is currently a “wildfire” of witch accusations across all denominations.
How to understand the role of the demonic either in the lives of accused “witches” or in the “accusers” was a matter of discussion. Many African church leaders stress that “witchcraft is real,” and many African Christians pray regularly that God will protect them from the attacks of witches.
Meeting in small groups, participants shared case studies and identified theological and Biblical themes that can inform our understandings of witchcraft, can help counter witch accusations, and can underpin pastoral counseling. Biblical and theological scholars guided initial reflection on critical passages and doctrines. Plans were brainstormed for further research and writing, for curricular development, for partnering together and with others to turn the tide on the modern epidemic of witch accusations and violence, and for finding additional funding to help make all this possible.
The conference was sponsored by the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Deerfield, Illinois as part of TEDS’ partnership with Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST) of AIU. The conference organizers were Dr. Robert Priest, Professor of Mission and Anthropology at TEDS, Dr. Tite Tiénou, Senior Vice President and Dean at TEDS, Dr. James Nkansah-Obrempong, Dean of NEGST, and Dr. Steve Rasmussen, Lecturer in Missions and Intercultural Studies at AIU.
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is part of a private, Christian university comprising four schools and three centers. An educational ministry of the Evangelical Free Church of America, TEDS is located in Deerfield, Illinois, with regional centers in South Chicago, Florida, and California, and extension sites throughout the Midwest. TIU has more than 2,800 students from 45 countries and throughout the United States. TIU exists to educate men and women to engage in God's redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning.