Witch Camps of Ghana

When Ghanaian women draw the ire of men, they risk ending up in a witch camp.

| Winter 2014

A dark, shameful blot on the pages of American history, the witch hunts of Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1690s represent an era we’re all glad is far behind us. But in some areas of Africa, the same sorts of accusations that plagued the colonists of Salem still hang heavy over the heads of women every day.

This is especially true in Ghana’s Northern Region, where it is not uncommon for powerful Voodoo priests to lead crusades against alleged witches whom they believe are using secret spells, rituals, and curses to unfairly help themselves and harm others.

In fact, women in Ghana are accused of using the dark arts so often, and are so routinely banished from their homes as a result, that seven different “witch camps” now dot the region, providing makeshift homes for thousands of refugees and their children.

One such woman, 66-year-old Mutaru Tachira, has spent the last 21 years of her life at a refugee settlement known as the Gambaga Witches’ Camp, 59 miles from her home village of Wapuli, after being tormented for over a decade by her relatives and neighbors due to accusations of witchcraft.

The camp is densely populated by women who’ve similarly been accused of using “black magic,” perhaps because they were successful farmers, were good in school, had profitable businesses, or dared to interfere with matters reserved only for men.

Sometimes, even inevitable occurrences like deaths or illnesses in a village are enough to land a woman in exile. Widows left with land but without a man to protect their interests are particularly common targets. So are the mentally ill, or any other females deemed difficult or undesirable by their villages. “To get me out of their community, [my husband’s family] accused me of using witchcraft,” says Tachira. “I am a freeloader now, marginalized and abused.”