Ghana witch camps: Widows’ lives in exile


When misfortune hits a village, there is a tendency in some countries to suspect a “witch” of casting a spell. In Ghana, outspoken or eccentric women may also be accused of witchcraft – and forced to live out their days together in witch camps.

A rusty motorbike speeds across the vast dry savannah of Ghana’s impoverished northern region, leaving a cloud of reddish dust in its wake. Arriving at a small group of round thatched huts, the young motorcyclist helps his old mother to dismount to begin her new life in exile.

Frail 82-year-old Samata Abdulai has arrived at the village of Kukuo, one of Ghana’s six witch camps, where women accused of witchcraft seek refuge from beating, torture or lynching.

The camps are said to have come into existence more than 100 years ago, when village chiefs decided to establish isolated safe areas for the women. They are run by tindanas, leaders capable of cleansing an accused woman so that not only is the community protected from any witchcraft but the woman herself is safe from vigilantes.

Today they are still run by local chiefs, and accommodate up to 1,000 women in spartan huts with no electricity or running water, and roofs that leak.

Once people call you a witch, your life is in danger and so without waiting to pick up any of my belongings, I just fled”

For water, the inhabitants of the Kukuo camp walk three miles each day to the River Otti, struggling back uphill with heavy pots of water. It’s an intolerable way for an elderly woman to live, but it’s a life they are prepared to endure so long as they are safe.

They survive by collecting firewood, selling little bags of peanuts or working in nearby farms.

Written By: Kati Whitaker
continue to source article at


  1.  I feel sad knowing there are places like this. Has globalization has no effect on them at all?

  2.  “Women are expected to be submissive so once you start to be outspoken
    in your views or even successful in your trade, people assume you must
    be possessed.”

    Hmmm, let’s not be too hasty, how do we get Ann Widdecombe to Ghana?

  3. An ActionAid report on witch camps, published this week, says that more than 70% of residents in Kukuo camp were accused and banished after their husbands died – suggesting that witchcraft allegations are a way of enabling the family to take control of the widow’s property.

    This just seems to be another one of the inventive ways we humans have of disposing of elderly and inconvenient relatives once they’ve outlived their usefulness and we want to get our greedy little mitts on our rightful inheritance.

    Eskimos would stick Grandma onto an ice floe to become some polar bear’s amuse-bouche when they were starting a family and liked the look of her igloo.
    We in the west mollify our guilt by saying “Ooh, she’s becoming so forgetful these days. What if she left the stove on? That house is too big for her anyway. I think it’s time she went in a home.”

    In Ghana they happen to have witchcraft as the excuse.

    So it goes.

  4.   Harps

     “Women are expected to be submissive so once you start to be outspoken in your views or even successful in your trade, people assume you must be possessed.”

    Hmmm, let’s not be too hasty, how do we get Ann Widdecombe to Ghana?

    Never mind Widdecombe! –  Warsi is much more suitable and very much possessed by the religinut meme!

  5.  That’s a far cry from executing someone for witchcraft.  We had our own go-round with witchcraft about 400 yeas ago– just finished reading a book on it.  That period of time was horrendous for all concerned.  Many were martyred & those who survived were never justly recompensed.

  6. strong woman = witch
    strong woman = bitch
    strong woman = dyke
    strong woman = whore
    strong woman = job stealer
    strong woman = demasculinator (OK, its not a word, but you get the idea.)

    Yes, we in the US are long past our witch hunting days, but pick your culture and one of the above still applies. It’s just more subtle and “civil” today.   

  7. Agreed. At the risk of beating a dead horse (ie bringing up Dr. Jack Kevorkian), I have often wondered what would have happened if Dr. Jack Kevorkian were Dr. Jacqueline Kevorkian. 

    Think about it. A lot of people thought that the eccentric, blunt, and in-your-face Michigander was a nut who literally got off watching people die. Imagine how much worse it would be if the hypothetical Jacqueline Kevorkian had the same eccentricities. People would say things like this:  

    “Jackie must be a bitter old woman who needs a good man to settle her down. She never got married, so no wonder she kills people! This must be the way she deals with her depression of not having been able to land a husband. She probably hates children too and her next step in the euthanasia campaign is infanticide. And who does she think she is, speaking so loudly and bluntly? And look at her paintings!”

    Of course, if Jacqueline Kevorkian were a young woman doing all this stuff, people would let her off the hook so long as she was “hot.”


  8. Apparently not. But then again, this is tribal Africa which has defeated all attempts to bring it civilization. 
    I don’t care how un-PC it sounds but since the exit of colonial powers most of Africa has reverted to primitivism. Latest example- suggesting charging those miners with murder; another- Jacob Zuma (or was it Tabo Mbeke?) stating that HIV did not cause AIDS. Mugabe? Jesus! what hope is there?

  9. Fact is fewer and fewer elderly are ending up in nursing homes in the US despite their growing numbers.  Also, assisted living or nursing homes versus being ostracized for being a witch, hmm…

  10. How totally heartbreaking – is there any group that has harder lives or deserves more respect than women in developing countries? And yet here is religion and supernatural garbage yet again ensuring that they suffer still more. The lot of women in India is even worse – in traditional Hinduism widows were the lowest of the low, so ritually polluting that they had to live in a special quarter, shave their heads, wear plain white clothes, etc, etc.  Stories like this make me remember that religion is not a momentary irritation but an absolute blight on people’s lives.

  11. BBC’s report by Kat Whitaker titled ‘Ghana Witch Camps: Widows lives in exile’ is a brilliant exposé on an aspect of Africans culture that most people prefer to ignore or deny.
    The reality is that people mainly women and the elderly are ostracised dehumanised and socially excluded in many societies of Africa. It is part of the dark underbelly of Africa’s culture, involving a belief in witchcraft and evil. It has been identified as part of the way societies cope with misfortune and the unexplainable.
    Belief in witchcraft is widespread in Africa and has developed into a blend of religion and traditional beliefs.  Unfortunately, many Africans tend to condone and to wittingly or unwittingly perpetuate  these  traditions and practices.
    Governments, civil society and NGO’s should and can address and change things. Resources should be concentrated on eradicating such practises. One way is to pour resources into these so –  called ‘witch camps’ and transform them into  a  nascent  social  welfare infrastructure, sustained through an independent , self  -sustaining  fund.
    The concentration of these elderly  women should be seen as a an opportunity to support  them in a structured way. This might be more effective than attempting to reintegrate  them into mainstream society by sending them back to their villages, where there is the risk that they will be continuously exploited and abused
    Government should realise that they have the legitimacy, power and authority to change things, to sideline those traditionalist that stand in the way of progress
    Also,  it  is important not support or condone the so –called ‘cleansing ‘ process that tends to perpetuate and sanction this tradition.  Surely, any rational –thinking person will know this process , although culturally accepted and functional, is false  and contributes to the problem.
    It is important to be bold and radical in tackling this kind of issues.

  12. Fact is fewer and fewer elderly are ending up in nursing homes in the US despite their growing numbers. Also, assisted living or nursing homes versus being ostracized for being a witch, hmm…

    I’m very happy to hear that fewer American seniors are being placed in nursing homes. I hope this is due to their relevance as vital and useful human beings finally being recognised and not just because it’s easier and cheaper to keep Grampa in a locked cupboard at home where he can be fed on dogfood while his social security checks are cashed than it would be to pay others to look after him.

    As to the comparative merits of social ostracization for practicing the dark arts versus an allegedly comfortable retirement in a nursing home or assisted-living housing, I’ll grant that if you’re living in 21st century America and you get accused of being a witch, you’d have reason to be peeved.

    But it’s all relative. In Ghana they happen to take witchcraft seriously so this is what’s used as the social lubricant when female OAPs become a nuisance. It sucks, and something needs to be done about it, but the point is that supernaturalism as justification for treating your aged relatives shoddily is no better or worse an excuse than is senile dementia, if your only interest is in getting your hands on their cash or property.

    In Britain, the country regarded as the posterboy for enlightened, ethical, socialized medical treatment, the following sort of thing has been known to happen, so who’s to say who has it better?

  13. I had the opportunity to walk through a witch’s camp in northern Ghana years ago. I was there as a Christian missionary and was being introduced to the village by the local pastor. I was a bit overwhelmed by the entrenched acceptance of this soci0-religious practice. I didn’t have a chance to interview any of the women – I was escorted through rather quickly. I did not get the feeling that this outcasting was due solely to Christian influence, but rather was an expression of long held local traditional religion, i.e. animistic world view and certainly mixed with some of the history of Islam and Christian syncretism. 
    BTW – I am no longer a Christian and now realize I was under as much an entrenched delusion as those who attributed unfavorable events to these unfortunate women. This article brings back that vivid memory – one of the most overt expressions I saw there of the devaluation of women that belief in the spirit world engenders. I am sure there are also social factors behind this as well – as stated already. But, it wasn’t just elderly women. I saw some young women there, too. 

  14. In my opinion your statement about the vitality and usefulness of seniors is idealistic.  However, I prefer your starting point to that of those who would believe seniors may be witches.  I’d rather start with a positive assumption and then discover a darker reality, and then do the right thing anyway, and have the right thing enshrined in law, than start mired in superstition and be able to pursue human rights violations because they have become the cultural norm.

    Concerning the abuse that does happen, in the US there are adult protective services just like child protective services.  If you’re stealing from grandma you’re a criminal, and hopefully you will be caught and ostracized. 



Leave a Reply