Day 1 – Kinsasha. Meeting the Child Witches
Spent the afternoon today visiting the Bana ya Poveda center in Kinshasa. Their work is to try to reunite street children back into their families. Some have run away, some have been thrown out. About 80% of them have been accused of witchcraft.
I spoke to four kids today, with the help of Pascal, my interpreter. Three of them had been accused of witchcraft – of creeping out at night and doing harm. One boy, whos name in two languages means heart of God (he needs it) was accused of witchcraft because his eyes are so dark, and because he talks in his sleep. Another boy was accused because he wet the bed. I’d have been a witch myself if that last one was true.
The worst thing about being a witch, it seems, is the cure. One boy, who had suffered the misfortune of having his mother go insane, was accused of witchcraft by his father’s new wife, after he appeared in her dreams trying to kill her. His father was furious him, needless to say, and beat him with an electric flex – you can see the scars on his legs, and that must have been one terrible beating. When that didn’t work, he was taken to the pastor, who confirmed he wasa witch. The cure? He had hot wax dripped on his back to rid him of the wings he used to fly at night. Then, he was incarcerated in a room with no light, starved, and made to drink water with dust in it, to attack and destroy his witchcraft.
Another bos was starved half to death, in a darkened room for many days. They took him out to pray over him for time to time, and threw peppers on his body, but forbade him to eat them.
Both boys ran away.
So there it is, in the end, a really good, old fashioned story, and one we’ve all heard before; the wicked step mother – or sometimes step father. Out of three hundred cases, only three children have been accused of witchcraft when living with both parents. But over 70% had one parent living with them. The wicked step parents – or perhaps also Hansel and Gretel, because one thing all these kids have in common – they are very, very poor. It is one less mouth to feed for a parent wanting to make sure their own children get enough to eat …
Not witches at all – just poor and powerless, like the old women who used to be burned in Europe for the same crime. Witches all over the world, I think, although they are feared so much, are always the weak and helpless.
The good news at the end is, that from this centre about 45% of children are reunited with their families. Pretty good score. It’s not so much that have been cured of being witches, but that their families are cured of believing that they are.
Tomorrow – meeting the pastors who have conducted the cures.