Witch-trials in Angola: mass ritual killing as 50 are poisoned to death

It’s a tradition based on superstition and probably as old as humankind: to blame misfortune, an accident, bad harvest or a disease on a weaker person in society who then has to prove not being guilty of the accusation by drinking a poison. When surviving the ordeal the accused proves to be innocent. However, death confirms his or her assumed guilt.

It’s likely that this ugly practice exists all over the African continent. On previous occasions I have posted articles on ‘trial by ordeal’ in Liberia. This West African country is located 3,600 kilometers (or 2,236 miles) from Angola – as the crow flies – but the practice of trial by ordeal, locally called ‘sasswood (or sassywood) trial or ordeal’, is notorious in Africa’s oldest republic despite being banned by the government. See my posts of July and August 2020:
Liberia: Picnicess citizens say herbalist Tamba Bundo is doing well by exposing wizards, witches and ritualistic killers (August 30, 2020)
Liberia: woman dies after reportedly taking ‘sassywood’ to clear her innocence from witchcraft allegations (August 29, 2020)
Liberia: adolescent girl tortured, accused of witchcraft (July 5, 2020)

The ‘crazy’ practice – proving one is not guilty of an accusation is the opposite of the accepted rule of law when authorities have to prove a person is guilty of an alleged crime – makes victims on an unknown but unacceptable scale, not only in Liberia, but also in other African countries (as well as elsewhere on Planet Earth). In 2009 seven people, who were accused of witchcraft in Liberia – in River Gee County – died of whom two died after drinking the sasswood poison.

In Angola the reported deadly ‘trial by ordeall’ in Angola caused the death of more than 50 innocent people accused of being sorcerers.
These practices must be stopped!
(FVDK)

Children accused of being witches. Source: Child-witches of Nigeria seek refuge
(illustration not related to the story below)

The witch-trials of Angola: Mass ritual killing as 50 are poisoned to death after being forced to drink mysterious herbal potion to prove they were not sorcerers

  • Around 50 people died after being made to drink a herbal poison 
  • They were forced to prove they weren’t sorcerers
  • Politicians accused traditional healers of making the deadly herbal drink 

Published: March 14, 2024
By: Perkin Amalaraj – Daily Mail, UK

About 50 people have died in Angola after being forced to drink an herbal potion to prove they were not sorcerers, police and local officials said on Thursday.

The deaths occurred between January and February near the central town of Camacupa, according to Luzia Filemone, a local councillor.

Speaking to the national radio broadcaster, she accused traditional healers of administering the deadly concoction.

‘More than 50 victims were forced to drink this mysterious liquid which, according to traditional healers, proves whether or not a person practices witchcraft,’ said Filemone.

Belief in witchcraft is still common in some rural communities, despite a strong opposition from the church in the predominantly Catholic former Portuguese colony.

About 50 people have died in Angola after being forced to drink an herbal potion to prove they were not sorcerers (File image)

About 50 people have died in Angola after being forced to drink an herbal potion to prove they were not sorcerers (File image)

Angola does not have laws against witchcraft, leaving communities to deal with the issue as they see fit

Angola does not have laws against witchcraft, leaving communities to deal with the issue as they see fit

The deaths were confirmed by police that said 50 people were killed.

‘It’s a widespread practice to make people drink the supposed poison because of the belief in witchcraft,’ provincial police spokesman Antonio Hossi told the broadcaster, warning cases were on the rise.

Angola does not have laws against witchcraft, leaving communities to deal with the issue as they see fit.

Allegations of sorcery are often settled by traditional healers, or ‘marabouts’, by having the accused ingest a toxic herbal drink called ‘Mbulungo’. Death is thought to prove guilt.

Source: The witch-trials of Angola: mass ritual killing as 50 are poisoned to death after being forced to drink mysterious herbal potion to prove they were not sorcerers

Liberia: woman dies after reportedly taking ‘sassywood’ to clear her innocence from witchcraft allegations

In Liberia, superstition is widespread. On more than one occasion I have written about this phenomenon in the West African country, Africa’s oldest republic, founded in 1847. The most recent occasion was on July 5, 2020 after a girl had been terribly tortured by her siblings who accused her of witchcraft. At the end of July another case which had actually happened in the preceding month was reported.

This time it was linked to an old ritual, trial by ordeal or ‘sassywood ordeal’ as it is called in Liberia. The Liberian government has outlawed the ‘sassywood or sasswood ordeal‘ many, many years ago, but It enacted a law that was never enforced – for various reasons. In 2009 seven people, accused of witchcraft in River Gee County, in the south of the country, died of whom two died from drinking the poison.

On Monday June 27, Sarah Togba, a woman in Gaye Town, in Grand Gedeh County, died after she ‘voluntarily’ took a ‘sassywood’ to prove her innocence after she had been accused of witchcraft causing the death of several persons. I fear that she will not be the last victim of this age-old practice of trial by ordeal, in fact a kind of mob justice. Still in the 21st century the rule of law is not applied in Liberia (webmaster FVDK).   

Liberia: Woman Dies after Reportedly Taking ‘Sassywood’ to Clear her Innocence from Witchcraft Allegations

Published: July 27, 2020
By: Front Page Africa – Lennart Dodoo 

GRAND GEDEH – A woman in Gaye town, Gbarzon District 3 in Grand Gedeh County met her untimely death on Monday, June 27 after she voluntarily took a ‘sassywood’ (trial by ordeal) to prove her innocence of allegations that she has been involved with witchcraft activities and had orchestrated the death of several persons.

Sarah Togba, according to reports gathered by FrontPageAfrica, was accused along with 13 others of being responsible for the death of one Zean Lolee Sayee who died recently in the country. He was 58 years old.

An eyewitness, Albert Thoudou, told FrontPageAfrica that Sayee’s children, during the funeral rites, confessed to being witches and claimed they knew who caused the death of their father. Sarah and 13 others were mentioned, according to the eyewitness.

He explained to FrontPageAfrica that some of those accused verbally denied the allegation, but Sarah who has on many occasions been accused of being a witch, opted to clear her name by voluntarily taking the “sasssywood”.

“By our tradition here, we have a tree in the bush we call the sassywood tree, if you shew the bark of that tree and you’re innocent, nothing will happen to you and if you’re guilty you’ll die. Sarah went into the bush and people saw her coming back with the sassywwod tree in her mouth. But she suddenly fell and died on the spot,” Thoudou explained.

He added, “I witnessed the incident, she was not forced by the elders. She decided to do it herself. She has always been accused of being a witch, so, maybe, she wanted to clear her name once and for all.”

According to him, four of the accused admitted to the allegation prior to Sarah opting for trial by ordeal. The eyewitness further disclosed that six others are on the standby to prove their innocence.

Meanwhile, he disclosed that the children of the deceased who leveled the witchcraft allegation and also claimed to be witches and wizards have cautioned that unless some traditional rites are performed in the town, six other persons would die in similar fashion their father died.

Source: Liberia: Woman Dies after Reportedly Taking ‘Sassywood’ to Clear her Innocence from Witchcraft Allegations

Liberia: Maryland police arrest eight suspects for murdering three for witchcraft

If one had hoped that the trial of the seven accused in the Sinoe murder case (the ‘Johnny Town Murder Case’ – see my previous postings on this subject) would have acted as a deterrent, unfortunately, reality is different. On September 5, another case has been revealed, this time in Maryland County, in the eastern part of the country, near Ivory Coast.
One the one hand, the Liberian police is to be commended for its swift action and upholding the law; on the other hand, one wonders if and when mob justice, trail by ordeal (sassy wood trials) and the belief in witchcraft wil ever end in Liberia.

Warning: the article below contains some graphic details (webmaster FVDK).

Featured photo by Franklin Nehyalor

Published: September 5, 2019
By: Franklin Nehyalor – The Bush Chicken

HARPER, Maryland – Police in Harper, Maryland are currently investigating eight persons in Rock Town, Barrobo District for allegedly killing three people.

According to the commander of the Maryland Police Detachment, Jacob Comehn, 14 persons were accused of murdering Town Chief Isaac Weah Sadyee, Isaac Gortoe, and an 18-year-old identified as David Nugbo.

Comehn told journalists that he had received a call the morning of Monday, September 2 from Rock Town Community about the murders. The following day, he said his officers went to the location and arrested 8 of the 14 suspects. Six persons are still on the run.

Those arrested were John Tewah, Moses Chea, Sam Gbaquee, Chea Karmune, Deagba Toe, David Weah, Solomon Weah, and Cyrus Doe. All were males and ranged in ages from 33 to 50.

Comehn said the three persons murdered had been accused of witchcraft. He said the accused had been brought in the middle of town for questioning, where they reportedly confessed openly that they had planned to kill some Rock Town residents through witchcraft.

The police commander did not say whether the men were tortured before their confession, but he noted that they were murdered with cutlasses and other sharp objects.

Comehn described the deceased bodies as bearing signs of having undergone excruciating pain. Saydee’s two hands were cut and his two eyes were plucked, while Gortoe was chopped with cutlasses on his neck and the 18-year-old Nugbo had cutlass marks on his forehead and chest.

Prior to the killing, Comehn said the 14 suspects had asked women of the town to go indoors for the “country devil” to be released.

The case is eerily reminiscent of an ongoing trial in Buchanan, where seven men are being tried for gang-raping three women and murdering one of them after they were accused of being witches.

In that case, a defendant testified that the three women were turned over to the traditional society because they had been accused of witchcraft. A “country devil” had also been called to come take the women away and the town crier had asked all those around to go indoors. The defendant then explained that the body parts were extracted from the murder victim. The seven defendants were found guilty and are awaiting sentencing once they exhaust the appeal process.

Meanwhile, the Maryland police commander is calling on the public to assist in locating the remaining suspects. They are Toeson Hinneh, Jacob Doe, Varsco Weah, Prince Doe, Dargba Toe, and Amos Bahway.

“We in this part of the country remain committed to saving lives and properties as part of our duties in helping the government of Liberia in dealing with crimes,” Comehn said.

The eight suspects are in police custody and undergoing thorough investigation in Harper, Maryland. After police investigation, Comehn said the eight suspects will be charged and sent to court.

The three victims were buried on Wednesday by family members.

Source: Maryland Police Arrest Eight Suspects for Murdering Three for Witchcraft

Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism (2011)

I have written extensively about Liberia’s history of ritual killings, in books, articles, and on my website ‘Liberia: Past and Present of Africa’s Oldest Republic‘, notably in the section ‘Past and Present of Ritual Killings: From Cultural Phenomenon to Political Instrument‘.

I was confronted with the phenomenon of ritualistic murders in Liberia when living in Monrovia – where I taught at the University of Liberia – and, later, in Harper, capital of Maryland County, in the second half of the 1970s. In Harper I witnessed the public execution of the Harper Seven, in 1979. They were convicted of the ritual murder of a fisherman and popular singer, Moses Tweh, and sentenced to death by hanging. The trial of the Harper Seven turned out to be Liberia’s most notorious ritual killing case.

Big shots’ were involved, such as Maryland County’s Superintendent, Daniel Anderson – son of the Chairman of Liberia’s only political party, the True Whig Party – and Allen Yancy, member of the House of Representatives for Maryland County and cousin of former Liberian president William Tubman (1944 – 1971). Reportedly, Allen Yancy had been involved in previous ritual murder cases but he was never convicted, allegedly because of Tubman’s protection.
Ritualistic killings in Liberia have been rampant, and I fear the gruesome practice has far from disappeared – as is demonstrated by the article reproduced below.

The article reproduced below summarizes well Liberia’s recent history of ritualistic murders. What used to be a cultural phenomenon – human sacrifices for the well-being of the clan or tribe – has become a political instrument, used by unscrupulous politicians and businessmen to further their interests.

I will not dwell too long here on these atrocities and outdated but persistent beliefs in supernatural powers. Readers are invited to visit my website for more details.

Last but not least, my publications on ritual murders in Liberia became the prelude to the present website on ritual killings in Africa in general. See the site’s menu, notably the section ‘Why publish this site?

Public execution by hanging of the ‘Harper Seven’, including Maryland Superintendent Daniel Anderson and Representative Allen Yancy, at dawn in Harper, Liberia on February 16, 1979. Picture taken by Fred van der Kraaij (copyrights).


Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism

Published: August 01, 2011 · 10:52 AM UTC
By: Emily Schmall and Wade Williams

MONROVIA, Liberia — The pregnant woman was found dead in the shallows of Lake Shepherd. The fetus had been removed.

A candidate for Liberia’s Senate and a former county attorney are among those standing trial for the 2009 murder, the latest in a long history of ritual sacrifices performed for political power in Liberia.

In this case in southeastern Maryland County, prosecutors were tipped off by a witch doctor who provided a list of 18 people allegedly connected to the killing, including Fulton Yancy, the former county attorney, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Special Envoy and Ambassador-at-Large Dan Morias.

Vials of blood were discovered in Yancy’s home. Nine were charged with murder but were released earlier this month following a Supreme Court ruling.

Liberia will have general elections later this year and the ritual killings tend to flare up during election season, according to Jerome Verdier, former chairman of Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

”Unfortunately it happens during elections time because people are competing for political power, they don’t know God and they believe that these supernatural powers will come to them once human blood is shed,” Verdier said.

During Liberia’s two-decades-long civil war hundreds were killed for ritual purposes, the TRC discovered during its hearings.

”During our research at the TRC we found out that bloodshedding was very, very common during the conflict. People killed indiscriminately women and children believing that it would give them some power to continue fighting and that they would be protected,” said Verdier.

Liberia’s Maryland County has traditionally been the hub for the country’s ritual murders. The killings have haunted the southeastern county for decades. In recent years, however, ritual killing cases have cropped up across the country.

Verdier said some of those who confessed at the TRC hearing gave graphic accounts of ritual killings they carried out.

“People went as far as eating their opponent’s body — when such person is killed in battle they cook their body to eat, believing that the spirit, the powerful spirit of that person, will come to them and by eating them, the person’s power is completely destroyed, so there can be no reemergence in that person’s family line or their ethnic line.”

‘General Butt Naked’, a notorious warlord in Liberia’s First Civil war (1989 – 1997) testified and confessed before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he committed numerous ritualistic murders and ate body parts of his victims.

A former warlord who calls himself General Butt Naked and who fought against former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, confessed in 2008 to taking part in human sacrifices that included the killing of a child and “plucking out the heart, which was divided into pieces for us to eat.”

In 2005, the leader of Liberia’s transitional government, Gyude Bryant, pledged to hang anyone found guilt of ritual killing.

Dispatched to Maryland County by President Johnson Sirleaf to calm residents’ fears earlier this year, Justice Minister Christiana Tah acknowledged that “there are still lots of unresolved cases of this nature,” according to a report in the daily New Democrat.

In a case from the 1970s known as the Maryland Murders, seven people, including Fulton Yancy’s older brother Allen Yancy, a member of the House of Representatives, were hanged for killing a fisherman (see picture above). The following year Defense Minister Gray D. Allison was convicted of killing a police officer whose body was discovered on the Bong Mines railroad, apparently used in a ritual sacrifice. The government at the time displayed blood drained in gallons believed to be that of the dead man.

Dan Morias, one of those accused of the 2009 killing of a pregnant woman, is planning to run for senator in the upcoming legislative elections in October. He has maintained that the charges against him are politically motivated. He must be cleared of the charges to be eligible to run for office.

Morias is listed in the TRC report for alleged abuses committed while he served as Minister of Internal Affairs for the Charles Taylor regime. When reached by GlobalPost, Morias said he could not comment on the case as it would be “prejudicial,” but insisted that the evidence against him — namely the testimony of a witch doctor — was “weak.”

Earlier this year, President Johnson Sirleaf warned Maryland County citizens against seeking retribution for the killings with a traditional practice called “sassywood” or “trial by ordeal.”

The government insists that trial by ordeal is illegal and Johnson Sirleaf banned the practice in April 2007. Since then traditional leaders have been pleading with the government to allow them to practice the act which they believe is the only way justice can be served in cases like these.

“Sassywood” is the insertion of an accused person’s extremity into hot oil or the placing of a heated metal on a suspect’s body. If the suspect is burned then it is concluded that he or she is guilty but if there is no burn then the suspect is deemed innocent and set free. Those found guilty are killed.

The police are working to stamp out both the ritual killings and the “sassywood” practices, said George Bardue, spokesman for the Liberia National Police: “The police are doing everything possible to make sure that these things do not happen.”

Emily Schmall is a multimedia journalist now based in Monrovia, Liberia, where she serves as country director for New Narratives, a journalism mentorship project for women. Wade Williams is a New Narratives fellow and an editor at FrontPage Africa, Liberia’s most widely circulated newspaper.

Source: Liberia’s elections, ritual killings and cannibalism
GlobalPost