Christians Torture “Witch” Children

Nigerian Child Witch Hunt Protest

Nigerian Child Witch Hunt Protest

Nigerian families pay pastors to exorcise, torture, and kill suspected witch children.

Child Killer Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya

Petition to Prosecute Child Killer Helen Ukpabio


  1. acilius

     /  October 19, 2009

    That’s a sad story.

  2. cymast

     /  October 19, 2009

    I know stuff like this goes on every day, but it still shocks me to read about it. Even more shocking is that these aren’t a few isolated incidents. I wonder how these violent epidemics are enabled. It must be more than just poverty and ignorance.

  3. acilius

     /  October 19, 2009

    I wouldn’t be surprised if part of it was nationalism. Westerners who may mean well preach the virtues of modernity at Nigerians. But Nigerians have had so much experience with Westerners who do not mean well that such preaching is likely to push them further away from modernity.

    And of course there’s a big contest going on between Christian groups and Muslim groups to convert Nigerians from traditional religions. There’s been a lot of violence between Christians and Muslims, that’s gotten a lot of attention. I wonder how this anti-witchcraft violence relates to that. Are the monotheists competing with each other to show the traditionalists who is the toughest on witchcraft? Or is the rise of new religions causing anxieties in people raised in the old ways, anxieties that are expressed as fear of witchcraft? Or are communities using witchcraft trials as a way of enforcing unity, keeping the people they’ve already converted on-side while they try to expand their followership? Or is it more complicated than any of these scenarios? From the BBC report, it looks like this group was formed in Nigeria and is in competition, not only with Muslims and traditional religions, but also with the main Christian groups there. Perhaps their anti-witchcraft campaign is their way of distinguishing themselves from the Anglicans.

  4. cymast

     /  October 19, 2009

    Maybe the people joining the Christian Child Witch Hunters have something in common with the Nazi joiners of WW2.

  5. acilius

     /  October 19, 2009

    Well, millions of people joined the Nazi party, and millions join in witch hunting, so I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s some overlap of motivations.

    Also, I think we should keep in mind the nature of competition. Economists are always talking about how competition brings efficiency, and many people quote them. But few people seem to stop and think about what that means. Whatever people want to have done, if groups are competing to do it for them, will tend to be done with ever-greater intensity. So if you want to be protected from witches and there’s just one group of people who ward them off, that group might be relatively easygoing. But if lots of groups of highly motivated people are vying for the opportunity to protect you from witches, your society’s anti-witch activities are likely to get more and more intense with every passing year.

  6. cymast

     /  October 19, 2009

    I keep thinking that these people don’t really, 100% believe that these children are witches. But that may be my own disbelief.

    And another thing- that “not suffer a witch to burn” Bible verse. I always thought that meant DON’T burn witches!

  7. acilius

     /  October 19, 2009

    Oh, I’m sure they believe that the accused are witches. I keep thinking of naturalist Dian Fossey, a scientist and super-tough personality, who once mentioned to some colleagues who visited her in Rwanda that she was taking steps to ward off witches. “You believe in withcraft?” they asked in disbelief. “Of course,” she answered, in absolute seriousness. “Where I live, you have to.”

  8. cymast

     /  October 19, 2009

    See, that’s where I exit the train. I consider my imagination my greatest asset, but somehow my imagination doesn’t go *there*.

  9. acilius

     /  October 19, 2009

    I suspect that if you moved to a place where people do believe in witches, it wouldn’t be long before your imagination added a spur line leading to that station. If a distinguished scientist and tough-as-nails realist like Dian Fossey had to believe in witchcraft to get by in Rwanda, I’m sure any of us could find ourselves believing in it.

  10. cymast

     /  October 19, 2009

    Your point is valid, but looking back on my bizarre childhood and early adulthood, I seriously doubt it in my case. But I wouldn’t want to test that theory.

  11. lefalcon

     /  October 20, 2009

    We believe in some things, because no other possible perspective has ever entered our minds. In these cases, yes, we are in effect “victims” of our cultural environment.

    But I don’t buy Fossey’s argument about “The cultural environment made me believe it!”

    She was aware of more than one perspective. So she exercised free will when *chose* to believe in witches.

    It’s a bit like arguing that so many people voted for Bush, because of rightwing propaganda. But they had the option to reject rightwing propaganda and choose a different perspective. They exercised free will.

    Also: Engaging with a cultural environment is going to be really hard if you won’t accept its categories. For example, if you’re being forced to see a “therapist,” you may have absolutely no regard for their credentials or alleged abilities; and you may believe that sessions with this “therapist” will have all the efficacy of chatting with a stone. But you’re still aware that Dr. So-and-so views him or herself — and is viewed by everybody around them — as belonging to the category “therapist” … and that they have a certain kind / level of prestige, and a certain role to play.

    In other words, you have to accept social categories at the level of practical engagement, or you’ll just be dysfunctional in that environment. But it’s up to you if you want to accept that they can really “do the stuff” they are allegedly capable of.

    And there’s a distinction between the witch-hunters (a) believing in the existence of witches [they prob do] vs. (b) believing that these specific persecuted individuals are witches [I think that’s a lot less clear].

  12. cymast

     /  October 20, 2009

    Well said, LeFalcon!

    “Choosing to believe.” I can see that in these cases where money/livleyhood/power is involved.

  13. acilius

     /  October 21, 2009

    I agree that Fossey exercised free will when she chose to live in the hills of Rwanda and study gorillas, but I’m not at all sure that she could have lived there and done that without believing in witches. If her neighbors were going to accept her presence and cooperate in her project, she had to follow their example and continually perform little tasks to ward off witches. There were so many of those tasks to perform in the course of a day that they would quickly have become an intolerable burden to someone who did not believe that witches would get her if she didn’t do them.

    Again, Fossey chose to live in an area where belief in witches was mandatory, so in that sense it would be fair to say that she chose to believe in witches. Fossey could have gone back where she came from anytime she pleased. But people who call such areas home don’t really have that choice to make. They may have other choices to make. So when religious groups compete to be the one that is most severe in its persecution of witches, their potential customers may not have to convert to the one that wins that title. If there’s no prize, the contest would presumably end.

  14. cymast

     /  October 21, 2009

    I believe one’s cultural environmental is influential, of course, but I don’t believe it 100% describes a person.

  15. cymast

     /  October 31, 2009

    From Charity SOS Children’s Villages:

    “Campaigners say about 15,000 children have been accused in two of Nigeria’s 36 states over the past decade and about 1,000 have been murdered. In the past month alone, three Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were killed and another three were set on fire. The families of these children are often extremely poor, and sometimes even relieved to have one less mouth to feed, said Martin Dawes, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund.”—support-the-prevent-abandonment-of-children-today-pact-campaign

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