The Lugbara people live in the Northeast end of the D.R.Congo and in the Northwestern West Nile region of Uganda. They belong to the Central Sudanic ethnolinguistic group. 500,000 Lugbara live in D.R.Congo; almost the same number lives in Uganda.
Beliefs in witchcraft among this ethnic group are widespread. It is not surprising that most of the causes of evil, sickness or (social and natural) calamities are attributed to witchcraft or the anger of ancestors for those who believe in traditional values and customs. In modern days, witches as people who deliberately harm communities or their members are the main sources of evil.
Witchcraft and disruption
As for witchcraft, the Lugbara communities or clans abhor those who practice it. In the past, some ordeals using potion boiled from some plants were applied to detect and convict presumed witches. The practice was first prohibited by the Belgian colonial power during colonial era, and later by the D.R.Congo government. How could these people thought to be non-violent become in one month the executioners of more than 900 people?As a result, those who were proved guilty of witchcraft were banned from the community. Punishment by death was almost nonexistent.
However, in June 2001, execution by beating to death, stoning to death, or burying alive in toilet pit latrines or shallow holes became surprisingly the main and immediate punishment reserved to “convicted witches.” About nine hundred human beings were brutally killed in one month. The following story narrates the commencement of these historical mass killings.
Lugbara are usually said to be peaceful people. During the civil wars that tore apart the Province of Ituri, a District at that time, Aru Town (the headquarter of the Lugbara land) was known to be a haven of peace. How could these people thought to be non-violent turn become in one month the executioners of more than 900 people accused of being witches? What could have made the sparks fly?
Fate of a community
It all started in June 2001. A certain man named Andrew D. (people’s names mentioned in this narrative are not real names) lived in the Adhiku village, in the Lu Sub-county. One day, one of his children, called Jerry A., a student of primary four located near the village found in the house of his father a list containing names of people. Beside each name was written a date. Some of the names were ticked off, and all the persons with ticked names were already dead. The boy (Jerry A.) took the list and went to throw it beside a small river.
As fate would have its way, school children from another primary school were coming back from school, they found the piece of paper containing the list and took it to the head of their family, Mr. Steve O. The school children were from the Burang’a clan. The father took the list and spent time trying to understand it. He discovered that some of the names on the list were the names of some people who were already dead; but others were alive. He noticed that the names of the dead people were ticked off. However, he kept the list secret.
Shortly after, a boy named Charles E. of the Burang’a clan died suddenly in their Village Health Center. During the funeral ceremonies of Charles E., the family noticed that Mr Andrew D. and Mr Anselm A. who were suspected of having bewitched the boy did not show up at the ceremony. When these two men came back from where they had disappeared and realized that they were suspected, they came to see the head of the Burang’a clan to express their annoyance for the defamatory words against them.
The head of the family promised them he would inform the village chief, and it happened. Then the traditional authorities convened a big meeting to gather members of the Burang’a clan. On that occasion, the family head Steve O. took the opportunity to expose the hidden list to everyone present. Although at this point neither Andrew D. nor Anselm A. had confessed to witchcraft, a decision was reached to inflict physical pain by whipping both as a deterrent. The warning punishment was started with the latter. After receiving four whips, suddenly he denounced four other persons as witches with whom he claimed they usually operate. He gave their names. The entire village decided to expel these six presumed witches together with their goods to the neighboring Otso Sub-county, more exactly to the main market place.
Since it was already dark, the expelled persons took different directions. Some went towards Yuku, the Lu Sub-county headquarter; others moved towards Aru Town.
Despite the attempt by the Chief of the Lu Sub-county to solve the crisis, he faced the fierce opposition from his population who had decided to lay their hands on the expelled A village that was once a haven of peace has now become a community of fear, confusion and conflict.people who had found refuge at the Sub-county headquarter. That is why the chief of the Sub-county was forced to refer the case to the higher authority.
Meanwhile, the unleashed crowd continued to look for presumed witches in the area, judged and tortured them. They killed some, and chased others away from the villages. In a fit of delirium, the massacre of presumed witches sparked in Lugbara land in June 2001. Thus, more than 900 people would meet their violent death. A village that was once a haven of peace has now become a community of fear, confusion and conflict. Fear and suspicious living has replaced Friendship and trust. Witchcraft will always rip off the fabric of communal living.