UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


DR Congo - Sorcery

There is a common belief in the region that some persons have the power to cast spells on others; accusations of witchcraft can cause widespread fear in a community. There continued to be reports that leaders of certain revival churches or small evangelical Protestant churches exploited fear of witchcraft by either encouraging families to drive accused witches from their homes or performing costly and painful exorcisms in which victims may be locked in boxes for long periods of time, starved for several days, or receive other harsh treatment.

Most of the non-Christians adhere to either traditional religions or syncretic sects. Traditional religions include concepts such as monotheism, animism, vitalism, spirit and ancestor worship, witchcraft and sorcery, and vary widely among ethnic groups; none is formalized.

Traditional beliefs hold that divine spirits inhabit natural objects, such as rocks and trees, and that ancestors play an active role, for good or ill, in the daily lives of their descendants and in the life of the community as a whole. There is a belief in witchcraft and sorcery that may surface (even among Christians) during periods of illness.

The wide variety of African indigenous beliefs and practices makes generalizations difficult, but some commonalities may nonetheless be noted. In general, Congolese believe themselves to be subject to a number of unseen agents and forces. Most indigenous communities recognize a higher being, and many attribute to him the role of creator; otherwise, he has few specific characteristics beyond that of ultimate cause.

Far more significant are ancestors, who are believed to continue to play a part in community life long after their death. In general, the living are required to speak respectfully of ancestors and to observe certain rites of respect so that the dead will look favorably on their descendants' activities. Africans do not engage in ancestor "worship"; rather, the living address and relate to their deceased elders in much the same way that they relate to their living ones. Often the terms of address and the gifts given to placate a dead elder are identical to those accorded a living one.

Nature spirits live in particular places, such as rivers, rocks, trees, or pools, or in natural forces such as wind and lightning. A typical practice involving a nature spirit in much of northern Zaire is the commonplace tossing of a red item (palm nut, cloth, matches, etc.) in a river before crossing it, particularly in places where the water is rough or turbulent. Thus placated, the spirit will refrain from stirring up the waters or overturning the boat.

Witches are individuals who possess an internal organ giving them extraordinary power, generally malevolent power. The organ and its powers are hereditary. Witches can bring death and illness to crops, animals, and people, and their actions can be voluntary or involuntary. A witch might dream an angry dream about a friend or relative, for example, and awake to find that person struck ill or dead by the agency of that dream. Sorcerers are the possessors of nonhereditary powers that can be bought or acquired. A sorcerer might be consulted and paid to provide a medicine or object that strengthens the client in the hunt (or, in contemporary life, in taking an exam) or that brings misfortune on an enemy.

Conflict, internal displacement, unemployment, poverty, disease, the prohibitive cost of education, and myriad other factors have all contributed to the growing number of children living and working on the streets in the DRC, and while exact numbers are unknown, it is estimated that the number of street children in Kinshasa and other urban areas has doubled in the last ten years.

Street girls are especially vulnerable to being raped by police and soldiers, and street boys are also at risk of sexual abuse. In addition, street children are often accused of sorcery or witchcraft and are forced to undergo abusive “deliverance” ceremonies led by pastors, cult leaders, or “prophets.” The growing number of street children and increases in accusations of sorcery are strongly linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the DRC.

Among all the forms of violence, those inflicted upon so-called witch children have taken on disturbing proportions. Fuelled by poverty, mystical beliefs and the proliferation of religious sects, they now spare no urban area, however small, and often leave children bereft of protection. 152. Such is the case in the town of Kindu, in the province of Maniema, in the eastern part of the country, which has less than 250,000 inhabitants but where, in 2006, the association for the Protection of Abandoned Women and Children (Association pour la sauvegarde des enfants et des femmes abandonnées (ASEFA) counted 539 so-called witch children, 146 of them girls, being held in churches or in the homes of pastors where they were subjected to forced fasting and all manner of mistreatment on the pretext of exorcising them (breaking the spell). Of these, 537 (99.6 per cent) are from very low-income families.

There were reports of adults killing children accused of sorcery. For example, a father in the Equateur Province town of Zongo threw his 5-month-old baby into a river in September 2006 for alleged sorcery, resulting in the baby's death. Days earlier adults in the provincial capital of Mbandaka threw a 15-year-old boy in the river for sorcery, resulting in the boy's death. Police made arrests in both cases. Officials did not charge, prosecute, or punish anyone for similar crimes reported in previous reporting periods.

In the early 1960s the use of witchcraft, sorcery, and magic by insurgent elements in the Republic of the Congo (Leopoldville) was common. Magical practices were said to be effective in conditioning dissident elements and their followers to do battle with Government troops. Rebel tribesmen seemed to have been persuaded that they can be made magically impervious to Congolese army firepower. Their fear of Government forces was diminished and, conversely, fear of the rebels grew within army ranks.

In Africa, uprisings embodying supernatural practices have tended to occur generally whenever the continued physical safety or internal power structure of a tribe or tribes has been seriously threatened. Manifestations of witchcraft and sorcery in these instances can be said to reflect, in part, a return to traditionalism. A tribe unites more readily when a threat is explainable and solutions are propounded in terms of tribal common denominators of belief.

Nathan Nunn and Raul Sanchez de la Sierra report that to "become bulletproof one had to participate in a ritual that was typically performed in the forest. The bulletproofing protection requires that certain conditions be followed in order for the protection to be in place. Failing to respect the conditions would cause the protection against bullets to stop working. The “gri-gri” only lasts for a short period of time, often hours or days... Some of those from the villages that stayed to fight were shot and died. But, the cause of their death did not prove the spell to be false. Given the set of conditions that had to be respected, it was obvious that if they died, it must have been because they did not follow some of the conditions."

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 12-08-2017 17:24:53 ZULU