~ Witchcrafts: its effects on lives of people with mental illness

 نتيجة بحث الصور عن ‪mental illness‬‏

It is common knowledge to  those who deal with users and survivors’ day to-day life  particularly at  the family/community level  that they hear strange and shocking  stories  about  witchcrafts, sorcerers, rituals and charms done to people with mental illness and how their lives have been tormented by those  forces .  the stories tell how each individual with mental  illness has experienced an encounter with the demons, how he consults spirits and how s/he also know the places or homes of demons; where they find people and where people can find them; they will tell you that those spirits are found in the largest trees and  high at the pick of  mountains or by the sides of big rivers or in the thick forest, in the dirk and solitary places  in graves and under the big waters, they normally meet persons when they are  alone.

Sprits are active after the dusk hours the time when the underground gates swings wide  open,  a huge army of  sprits are  free to move the world over, both the  innocent and evil spirits (kings, heroes, the reach, the righteous poor, obedient servants etc.) they check on souls of each individual citizen and  monitors  conducts and behaviors and how mindful one is to pass the cultural norms to their off springs. Sprits  also  inspect and controls events and lives of communities and guard them against all evils that may befell them; they have ability to control draughts, floods, pandemic diseases  bad omens etc.- within their hands there, lies life. 

when spirits want to punish someone who is disobedient, they send the evil ones; evil spirits  can make people suffer, but they can only  humiliate a person  if he disobeyed the orders of his ancestors. The  punishments they give may include: Mental illness or Madness;  one may not be allowed to take a shower or any medication, one may not be allowed to sleep on bed or  stay at home, one may keep hearing the voice of a person or persons he knows they died long time ago. Sprits can even order you to committee suicide.

A person who disobeys the cultural norms of his family or of his clan, cannot be tolerated by his ancestral  spirits, mainly because he is  the paths of the spirits to come back to life and live again with and as physical persons. Traditionally the belief shared  Africans is that people leave this world by death and they come back to life in  form of new bourn babies  through off springs. “like the whites believe that  by baptism they are born again, the black Africans believe we are born again through our children and our grand children, we only change form we don’t die; from spiritual life to physical life and vise versa  ”  declared the old man in this group with an emphasis that people never die.


Due to modernity and dynamics in people’s lives coupled with the challenges in cultural beliefs , many people have abandoned their traditional beliefs and ties between them and ancestral spirits loosened, currently each home  and individuals  devised their own unique means of dealing with their traditional faith and ancestral spirits, total abandoning, mixing or alternating both the modern/western  and “primitive” old methods depending on  the need he  seeks an answer.  when it comes to health needs, though people believe in allopathic/western health services ,while there are people who turn to traditional healers believing that traditional healers has extensive knowledge of medical techniques, occult powers, magical herbs which the western healing process cannot get. there is also the bias based on political, racial sentiments; that the western systems are were introduced with an intention  to suppress  the traditional African health care  systems. There is this common  understanding that “traditional diseases/ailments”  can only be treated in a traditional way. However much the quacks and charlatans who tarnish the image of traditional  health care systems it remains deep rooted and widely based up on to address both the physical and mental health problems in various homes and communities  much as there remains a commonly shared fear and  unwillingness to discuss  in open how they go about it.

The cost and consequences, extracting what is relevant and what is irrelevant in the whole traditional health care process coupled with  the costs and the loss it causes to many remains a challenge to authorities officiating it.

The story bellow represents some of the  common occurrences in families and individuals who  stuck to the process:

 Ms. Mukesha,(all names in the story are not real) the mother and  care giver of Apofiya, a user and now a beneficiary to NOUSPR member  told me the story of her daughter’s experience how she suffered  in hands of the witch craft and this was only  after I had made several visits and long hours of discussions with her in her home:

 “ Apofiya got her fiancé when the  mother of the boy did not want him to marry her; she had earlier warned her son  Kamana not to marry from Abatutsi (the Tutsi tribe),that even after she had long died  her spirit  will keep monitoring his how he conducts himself and that he will be punished if he dares marry from this tribe.  when the mother  died, however Kamana went on and marry a mututsi woman; to the worst of it the daughter of Mudenge, who was an old enemy of  Kamana’s family,  the enmity was  none other than tribal differences- Mukesha said. “this  old woman was allergic to  our family and our people, I too I am allergic to theirs, I tried my best to stop my daughter from going in the family of those evil tribe  but she refused, she will live to regret it!” Mukesha concluded. 

The  first born  of Apofiya and Kamana was a baby boy he died at the age of  9 months only, after a short time of illness.  The family believes that the baby was killed by the spirit of  her grandmother.  “she came to Apofia in dreams the few nights before her baby passed away, and it was in middle of the night that  the old woman  came in a form of a cat, sat on Apofiya’s chest and looked straight into her eyes asked to hand over the  baby to her immediately.  soon after  the burial of the baby, on a broad day right there came  the same strange cat, just out of the blue it sat on top of the baby’s grave. everybody witnessed it and  no doubt that this  was unusual cat- it was  the real spirit of my mother!”  declared Kamana.

 The family  went to the traditional healer for more clarifications and magical techniques  to stop the old woman’s spirit from attacking her son’s family, the doctor  gave the “ medicine” to the entire family; some to drink, others to spill around their houses and some to ware and smear  on their body.

Apofiya made a mistake  and went to church and sang for Jesus,  the powers  of  medicine got compromised immediately and she went mad.

Apofiya is now emaciated and dirty she is dressed in  rags, she looks hopeless  and she can hardly accept food.  she was instructed by the witch doctor  not to clean herself or let her put on a nice dress, her mother is there to ensure the implementation of the doctor’s instructions  “the moment she cleans herself, she will die immediately ” said her mother “ so I have to guard against that”.

This  “medicine” for Apofiya coasted her husband  a piece of land and on top of the land he had  paid  about a million Rwanda francs (about 2000$ USD) in many   attempts to secure his wife’s life.  Apofiya  is full of  scars and fresh cuts, she wears dirty threads around her west and her dress is really torn  her family is patiently waiting for the witch doctor to announce the initiation day  when ceremonies will cost them another fortune. It is expected that after the rituals  she will be able to turn to her normal life and she will be free from all the evil spirits including that of her mother in law.

in Rwanda hundreds of people share same stories, some do not want the user movement to hear about the stories, some have managed to share it with their peers in groups and  all of them are regretting  for their  wealth which were/is  deliberately taken by  the traditional healers, plus the property taken by their relatives who come to them saying they are willing to take care of them.

Majority of people suffering from mental illness either go or are taken by their relatives to traditional healers without their conceit, many times the traditional healers and the relatives take decisions over the property of this patient without his/her conceit, thus  another way of extorting money and increasing   poverty among people with mental illness .   it is also emerging that traditionalists are discouraging users/survivors to join user groups.

 their treatment of a person with mental illness  prophets or these faith healers  may use either prayer, candlelight or water sprinkling . Sometimes, upon cure, a patient automatically becomes a member of the church to which the faith healer who cured him/her belongs. thespiritual churches; particularly the holy spirit churches go on claiming to be having the powers to heal mental illness through  prayers,  they believe  there is no other cause of the illness apart from the evil spirits or demons and that it is because of one’s sin or disobeying God’s word that one may run mad. According to these pastors there is nothing like biological diseases,  “all the diseases come to us as  a result of our sins and disobedience to the word of the God, those who believe and repent shall be healed, says the word of God” a pastor may say.  Users/survivors confined in “prayer houses” are in hundreds, probably in thousands just in any given district in my country, users are discouraged to take drugs and are required of their families to give offertories or tithes  or other kinds of gifts to God . As if this is not enough   patients are put in places  where there are no adequate facilities, no conducive environment for a patient with mental illness to survive;  a lot of noise, un ventilated rooms, some who die from there it is difficult to carry the dead body from there because there no roads.

“ It is easy to see that having unusual beliefs or hearing voices that others cannot hear are factual occurrences. But attaching the label of mental illness or disability to these facts is purely a judgment”…. The voices and visions of saints and shamans have made a huge positive contribution to many cultures. How different their lives would have been if they had been judged to have a mental illness instead of a spiritual gift” –Mary O’ Hagan

Hagan’s voice  is probably an additional voice to  those who have been calling for a change  of perception and beliefs that brings about mishandling and confusing the rights of those who need equal rights and services like other citizens. “supported decision making”

a middle ground between  “ the own voice/users and survivors movement and  traditional healers:

It is very true that the traditional doctors are the ones practice witchcrafts, and it may as well be their right  to play their traditional techniques which psychologically are useful to a patient since they provide relief and belief that he/she is getting healed.

Faith, belief, and choosing an identity  is an individual’s inherent human right ; particularly when it is still it is at an individual level and he/she is the one deciding for or by him/her self, it ceases to become an individual issue, however when there emerges forces outside the individuals control or participation, taking an advantage of his incapacity to make decision to divert the reality in the whole matter, there the Human rights activism gets a gap for intervention and devise measures to protect those facing the danger  of exploitation. This can begin with; listening to the traditional healers, let the public hear traditional healers, involving traditional healers in mental health care programs………..legitimizing  traditional healers etc.

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