Inside the Kukuo witches camp: My son only came to check if I was dead
Nothing prepares you for the much talked about Kukuo Witches camp in the Northern region.
Once you leave Bimbilla, one of Northern Region’s most famed towns, the famous red road, clayey and gravelly, takes you to the peaceful but troubled Kukuo witches camp, where tears and in some cases, blood have been shed for many years.
On the sides are a few maize yams littered with diminutive shea trees interspersed with yam plantations. And then grass, rocks and what looks like a desert until Kukuo town swallows you up 20 km away from Bimbilla. Slightly beyond Bimbilla on to the left, the road – like a weary traveler – meanders up the hills and when it descends, unseemly site beckons: an expansive camp ensconced beneath.
At the foot of the camp, not too far away if one has access to a good motorcycle or vehicle, is the historic Oti River, its pristine waters spying on the sorrows of tens of humans – particularly, women who have been accused of witchcraft. As we enter the little village, a dog and her six puppies roam aimlessly.
On the left side of the entrance, five young boys play with old tractor tyres and scooping sand between pressed mud walls. The vanity of the back and forth exercise beguiles any parent. They remind me of my son. He too likes to play. But he lives in the city and has access to toys.
Samadu works with Sontaba and NGO working to reintegrate some of the alleged witches back into regular society. He knows the sad stories behind some of the alleged witches and he agrees to give me company and contacts Murtala Issah, GBC’s northern Regional correspondent knows the terrain well and he directs our movement.
At Kukuo village, a few men are seated under shed. They see us and expect us to greet them as tradition demands. Samadu leads the way, does what is culturally acceptable, and we proceed in search of Hawabu, an alleged witch. Hawubu, now 80 years, weak, hungry, sick, and consumed in pain – was accused of being a witch more than 26 years ago by the children of her late husband’s other wife.
A mere allegation, even if without evidence, against, especially, old, poor women, is enough to get an entire community to ostracize the accused. These alleged witches are sent to shrines that are constituted in such a way that they automatically confirm that the accused is guilty. Like other alleged witches here, the frail Hawabu hasn’t seen her children ever since she was dumped here 26 years ago.
A few years ago, however, one of her seven children paid a visit to kukuo. His mission at the time was not to comfort his mother but to find out if she was dead. He has since not returned except to leave a phone number with some of the community members here with the appeal that when their mother does, they can be contacted.
As we enter her compound, the reality of her suffering and the reality of the dehumanization of others assumes a concrete meaning. The floor in her mud hut room doesn’t even have the dignity of cement. It’s red mud and that’s where she sleeps on an aged mat. The walls are dark black and the thatch roof leaks badly when it rains.
The foundation of the hut is gradually being washed away by rain. During the hot season – the season that comes with untold stories of deaths from CSM, a disease contracted mostly by poor and vulnerable people from northern Ghana who cannot afford to provide enough ventilation in their rooms, Hawabu is forced to sleep outside. She often has to make a choice between a rock and a hard place.
There’s CSM in her room and there mosquitoes carrying several loads of malaria waiting outside her room. She mostly eats once a day and that not by choice. When she is lucky, her neighbour’s bring her cooked bean and she eats that with Shea butter. Hawubu wishes to return home.
She wishes to hold her grandchildren in her arms. She wishes to be treated as a human being. Her only real fault is that she was poor, powerless and illiterate and it was there fore easy to target her and declare her a witch.
No rich, educated, powerful man or woman has ever been brought here with such frivolous allegations. The idea of a witches camps may not be entirely bad given the fact that recently in the Kafalba community, an alleged witch was lynched.
The witches camps serve as safe abodes for such woman. They are the only places these women are accepted. These are the places they find people who share similar struggles. We are about to go back to Tamale now but we decide to get an aerial view of Kukuo using our drone.
Like to the pied piper of Hamelin, the children of kukuo emerge one by one and form a swell behind and ahead of us. They are a curious lot. They watch the drone take off from the ground and high up into the skies and the very curious ones follow me to see the pictures the drone was sending back to my phone. One of them said in the Dagbanli language “Eish, this is witchcraft”. I was happy that the next generation is beginning to see witchcraft in a different light.