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Witchcraft in Africa: Congo

Christian abuse of children
who are believed to be "witches."

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About the Democratic Republic of Congo:

The Second Congo War (a.k.a. Africa's World War and the Great War of Africa) resulted in the deaths of about 5.4 million people -- mostly by starvation and disease -- between 1998-AUG and the date that it officially ended in 2003-JUL. The death toll was the highest of any war since World War II. By late 2009, about a half million people were still dying each year.

At times of great stress, beliefs and behaviors often surface that can lead to abuse and violence. There may be a link between the massive stressors and disruptions of Great War of Africa and the rise of violent exorcisms and later abandonment of children by Christians.

1999-OCT: "Child witches" as covered by BBC News Newsnight program:

BBC News wrote about Pandi Mahonda, his partner Kalumbu, and their two sons Ikomba, 8 and Luwuabisa, 10. The two sons have been identified as witches and blamed by the villagers as the cause of a string of bad luck in the Mahonda household: equipment failure, appliance failure,  medical problems, car accident, missing money. 1

The BBC reports that belief in child witchcraft is unique to Congo:

"Children are being accused of sorcery and chucked onto the streets. The unlucky ones are murdered by their own family members before they escape.

The Mahondas took their sons to a Congolese Bible teacher called Prophet Onokoko who specializes in diagnosing witchcraft in children. He has found 230 child witches so far; many have been abandoned by their families. All must go through an exorcism, during which they are: "... made to vomit up things that have been inserted into them unnaturally."

More than 14,000 children have been thrown out of their homes in Congo's capital city of Kinshasa.

2009-MAY: "Child witches" as covered in ABC News Nightline program:

ABC News wrote:

"In a dirt-floored, back-alley church, 8-year-old Bobby and his 6-year-old brother Henock were made to kneel before a [Christian] pastor wearing a white, flowing robe adorned with pictures of Jesus."

"Looming over the boys, Pastor Moise Tshombe went into a trance, during which he claimed the Holy Spirit took over and the voice of God spoke through him. 'I see that witchcraft is in these two,' Tshombe said. 'The threats inside of them are very strong'."

"These young brothers were the latest victims in an epidemic of accusations of child witchcraft here in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is raging in the name of Jesus. It continues seemingly unabated despite flags raised by organizations such as the United Nations, Save the Children and Human Rights Watch. 2

Their stepmother believes that the boys are stealing blood from their stepsister and using it to fly at night.

"Nightline personnel visited four Christian churches and saw scores of children -- some of whom were toddlers -- who had been denounced as witches.

The "witch" children are often subjected to a vicious exorcism. One child observed by Nightline had hot candle wax poured on her stomach. There are stories of children being beaten, burned, starved and even murdered -- sometimes by family members.

Another pastor in Kinshasa, Ngoma Madilu Orlain, allegedly expelled evil spirits from a little girl by giving her an enema using a potion derived from a magical wood. He said: "Christ chased away evil spirits. That's what we today would call witchcraft."

This appears to be a profitable business. Pastor Moise Tshombe allegedly charged $50 for the exorcism -- equivalent to 6 months average salary in the Congo. He said:

"I don't do it for money. I do this because the Holy Spirit gave me the gift to cure. If I were a liar, you wouldn't see so many people here. That proves that I am not a charlatan."

Many children are considered to be permanently tainted by the charge of witchcraft and are abandoned by their families.

Nightline commented:

"Life for girls accused of witchcraft is especially horrific. Critics say they are often raped, abused and forced into prostitution.
Many of these girls now have children of their own. We saw them leaving the babies on the side of the road to sleep at night while they went off to turn tricks."

Theodore Luleka Mwanalwamba, heads a special commission to protect children in the Congo. He said it's illegal to for a person to accuse a child of witchcraft, unless they have proof. He said that it is possible for a child to be a witch if they have: "... big eyes, black eyes or a bulging tummy."

The terms Witch and Witchcraft are being used to refer to many unrelated practices throughout Africa and the rest of the world. Confusion reigns.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo

bulletEarly Christian missionaries in Africa used these terms to refer to individuals who are believed to intentionally use "incantations, ritual, and various substances" 1 to mount psychic attacks against other people. The latter were believed to direct destructive black magic in the direction of their victims. These individuals are called umthakathi among the Zulu and moloi among the Sotho. "Evil sorcerer" or "evil sorceress" would be a preferred term to use. Unfortunately, they are often referred to simply as "Witches."
 
bulletFollowers of many African Aboriginal religions use the terms witch and witchcraft to refer to individuals who are believed to have the potential to harm others through psychic means. They are believed to be unaware of their evil powers. Witchcraft is not something that they learn; they are perceived as having been born with magical abilities to harm others. Witch Doctors are spiritual specialists who attempt to counteract the powers of the witches.
 
bulletThe terms Witch and Witchcraft often refer to Wiccans and Wicca throughout the world. This is a modern religion that is based largely on symbols, beliefs, deities and festivals of the ancient Celtic society. This meaning has occasional use in Africa as well. 
 
bulletThere are at least 15 additional, mostly unrelated, activities which have been called "Witchcraft."  

The terms Witch and Witchcraft are being used to refer to many unrelated practices throughout Africa and the rest of the world. Confusion reigns.

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Related essay on this web site:

bulletWitchcraft in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa

References:

  1. Jeremy Vine, "Child witches in the Congo," BBC News, 1999-OCT-12, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/
  2. Dan Harris & Almin Karamehmedovic, "Child Witches: Accused in the name of Jesus," ABC News, Nightline, 2009-MAY-21, at: http://abcnews.go.com/

Copyright 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2009-NOV-01
Latest update: 2009-NOV-01
Author: B.A. Robinson

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