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Last Updated: Friday, 6 August, 2004, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Does witchcraft deserve a bad name?
Traditional healer in Mozambique
Witchdoctors say charms can bring success in business or love
In Nigeria 30 people have been arrested after the discovery of corpses and human skulls in a fetish shrine.

Earlier in the week some 20 Tanzanians were charged with murdering men they suspected of practising witchcraft.

Belief in witchcraft is common in Africa and other parts of the world.

But some witchdoctors say that using human body parts makes charms more powerful - for example to achieve success in business or love.

As a result, in some parts of Africa, there is a lucrative trade in human skins, which can fetch up to almost $10,000.

And old women, suspected of being witches, are sometimes held responsible for tragic events and persecuted by their local communities.

What do you think about the practice of witchcraft? Do you believe it exists? Have you ever used witchcraft and does it work? Do you think it should be stopped or is it part of tradition in some cultures?

This debate has now closed. Thank you for your comments.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

I grew up in Malawi where witchdoctors, called sangomas, are widely respected and known for their unique gifts. I personally have met up to five of these people and although I don't believe in their "magic", I do respect them, but also believe that these are peaceful people, well at least the ones I met. And to be honest I think their practices are blown out of proportion, you will find that they are mostly accused of crimes they do not commit. In Africa there is a massive difference between suspecting something and actually knowing something. This is obviously a very sensitive subject and I think it should be up to the African governments to sort things out.
Steven Hawken, Blantyre, Malawi

I believe witchcraft exists and does in fact work. But the question is "Does this power come from good or evil forces?" I think clearly the answer is evil, when people will kill and maim people for body parts for these rituals. Given this I think it should be suppressed.
Mark, Kansas City, USA

Why is it that it is Africans you want to explain the issue of witchcraft? I know for sure from interaction with people in European and UK that some unenlightened people still believe in voodoo which is same as witchcraft. And you may or may not believe this, herbal medicine has little or nothing to do with witchcraft.
Olumide Olaniyan, Abuja, Nigeria

Actually in African traditions, there are some herbs that can help in healing, but most of the other practices are harmful and not needed.
Lucio Baden Nyee, Khartoum, Sudan

It is our tradition and our culture
Iyke, Nigeria
My mother is a traditional healer, who does not harm anyone nor does she or her teacher condone the actions of anyone who uses body parts. I think that using traditional healer and witchdoctor together is misleading. Witchdoctors do harm; traditional healers use herbs, the parts of some animals and throw the bones to help people. She has provided me with much useful and insightful advice.
Emma, Norwich, England (South African)

Witchcraft works. I am from Sierra Leone, where, during the civil war, people always saw an open day-light display of witchcraft by Kamajors or traditional hunters. One hunter used his powers to lift himself off the ground into mid air. Other kamajors had people spray bullet at them, but the bullet couldn't penetrate their bodies. One comes across genuine cases of witchcraft like these ones all the time, but the fake cases are also widespread.
DD, Sierra Leone/USA

I, certainly, don't believe in it but I know it has existed for centuries in my own country of birth, Ethiopia. Most people in Ethiopia use it as a means of becoming wealthy. I believe it should be stopped, fortune should be earned through hard work.
Weldeab Paulos, Dallas, Texas(Ethiopian)

Charms and remedies are harmless, but like everything in life, it can turn deadly. Africa is not exempt from the superstition and hatred that is a sad part of European culture. Witchcraft, if it means herbal remedies, does work. It can work in the same way religion does- fulfil a cultural and emotional need. But supernaturally, it is a joke. Witchcraft, like all beliefs and practices, should not be stopped until it starts to infringe on the lives of others- such as the murder of innocent people.
Rev. Adam Roberts, DD, Prairie Grove, Arkansas, USA

It is our tradition and our culture.
Iyke, Oraifite Nigeria

Witchdoctors are the major cause of porverty in Africa
Writer from Zimbabwe
It's too sad about those witchdoctors who kill people. And witchcraft should not exist at in the whole world. People, those witch doctors are just after money. We should fear God, He said we must love our neighbours as we love ourselves and not kill.
Stella, Kampala, Uganda

I strongly disagree with witchcraft and witchdoctors. This practice is based on ignorance, if these witch doctors believe they have extraordinary powers why haven't they been able to find the cure for Aids that is ravaging the communities that they practice in?
Chris, Somerset, USA

Why is witchcraft held to be any different than a Catholic lighting candles or a Jew chanting at his Bar Mitzvah? Ritual by its nature involves use of chant, prayer and objects not usually used in regular life as components. All religion is "witchcraft".
Cindy, Casper, Wyoming, USA

Those who practice witchcraft go to the extent of using their children, wives or family members for rituals to attain their objectives and therefore must be condemned.
Rawlings Kudewurah, Freetown, Sierra Leone

As practising witch in the UK I find it interesting that the same label is used for practitioners of folk magic and traditional healing methods in other cultures, when in truth these are the only factors they have in common. As I understand it, in most cases witchdoctors in African cultures act as counsellors, herbal healers and spiritual advisors for the most part. There are always a fringe who will use 'dark' aspects of their paradigm for personal power be it by taking up a gun rather than a pen or indulging human sacrifice rather than prayer. This seems to be a universal feature of people everywhere, no matter what they profess to believe.
Kelvin Walker, Glos, UK

In my part of West Africa we call them 'Marabouts' and I know many of them. These people practice a form of witchcraft that combines some Koranic verses and some African knowledge. It hardly works - in fact it never works, purely because it is no longer a pure African ritual, which is a big source of regret. The use of human or any form of life for sacrifice is grossly indefensible and those who are caught practicing it should face the death penalty. But there is knowledge in Africa that deserve recognition, and if use wisely can enhance our progress.
Musa Bah, Gambian/UK

Witchcraft does exist and is indeed powerful and is good and bad. I tried it and it works! Good parts: It is used for protection against evil witchcrafts and other evil men, it also helps in many, many instances. The negative parts: when used by the evil who kill and sell parts of human bodies and use it for sexual purposes and many evil deeds! Let the good ones continue protecting lives and help frighten the evil ones, I believe they can stop the evil ones.
Dr. Master Wah, Seattle, WA, USA

I definitely believe witchcraft does exist and I have had personal experiences of it. As to where they derive their powers from...only they can say. I am Ghanaian and to live in Ghana without recognising the existence as well as potency of witchcraft would be a very big mistake. In fact the majority of Ghanaians, though Christian, resort to these alternative powers with the belief that they will get quicker results. To them, 'it is good to wait on God but he sometimes takes too long to act.' I agree that it has become an integral part of many cultures but this is so only because the people have come to believe and rely on its potency. 'Evil lurks within all men' and most use witchcraft as a tool to realise their evil goals. On the other hand, witchcraft is also responsible for countless solutions to medical problems which science has yet to solve. Witchcraft in itself is neither good nor evil; it is up to each individual to decide which he or she would use it for. Governments are incapable of putting an end to witchcraft. Like every other tool, it will continue to exist as long as the need for it exists.
Sheriff, London, England

In the Kono District in eastern Sierra Leone, every calamity that befalls a man has its cause, and the cause is either witchcraft or ancestral curse. If a man's crops fail or his marriage is in ruins or he is seriously ill, he has either been bewitched or has been involved in witchcraft; if not, he has annoyed the ancestors. When we were kids and we fell ill, witchdoctors called choma were summoned and paid to cure us and to kill witches tormenting us. In my village Nemesedu, a witchdoctor was called to dance publicly and kill witches almost every six months. I had seen more old people accused of witchcraft than the young. A witch killed by a choma dies a few months after and he or she confesses all the evil deeds he or she did. If a witch fails to confess, the sickness is prolonged and faces more suffering. Witchdoctors in the Kono district do not deal with human parts - that practice is not even known. They are believed to get their powers from the ancestors. There are many signs to denote the presence of witches: the sound of a strange bird either in the night or day time; a noise made by minaneh, the witch snake; a sudden strange odour; in dreams, etc. With the spread of Christianity and Islam in my district, witchdoctors are not much in vogue but people still consult medicine men call marabouts for help.
Edison Yongai, Sydney, Australia

During the African cup in the 80 or 90's when it was held in Algeria, the Senegal team was reported to have used witchcraft to stop Algeria from scoring, they later on discovered strange looking wooden sticks on both sides of the goal - this was believed to be a Gri-Gri, Magical spell and strangely I remember the balls were just missing the goal in some very weird way.
Rachida, London

Believe it or not, witchdoctors are the major cause of porverty in Africa. Anybody who believes in them does not think straight. Everything that happens in his/her life has to do with some supernatural powers of witchcraft. To get a job one has to visit a witchdoctor, to stay on the job one has to have some charms in the pocket. It does not matter whether one knows the job, whether one keeps time or does not work hard. One has to have some charms to stay on the job and to get promoted. To get married or to keep one's marriage one has to have some charms from the witchdoctor. It does not matter whether you are an adultrer or not as long as you have charms then you stay in a marriage. To keep a baby healthy one has to tie some charms around the neck of the baby. Whether the baby is dirty or not, whether the baby eats dirty and unhealthy food, that does not matter much. So what a world. Where possible witchdoctors need to be arrested and stopped from practicing.

Thanks for picking on Africans on the issue of witches; these do not exist only in Africa but in all parts of the world including the so called developed nations. I have seen rich white people here in America go to witchdoctors for their health problems, and most of them report better health after. This does not mean they flew to Africa, but to some witchdoctors here in the states from several countries such as China and more. Witchdoctors do not only exist in Africa.
Richard, Sudan

Whether you agree or disagree with these dark beliefs, murder is murder, kidnapping is kidnapping, desecration of dead bodies and ghoulish accumulation of human parts and organs also offend law and simple decency. Doing these things for profit is doubly offensive and it is deeply offensive to hide them under traditional religion and civil rights.
Yemi Candide-Johnson, Lagos, Nigeria

Witchcraft in its most deadly practices as seen in Africa should be regarded as an indicator of the extreme underdevelopment and backwardness of our region in the 21st century, while other regions forge ahead.
Ricky Kambo, Nairobi Kenya

Is there any connection, do we think, between Africa's status as the poorest continent in the world and the seemingly widespread belief that wealth is created by witchdoctors? Hmmm.
John, UK

If there is one thing that has contributed to Africa's continued poverty and backwardness, it is witchcraft. Does it exist? Yes or else the Bible wouldn't have mentioned it. As a prosecutor I've dealt with countless cases of murder whose root is witchcraft and counter-accusations of witchcraft. Our laws actually, say witchcraft does not exist. Simply because you can not stand in a court of law and explain or prove something to do with witchcraft. Witchdoctors - they are a band of thieves. As a Christian I believe that there is no such a thing as a good witchdoctor. They are all witches in the first place.
Pacharo Kayira, Lilongwe, Malawi

Although I do not patronise witch doctors and do not intend to, the practice of witchcraft exists. Or how do you explain a situation where a man will hate all his siblings and parents and love only his wife after eating a 'special' meal from her? How would you also explain the disappearance of a foetus from a pregnant woman's womb five months after doctors confirm her pregnant? Witches and wizards confess openly of their misdeeds. Witchcraft is not part of tradition in my part of the world and I don't know where it is. Stopping it will be the best thing to happen because they do more negative things than positive ones.
John Attat, Warri, Nigeria

Yeah, I've used 'witchcraft' and yeah it works as well as prayer. Most 'witches' I've met are good, harmless people. There are unpleasant people under all labels. Forcing anything that can be called 'witchcraft' underground will only make it easier for scary people to operate without being caught.
Ani, Pittsburgh, USA

Tanzania fights human skinning
04 Jul 03  |  Africa
Plight of Nigerian 'wizard' boy
11 Sep 03  |  Africa
Herbs help Africa's Aids fight
13 Sep 02  |  Health
SA police nab 'head' man
16 May 02  |  Africa



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