For some scholars, witchcraft in Africa will disappear one day as it did in Europe, thanks to enlightenment, economic prosperity, and cultural evolution.
Peter Geschiere, in his book that looks at witchcraft and politics in Africa, thinks it will stay.Peter Geschiere. The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa (Sorcellerie et Politique en Afrique – la viande des autres). Translated by Peter Geschiere and Janet Roitman. Charlottesville: University of Viriginia Press, 1997. In the realm of political powers, we have heard of African politicians resorting to witchcraft for political success. I also think that witchcraft is here (in Eastern D. R. Congo) to stay, when I consider the following cases.
A Supernatural Pain: A Case Study
Between March and August 2016, in a northeastern town of D. R. Congo, a strange sickness emerged. It is characterized by an acute pain in specific parts of the body. The pain can be felt on the back, at the lower feet, in the head, at the neck to name few. Why is this disease so special? It is undetectable by modern laboratory tests and is caused, according to those who suffered from it, by a physical object that witches introduce ‘supernaturally’ in the body by night. The category of these physical foreign objects includes pieces of broken glass, broken metal, paper staples, plastics, etc.
I personally met four of the people in whose body, as they said, a foreign object had been removed.
1. Primary School Teacher
The first was a primary school teacher, who was later promoted to be the principal of another primary school. He suffered of body pains. Modern medical treatment did not help. Then, he went to see a traditional healer who removed some staples from his body. The pains disappeared.
2. Civil Officer and Training College Teacher
The second is a local civil officer in the local Land Ministry and a part-time lecturer in a local Teacher Training College. He told me that he was suffering from an acute headache. Then, he went to consult a “well appreciated” traditional healer because modern treatments were not helping to stop the pains. The witchdoctor removed plastic objects from his head. After the removal of these objects, the pains disappeared.
3. Insurance Professional
The third person is a relative who works in an insurance company. She got her Bachelor of Arts in management. She was suffering from an acute knee pain. The modern diagnostics led to the conclusion that her sickness rheumatism. But the rheumatism drugs she took did not bring an end to her sickness. She had been transferred to a well equipped modern hospital in Kampala (Uganda’s capital city). She was not healed. Then, she went to consult a traditional healer who removed a piece of metal from her knee, the pain disappeared.
4. Medical Professional
The fourth person is an epidemiologist and a nurse, also a member of an association of natural medicine phytotherapists. He was suffering from an acute pain at the nape of the neck. He could not do intellectual work. Then, he consulted a traditional healer, the head of a ball pen was removed from his nape of the neck; the pain, according to him disappeared. (He is the one who presented to me the stone fruit of an unidentified tree that he uses for detecting foreign object in the body. I have video-recorded it to visualize its shape [see attachment]).
Here are four people formally educated in modern schools. They experienced witchcraft in the medical domain and interacted with it, not as a fantasy, but as a reality. They constitute the elite of the community and their beliefs in witchcraft (at the beginning of twenty-first century) are not very different from those living in “traditional Africa.”
It is interesting to look at the different stages that beliefs in witchcraft may have reached in Africa by looking at what happened elsewhere, for instance in Europe. Edward Bever mentions some causes of the decline of witchcraft in Europe: “prosperity, various forms of insurance, technological development, and the triumph of individualism.” He went on to say that “decline of witch beliefs was an important cause, not an effect of the change in elite mentalities.”Edward Bever, “Witchcraft Prosecutions and the Decline of Magic.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XI:2 (Autumn, 2009), 264. What Bever says about witchcraft beliefs in Europe is a call to continue to observe the survival of these beliefs in Africa and search whether their ‘modernization’ (or post-modernization) is a different direction (as opposed to what happened in Europe) that Africa is taking, or sooner or later these beliefs will fade away.