Warning: The following article contains graphic details of a violent criminal act.
At first sight one is tempted to think of yet another case of ritual murder in Liberia, as the article reads: ‘(…) the mutilated body of little Saah Momo was discovered in the home of his grandfather in Bomi County.’ It occurred early this year, in January.
It is known that in a large number of ritual murder cases relatives are involved – as traditionally this is part of the ritual to create or obtain ‘juju’, the spiritual power which perpetrators seek to increase their wealth, power or social prestige. However, it is not plainly stated by the police and in the article – as it is often the case – that this is about a ritual killing. In Liberia, police and journalists don’t mince their words when reporting on ritual murder cases.
The Liberian National Police arrested six persons in connection with the violent death of the 2-year old boy, Saah Momo, including the mother and an uncle of the victim. The deceased’s uncle testified in court that he had murdered his nephew upon the order of the child’s mother. Allegedly, she was motivated to have her son murdered for financial gains: she wanted to sell his organs. It has not been revealed with whom the suspects wished to trade body parts with.
Was the violent death of little Saah Momo a case of organ trafficking or another case of ritualistic murder?
Some countries in the region, e.g. Nigeria, are notorious for murders committed by criminals who wish to harvest human organs in order to sell them – albeit for ritualistic purposes to superstitious people who believe that in this way, with ‘juju’, they can increase their wealth, success in business or in politics. These murders in Nigeria and Ghana are often committed by so-called Yahoo Boys and the criminal acts are locally known as ‘money rituals’.
In Liberia, murder cases for purposes of organ trafficking are far less widespread but since – by definition – these dark activities take place in secret, we don’t know on what scale they happen.
In short, the article is not clear whether the murder of little Saah Momo was a case of ritualistic murder or of organ trafficking. However, in both cases there is a clear ritualistic component as organ trafficking is not carried out with the purpose of organ transplantation, aiming to improve a patient’s health, but to sell organs to superstitious people and ‘juju’ men who wish to use human body parts for ritualistic purposes. (webmaster FVDK)
Liberia: Two Convicted for butchering a 2-year-old boy in Bomi County
Published: May 23, 2023 By: Rachel T. Saykiamien – The Daily Observer, Liberia
Jurors at the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Bomi County have brought down a unanimous guilty verdict against two men who brutally murdered a two-year-old boy, Saah Momo, in Zealey, Dowein District, Bomi County.
The verdict followed a final argument in court by both prosecution and defense lawyers on May 23, 2023.
Defendants Momo Gray, the uncle of the deceased child, and his brother and father of the child,, Siafa Gray, were found guilty of murder; a first-degree felony under the law. In February of this year, the two were indicted by the grand jury of Bomi County for their involvement in the murder of Saah Momo.
On May 10, Momo Gray, the accused uncle of the two-year-boy, pleaded guilty to the crime of murder after his appearance at the 11th Judicial Circuit Court, while the father of the boy, Siaffa Gray, pleaded not guilty.
From the beginning, several individuals, including the mother and grandparents, were arrested but released after it was established that they had no hand in the act. However, the uncle and father, who played a major role in butchering the boy, were charged and tried in court.
On May 23, 2023, defendants Momo Gray and Siafa Gray were found guilty of murder; a crime that contravenes Chapter 14 Subchapter 14.1 of the penal code law of Liberia. Under the law, a person who is convicted of such a crime may be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.
A pre- sentencing hearing is expected to take place before the defendants are convicted.
Judge T. Ciapha Carey has ordered the clerk of the court to inform the probation officer of the Ministry of Justice to investigate the lives of the defendant’s prior to the incident. This is done to ascertain if the defendants were law abiding citizens or had stayed out of trouble prior to the crime.
In January, the mutilated body of little Saah Momo was discovered in the home of his grandfather in Bomi County. The Liberia National Police (LNP) arrested the deceased’s uncle and five other persons in connection to the death of the child.
Those arrested were Momo Gray, Siaffa Gray, Cooper Ross, Satta Wonda, the mother of the deceased, and Omacy Nyei.
At the time, police established that all of the suspects committed the act for financial gain and were subsequently brought to the headquarters of the Liberia National Police to be questioned. But the police failed to state whether their investigation discovered who these suspects were trading body parts with. However, four people, including the deceased’s mother and grandparents, were set free.
Defendant Momo Gray, the uncle of the deceased, taking the witness stand and testifying on his behalf on May 19, admitted to murdering his nephew, but alleged that he acted upon the order of the child’s mother; whom he said was encouraged to have her son killed in order to sell the major organs for money due to hardship.
I’ve hesitated to include the article below on this blog – partly because of the gruesome nature of the described act, partly because of the graphic description of the treatment, obviously a form of torture, which family members inflicted upon a girl they accused of witchcraft and being responsible for the death of an uncle.
Eventually I decided to reproduce the article here and to share it with a larger audience. The reason why I choose to do so is because witchcraft lies at the bottom of their repulsive behavior. This site is focusing on superstition and everything which relates to it in a criminal way: ritualistic acts, ritual murders, ‘money rituals’ (Nigeria), muti murders (in Southern Africa), and – indeed – witchcraft. The fact that the ultimate victim, a young and innocent girl, was maltreated and tortured was another reason for drawing attention to this incident. Unfortunately, rape is a daily crime in Liberia and most perpetrators get away with their crimes. In Liberia, impunity seems to be the rule, and not the rule of law.
Therefore, again a warning: the following article contains graphic details of a form of torture (webmaster FVDK).
Liberia: Adolescent Girl Sodomized After Being Thrown Out for Witchcraft
Published: July 3, 2020 By: FrontPage Africa
MONROVIA – A girl believed in her late teens has been sexually assaulted in her anus after she was thrown out of her family in Omega Tower Community on accusation on her beingwitchcraft.
According to a source close to the family, the incident occurred on Tuesday, June 30, 2020 night when she was asleep.
The girl (name withheld) was discovered early Wednesday morning lying helpless on the main road that links Montserrado to Margibi, crying for rescue.
Some community members felt pity for her, took her from the street, gave her food and water. They at the same time called the Women and Children Division of the Liberia National Police to take the survivor to hospital for treatment.
Her current condition has left community members blaming her family for neglecting her and throwing her out of the house after alleging that she confessed killing her 25 years old uncle (name withheld) in May of this year after a brief period of illness.
A family source interviewed by this paper narrated that after the death of the uncle, the survivor and her partners were tortured and beaten badly on grounds that they are responsible for his death. This, according to the source, caused her mother and father to escape with her other siblings leaving her at the mercy of the family.
“During the night when her uncle died,” the eyewitness said, “that child was beaten by his family and a man who claimed to be a big man in the Liberia Drugs Enforcement Agency (LDEA) at which time they broke one of her legs.”
“After all the torture, they still threw her out of the house, they forgot to even take into consideration the danger it poses to her health, not only the aspect of rape.”
“I do not know why people find pleasure in accusing innocent children of the act of witchcraft when, in fact, there is no way they can prove their accusations,” the eyewitness said in pity.
The eyewitness said after the death of the survivor’s uncle the family members brought a native doctor who said that girl and her partners were responsible for his death.
“After the native doctor was brought here, the family said that the girl confessed that she and her partners killed her uncle because he means them with food,” the eyewitness said.
The eyewitness expressed deep frustration in said aptitude adding that “I do not know who the man that did such a wicked act to a child in such condition.”
According to the eyewitness, the LNP Children Division was able to take the child to the hospital.
“What we are praying for now is not just the treatment of the child but an investigation being done to bring the perpetrator to justice and even the family because they were the ones who exposed her to such danger.”
In Liberia, rape has become the order of the day with few out of many girls who have suffered such horrible acts from their male counterparts are lucky to get the needed justice.
With many perpetrators understanding that the justice system is very weak, they go ahead to sexually abused girls and walk in the street with impunity.
Ghana has a fairly good reputation, both on the African continent and beyond. This positive reputation mainly applies to the state of the economy and the country’s political affairs. (This has not always been the case. Notably in the 1970s Ghana offered a very different outlook. It is thanks to flight-lieutenant-turned-president Jerry J. Rawlings – and the two Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI), World Bank and the IMF – that Ghana nowadays is what it is). However, superstition is rampant in the country. I drew attention to it at earlier occasions. See my posting on the work of Anas Aremeyaw Anas and Seamus Mirodan, both fighting infanticide in Ghana as well as Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria (June 4, 2018), and the activities of Seth Kwame Boateng and Jospeh Asakibeem (June 23, 2018), also fighting ritual baby killing in this West African country.
The article below treats the fate of women who are accused of witchcraft, sometimes triggered by jealousy and criminal intentions, sometimes based on superstition and a belief in the supernatural powers which the victims of the repression and mob justice are supposed to possess. Fortunately, the women are being rescued by a group of benevolent nuns, but shouldn’t it be better if these age-old practices and belief in witchcraft cease to exist? (webmaster FVDK).
Women accused of witchcraft in Ghana find refuge in outpost run by sisters
GUSHEGU, GHANA — Vivian Salamatu and 200 hundred other women here are bound together for life. They share each other’s misfortunes and all have a similar story. They were accused of witchcraft, beaten, cast out and sent to “witch camps” that serve as havens.
“When my nephew died after a short illness, everyone hated me,” Salamatu explains in Dagbani, her native language. “My brothers-in-law said I was responsible, they accused me of being a witch.”
Dozens of elders and villagers gathered at her home to determine her innocence or guilt. One of the elders participating in the ritual test grabbed a chicken, slit its throat and flung it overhead. After it finished struggling, the chicken fell head first and died face down.
It was clear by the village standard she was a witch.
“If the chicken had died face up, then I would have been declared innocent of witchcraft,” said Salamatu, 39, a mother of three. “That night, villagers led by my brothers-in-law attacked me with machetes and set fire to my house. They wanted to kill me with my children.”
Her attackers, who had tied her up with a rope, were intercepted by nuns and local authorities. She was rescued with her children and taken to Gushegu “witch camp,” located in the north of the country.
“I can’t believe I’m alive today,” she said, noting that the allegations came barely a year after losing her husband in a road accident. “I had no one to protect me from the angry villagers. But I want to thank God and the sisters who came and rescued me. It was a miracle!”
Salamatu is among hundreds of women who have been rescued by the Missionary Sisters of the Poorest of the Poor and taken to Gushegu. The refuge, which is run by Sr. Ruphina Anosike and other sisters, provides homes to women accused of witchcraft. Anosike also cares for the homeless by providing meals and other necessities such as medical care and education for their children.
The immense majority of these women are widows with children. They have been accused by relatives, or sometimes by a competing wife, neighbors or village elders, of witchcraft, mainly of killing their husbands or other family members, said Anosike.
“It’s heartbreaking to see that these women suspected to be witches are no longer needed in their families and communities,” she said, noting that her camp, which accommodates more than 200 women, has become a safe haven for widows accused of witchcraft. “They stay here because they have no place to go, no food to eat, and no one cares for them.”
The motive to call someone a witch
Anosike notes that the chief motive behind such acts is often greed, and labeling these women as witches becomes a means of taking away their husbands’ wealth. Camp residents also include mentally ill women and children who are considered outcasts in Ghana, she said.
Salamatu agreed there is a motive.
“My father-in-law wanted to take cows, land and some money that my husband had left, and I refused,” she said, adding that her husband’s relatives became hostile to her and toward her children. “They later accused me of practicing witchcraft so that I could be chased away and leave them everything. One of my neighbors told me they held a meeting to discuss how they could chase me away so that they would be able to take my properties.”
Thousands of women and their children in northern Ghana have been left homeless after being accused of witchcraft, according to a 2018 report by the U.S. State Department. The report indicates that there are more than six witch camps spread throughout the northern region, holding 2,000-2,500 adult women and 1,000-1,200 children.
There is a widespread belief in witchcraft in the West African nation, according to 2009 Gallupsurveys, despite 96% of the population declaring themselves to be active worshippers in one of several world religions. The belief in the phenomenon has devastating consequences. Elderly women believed to be witches are often persecuted, ousted from their homes or even murdered. Their children are also cursed and not allowed to go back home after they have grown.
Though both men and women can be accused of witchcraft, the vast majority are women. Men are considered to have a strong socio-political base and are therefore better able to successfully contest the accusations leveled against them, knowledgeable observers say.
The witch camps are unique to northern Ghana. However, the West African nation shares with other African countries an endemic belief in witchcraft, with drought, death, poor harvest, illness and other natural disasters blamed on black magic.
The situation has prompted religious sisters in this part of the country to provide residential shelter for the women and children shunned by relatives. Anosike depends on supporters to build homes at the camp and she pleads for food, clothing, bedding and other necessities from neighbors and passers-by.
“I actually go out every morning to beg for food for these women to ensure they have something to eat,” said Anosike. “The bishop also helps us very much, especially with food and money to run the camp. These women also survive by collecting firewood, selling little bags of peanuts or working in nearby farms.”
A superstition that sticks
Witchcraft is a stubborn phenomenon in African cultures, experts say. Witches and wizards are thought to possess intrinsic and supernatural powers that are used to create evil. Many seek out the services of witchdoctors and wizards to find solutions for their relationships, troubles and even for good health. However, the practice has for years also had its negative side. In worst-case scenarios, such beliefs lead to murder and destruction of the accused witches, they said.
“The belief in witchcraft is deeply entrenched in Africa culture and dictates people’s lives,” said Charles Nzioka, a professor of sociology at the University of Nairobi in Kenya. “Witchcraft is in people’s minds. If someone loses a job, Westerners assume that it’s due to economic conditions or poor performance. An African is likely to say that someone used witchcraft to make or confuse an employer to hate and sack the person concerned.”
Nzioka said that the belief in witchcraft in Africa is intended to keep order in society; any deviation in behavior may lead to an allegation. As in Ghana, women who do not want to conform to society’s expectations may fall victim to the accusations of witchcraft, he said.
“For instance, when a woman accumulates wealth and becomes independent, she deviates from local norms that recognize only men to own wealth, and as such she becomes a target,” said Nzioka. “Sometimes women are targeted by relatives of the husbands in order to inherit their son’s wealth.”
Nato Blenjuo, who has lived at Gushegu camp for the last two decades, explained how she escaped death by a whisker after villagers claimed she had used witchcraft to kill her ailing husband. A post-mortem was reportedly held, establishing that her husband died of malaria, she said. Malaria has continued to be the leading cause of death in the country, according to 2018 data of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“They really wanted to kill me,” said the 66-year-old widow who lives in one of the huts made of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung and cow’s urine. “My stepson led other irate villagers with machetes to attack me at night. They set my house on fire, but I was lucky to escape with my three children into a nearby bush and I made my way to this camp.”
Sr. Monica Yahaya said that women are seen as the most vulnerable members of the population and are therefore often labeled as witches because of their inability to contest the accusations. This explains why there are no men at the camps and women are predominantly the victims, she said.
“The problem here is that relatives cannot allow widows to inherit their husband’s possessions,” said Yahaya, who works with Anosike at Gushegu camp. “They will definitely look for a reason to accuse them and then send them away from their homes in order to take properties left by their dead husbands. Without a husband, these women really have no way to defend themselves after such an accusation.”
Osei Ekow, an elder, denies that greed is the impetus behind calling someone a witch. He says the villagers rely on the traditional slain chicken ritual to determine whether a woman is a witch.
“That’s our culture, and we must respect it,” said Ekow, 75, who says he has witnessed tens of thousands of widows being sent away from their homes. “There’s no way that ritual can be wrong. These women taking refuge at the camps are all witches because it was culturally confirmed.”
The government has on several occasions tried in vain to close down the camps in a bid to discourage attacks on women. Officials contend the very existence of witch camps encourages people to levy allegations of witchcraft knowing that the women they accuse will find refuge at the camps.
“People should stop accusing and harassing innocent women of witchcraft,” said Issah Mahmudu, a government official who oversees the Legal Aid Department in northern Ghana. “We want to encourage suspected witches and wizards who have been harassed to report to the police so that investigations begin. The law protects every citizen.”
Mahmudu said the incidents of witchcraft accusations have recently declined but encouraged local chiefs to dispel outdated cultural practices that are injurious to others.
“These women are vulnerable, that’s the reason they are attacked,” he said. “The chiefs should arrest any person committing offenses that are recognized under the law. The laws of this country condemn dehumanizing the fundamental human rights of all citizens.”
Anosike and other sisters are trying to shape the way people think about witchcraft. They conduct weekly seminars in various villages to campaign against ongoing violence on women, educate the public about the myths that surround witchcraft, rehabilitate and reintegrate women into their homes, and call for an end to the persecution of alleged witches and to superstition.
“Cases of women being chased away from their homes have of late been reduced as a result of the ongoing campaign, but more needs to be done,” she said. “We are going to continue educating people in the villages to ensure women live freely without fear of their rights being abused due to the belief in witchcraft.”
However, victims of the attacks call for more to be done.
“I have never been a witch, I don’t know how witchcraft works,” said Salamatu. “Men should treat us with dignity because we are all human beings created in the image of God.”
The ritualistic infanticide practiced by the Kara, Banna and Hamar tribes of southern Ethiopia is as old as their cultures. The Kara, Banna and Hamar are not the only ethnic groups in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) that kill ‘cursed’ or ‘mingi’ infants. Also in e.g. Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and Nigeria tribal elders decide that the well-being of their clan or ethnic group is best served by the killing of young, innocent and often defenseless life – and I am certain that infanticide is practiced in more SSA countries.
As with other ritualistic killings (murders!), superstition ‘is the root of all evil’. Ignorance, superstition, AND the lack of law enforcement keeps this ugly practice alive. Let’s all work hard to eradicate these practices from society. Today is 2020. We’re living in the 3rd millennium!
I highly recommend the article below. CNN is to be commended for its publication! (webmaster FVDK)
Is the tide turning against the killing of ‘cursed’ infants in Ethiopia?
Published: November 5, 2011 By: CNN – Matthew D. LaPlante
His top teeth came in before his bottom teeth. That is how elders of the Kara tribe determined that a healthy baby boy needed to be killed.
The child was “mingi” — cursed, according to their ancient superstitions. With every breath, they believed, the boy was beckoning an evil spirit into their village.
Murderous though it was, the decision to kill the boy was the easy part. It was the sacrifice of one infant for the good of the entire tribe — a rite that some of the elders had witnessed hundreds of times throughout their lives in Ethiopia’s remote Omo River Valley.
The tribe’s leaders were less certain of what they should do about the boy’s twin brother, who had died of sickness shortly after birth. After some debate, including a pensive examination of a goat’s intestines, they decided the dead child must have been mingi, too.
So they dug up the corpse, bound it to the living boy, paddled a canoe into the center of the Omo River and threw them both into the murky brown water.
That was five years ago — a time before many outside of this isolated basin had ever heard of mingi.
Today, nudged out of acquiescence by a slow-growing global condemnation of the ritualistic infanticide practiced by the Kara, Banna and Hamar tribes of southern Ethiopia, regional government officials have begun to take action — threatening prison for those complicit in mingi killings.
Meanwhile, a small band of Banna Christians has taken it upon itself to give sanctuary to the mingi children of their tribe; an enlightenment among some young and educated tribesmen of the Kara has spawned an orphanage for the condemned; and global Samaritans, drawn by the plights of these defenseless children, have offered money and adoptive homes.
The combined efforts have saved scores of children.
But none of the interventions has brought an end to the deep fear that stokes the slaughter. And so it is estimated by some government officials, rescue workers and village elders that hundreds of children are still being killed each year, by drowning, suffocation and deliberate starvation.
‘All the people’ Bona Shapo steers a dugout canoe through crocodile-infested waters, guiding the craft ashore where the Omo River bends at the bottom of a crumbling precipice near the tiny stick-and-thatch village of Korcho.
The sun is setting into the ravine. Across the river, a troop of colobus monkeys whoops and howls, stirring a flock of gangly marabou storks from their perches on a stand of flat-topped acacia trees.
“This is where they do it,” says Bona, who stood upon these same muddy banks on the day the twin boys were thrown into the river. “Sometimes they take the babies out in a boat. Other times, they just take them to the edge of the water and throw them in.”
The mingi rites of the Kara are slightly different from those of the Banna, which are, in turn, different from the Hamar. But common among all is a profound fear of what might happen if the killings were to stop.
There has been little academic scholarship on the subject, but some observers have speculated that it might have started many generations ago as a way to purge people who are more likely to become a burden or who cannot contribute to the propagation of their people. That might explain why children who break a tooth or injure their genitals are among those singled out for death. Others are killed because they are born out of wedlock or to married parents who have not completed a ceremony announcing their intention to have children — a brutal enforcement, perhaps, of the deep-rooted duty that members have to the tribe first, their family second.
As far as the Kara elders are concerned, these rules are as old and unyielding as the Omo River — and every bit as crucial to their survival. Allowing a mingi child to live among the Kara, they believe, could cause the rains to stop falling and the sun to grow hotter.
“If they have the mingi, there will be no water, no food, no cattle,” Bona says. “But when they throw the baby away, everything is good again.”
Elders bitterly recall times in which their sympathy for mingi children prevailed over their fear. They believe that heedlessness cost the tribe most of its cattle and many of its members. Today, Kara leaders say, a more respectful adherence to the brutal obligations of their beliefs has allowed their tribe to thrive.
“So yes, it is sad, but we are thinking about the village, the family, all the people,” Bona says. “We tell the parents, ‘don’t cry for your baby, because you will save everyone. You can always make another baby.’ ”
‘No other option’ She wasn’t permitted to nurse him, hold him or even see him. But Erma Ayeli still clings to an image of the baby she lost — fantasy though it may be.
“I think he must have been a beautiful boy,” Erma says as she rests on a pile of sticks, surrounded by a playful mob of younger children. “I wanted to keep him.”
Her chin sinks into the tornado of colorful beads draped around her neck.
Apparently sensing her sorrow, a young boy rests his half-shorn head playfully on her lap. Erma tugs at his ear, smiles and reclaims her composure.
She still mourns. But she does not question why her son was killed. “There was no other option,” she says.
Sex outside of the confines of marriage is acceptable among the Kara.
But if a woman becomes pregnant before participating in a marriage ceremony, her child is considered “kumbaso,” a mingi curse that occurs when parents fail to perform the appropriate series of rites before conceiving. Erma cannot marry, though, until her older sister has first been wed. Her hands fall to her swollen stomach; she is pregnant once again.
“It was an accident,” she laments as she rubs her bare waist. “I don’t want to lose this baby, too.”
There is a potion she can take; the village medicine man can mix a concoction of roots and herbs that will make her sick and might cause her body to reject her pregnancy, taking her baby’s life before others can take it from her.
Many women choose this path. Erma won’t. Because this time, at least, she has some reason to hope that her child might be spared a violent death. Far away from her village, she has heard, there is an orphanage for mingi babies. She has pleaded with village leaders to let her child go there.
Either way, though, she won’t be allowed to see her baby. Once again, she’ll be left to dream about what her child might look like. “This time, I think, I might have a girl,” Erma says. Again, her head hangs low. Again, the boy next to her drops his own head into her lap, glancing up with a wry smile.
This time, though, Erma doesn’t smile back. She gently strokes his smooth brown cheek.
‘This was our culture’ They have taken her tribal clothes. Her beads, her animal skins and her jewelry have been replaced by a tattered shirt and loose-fitting skirt. In that and most other visible regards, Mashi Lamo is indistinguishable from the other inmates at the Jinka Prison Institute.
Yet everyone in this ragtag penitentiary knows who she is. “The mingi mother,” says one guard, a woman whose crisply pressed khaki uniform seems to stand out in defiance of this dirty, dilapidated jail, cut into a hillside in the South Omo region’s administrative capital. “Yes, we all know what happened to her. It is very sad.”
It is not typical for Kara mothers to be asked to kill their own mingi children — and none are known to have done it of their own volition. In any case, fellow Kara say Mashi could not have killed her baby; she was far too weak after the birth to have done such a thing. It was other women who took the child away, they say.
But when police arrived, Mashi took the blame. Within days, she had been sentenced to three years in prison. She had no attorney, and there was no trial.
She may be a prisoner today, but her past and future are inexorably Kara. Mashi can speak and understand only her native language. She’s never been to school. When she is finally released, there will be only one place to go.
And so, under the watchful eyes of several other Kara prisoners, Mashi stands by her story.
“What they say is false,” she says of those in her tribe who have proclaimed her innocence. “I did it all myself.”
But asked if she deserves to be in prison, the teenager sinks her face into her hands. “I hate it here,” she says.
“I wanted to keep my baby, but that was not allowed. This was our culture.”
A few feet away, another young prisoner — girlish in figure and demeanor — hides behind a corrugated metal wall and listens in. Prison guards say she is the only other person serving time here for a mingi killing, and they say she shares Mashi’s plight.
But she cannot bring herself to speak of what happened. “This one prefers to forget” the shipshape guard says.
Unevenly executed as it might be, the government’s effort to crack down on mingi killings has had an effect on the Kara. Combined with other interventions, the fear of prison might be helping to save some children.
But not all of them.
“Before, they did it in the open,” says Solomon Ayko, a gangly young Kara man who has witnessed several mingi killings. “Now, it just happens in secret.”
‘They are human’ The Kara don’t count the passing years as outsiders do, but by Ari Lale’s recollection, it happened about 15 years ago, when he was a young man, eager to prove himself to the rest of his tribe.
A kumbaso baby had been born. Leaders asked Ari to supervise the child’s execution.
“The baby was crying,” Ari says, “so we put sand in its mouth and he was still trying to cry but couldn’t anymore.”
Soon, the child was dead, and Ari escorted a group of women away from the village to throw the tiny boy’s body into the bush.
What became of the child’s remains? “The hyenas or other animals took it away,” Ari says with a shrug.
Today, Ari is the leader of Korcho village, and he counts his participation in the boy’s death as one of his proudest memories.
“All the families would thank me for throwing away that baby,” he says.
“If I had not done it, they would have been angry.” It is extremely uncommon for police officers to make the arduous trip from Jinka to any of the Kara villages, but Ari says he and other leaders are nonetheless wary of the threat of prison. At some point, he says, the government will want to make an example out of someone of his stature.
But Ari, who wears his hair taut under a hard, red clay bun in the way of his tribe’s warriors, has not stopped believing in the dark magic of mingi. And so he and others have found a different way to carry out the killings.
They will not drown or suffocate the children, as they once did.
But they have forbade anyone from the village to have contact with a cursed baby.
“If a mother was to give the baby her breast, she would also become mingi,” he says. “After the baby is born, we keep it alone in the house and we do not give it water or milk.”
Without nourishment, the infants quickly die, and there is little that can be done to prove that a baby wasn’t simply stillborn.
Ari appears to be pleased about this solution. Yet he balances his pride with a lament for the dead.
“They are human,” he says of the mingi children.
For all of the praise he got for carrying out that first killing, Ari says, he would have much preferred to let the child live, if only there had been another way.
For some, now there is.
‘A sickness in our culture’ Kara children die all the time.
Many succumb to disease. Others are killed by wild animals. And some are sacrificed in the name of mingi.
For Shoma Dore, that was simply part of life.
“This is something that came down from generation to generation,” Shoma says. “If a baby comes with the top teeth before the bottom teeth, it must be killed. If it comes without the ceremony, it must be thrown away. … I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with it.”
Not, that is, until Shoma left the tribe to attend school in his early teens. In Jinka, he says, he realized for the first time the evil that was being done by his tribe. And when he returned, two years later, he found that others among the Kara’s more educated youths had come to the same realization.
“There are many important and good parts of our culture — there is also a sickness in our culture, and we have to change ourselves,” says Aryo Dora, who decided a few years ago to go with Shoma and about 30 other young Kara to plead with tribal elders to stop the killings.
Their plan, developed with the assistance of a team of Westerners, was simple: If mingi children could be sent far away from the village, they would pose no risk to the tribe.
“Once we explained the plan, they agreed quite easily,” Shoma recalls.
And that is how the orphanage began.
It wasn’t long before Webshet Ababaw was drawn into the fight. The professional tour guide and driver was in Jinka when he received a call from the orphanage. Leaders there had received word that a kumbaso girl was about to be born in the Kara village of Labuk. They needed someone with a four-wheel-drive vehicle who wasn’t afraid to race across the axle-breaking savannah to get to the village in time to save her.
No one seemed inclined to help find the child when Webshet and an official from the orphanage arrived in the village, but they finally found the infant lying on the ground behind a stick hut. Her mouth was filled with dirt and sand, but she was alive and seemed to be in relatively good health, Webshet says.
Piecing together a newborn first-aid regimen from what he’d seen in the movies and in a high school health class, Webshet unstrung a lace from his shoe and tied it around the baby’s broken umbilical chord. When no one in the village would give him a blanket, he wrapped the shivering child in his jacket. And when no one would give him milk, he found a goat, crouched beside it, and took a small amount for the girl.
None of the Kara had helped him on that day, but as he raced back to Jinka, Webshet looked at the small bundle in the passenger seat beside him and smiled.
There she was, improbably cooing as he bumped along the rugged dirt road.”
At least someone decided to contact us,” he says. “That is the only reason why she was alive.”
Orphanage officials later named the baby Edalwit, which means “she is lucky.
“Today, more than 30 mingi children live together in a small single-story home in a quiet Jinka neighborhood. Aryo, who is co-director of the orphanage, won’t grant permission for outsiders to check on the children — a rule intended to protect the orphans from potential exploitation, he explains. But, he says, they are loved, cared for and schooled with the hope that one day, they will be allowed to return to their families.
“These children are the future leaders of their tribes,” Aryo says. “They are going to grow up big and strong. They are the ones who will end mingi.”
‘We did our best’ It is a bright May morning in Korcho. In the communal spaces between the round, grass-topped huts, dozens of women are on their knees, vigorously thrusting their body weight into stone hand mills, grinding sorghum into flour.
Zelle Tarbe, though, is working inside. It has been just six days since she gave birth to her baby boy. Her breasts are still swollen — full of milk that will not nourish her child. The shock of losing him is still plastered across her face.
Zelle, who is unmarried, knew she would have to give up the child, but it was harder than she expected. “I wanted to keep him with me,” she says.
But she is nonetheless feeling very fortunate, “because my son is alive.”
Zelle was able to spend a few short moments with her baby before orphanage officials spirited him away.
“He was so sweet and beautiful,” she says from the shadows of the hut as a friend butchers a goat and hangs its carcass on the wall beside her. “But I did not give him a name because he was mingi and could not stay with me.”
Already, though, she is dreaming of a day in which she might make the journey to see her boy.
“Someday, I hope, I can visit him in Jinka,” she says.
No one, least of all Zelle, would argue that the rescue mission isn’t preferable to death for mingi children. But the orphanage has nonetheless been a controversial solution. A Christian group that supported the effort for two years withdrew its backing this spring after accusing the orphanage’s director of stealing money donated by American benefactors.
Orphanage officials counter-accused the Americans — who had helped arrange the adoptions of four mingi babies — of stealing the children from their families. The adoptions were, in fact, all legal under Ethiopian law, which treats mingi children as abandoned. But the orphanage leaders have argued that the biological parents surrendered their babies under cultural duress and should have the right to reclaim those children if their situation were to change.
Either way, adoptions and orphanages don’t address the root causes of mingi. And even when it had the support of a determined and resourceful team of Westerners, the rescue and shelter system was able to save only a fraction of the endangered children.
“At one point, there were six women we knew about who were pregnant with mingi children,” recalls Jessie Benkert, one of the Americans who supported the rescue effort. “We only got one.”
Geography is as much an obstacle as tradition. The Kara tribe is separated into three main villages, and the only telephone able to reach the outside world is in the main village of Dus, an hours-long hike from the other communities. Hundreds of other Kara live deep within the bush and, tribe members say, are more likely to carry out mingi killings there without notice.
Getting from Jinka to any of the Kara villages in a four-wheel-drive vehicle is, in the best of situations, a half-day’s trip across soft savannah sands and muddy river beds. A light rain can delay the trip by days. And during the rainy season, which lasts for up to eight months each year, the route can be washed away entirely.
Tribal leaders in Korcho say about 20 mingi children have been born into their small village since the orphanage opened. Orphanage workers have arrived in time to save only about half of them, they say.
Last year, rescue mission leaders learned that a Kara woman had given birth to a mingi boy whom tribal elders had promptly attempted to kill by ripping out his umbilical cord. The wounds had quickly gone septic, and there was no time to send a car to retrieve the child. Evacuation by air was the only solution; chartering the aircraft cost $3,500.
“That was the sum of all the money we had,” said Levi Benkert, Jessie’s husband. “And we couldn’t be certain that, even if we did it, he was going to live.
“They did it anyway — and saved the boy. An online fundraising effort quickly recouped the costs of the evacuation, but rescue mission officials knew they couldn’t sustain those sorts of expenses. And, in any case, they’ve since been pushed out of the Omo River Valley by local government officials who have sided with the orphanage’s Ethiopian director.
“We did our best,” Levi Benkert says. “We saved as many children as we could. And we continue to pray for them every day.”
‘Out of fear’ The people of the Omo River Valley love their children.
That is what Andreas Kosubek has come to believe over six years of organizing medical mission trips into the Kara heartland.
“These people are really good people,” says the German missionary, who recently gained permission from tribal elders to build a home on Kara lands. “They are not doing this because they are evil, wild, dumb monsters. They’re doing it out of fear. They fear for the lives of others in the tribe.”
From Kosubek’s point of view, the fear will end only if the Kara come to believe in something stronger than mingi. In his way of thinking, that means introducing them to Christianity.
“But we cannot do that,” the 29-year-old evangelist says, “unless we approach them with humility and a dedication to service.”
And Kosubek says he has often failed in that regard.
Not long ago, a Kara man brought his sick daughter to Kosubek, who was on tribal lands to work on his home and not accompanied by anyone with medical training.
The toddler was breathing rapidly and not responding to her father’s words or touch.
“She was the same age as my daughter and, you know, if my daughter had been sick like that, there is nothing I wouldn’t have done to save her,” Kosubek says, noting that he would have immediately evacuated his own daughter to a hospital. “But so many things crossed my mind: It’s difficult, it’s expensive.”
The girl later died, probably of simple pneumonia.
“I could have helped her,” Kosubek says. “And I am ashamed.”
Kosubek recognizes the need to end mingi killings, but he doesn’t feel entitled to condemn those deaths.”
Far more children are dying in other ways,” he says. “These are ways that we can address and prevent immediately if we just cared enough. Before we judge, we have to ask ourselves what we have done to help these children.
“In that question, he believes, is a model for truly bringing an end to the slaughter — through genuine selflessness and compassion.He’s seen it, firsthand, among the people of the nearby Banna tribe.
‘My children are also mingi’ In a smoke-filled mud hut in the village of Alduba, Kaiso Dobiar dips a ladle into a tar-black pot of coffee, filling her home with the aroma of the brew as she stirs the simmering liquid.
Kaiso is proud to be Banna, and she follows many of her tribe’s customs and beliefs. But she is also Christian and, wary of false idolatry, she and her husband refused to perform the rites mandated by tribal leaders before they conceived.
“So my children are also mingi, in that way of thinking,” says Kaiso, who is fostering two additional mingi children in her home.
A tiny girl crawls onto Kaiso’s lap, reaching over to help stir the pot. “This is Tarika,” Kaiso says. “She is 2 years old, and she is mingi.”
The girl was born without the appropriate Banna ceremonies, but her birth mother hid the child for six months. “Then the rains stopped for a short time,” Kaiso says. “The people rose up and said, ‘You must get rid of her. Throw her into the bush.’ But I said, ‘do not throw your child into the bush, give her to me.’ ”
Also sharing this small hut with Kaiso’s family is Tegist, another mingi child who guesses her age at 7 or 8 years. Kaiso says her foster daughters cannot play with other Banna children and must remain in her family’s small compound.
“They will have to stay here until they are older,” Kaiso says. “After that? God, he knows.”
Missionaries first came to the Banna decades ago, and the Christian church here is larger than any other among the tribes of this region. Still, their numbers are small; Banna’s Christians make up just 1 or 2 percent of the tribe’s population.
But their collective efforts have been enough to almost eliminate mingi killings within their tribe. With little money or other means of support, Banna’s Christians have accepted responsibility for nearly all of the tribe’s mingi children. Many, like Kaiso, are already caring for one or more mingi boys and girls. One family has taken in 17 foster children.
They do so at great potential risk to their own families. As she steps outside her home, the precariousness of Kaiso’s situation becomes clear.
“Kaiso, why are you protecting those children?” an angry neighbor screams from beyond a stick fence. “Tell us why!”
The Banna have not faced drought or a significant bout with deadly disease for many years. That, local Christians say, has kept much of their neighbors’ anger at bay.
But if the tribe’s fortunes were to change, its leaders would be swift to identify a culprit, Banna tribesman Andualem Turga says.
“What you need to understand is that, to these people, these babies are like an influenza,” he says. “If it is not stopped, it can kill many people. That is what they believe. … And when things go badly, the people believe this more than ever.”
Another foster mother, Uri Betu, tries not to think about such things. Her faith, she says, is clear on her responsibilities to the two mingi children who live in her home — and any others that need her care.
“For now, we do not worry,” Uri says as she watches her pair of 2-year-old foster daughters, Tariqua and Waiso, play in her yard.
ver time, Uri prays, the Banna will see that the presence of mingi children in their midst is unrelated to the patterns of rain and sun that sometimes cause their crops to fail.
Still, she laments, “there is a long way to go to change the beliefs we have had for so long.”
Published: September 21, 2007 By: John Zodzi – Reuters
LOME (Reuters) – Six grisly murders in Togo in which the victims were decapitated and drained of their blood have raised fears of a resurgence of ritual killings ahead of parliamentary elections in the West African state next month.
The serial killings occurred last weekend in the southern Vo and Lacs prefectures, east of the capital Lome. The victims included a 12-year-old boy and a 63-year-old woman and their severed heads were carried off by the killers.
The discovery of the headless corpses has shocked Togolese and triggered a wave of speculation that the killings were ritual murders. This is a practice still found in parts of Africa in which people kill to obtain body parts and blood in the belief they will bring social success and political power.
Police announced the arrest of four suspects, including one from neighboring Benin, the West African home of the ancient Voodoo religion, who confessed to killing the 12-year-old boy.
Togo holds legislative elections on October 14, and international observers hope they will strengthen the weak grip of democracy in the small former French colony, which like Benin is wedged between Nigeria and Ghana on the Gulf of Guinea.
In a society where traditional beliefs still have influence, some Togolese saw a link between the killings and the ambitions of aspiring candidates for next month’s polls.
“Some of these deputies are ready to do anything to keep their seats and you hear that they’re carrying out sacrifices,” said Joel Attigan, a geography student.
Others saw the murders as linked to a desire for social advancement.
“There are too many young rich people in Togo these days. These crimes are linked to these kind of people, who sometimes use human sacrifices to obtain their goals,” said Da Mensa, the manager of a bar and restaurant in Lome.
Togo’s media have joined the feverish debate, blaming shadowy religious sects in Togo and Benin.
“We are in Africa, and spilled human blood can reveal many things,” the newspaper Le Magnan Libere said, referring to the witchcraft practice of using blood or body parts for divining or influencing the future.
The police have been cautious about confirming the ritual killing hypothesis.
But they said the arrested Benin citizen, Roger Kodjo Hounguiya, had confessed that he was working for a fellow countryman, Jean Goudjo, wanted in Benin for grisly murders involving mutilation.
The European Union, which froze most of its aid to Togo in 1993 citing the poor democratic record of then President Gnassingbe Eyadema, is sending electoral observers to the polls next month. Eyadema died in 2005 and his son is now president.
People-smuggler to be quizzed over boy’s body in Thames Published: July 27, 2004 By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG
A child trafficker who may have helped smuggle the River Thames “torso boy” into Britain was jailed for four-and- a-half years yesterday.
Kingsley Ojo headed a “substantial” network thought to have brought hundreds of youngsters and adults into the country to work in the sex trade, as domestic slaves or for benefit fraud. Now police hope he can shed some light on the ritual murder of the five-year-old boy they named Adam.
Southwark Crown Court in London heard that Ojo was arrested last year during a co-ordinated series of raids in the capital. He claimed to be Mousa Kamara, 30, from Sierra Leone but was soon identified as a 35-year-old Nigerian, originally from Benin City, where Adam used to live.
The court heard that Ojo had come to Britain in 1997 posing as an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone.
When police searched his flat, they found a video mock-up of ritual killings, a shot of what appeared to be a decapitated head in a basin and a voodoo artefact in the form of a rat’s skull, pierced by a long metal spike and bound in black thread.
Ojo, of Devonshire Close, Stratford, east London, admitted four charges. Two involved dishonestly obtaining a British passport in July 1999, and using a forged driving licence with intent to deceive, while two related to assisting illegal entry into this country in November 2002 and February last year.
Judge Neil Stewart said the offences were so serious that prison was inevitable. He told Ojo: “I’m satisfied your continued presence would be to the detriment of this country and I make a recommendation that you be deported upon your release from prison.”
Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly, the head of the investigation into the unidentified boy’s death, said later that Ojo had been detained because of his close association with a woman, Joyce Osagiede, who was arrested in Scotland. “We believe she is closely involved in the Adam case … we also believe he assisted with her entry into the country,” he said.
He went on: “I firmly believe he [Ojo] can assist us with our inquiries and we will be looking to speak to him as soon as possible.”
Osagiede, who has since been repatriated to Nigeria, also came from Benin City, and the pair lived together for a while at a London address.
The woman, who had Ojo’s address among her belongings, told immigration officers that she had fled her country due to being caught up in a ritual cult.
She claimed her husband, who was arrested in Dublin last year and later deported to Germany, had been involved in a group which carried out “demonic rituals”. He had, she said, played an active part in the deaths of 11 children, one of whom had been their eldest child.
In her flat, police found chicken feathers and a number of other items used in west African curses. They also found clothes believed to have come from the same shop in Germany as the orange shorts found on the headless, limbless body of the child which was found floating near Tower Bridge in central London almost three years ago.
Osagiede’s two daughters are still in foster care in Scotland.
Related article: Jail for torso case people smuggler Published: July 27, 2004 By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG
A man suspected of having smuggled into the UK an African boy whose torso was later found in the Thames was jailed for four years and six months for people trafficking yesterday.
Kingsley Ojo, 35, from Stratford, east London, admitted four charges: bringing two men, whom he provided with false papers, into Britain in November 2002 and February 2003, and using a forged driving licence and passport.
Ojo headed a “substantial” network that is thought to have smuggled in hundreds of children and adults to work as prostitutes or domestic slaves.
Scotland Yard detectives do not think he killed the boy, named Adam by police, whose headless and limbless torso was recovered from the Thames in September 2001. But they believe he could hold the key to the horrific ritual murder.
Officers were initially baffled by the gruesome find. But painstaking forensic analysis of the boy’s bones established his diet, which narrowed down his place of origin to the region around Benin city in Nigeria.
Ojo, who was arrested with 20 others in a series of immigration-linked raids across London last July, is also from Benin city. He had falsely claimed to be Mousa Kamara, 30, from Sierra Leone.
Detective Chief Inspector Will O’Reilly, who heads the investigation, said Ojo was not thought to have murdered Adam, but police wanted to interview him again about his links with a woman arrested in Scotland.
Children’s clothes found in her Glasgow flat came from the same German shop as the orange shorts on Adam’s torso. She also comes from Benin city, and she and Ojo lived at the same address in London for a time.
“We believe she is closely involved in the Adam case,” Mr O’Reilly said. “Her main associate in this country was Ojo. We also believe he assisted her entry into the country. I firmly believe he can assist us with our inquiries and we will be looking to speak to him as soon as possible.”
The woman has since been “repatriated” to Nigeria and Mr O’Reilly said he could not comment further on her as a file had been submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service.
When officers searched Ojo’s flat in London, they found a video of mock-up ritual killings and a rat’s skull, thought to be a voodoo talisman.
Southwark crown court heard that Ojo came to the UK in 1997, posing as an asylum seeker, and was granted leave to remain, but forbidden to travel abroad. But when he discovered his girlfriend, Barbara Bourne, had lost a newborn son a few years previously, he used the dead boy’s birth certificate to obtain a driving licence and passport.
He then brought in illegal immigrants on cheap flights from Naples. Police think those smuggled in may have paid up to 20,000 each for a new life in Britain.
Judge Neil Stewart said he was satisfied that Ojo had an organizational role and had profited from the enterprise, and recommended that he be sent back to Nigeria when he had served his sentence.
Five witchcraft inquiries Published: June 17, 2005 By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG
Police and social services in London are investigating five new suspected cases of child abuse involving witchcraft.
Britain’s leading expert on witchcraft, Dr Richard Hoskins, is working with social services on allegations about fundamentalist churches in Haringey and Hackney.
They involve two boys aged 11 and 14 and three girls aged 10, 12 and 13. They were all allegedly abused after being accused by their family of being “witches”.
A Metropolitan Police report, leaked yesterday, unmasked a “trade” in young African boys brought to London to be murdered as human sacrifices.
An inquiry in which members of the African community in Newham and Hackney were questioned found a number of sects that believe in powerful spells requiring the ritual killing of male children.
It also identified cases of children abused and killed after family members accused them of being possessed by “evil spirits”.
Dr Hoskins, a chief adviser to the Met, said almost all the cases he is investigating have similar features. The children have been accused of being “possessed” and allegedly abused and tortured.
Social services took them into their care after parents called for the children to be exorcised in fundamentalist churches.
Dr Hoskins said: “We are dealing with real cases here. I have got seven cases on my books of children nationwide who have been abused in the name of witchcraft. When you actually talk to them, these are hard and fast facts. But the issue as a whole has to be dealt with very sensitively.”
Dr Hoskins worked with police on the inquiry into “Adam“, the torso found in the Thames, which he is convinced was a ritual sacrifice.
In the Adam case, detectives also spoke to Tussan le Mante, a voodoo priest or hougan, who carries out rituals in his west London flat.
Le Mante was able to tell them accounts of child abuse of which he was aware through his connection with voodoo.
Police also found children are being sold to traffickers on the streets of African cities such as Lagos, Nigeria, for under ?10 then smuggled into the UK.
They arrive in London with false documents and accompanied by adults who believe they will bolster their asylum claims.
Dr Hoskins said: “We know this through work we have been doing on the Adam inquiry. It’s the same in Kinshasa. These children are ripe for people to abuse. They are easy prey.”
The 10-month study was commissioned by the Met following the death of Victoria Climbié who was starved and beaten to death after relatives said she was possessed.
Its aim was to create an “open dialogue” with the African and Asian community in Newham and Hackney. In discussions with African community leaders, officers were told of examples of children being murdered because their parents or carers believed them to be evil.
Earlier this month, Sita Kisanga, 35, was convicted at the Old Bailey of torturing an eight-year-old girl from Angola whom she accused of being a witch. Kisanga was a member of the Combat Spirituel church in Dalston.
Many such churches, supported mainly by people from West Africa, sanction aggressive forms of exorcism.
The caretaker of the building used by the church said its leader was “an extraordinary man”.
“The pastor would come down after preaching with froth coming out of his mouth,” he said.
“The congregation made massive noise and generally caused so much disturbance that the neighbours here kicked up a fuss and got the council to evict them.”
There are believed to be 300 similar churches in the UK, mostly in London. Last month, Scotland Yard revealed it had traced only two of 300 black boys reported missing from London schools in a three-month period. The true figure for missing children is feared to be several thousand a year.
The unidentified boy, named Adam by Metropolitan Police detectives, is believed to have been the victim of a ritual killing after being brought from his native Nigeria to Britain.
A substance found in the boy’s lower intestine was identified by an expert at Kew Gardens in London as the highly toxic calabar bean, from West Africa.
Police believe a preparation of the calabar bean – which can be fatal if swallowed, or cause paralysis in tiny doses – may have been used to subdue the boy, by slow paralysis, before his throat was cut. It was administered at least 24 hours before his death.
It also emerged yesterday that the murder squad, which has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds investigating the boy’s death, has prepared its first file of evidence in the case for the Crown Prosecution Service.
Scotland Yard sources played down suggestions that charges were close but officers have uncovered what they believe is cogent circumstantial evidence.
They have previously arrested a woman in Glasgow – who has since returned to Nigeria – and a man being held by police in Dublin. The pair, who are husband and wife, are not biologically related to Adam, it is understood.
The man in Dublin has been sentenced in his absence in Germany for trafficking offences and is wanted for extradition by the Germans.
A pair of child’s shorts on the headless and limbless torso of Adam, who was probably aged between four and six, also came from Germany.
Charges which might be brought in any trial include murder, conspiracy to murder and trafficking offences.
It also emerged yesterday that the Government’s leading law officer, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, QC, wants to lead the prosecution team in any trial arising from the Adam investigation.
The groundbreaking hunt for Adam’s killers Published: Monday August 4, 2003 By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG
Quoting: Sandro Contenta – Toronto Star (Canada), August 2, 2003 Link disappeared (webmaster FVDK)
DNA tests used to trace victim’s origin Boy’s murder linked to child trafficking
LONDON�One more turn of the tide and the torso of the boy in the River Thames would have been swept out to the North Sea, the story of his chilling end buried perhaps forever in a watery grave.
But the alarm was sounded when the bright orange shorts hanging from the torso caught the eye of a passerby up high on Tower Bridge.
Police fished out what was left of Adam, the name they eventually gave the still unidentified boy, at the foot of the Globe Theatre on Sept. 21, 2001
Since then, the story pieced together of what police consider London’s first known ritual killing is macabre enough to have challenged even Shakespeare’s imagination. And the investigative work that has brought police close to cracking the case is groundbreaking.
It combined unprecedented forensic research with old-fashioned legwork that took investigators to Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S., South Africa, Nigeria, Scotland and Ireland.
The latest break in the investigation came Tuesday, when Metropolitan Police raided several homes in London and arrested 21 suspected members of a child trafficking ring.
“We’re pretty convinced that we are on to a group of individuals who trafficked Adam into the country,” said Detective Inspector William O’Reilly.
The arrests highlighted a UNICEF report the next day estimating that thousands of children have been smuggled into Britain during the past several years to be exploited as sex slaves, or for slave labour.
But public attention was especially focused on what police described as evidence of occult rituals found in the raided apartments, such as an animal skull with a nail driven through it.
Most of those arrested come from Benin City, Nigeria, an area where remarkable forensic sleuthing in the case has determined as Adam’s home.
“I must stress we are not judging any cultures,” said Andy Baker, the police commander heading the investigation. “We are investigating a crime �the crime of murder.”
When the remains of Adam were found, investigators quickly figured out that his torso had been in the water for up to 10 days, that he was black, he was between four and eight years old, and murder ended his life.
It wasn’t the first limbless and headless torso 50-year-old Ray Fysh had seen in his forensic career. But it left him scratching his head.
Bodies are dismembered, he says, either to hide the victim’s identity, or to more easily transport and dispose of the body. But with Adam, no effort had been made to weigh down or conceal the torso once his killers dumped it in the Thames.
“In fact, he had orange shorts on, which made him stand out like a beacon,” Fysh says.
Even more puzzling was the conclusion that the shorts were placed on the torso after Adam was killed, because his legs could not have been hacked off with them on. The inside tag had washing instructions in German, and the brand was made exclusively in China for a German chain of stores.
“None of us knew, really, what we were dealing with at the time,” says Fysh, a scientist with Britain’s Forensic Science Service, and the forensic co-ordinator in the Adam case.
“Nobody had come across this sort of stuff before,” he adds.
Fysh’s team began with basic forensic work. They mapped a profile of Adam’s DNA, to be used to identify his parents if they’re ever found. They covered his torso with tape in a bid to lift any hairs or fibres that might belong to the murderer, and came up blank. Swab tests found no evidence of sexual assault.
Toxicology tests found only one drug in Adam, a cough suppressant called Pholcodine, bought without a prescription at any pharmacy. Adam was treated for a cough shortly before he was killed.
“It wasn’t obvious then, but looking back on it now, it shows some sort of duty of care to this child,” Fysh says.
The way Adam’s limbs were cut off was brutally precise.
The killer either used a series of heavy, razor-sharp kitchen knives, or one that was sharpened throughout the dismemberment.
“They cut the skin, peeled the muscle back, and then cut through the bone. They never went through a joint,” Fysh says.
Dismemberment occurred when Adam was already dead. But the cause of death was no less horrible. He was slaughtered like an animal.
“The cause of death was a knife trauma to the neck,” Fysh says, choosing his words carefully. “The child then went into extensive blood loss.”
About six weeks after Adam’s torso was discovered, police searching the river for the rest of his body found seven half-burned candles wrapped inside a white cotton bedsheet. The name Adekoyejo Fola Adoye was written three times on the sheet, and cut into the candles.
But in the end, the candles and bedsheet turned out to have nothing to do with Adam. Detectives found that Adoye lived in New York, and his London-based parents had performed a ceremony with the Celestial Church of Christ to celebrate the fact that he had not been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centre.
Still, police suspected they were stumbling into an uncharted area of the macabre and supernatural, and turned for guidance to Richard Hoskins, a specialist in African religions at King’s College in London.
Europol estimates there have been at least nine cases of ritual killing across Europe in the past 15 years, and Hoskins believes more are bound to occur as immigration grows.
Every year, about 300 people are killed in South Africa for muti, a Zulu word for traditional medicine. Muti is usually a mixture of herbs, but in rare cases human body parts are used.
About the same number are killed yearly in parts of Nigeria in illegal human sacrifices where the victim’s blood is offered to gods, spirits or ancestors, Hoskins adds. Body parts might be kept powerful trophies or souvenirs.
Tribes that practise animal sacrifices consider the ritual killing of humans a terrible moral and legal crime �a taboo that makes those who break it feel all the more empowered, especially when children are the victims, Hoskins says.
“Because of the innocence and the purity of the child it becomes the most powerful form of magic that can be done.”
The cut in Adam’s neck led Hoskins to believe the ritual was more likely from the west of Africa than the south.
“It was done in a very specific and deliberate way, clearly to bleed him to death in a relatively quick way. The point was to spill blood on the ground as an offering,” he says.
Hoskins says the orange colour of Adam’s shorts, and the dumping of his torso in the river is also ritually significant. He believes the murder or murderers sacrificed Adam to gain some sort of power or good luck for an undertaking in Britain.
For police, Hoskins’ theories were horribly fascinating, but brought them no closer to identifying Adam or his killers. Finding out whatever they could about his short life became the focus of Fysh’s forensic team by January, 2002.
Adam’s stomach was empty. The last time he ate was 12 to 18 hours before his death.
In his lower intestine �an area rarely examined in forensic work �they found traces of pollen from a tree found in London, but not in Africa.
“So we know he was alive and breathing in London before he was killed,” Fysh says.
Also in his lower intestine were tiny clay pellets with specks of pure gold embedded on their surface, along with what appeared to be finely ground up bones. To determine the origin of the crushed bones, they were sent to the New York forensic team that conducted innovative work to identify victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Hoskins says the concoction in Adam’s stomach is typical of the potions used to prepare victims for ritual killings in sub-Sahara Africa. It’s part of a process that led to Adam getting cough medicine to ensure he was a healthy offering to the gods.
“The case of Adam is definitely a ritualistic killing. There’s no doubt in my mind,” Hoskins says. “The remarkable thing is that he was brought from Africa to the U.K. specifically for the purpose.”
Hoskins didn’t believe Adam was the victim of a muti killing, but police weren’t ruling it out without hard evidence.
In April, 2002, detectives travelled to South Africa for a Johannesburg press conference where Nelson Mandela made a public appeal for information about Adam.
But in July, a break in the case would point to Hoskins’ theory.
Social workers in Glasgow had reported seeing strange items in the home of a 31-year-old West African asylum seeker. Police searched the flat and found objects they believed were associated with curses, including whisky jars filled with chicken feathers. More significant were the clothes found, which police believe were purchased in the same German shop were Adam’s orange shorts were likely bought.
The woman, Joyce Osagiede, was arrested and questioned about Adam’s murder. She was not charged, and was later deported to her Nigerian hometown, in the Benin City area.
At about the same time, Fysh’s team decided to try something never before attempted in forensic work.
They began by mapping Adam’s “mitochondrial DNA” (mtDNA), which is exclusively passed on from mothers to siblings. Children have the same mtDNA as their mother, who in turn has the same mtDNA as her mother, and so on.
They compared Adam’s mtDNA to 6,000 sequences published in scientific studies. Adam’s sequence had never been found among populations in southern African, or in people in eastern Africa. But it matched mtDNA found in the northwestern part of the continent.
To further narrow the search, the team called on the services of Ken Pye, a professor of soil geology at the University of London. The next series of tests were based on the maxim, “We are what we eat.”
There is a certain level of the mineral strontium that works its way through the food chain; from water, to earth, to plants, to animals, and, finally, into the bones of humans.
In other words, people walk around with a strontium signature that matches the one in their environment. And if a person moves from one country to another, it takes six to 10 years before the strontium signature in the bones changes to match the new habitat.
Given Adam’s likely age, his strontium signature would not only determine the place of his birth, but the place where he grew up. It matched the signature found in a zone of ancient, Precambrian rock, which in Africa is mostly predominant in Nigeria. Suddenly, the forensic evidence also began matching Hoskins’ academic research.
Fysh and detective O’Reilly travelled to Nigeria last November and spent 2�weeks collecting rocks, animal bones and vegetables from local markets in a 10,000 square kilometre area.
They also collected post-mortem human bones from three sites around the country, including Benin City.
They returned to London with 120 samples, and by the end of January matched the strontium signature in Adam’s bones to that found in a corridor stretching from Benin City to Ibaden, where villages of the Yoruba tribe dot the only main road along the way.
It was, in forensic terms, a eureka moment.
“From a torso floating in the Thames, we now think the child was born and raised in the Benin City area,” Fysh says.
Detectives have since gone to the area to post leaflets on trees about Adam’s murder, and to encourage local residents who might have information to come forward. They also publicized a reward of $110,000 for tips leading to the arrest of Adam’s killers and a $5,500 reward for information that will identify him.
The next big break came July 2, when Irish police arrested a 37-year-old Nigerian man in Dublin on an extradition warrant issued by German police.
In March, 2001, Sam Onogigovie was sentenced in his absence to seven years in Germany, for forgery and crimes linked to the trafficking of people.
He’s believed to be the estranged husband of Osagiede, the woman arrested in Glasgow and deported to Benin City last year. Police are seeking a DNA test to determine whether he’s Adam’s father, but believe he was more likely involved in smuggling the boy to London.
“It’s a case we all dearly would like to solve,” Fysh says. “At the end of the day, it’s a murder of a very young boy in grotesque circumstances.
“We want to send a message out there we will not accept this in London. We accept people’s culture. But a murder we will not accept.”
Focus: Muti – The Story of Adam Published: August 4, 2003 By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG
Quoting: Paul Vallely, Independent (England), Aug. 3, 2003 Link disappeared (webmaster FVDK)
The arrest of 21 people in connection with the discovery of a child’s mutilated body in the Thames points to a network of people traffickers and an underworld of abuse and domestic slavery. Paul Vallely, who has followed the case in the two years since the torso of the young African boy was found, says the evidence leads to the bloody ritual of muti, where the body parts of children are sacrificed in pursuit of spiritual power (Independent, England, August 3, 2003).
It was the body of a five-year-old African boy. The corpse had no head. The legs had been severed above the knee and the arms cut off at the shoulder. All that remained was a torso dressed – grotesquely – in a pair of orange shorts, which had been thrown into the Thames shortly before it was discovered in September 2001. Death had been from a violent trauma to the neck, and the limbs had been “skilfully” removed after death by an experienced butcher.
Yet it was not the gruesome details of the murder and dismemberment that last week – almost two years later – led 200 police officers to launch nine simultaneous dawn raids across London and arrest 21 people. It was the contents of the stomach of the child, whom the police – in an attempt to restore some humanity to the desecrated body – had named Adam. That, and the orange shorts in which the post-mortem showed he had been dressed after death.
Ironically, the clue that first put them on the trail to the arrests turned out to be a false lead. The body had been found by Tower Bridge. Initially, detectives wondered if the mutilation might be an attempt to disguise the identity of the victim of an accident, a family row or a sex crime. But then, two miles upstream in Chelsea, they found the remnants of an African ritual, with a Nigerian name written on a sheet, carved into seven half-burned candles. Might this be a ritual killing?
In the event, the Chelsea paraphernalia turned out to be unrelated. But before the police discovered that, they had sent to Johannesburg for Professor Hendrik Scholtz, a South African pathologist who is an expert in so-called muti killings – in which adherents of traditional African magic take human body parts and grind them down to make potions they believe bring good fortune to those who drink them. The professor came to England and, after a second post-mortem, confirmed the detectives’ fears. Muti had come to Britain.
The boy’s throat, he confirmed, had been cut and his blood drained from his body, probably for use in some ritual. Most significantly his first vertebra – the one between neck and spine – had been removed. This is known in Africa as the Atlas bone, for it is said to be the bone on which the mythical giant Atlas carried the world. In muti it is believed to be the centre of the body, where all nerve and blood vessels meet, and where all power is concentrated.
There was something else. Adam’s body was well-nourished and showed no signs of abuse, sexual or otherwise. Analysis of his stomach contents showed someone troubled to give him Pholcodine, a cough linctus, not long before he died. It was the classic muti scenario of an otherwise well-treated child being “volunteered” for sacrifice by his own family.
The police set out on two main lines of inquiry. The shorts – orange, they discovered, was a lucky colour in muti – carried the label Kids & Co, the brand-name for Woolworths in Germany. Detectives traced them to a batch of 820 pairs in size 116cm (age 5-7) that had been sold in 320 German stores. But then the trail went cold.
So, too, did a five-month trawl of London’s ethnic communities. Detectives came across plenty of rumours that muti ceremonies were taking place, but no evidence – and no sign of an identity for the murdered child. Painstaking checks of the attendance registers of 3,000 nurseries and primary schools found no missing five-year-old who tallied with what was known of Adam. When they sent forensic evidence to the United States for testing it came back with the verdict from the FBI that the case was “practically insoluble”. Even a public appeal by Nelson Mandela, broadcast across Africa, was fruitless.
But the dead child had not fallen totally silent. His DNA spoke up, as did the mineral levels in his bones. Analysts were able to establish that Adam had spent his life in a 100-mile corridor in the south-west of Nigeria, between Ibadan and Benin City. Revealingly, most of those arrested last week come from Benin.
The contents of his stomach were eloquent too. Forensic examination showed that the boy had been fed a muti potion of mixed bone, clay and gold.
There was something else. Analysis of pollen found in the boy’s stomach showed he had been alive when he came to London. It is thought he was brought across Northern Europe, possibly via Germany, and lived in Britain for a few weeks before his murder. “We’ve uncovered what we believe is a criminal network concentrating on people trafficking,” said Detective Inspector Will O’Reilly, who is leading the Adam inquiry. “We don’t know how many children are involved in this operation, but it’s certainly in the hundreds, if not the thousands, coming from mainland Africa through Europe into the UK.”
Lurid accounts of child trafficking have suggested the trade is primarily to provide recruits for the sex industry. But police believe that the majority of trafficked children are put to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, in what amounts to a modern form of slavery. Only a tiny number fall victim to muti.
Much of muti is innocent. The term derives from umu thi, the Zulu word for tree, which has become a byword for any traditional medicine, good or bad. Its everyday form consists of potions made from Africa’s indigenous herbs and plants to cure common ailments. It works. A pharmaceutical company has just signed a deal with the African National Healers Association to package some muti recipes. The South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has, with the aid of traditional healers, launched a “bio-prospecting” project to unlock the secrets of the nation’s 23,000 indigenous plants.
Most adherents stop with the plant recipes. But some believe that more complex complaints can be cured with animal parts such as crocodile fat, hawk wings, monkey heads or dried puff adders. Before the last World Cup qualifiers a hippo, lion, elephant and hyena were slaughtered to make a potion for the Swaziland team to give its footballers extra strength.
Muti becomes disturbing when it is extended to the notion that human body parts can be used to heal or bestow special powers. For muti is not just a medicine, it is a metaphysic. It asserts that there is only so much luck in the world and each person has a limited supply of it. Very young children have not yet used all their luck, which can be transferred to whoever takes the medicine derived from their remains. This is the origin of the widespread African myth that sex with a virgin can cure someone of Aids: the younger the girl, the more potent the “medicine”.
It is unclear how widespread human muti is in West Africa. But in South Africa, where the government set up a Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Violence and Ritual Murders after a spate of killings of boys aged between one and six in Soweto, it is estimated that at least 300 people have been murdered for their body parts in the past decade. The figure could be as high as 500 a year. (Italics added by the webmaster FVDK)
The killings are rarely impulsive. They are done to order by sangomas, or witch doctors, commissioned by clients with a particular need. Thus human skulls are placed in the foundations of new buildings to bring good luck to the business. Body parts are buried on farms to secure big harvests, severed hands built into shop entrances to encourage customers. Human hands burnt to ash and mixed into a paste are seen as a cure for strokes. Blood “boosts” vitality; brains, political power and business success. Genitals, breasts and placentas are used for infertility and good luck, with the genitalia of young boys and virgin girls being especially highly prized. There is a belief that body parts taken from live victims are rendered more potent by their screams.
Discovering all this provided the police with another clue. The genitals of the torso in the Thames had not been removed, suggesting that his killers needed muti potions for some other purpose. Adam had been sacrificed for non-sexual reasons.
It was almost a year after the discovery of Adam’s body that the next piece of the jigsaw fell into place. A representative of the social services department in Glasgow contacted Scotland Yard and reported that one of their clients, a West African woman, had said she wanted to perform a ritual with her children. Her name was Joyce Osagiede. When police travelled to Scotland to arrest her they discovered among her daughter’s clothes a pair of orange shorts of the exact size and brand as had been found on Adam. They also discovered that she had been living in Germany – the only place the shorts had been on sale – before coming to Britain with her children. It was not enough to charge her. She later returned to Nigeria.
Then, earlier this month, police tracked down the woman’s estranged husband, Sam Onojhighovie. The 37-year-old Nigerian man had appeared at the High Court in Dublin as part of an ongoing attempt to extradite him to Germany, where he had been convicted in his absence and sentenced to seven years for offences linked to human trafficking. Scotland Yard officers visited him for questioning.
Of the 21 people arrested in the dawn raids last week 10 were illegal immigrants. None have been charged. Following the raids, Inspector O’Reilly said: “We are pretty confident we have a group of individuals who could have trafficked Adam into the country.” Police are investigating a variety of offences, including benefit fraud, selling false passports and credit card and banking swindles. So far they are still some way off piecing together the exact fate of the boy they know as Adam.
“In West Africa there are several reasons for human sacrifices – for power, money, or to protect a criminal enterprise,” said Inspector O’Reilly. “We believe the prime motive for the murder was to bring good fortune. We suspect Adam was killed to bring traffickers luck.”
Police are waiting for the results of tests to compare the DNA of Sam Onojhighovie – and everyone arrested last week – with Adam’s. If it shows that a terrible ritual murder was carried out to bring good fortune to an iniquitous scheme to traffic in human beings, there could be a grim final irony. The muti killing that was supposed to ensure the success of a criminal enterprise may actually have ensured its failure.
Suspect responsible for death of 11 kids, wife tells police Published: August 4, 2003 By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG Quoting: Vanguard (Nigeria), Aug. 4, 2003 Link disappeared (webmaster FVDK)
LONDON – A Nigerian man questioned in connection with the suspected ritual murder of a boy whose torso was found in the River Thames nearly two years ago is responsible for the deaths of 11 children, his wife told British police, The Sunday Times reported yesterday.
Sam Onojhighovie, 37, was arrested July 2 in Dublin under a German extradition warrant for offences linked to human trafficking but has also been questioned in the Adam case, the nickname given to the boy found dead in September 2001.
His wife Joyce Osagiede told British immigration in November 2001 that she was escaping from a religious cult that had been active in her home country of Sierra Leone and in Nigeria, The Sunday Times said. She was later found to be from Nigeria.
Onojhighovie, who had been setting up branches of a new demonic cult in Germany and London, had killed 11 children, including the couples eldest daughter, she said according to the same source.
Police arrested 21 people Tuesday around London in connection with the Adam case. Those arrested were believed to be in their 20s and 30s and mostly Nigerians. They included 10 black men, nine black women and two white women, one of whom was nursing a baby.
Police have requested DNA tests from those arrested, believing one of them could be related to Adam. Adam�s limbless, headless remains were discovered floating in the River Thames near London�s famous Tower Bridge, triggering one of the most gruesome murder cases in the British capital in recent years. Police suspect the boy was the victim of a ritual killing after he was brought to Britain from the vicinity of the Southern Nigerian city of Benin.
Human parts in bush meat Published: Thursday November 7, 2002 By: RELIGION NEWS BLOG quoting : Western Daily News (England), Nov. 4, 2002 http://www.thisisbristol.com/ Link disappeared (webmaster FVDK).
Human flesh is being smuggled into Britain hidden in consignments of illegal bush meat, experts warned last night.
The horrifying twist to the bush meat trade was revealed with news of a raid on a London shop where it is believed human body parts were being sold.
Detectives investigating the murder of a five-year-old boy, whose torso was found in the Thames and whom officers believe was the victim of a West African ritual killing, joined a raid by environmental health officers.
There they found the first evidence of its kind linking the trade in bush meat to witchcraft ceremonies.
Officers seized items including a crocodile head, used in ritualistic dishes to “increase sexual stamina”.
Other packages of unidentifiable meat have been sent for DNA testing.
Experts say they are convinced human flesh is finding its way on to the streets as part of the illegal trade which deals in flesh from animals such as monkeys.
Clive Lawrence, Heathrow Airport’s meat transport director who joined detectives on the raid, last night said: “We have been told by moles protecting their own businesses that human flesh is being sold in this country. There is also an established trade in smuggling children, a lot disappear and no-one knows what happens to them.
“I think it is not just restricted to London, but to everywhere with high population density.”
Mr Lawrence said it was likely the trade had extended its deadly cargo to Bristol, adding he believed the murder of the Thames child – named Adam by detectives – was not a one-off.
He said underworld sources told him a human head will sell for �10,000. Flesh from a slaughtered child turned into African medicine or a “Muti” pendant, giving the wearer “incredible sexual power”, is said to cost about �5,000.
Detectives from Operation Swalcliffe investigating Adam’s death say he was smuggled in to Britain alive five days before being murdered.
They believe he was sacrificed in a ritual intended to bring good luck to his killers. In the past year police have discovered seven cases of West African religious rituals on the Thames.
The Nigerian human rights advocate and humanist Leo Igwe wrote a very interesting article on the background of superstition in Mozambique. He explains the belief in superstition and the fact that Mozambicans resort to occult practices: “It’s all related (if not caused) by the lack of effective state interventions and leadership.” As he argues, “(…) in the absence of modernity, people in Mozambique and elsewhere in the region invoke magic and superstition to help process the existential challenges and uncertainties that they face in their everyday life. (…)“
I have a very high opinion of Leo Igwe. For ten years or more I’ve been reading his thoughts, experiences and views. He’s a well-known human rights activist. I would wish there are many many more Leo Igwe’s! Therefore his opinions matter.
Leo Igwe critically examines the modernity arguments, referring to scholars such as Peter Geschiere, Jean and John Comaroff. But how right are they? One could easily reverse the question. Is state intervention the critical factor? What if it did not exist? To what extent it would have been decisive?
In my opinion the real explanation for the phenomenon of superstition lies in the fact that the people concerned have not been educated in the proper sense.
Education, education and once more education! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of modern education. It’s the only long term solution for the problem of superstition. In the short term, the State should do its work: enforce the respect for the rule of law and hold those who are suspected of human rights violations and ritualistic murders accountable for their heinous crimes!
In Mozambique, murders of albinos, bald men, and other superstition-fueled crimes are common. Where do these ritual killings come from?
Recently, there have been reported incidents of harmful acts that are connected with traditional beliefs and practices across the region. For instance, some people attacked traders and fishermen for ‘tying the rain’. They alleged that the victims controlled rainfall in the area to benefit their businesses. The practice of rainmaking and unmaking in found in other African societies. Fortunately, the police intervened and warned the perpetrators against making such false accusations.
In another instance, ritualists killed five bald men in the district of Milange because their head supposedly contained gold. It is not clear how and when Mozambicans started associating bald heads with gold or magical wealth. Similar superstitious narratives have led to violence in other African cultures. For example, in Nigeria, those who believe that the hump contains some ‘precious mineral’ attack people with a hunchback.
Mozambique, however, has been particularly susceptible to ritual murders in recent years. People living with albinism (PLA) have been hunted down and killed in Mozambique for their body parts. The body parts of PLA are used to prepare magical substances that ostensibly bring wealth and good fortune. In September 2017, ritualists killed and removed the brain of a 17-year-old boy.
People Living with Albinism (PLA)
Mozambicans who suffer ailments or death impute witchcraft, and those who are accused of witchcraft are frequently attacked or killed. In 2011, at least 20 people were murdered for alleged involvement in witchcraft in Mozambique. Some of those arrested for attacking or lynching alleged witches were even schoolteachers. It has thereforebecome pertinent to explore how these manifestations of superstition and magical beliefs are related to the idea of modernity or the postcolonial context. Why has the spread of modernization not resulted in the disappearance of superstitious beliefs and practices in contemporary Mozambique?
A Reaction to modernity?
Some scholars such as Peter Geschiere, Jean and John Comaroff have designated the manifestations of occult beliefs in contemporary Africa as part of the dividends of Africa’s encounter with modernity. They have argued that modern changes have fractured Africa, and disrupted the lives of people within Africa. Ritual beliefs, and superstition-based practices, argue Geschiere and Comaroff, are ways that Africans make sense of these changes.
However, the modernity argument needs to be critically re-examined. First, how is accusing traders and farmers of holding the rain or killing PLA a way of making sense of modern changes? Does modernisation propel people to make witchcraft accusations and lynch alleged witches? How is the crisis wrought by modernisation (whatever that means) connected with magical imputations and ritualistic beliefs? Where is the logic in the argument that modernity is the raison d’etre of the growing visibility of occult beliefs in the region? Are modern phenomena not supposed to be oppositional to magic and superstition?
There is no doubt that modernisation has brought about significant change in African societies. The introduction of state bureaucracy, the school system, science and technology, neoliberal economics and the media has led to social, economic and political adjustments in postcolonial Africa. But occult beliefs and practices predate modernity in Africa. Africans have been using narratives of magic to make sense of their lives and social organisations before the introduction of state bureaucracy and other modern institutions. Modernisation has not led to the total disappearance of magical beliefs. So, is it justified to postulate that the manifestation of superstitions in postcolonial Africa is because of modernity?
In contemporary Africa, people make active use of both the magical and modern. Modernisation has provided Africans with an additional facility and resource in making sense of experiences. Where African people cannot use or access the modern, the magical is deployed. If the modern does not suffice, superstition is relied upon to supplement. People try to explain their misfortune using science and logic or by applying material and naturalistic resources. But where the material and natural are unhelpful and unsatisfactory, where they do not provide the answers and solutions, the supernatural and spiritual is used.
Superstition and magic are waxing strong and manifesting forcefully in places like Mozambique despite the modernisation process because there is some purpose that these ritualistic beliefs and practices are serving which modernity has not addressed.
In Mozambique, the state has failed in helping the citizens to meaningfully manage the shortage of rain and other existential uncertainties and anxieties. The required education or awareness is lacking. The state has not provided evidence-based information or response to the problem of limited rainfall especially to people in rural communities. According to a local source, elderly persons in the country languish in poverty: “They do not have access to basic health services, transportation and housing. Most elderly persons do not enjoy psychological and material well-being. They live in deplorable conditions, abandoned by relatives, accused of witchcraft and with little or no income”.
The state of Mozambique has been unable to put in place effective poverty alleviation programs for the citizens. There is no functioning social support system to cater for the poor, and the unemployed. So people try to make sense of their unfortunate situations using whatever they can lay their hands on whether they are material, immaterial or mixed. No incentives are extended to farmers and fishermen who are struggling to earn a living. They bear the brunt of poor harvest without state support or subsidy. Traders and others managing various businesses are left to cope with the harsh economic realities.
Due to the lack of effective state interventions and leadership in these critical areas, Africans resort to occult practices to make sense of their lives and experiences. In the absence of modernity, people in Mozambique and elsewhere in the region invoke magic and superstition to help process the existential challenges and uncertainties that they face in their everyday life.
Years ago, I drafted an article on infanticide in Benin for the present website on ritual killings in Africa. I never published it, because I hesitated. Thought it wasn’t ready yet. I may publish it one of these days.
This morning I ran into the article below on infanticide in Ghana – and Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria – and who knows in which other African countries this age-old practice occurs. The article is a follow-up to a 2013 investigative report of the same journalist and filmmaker, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. He fights a honorable battle against these murders, since we’re talking about the murdering of children.
Infanticide is an age-old horrible practice, but we’re living in the 21st c. and it’s absolutely necessary that governments take action in this respect. People are afraid to speak about infanticide, as Anas Aremeyaw Anas writes, since they fear the consequences of revealing a secret: death.
Witchcraft, the fear of witchcraft, superstition and ritual killings are closely related. Education can end this nexus. And economic development: jobs. It’s a fight against poverty and ignorance.
Moreover, people have the right to live without fear. It’s a human right.
Spirit Child: Ritual Killings in Ghana
Published: June 3, 2018
Author: Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Published by Aljazeera
WARNING: both original articles (2018; 2013) include a film with graphic images that may be shocking. Anas Aremeyaw Anas investigates the ritual killings of Ghanaian children deemed to be possessed by evil spirits.
Every year an unknown number of children – most of them disabled in some way – are murdered in northern Ghana because of the belief that they are in some way possessed by evil spirits set on bringing ill fortune to those around them.
The practice is the consequence of ancient traditions and customs and is shaped by poverty and ignorance in remote and often marginalised communities. No one knows the exact number of these ritual deaths across Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso and parts of Nigeria, but some believe it could be in the thousands.
For years, NGOs and the Ghanaian authorities have tried advocacy and education in an attempt to eradicate the practice but with only marginal success. Well into the 21st century, Ghana’s so-called spirit children are still being killed because they carry the blame for the misfortunes of everyday life.
In 2013, award-winning Ghanaian investigative reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas set out to track down and expose some of those responsible for the senseless killings – determined to bring them to justice and stop the practice.
Back then, he wrote: “When I first heard about this I could not believe it was happening in my country in the 21st century … The practice originally emerged as a way for poor families to deal with deformed or disabled children that they cannot look after. These families approach village elders known as concoction men and inform them that they suspect their child to be a so-called spirit child.
The concoction man then takes the father of the child to visit a soothsayer who confirms whether or not the child is truly evil, without ever actually laying eyes on them. Once this confirmation has been received, the concoction man brews a poisonous liquid from local roots and herbs and force-feeds it to the child, almost always resulting in death.
Over time, this practice has become a perceived solution to any problems a family might be having at the time of a child’s birth. By blaming the child for sickness in the family, or the father’s inability to find work or provide money to support his dependants, these communities have found an otherworldly explanation for their problems … But infanticide has always been a crime against humanity.”
Now, five years later, Anas, spoke to REWIND about why he doesn’t want to show his identity, the dangers of undercover journalism in Africa, and what has become of the concoction men that killed those children.
“Most African journalists who do investigations have a series of dangers pointing at them. You just have to be yourself and think about how to survive. I came up with the beads that I wear, so people don’t see my face. I’m sure that some of my colleagues, in Nigeria or Malawi have other ways to protect themselves,” Anas told Al Jazeera.
Talking about the threats facing investigative journalists, he said: “Generally, people definitely want to point guns at you or some will try to kidnap you. And most of these things have happened; getting death threats and legal suits is normal, most of my colleagues in the continent suffer that.”
“There is nothing more frustrating than doing a story on someone and then walking on the same streets with that person. It is even more dangerous and that can easily end the life of any journalist.”
“We don’t make stories so that people can just read them and smile in their bedrooms. We make stories that have impact on the society. For me, it is a good story when the bad guy is named, shamed and put in jail … Many people have gone to jail as a result of my work and I’m proud of it.”
Anas also talked about the concoction men that he met during his Spirit Child investigation.
“A legal process was started but they were too old, so at the time that the process could finish, some of them couldn’t even make it to court. But the key thing that happened in that story is that it told the community that whoever you are, when you attempt to do some of these things, you are going behind bars.”
“For the first time, those witch doctors were arrested and put before court. That sends a strong signal to all witch doctors to be careful, that when you are dealing with the life of a child it’s a completely different matter. And we can’t sit down for these children to be killed in the way they are being killed.”
Related: Spirit Child
By Anas Aremeyaw Anas
Published: January 10, 2013
Every year an unknown number of children – most of them disabled in some way – are murdered in northern Ghana because of the belief that they are in some way possessed by evil spirits set on bringing ill fortune to those around them.
The practice is the consequence of ancient traditions and customs and is shaped by poverty and ignorance in remote and often marginalised communities. But it is still infanticide and no less horrifying than the killing of children anywhere. For years NGOs and the Ghanaian authorities have tried advocacy and education in an attempt to eradicate the practice but with only marginal success. Well into the 21st century, Ghana’s so-called spirit children are still being killed because they carry the blame for the misfortunes of everyday life.
Award-winning Ghanaian investigative reporter Anas Aremeyaw Anas is determined to do something to stop this senseless slaughter. In this shocking and remarkable film for People & Power he sets out to track down and identify some of those responsible and to bring them to justice.
Thousands of children have been killed in Ghana because the communities they are born into believe they are evil spirits. When I first heard about this I could not believe it was happening in my country in the 21st century.
The practice originally emerged as a way for poor families to deal with deformed or disabled children that they cannot look after. These families approach village elders known as concoction men and inform them that they suspect their child to be a so-called spirit child. The concoction man then takes the father of the child to visit a soothsayer who confirms whether or not the child is truly evil, without ever actually laying eyes on them.
Once this confirmation has been received, the concoction man brews a poisonous liquid from local roots and herbs and force-feeds it to the child, almost always resulting in death.
Over time, this practice has become a perceived solution to any problems a family might be having at the time of a child’s birth. By blaming the child for sickness in the family, or the father’s inability to find work or provide money to support his dependents, these communities have found an otherworldly explanation for their problems.
In this highly patriarchal society it enables heads of family to pass the blame for their struggles onto someone else. And by branding the child a spirit from outside the family, they can disassociate themselves and feel justified in murdering their own offspring, while telling those around them that now all will be well – the evil presence is gone.
But infanticide has always been a crime against humanity. I believe there is plenty of evidence of infanticide in the history of all human societies and its continued and widespread practice makes a mockery of the democratic credentials of the countries, including mine, where this crime still takes place. Many forms of civic engagement and advocacy have been used in a bid to eradicate this practice in Ghana and other West African nations. Sadly though, the limited efficacy of such techniques is illustrated by the fact that today children are still being killed in this way.
Ready to spill blood in the name of tradition
And sometimes a strong focus on understanding and education when dealing with traditional practices can distance us from the reality of a situation; it can place us in an ivory tower where we fail to engage with the true manner in which those involved are behaving. Far from acting like a man fulfilling a sad but necessary duty, the concoction man I hired to kill my fictitious child for the purposes of this film was excited; his eyes pinned wide with zeal as he went about preparing for the task at hand.
He laughed and joked about his previous experience, telling me about how he had recently killed a 12-year-old girl by tricking her into drinking his concoction and boasting about how effective his methods are. Without knowing the context, any casual observer would surely consider his disposition nothing short of murderous.
While I understand that he was misguided – ready to spill innocent blood in the name of tradition – I also strongly believe that, no matter what the circumstances, where children are being murdered the state must step in to punish those responsible in the same way that the citizens of any developed democracy would expect it to.
That is not to say that some understanding cannot be afforded to the concoction men and the communities that continue to practice these rituals. Unlike those with the benefit of technology who can see a badly developed fetus and terminate it before birth, the mothers whose babies are killed in northern Ghana have no such options.
They may find themselves giving birth to a child only to discover that it is not normal: it will never be accepted and will always be a burden on those around it. In the absence of technology or a refuge for mother and child to escape to, the concoction man is the only solution. As a result, the parents perceive him as a saviour; the only one who can deliver them from enduring further hardship. And the concoction men in turn thrive on the standing and power this affords them in the community.
When we think of slavery or the burning of alleged witches, these crimes against humanity were only eradicated when key actors in government decided to take a stand. By declaring these practices as unacceptable and threatening those who continue to perpetrate them with prosecution, governments have brought about the abolition of centuries-old traditions in a relatively short space of time.
Permitting evil to triumph over good
From northern Ghana, where the spirit child story is set, through Burkina Faso, Benin and parts of Nigeria, countless babies are killed based on age-old cultural beliefs. But despite this, we were unable to find any evidence of previous arrests for these crimes.
During the three weeks that I worked on this story, I came across 10 men who were willing to kill a baby for spiritual reasons. They were easy to find. Yet when I asked a senior police officer why no arrests have been made, his response was: “It is a very difficult thing to do. It’s unfortunate, we have no idea why this is happening, who is behind this and why they have not been arrested.”
My intention is not to suggest that one investigation or police arrest can stop this trend. But in many ways, the practice’s continued existence is a result of the impunity enjoyed by those involved. The fact that the police have never acted in any way to prevent these children being killed is surely a strong incentive for the concoction men to continue their business as usual. Invariably, this type of laisser-faire attitude is what permits evil to triumph over good.
Democracy has no value if it is only limited to occasional ceremonies for power holders. It is worthless if the voiceless are crushed and the perpetrators of atrocities are allowed to continue living their life without suffering any consequences. It certainly cannot exist where freedom and justice, selectively applied, mean that children are killed with impunity.