Does witchcraft exist?

The box contains a dead hen, half a coconut, an egg, a lemon, and herbs carefully laid on a banana leaf and a black cloth in a round basket/Traces de sorcellerie à la plage/mwanasimba from La Réunion/

News facts

After the revelations of the affair around the footballer Paul Pogba, La Croix Africa proposes to rediscover a survey carried out in 2020 on the belief in witchcraft in African societies. It was produced for the tenth anniversary of the publication of the book “Sorcery does not exist”, by Boa Thiémélé Ramsès (1).

From November 26-28, 2019, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Enugu State, North Eastern Nigeria, held a conference on witchcraft. The original theme was cautiously changed after evangelical Christians protested and prayed against the gathering believed to bring together the country’s wizards. A story that can make you smile but which illustrates the delicacy of such a subject on African soil.

According to the Senegalese Dominican priest Benjamin Sombel Sarr, witchcraft exists in the imagination and the experience of all African societies. Belief in witchcraft is, according to him, a phenomenon common to all African cultures (2).

And in fact, the bookwitchcraft does not exist pas” written in 2010 by the Africanist philosopher Boa Thiémélé Ramsès met with great success, fueled by heated debate. In reaction, the ethno-sociologist Gadou Dakouri published, a year later, a book entitled “Witchcraft, a living reality in Africa (3).

The complexity of the concept

As the Ivorian anthropologist Harris Meme-Fotê pointed out, the concept of sorcerer is generally a subjective concept, an external concept. Someone is said to be a sorcerer. Someone is accused of witchcraft. The wizard seems to have a more objective ideological existence (4). This difficulty in apprehending this abstract concept pushes Professor Boa to affirm that witchcraft simply does not exist. Or, at least, there is no reality that corresponds to what the common imagination presents as witchcraft.. For him, if witchcraft is understood as the ability of certain individuals to “metamorphose and harm others across space and time,” she does not exist .

Witchcraft according to common sense

It is the Kenyan Anglican philosopher and priest John Mbiti (1931-2019) who best characterizes witchcraft according to common sense: “ For Africans, witchcraft is an antisocial use of supernatural power and witches are the most feared and hated members of their community. he explains.Africans intuitively feel and believe that the various evils, misfortunes, diseases, accidents, tragedies, sorrows, dangers and harmful mysteries that befall them are caused by this supernatural power that fell into the hands of the sorcerer or a sorcerer“. (5)

Witchcraft and evil

For Boa, one can, at most, call a sorcerer an individual who has a penchant for evil. “What is called witchcraft are acts of wickedness, slander, malevolence, slander, etc. »,does he think.

A thesis called into question by Gadou Dakouri who summons a long ethnographic literature on witchcraft. Because for several decades, anthropologists have studied the question. In this perspective, Gadou Dakouri takes up the work of the Congolese Gérard Buakasa Tulu Kia Mpansu for whom witchcraft is endowed with a real existence which is perceptible in a system or a mode of organization, images, myths and ideas. , extremely logical. “These representations allow man to first explain what he does not understand: death, failures, illness “.

The fear of witchcraft and its consequences

Father Jean Sinsin Bayo, an Ivorian theologian, tries to give an explanation for the omnipresence of witchcraft in the preoccupation of many Africans. “As a priest and theologian, I would say that if witchcraft is omnipresent in our concerns, it is because our relationship with God is impersonal. It does not give us self-confidence and does not provide us with moral, psychological, existential, present and eschatological security.does he analyze.

In his view, this does not mean that Africans do not believe in God, but rather“that traditional religions do not allow a personal relationship with God; a relationship that makes us surrender to him in complete confidence, aware that our life depends on him. I believe that the fear that we have, in Africa, of all that is occult, comes from this original insecurity. »

The fear of wizards and their works often has disastrous consequences. Many cases of people being lynched on charges of witchcraft are recorded in various regions in the continent. It is moreover a similar case that prompted Professor Boa to write his book “Witchcraft does not exist”. “It was in 2008, in Sahuyé, a village in the sub-prefecture of Gomon in the department of Sikensi, in Côte d’Ivoire. A young man accused of witchcraft had been buried alive under the coffin containing the body of his alleged victim.he says.

new religious movements

This fear of sorcerers is “blessed bread” for the sects and new spiritual movements that are flourishing all over Africa. At least that is the opinion of Professor Boa. “The place attributed to sorcerers in modern African Christianity is simply a matter of commercehe decides.We are in the religiosity market. We play on fear or we preach prosperity to get the most customers”.For him, this raises the question of the quality of believers.

For his part, Abel Kouvouama (6) is surprised that modernism has not got the better of these beliefs. “One would have thought that the so-called advanced people, the intellectuals, the city dwellers, because they are in contact with modern life dominated by scientific rationality and technology, would no longer be under the influence of sorcery qualified as the world of ‘irrationality’“, he observes. But it seems that it is not.

Not tying everything to the spiritual

Finally, Father Fabien Gbortsu, professor of moral theology, – who spoke at a symposium on witchcraft organized in 2019 by the Catholic Mission Institute of Abidjan (Icma) – invites us not to link everything to the spiritual to the detriment of physical and concrete realities. “It is believed that everything is experienced at the spiritual level while we are physical beings. Instead of living in the current world, we rather live in the spiritual world so that we link everything to the spirits“, he laments.

Lucie Sarr

1) Boa Thiémélé Ramsès, “Sorcery does not exist”, Abidjan, CERAP editions, 2010, 142 pages

(2) Benjamin Sombel Sarr, Witchcraft and Christian religious universe in Africa, Paris, l’Harmattan, 2008.

(3) Gadou Dakouri, Witchcraft, a living reality in Africa, Abidjan CERAP editons 2011 166 pages

(4) “Report on animist civilization”, in Colloquium on religions. Abidjan, 5/12 April, Paris, African Presence 31-58

(5) John Mbiti, African Religion and Philosophy, translated from English by Christiane Le Fort, Yaoundé Clé editions, 1972

(6) Abel Kouvouama, “To each his own prophet”, African Policy, n°31, p. 62-65

Does witchcraft exist?