Photojournalist Louise Wateridge is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. From the ‘Alleged Witches in Northern Ghana’ project. To see Louise’s body of work click on any image.
Kukuo: Alleged ‘Witch’ Camp
This series takes place in Kukuo Witch Camp located in the Namumba South District of Northern Ghana, one of the only witch camps in the world. There are currently hundreds of alleged ‘witches’ living in the five camps across northern Ghana and although Ghanaians are extremely superstitious, these camps are not a story of witch craft or unusual activity, they are the story of lack of women’s rights and discrimination against widowers who become a burden to their family.
These women face fierce social stigma, being exiled from their communities and having most of their basic human rights violated. Many of the women wish to improve the water situation at their home in the Kukuo Camp. Some have lived there as long as 30 years and despite being over 80 years old walk daily to carry water pumped from a community well.
The remaining Witch Camps in Ghana are vastly separated from other communities and the majority of the accusations start from a death in the family or a dream somebody has but almost every case is traced back to inheritance issues or a woman becoming a burden due to age or being widowed. Their only trial is mob justice, which is almost impossible to over turn as vulnerable women. Once in the camps, they will work on local maize or henna farms until they are too elderly, when they will rely on the younger women for food and donated clothing.
Kasue Kalahar, 85, says, “I was a widow. I moved into my sister’s house to care for her while she was sick. After she died, my nephew said to me ‘Auntie- stop chasing me in my dreams. Stop it or I will take my own actions.’ The next morning everyone in my family had left and I was in the house alone. The chief came and banished me as a witch.”
Awabu Issaheku of Kukuo was accused to be a witch by her sister in law after she was widowed and moved in with her brother, “I pray for the Government to help” she said.
ActionAid reports that in 2016, Witch accusations not only increased but became common in developed cities such as Tamale, a shock to the international organization who have been working in the camps since 2006.
Shani Abdul Kasiru, the head of policy and program for NGO Songtaba, a close partner of ActionAid, expressed his surprise at the new accusations in urban areas, stating the NGO’s had perhaps “overlooked that urban areas were enlightened”.
The landlord of the Witch Camp in Tindan-zie Sampa Asammusa explained “The government have the power to help, but the government isn’t everywhere to put their policies into force. The people will do what they want. Our communities lack social infrastructure and most of the women here have been accused by their own family- so how can they turn home?”.
For women such as Awabu, there is no hope in returning to her community. ActionAid have worked extensively to move her back but her brother and sister in law her banished and accused her refuse, and her other brother is too old to care for her. It is crucial for Pastors, Imams, Chiefs and Politicians to speak about about these issues and desensitize the situation so that the accusations stop and the stigma changes so these women are able to return home.
“Whether or not the camps close depends on peoples attitudes.” Says Adamu Dasana, who with the help of ActionAid has been rehoused back into her community for the past two months after living in the Witch Camp since 1968, when she was first sent to take care of her Grandmother, an accused Witch. After her grandmother died, her community refused to take Adamu back for fear the Witch powers had passed through to her. “I am able to sell more things and have a pipe for water. I spend time with my four grandchildren everyday, so yes life is better for me now.”
All images and text © Louise Wateridge
By Louise Wateridge