Yesterday, we travelled to Gambaga, a town that is about 10 miles away from Nalerigu. It seems that witch trials are not only a thing of the past. Gambaga serves as a refuge for more than 100 women that were accused of witchcraft.

Traditional beliefs in sorcery are deep within Ghanian culture. While both men and women are thought to be capable of witchcraft, men are believed to use their power for good, as in the protection of their household. Women, however, live under a shadow of suspicion.

The story goes that long ago, a woman was accused of witchcraft. Her fellow villagers began to beat her and sought her life. She was sentenced to be hung for her crimes. An imam, a leader of the Muslim community, was walking from Gambaga to Nalerigu when he came across this woman. She begged the imam to help her, and the imam convinced her accusers to allow the woman to stay in his custody. As women accused of witchcraft heard of this safehaven, they fled to Gambaga where they stayed in the mosque. However, soon, the number of witches outgrew the mosque, and a camp for witches was established on the outskirts of the town. The camp remains there today, and it was a privilege to visit it yesterday.

Many of the stories of the women are quite sad. For example, some men here are accustomed to taking multiple wives. The wives affectionally refer to eachother as their “rival.” One women was first accused of being a witch because her rival’s daughter became ill and died. Because she was accused, it was true. Another woman was accused of witchcraft during a meningitis outbreak during which she remained well. Regardless of the instigative incident, the path of these women is always unfortunately similar. These women are driven away from their home, village, and children. They are threatened, beaten, burned, and stoned. Then, the women are subjected to a trial by ordeal. A chicken is killed and thrown in the air. If the chicken dies with its feathers facing skyward, then the women is innocent. If the chicken dies with its feathers facing down, then the women is most certainly condemned. I couldn’t believe that a modern day Salem exists and continues to oppress these women.

At Gambaga, the women are protected by a single male chief. In truth, he offers them protection and sanctuary from many that seek their lives. However, he is still to gain. The women pay him for his protection and give them a portion of their crops. Though the women are completely uprooted from their home, here there is some resemblance of a life. They truly live in a community together and care for one another. Many of the older women are now disabled, so their cooking and labor is done by the younger women. A few years ago, a peace corp worker and missionary came and taught them to make jewelry. Now, the women of Gambaga are able to use money from jewelry sales to buy grain and wheat. The Presbyterian church is now involved in this community and has been slowly successful in reconciling some of these women to their villages and their families.

Yesterday, we visited the outcast camp shortly to greet the women. We sang and danced awhile and then Wendy prayed over all of the women. We bought some jewelry and just spent time together, pretending to understand each other. I plan to visit these women on a weekly basis, just to be among them and be a friendly face.