Criminalising witchcraft: Impact on judiciary
By the passage of the Criminal Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2022, it has now become an offence to accuse anyone of being a witch in this country.
The law explicitly criminalises the practice of witchcraft accusation, and proscribes the declaration, accusation, naming or labelling of another person as a witch. Offenders shall be prosecuted.
The specific concept of witchcraft is the idea of some supernatural power of which a man or woman can become possessed by, and by which s/he is exclusively used for evil and antisocial purposes.
Unlike sorcery and juju, which use the technique of magic and derives its power from medicine, witchcraft acts without rites and spells, and uses hereditary psycho-physical powers to attain its ends. It is projected from the brain.
In addition, while sorcery and juju act rapidly, witchcraft is slow but sure. Sorcery is associated with men generally, just as witchcraft tends to be associated with women.
What is the implication of this bill for the Judiciary? Would the Chief Justice set up special courts to deal with witchcraft cases or incorporate witchcraft cases within the present courts or refer witchcraft cases to the traditional courts or ahenfie (chief palace)?
The belief in witchcraft, as the cause of why misfortune occurs, was officially banned in England in the reign of James II.
In all British colonies, accusations of witchcraft, slavery, trial by ordeal, ritual murder, adultery, juju or African ‘electronics’, spiritual gun or ‘tukpui’, sorcery, curses and spells, killing of twins (it was then an abomination among some cultures), carrying the body of a dead person to determine the murderer, burning the body of a dead person as punishment because the dead was a witch or wizard or murderer were all not entertained in law court.
Nevertheless, the traditional courts or ahenfie continued to try these cases.
Let us assume a typical case of an alleged witch, who is the complainant, and the criminal, who is the respondent.
Assuming the alleged witch is not a witch, then the criminal should be heavily fined and a large proportion of the fine paid as compensation to the alleged witch to settle the case.
However, if the complainant is a witch by her own confession, then the respondent has described the witch, not insulted her in any way.
Logically and legally, there are no charges; he has not committed any crime, and, therefore, he should be acquitted and discharged.
The Judicial system at present is equipped to adjudicate both cases, but not equipped to try a self-confessed witch.
This trial should be left to the agents responsible for exposing witches and dewitching them.
The practitioner of this trial by ordeal is either a witch doctor, fetish priest or fetish priestess, who, after performing the necessary rituals and sacrificial offerings, manages to suppress the bad spirit trained by the witch to destruction.
Human beings alone can collar the witch and destroy him or her in an exemplary manner, but spiritual aid is required to collar the witch's devil, or it would get adrift and carry on after its owner's death.
Clearly, this function cannot be performed by the judicial courts; so dewitching should be referred to the local courts or ahenfie. Other dewitching agents are deities, spiritual churches and also plants.
For example, croton zambesicus, a small tree planted in villages and towns as fetish; okuobaka aubrevillei, a forest tree locally called odee in Akan, and heliotropium indicum, Indian heliotrope or cock's comb, among others, are all inimical to witches and expose them.
The writer is a retired plant taxonomist and ethnobotanist/former lecturer, University of Ghana, Legon.