witchcraft, Papua New Guinea

Uganda’s Witchcraft Crackdown Yields Arrests

February 11, 2009 11:28 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The arrest of a group of suspected witchdoctors after the ritual murder of a woman in Kampala underscores increased efforts to combat witchcraft-related violence in the region.

Witchdoctors Arrested After Decapitated Woman Found

Ugandan police say that seven suspected witchdoctors have been arrested in connection with the murder of the young woman, whose mutilated body was found in a bush in the capital city of Kampala, according to the BBC.

Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said that one suspect died in police protection on Monday, shortly after a lynch mob tried to kill him.

According to local publication New Vision Online, several of the suspects met the woman at a nightclub, and after she got drunk, they allegedly cut off her head and genitals, and also discarded her legs in a latrine.

A special police unit has been created to address ritual murders and to educate traditional healers and the public. Many people in the region believe that potions made from human body parts are able to bestow luck.

James Onen comments in the local publication the Daily Monitor that discussion of the problem has been misplaced, as it has centered on how to punish perpetrators, instead of examining its root cause—a widespread belief that witchcraft actually works. He points out that the practice is not limited to peasants and uneducated individuals; educated African elites are also believers, including scientists.

“Therefore, the best way of ending this scourge is by eradicating the irrational belief itself—through education and sensitization.”

Background: Witchcraft accusations a problem worldwide

Witchcraft-related problems have been reported recently in Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific, Tanzania, Kenya and Congo in Africa, and in Saudi Arabia.

In Papua New Guinea, where about 50 people suspected of sorcery were killed in two provinces last year, a young woman was burned alive in January by villagers who accused her of being a witch.

A group of people took the woman to a dumping ground, where she was bound and gagged, tied to a log and set on fire, reported CNN.

In Tanzania, where albinos are being killed because their body parts are thought to be useful in witchcraft, police have resorted to giving albinos cell phones for their protection.

In May of last year, a mob in western Kenya burned to death 11 accused witches, eight women and three men, after torching 30 homes. Kenya has a long history of utilizing witch doctors and faith healers.

In April, police in Congo arrested 13 suspected sorcerers who were accused of using magic to steal or shrink men’s penises, creating a “penis theft panic,” reported Reuters. The accusers claimed that the sorcerers made their genitals shrink or disappear simply by touching them. About a decade ago, 12 suspected penis snatchers were killed by a mob in Ghana.

In February in Saudi Arabia, a woman was convicted and jailed for witchcraft and sentenced to death by decapitation after several men said that they became “impotent after being bewitched by her” and accused her of committing adultery with “evil spirits.”

Historical Context: Witch hunts in the US

Witchcraft has long been an issue in many parts of the world. The United States is no exception, although modern cases are rare.

On May 26, 1642, a young woman named Alse Young became the first person executed for witchcraft in America, and her hanging set off a rash of witchcraft accusations in Connecticut.

But the hysteria that her death provoked did not reach the same level as in now-infamous Salem, Mass., where 20 people total were killed in mass panic that was triggered in January 1692 when the mysterious illnesses of a daughter and niece of the town reverend were blamed on sorcery.

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