It was Pakpema Bleg’s own family who first accused her of practicing witchcraft.
Her nephew had accidentally pricked his finger on a needle, and the finger swelled up with infection. Bleg hadn’t been there. But the next morning, she says, her brother-in-law arrived outside her house. “Witch!” he allegedly bellowed for all her neighbors to hear. “Witch!” Then, her nephew’s older brother began beating her, she says, and soon others in the village joined in.
A soothsayer was asked to conduct the ritual test that determines the guilt or innocence of the accused. Slitting the throat of a fowl over a shrine, he threw the dying bird into the air. If the fowl were to fall on its back, it would indicate her innocence; were it to fall on its front, it would prove that Bleg was a witch.
The bird fell on its front.
“I ran,” Bleg recalls. “I knew if I didn’t, they would kill me.”
Bleg fled to Gnani, one of northern Ghana’s “witch” camps, where many of the more than 900 accused people tell a similar tale. Like Bleg, they’ve been tried, Salem style, their fates sealed by testimony offered by neighbors and relatives, their guilt or innocence determined by a priest.
In parts of Africa, belief in witchcraft still prevails. In Ghana, especially on the vast flat savanna of the country’s northern region near the border with Togo, it is endemic. Ailments, insanity, misfortune, or death can be blamed on black magic. Witches supposedly do their dark deeds at night, using their supernatural powers, or “juju,” sometimes taking the form of animals as they possess souls, inflict illnesses, or curse innocent children. Locals believe witches can glow like fireflies and walk upside down.