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Witchcraft, Mass Hysteria and Uncanny Behavior in Namibia

Witchcraft, Mass Hysteria and Uncanny Behavior in Namibia

Is strange behaviour due to witchcraft or is it a natural occurrence? Is uncanny attitude a diseased manifestation that can be processed through prayers or an occurrence that can be explained without reference to magic and mysticism?

British historian, Ronald Hutton, identified uncanniness as one the characteristics of witchcraft that cuts across all cultures. Witchcraft is an uncanny craft. Witches exhibit strange behavior in course of their occult operations. They employ means that are beyond the ordinary, the normal and the natural to cause misfortune and injury. In Namibia, ”uncanny behavior” in a school is causing confusion and fuelling accusations of witchcraft. Parents are panicking and are asking the authorities to close down the school.

But some local actors- pastors and a psychologist hold different views as to how the situation should be managed. Incidentally there is no definition of this uncanny trait that was exhibited by some students.

The psychologist thinks there is a misrepresentation of the situation and warns that a misframing of the behaviour would adversely affect the management. Dr Mnubi Farahani of Oshakakati State Hospital advised parents, education and health officials at a meeting not to attribute the strange behaviour to witchcraft.

He said it was as a result of mass hysteria not the machinations of  witches as some locals imagined. “Let us understand that this thing has nothing to do with witchcraft. It doesn’t only happen in Namibia but all over the world. It is called mass hysteria and affects mostly girls. Mass hysteria normally occurs when there are misunderstandings amongst a group”. Dr Farahani said

He advised parents and other attendees to stop confusing students by associating the behaviours with witchcraft. He further said ”I’m encouraging you not to confuse learners further by feeding insinuations that it’s witchcraft. Don’t confuse learners anymore,”  But the advice from the psychologist may go unheeded because local pastors at the meeting had a different idea of how the situation could be handled. They think it is an instance of demonic manifestation and can be remedied with prayers.

Pastor Ferdinand Nashidengo asked for permission from the Ministry of Education so that he could organise a prayer session. Pastor Nashidengo believes conducting the prayer session could help rid the school of witchcraft.

Another pastor who is reportedly an expert in casting out demons stepped forward and readily agreed to do the job right away. He said:

“If you have children suffering, take them to the school now and I will remove the demons disturbing them forever. If prayer at the school is the problem, then I will remove those demons without praying,”

The main issue is this -Have the children some demons disturbing them in the first place? Is demon affliction the same as witch affliction? If ever the children are afflicted with some demonic disease, can the demons be identified and then subsequently be removed through prayers?

Also if, as the pastor claimed, the demons can be removed without prayers, why didn’t he remove them right away and the matter would be over?

An education director at the meeting cautioned against organising a prayer session at the school. Namibia, he stated, is a secular state. He also noted that a prayer session might end up creating more problems. It could lead to scapegoating. Someone might be singled out as the witch- as the person behind the uncanny manifestations. And the scapegoating could lead to persecution of the alleged witch or wizard.

Namibia is a former German colony and dominantly christian but belief in witchcraft is widespread. As in other christian dominated African countries, there is a fusion of christianity and traditional belief in witchcraft among the population. Threats and accusations of witchcraft are often made by members of the communities as people struggle for limited resources, compete for power and influence or try to make sense of their day to day experiences. Strange behaviours evoke fear and panic amongst witch believing population as they grapple with spiritual uncertainties. This is particularly the case in communities where people rely more on what pastors and diviners, not psychologists, say. Or in communities where prayer sessions, not scientific explanations are used in managing and making sense of uncanny behaviours.

Leo Igwe

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