Witchcraft in Gusii: Myths and Realities
Written by Obwoge Joseph on November 3, 2023
In the picturesque landscapes of Gusii land, where lush greenery meets rolling hills, an age-old enigma persists – the pervasive presence of witchcraft. Stories of night runners who mysteriously traverse the darkness, and the whispered tales of bewitchment, continue to cast a long shadow over the region. However, the reality of witchcraft remains elusive, cloaked in uncertainty. As the community grapples with these enigmatic beliefs, one cannot help but wonder how best to address this phenomenon.
Witchcraft, real or perceived, is not unique to Gusii land; it exists worldwide in various forms. It is a belief system deeply rooted in the human psyche. Whether it is framed as a supernatural force or as a manifestation of societal anxieties, the effect on individuals can be profound. While the debate about the existence of witchcraft persists, the community’s response to it can have tangible consequences.
In addressing the complex issue of witchcraft, communities are often motivated by a desire to protect themselves from perceived threats. The instinct to protect one’s family, neighbors, and community is deeply ingrained. However, the sad reality is that these well-intentioned responses sometimes manifest as vigilantism, which can lead to violence, tragic outcomes, and violations of human rights. It is important to underline that the need for understanding and empathy should guide our actions.
One chilling reminder of the dangers of vigilantism took place in January 2017 in Nyamira County. In Omokonge Village, a community enraged by their discovery of a book that allegedly contained a list of names, both deceased and those “doomed” by witchcraft, resorted to extreme measures. Two elderly women, Pauline Marinda Mogambi (95) and her daughter Rose Mogambi (53), became the victims of this fury. The mob exacted their own form of justice, burning the women to ashes and setting fire to eight houses. Tragically, even the pleas of Ayunga Mogambi, who watched helplessly as his elderly mother and sister were subjected to this horrific fate, did little to dissuade the violent crowd.
Another grim incident unfolded more recently, in October of this year, in Konate village, Nyamira County. A family living in this village saw their home set ablaze, their crops destroyed, and their lives upended due to accusations of practicing witchcraft. The owner of the home, seen on national television crying, lost virtually everything, including his children’s academic certificates. This incident underscored the continued challenges and violence associated with witchcraft allegations.
In the face of these events, it is important to acknowledge that the complexity of witchcraft allegations is compounded by the communities’ genuine fears and anxieties. The belief in witchcraft is not an isolated phenomenon, and it has historical and cultural roots that run deep. In times of perceived crisis or uncertainty, it can be easy to revert to traditional beliefs and practices.
However, the path of vigilantism is not the solution. These horrifying acts of violence further perpetuate fear and distrust within communities. Furthermore, there is a very real danger of harming innocent individuals, individuals who may have been falsely accused or who had nothing to do with witchcraft.
While there is no definitive consensus on the existence of witchcraft, the law provides avenues for addressing these allegations in a fair and just manner. Kenya, like many other countries, has legal mechanisms that protect the rights of individuals, whether they are accused of witchcraft or victims of such accusations. The justice system should be allowed to prevail in resolving disputes related to witchcraft.
It is also crucial to foster a sense of dialogue and understanding within communities, with the intention of dispelling unfounded fears and misconceptions. Empathy, education, and openness to different beliefs can go a long way in mitigating the detrimental effects of witchcraft allegations. Only through these means can communities embark on a path of peace, justice, and harmony, ensuring that the innocent remain protected and unharmed. Ultimately, the fight against witchcraft is a battle best fought through enlightenment, compassion, and the rule of law.