Causes of Witchcraft Accusations: Analytical Essay

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It is generally assumed in many parts of the world that witchcraft beliefs have given way to westernization but in sub-Saharan Africa, the belief in witchcraft is widely held. (Miguel 2005). Witchcraft. The definition of witchcraft is socially constructed and it differs from society to society. Chavhunduka(2003) defines it as the use of supernatural forces to influence or predict events. This essay serves to explore the various reasons for the increase in witchcraft accusations with socioeconomic and cultural changes in sub-Saharan Africa. Anthropologists and organizations working on the phenomenon of witchcraft observe that accusations increase as a response to changes and challenges in society. (Joselow 2012). Therefore social and economic pressure including conflict, poverty, HIV/AIDS, physical disability, and various social issues may come as new phenomena to them. In Zimbabwe, misfortune of any kind may be attributed to the work of witches who are said to have propensity to do evil Rodlach(2006) severe economic disparities between the rich and the poor seem to be a factor in witchcraft accusations. These accusations can be used as a weapon by the weak that forces the privileged class into the moulds of the larger population forcing them to take up the obligation of kinship reciprocity. On the other hand, they can in turn use these accusations to ignore the demands of their kinfolk to prove their power. The poor also fall victim to this accusation as one assumes that they are envious and resentful of and wish to destroy those who are better off. Often those accused are odd antisocial women. Politicians and the rich are also suspected to have pursued their careers with the aid of witchcraft. Also, accusations are often made by less fortunate kin against more affluent members because the latter have failed to redistribute their wealth or have been unfair in the way they share with their relations. Accusations may target those that are deviating from the village community by their behavior or those perceived as weak, marginal, or less often trouble makers.

Witchcraft accusations are usually directed at wealthier members because the poor believe they use some kind of evil force to amass wealth. It can also be noted that poor members can also be accused by wealthy people who experience misfortune and lose their economic status in society. These accusations hide the failures of these people and witchcraft is used to define their misfortunes. Marx’s conflict theory further explains this notion as he viewed the unfair distribution of resources as a further perpetuation of conflict within society. In support of the idea that prominent man are always targeted as witches, Yamba (1997) tells a story about Katiyo who was a prominent man and accused of witchcraft probably as a result of envy from other people. Cheater (1986) also gives an example of the East African Railways and Harbors Organization in Kampala. When drivers were involved in accidents or driving errors, they attributed it to the jealous of others whom they accused of attacking them mystically. Competition for jobs is thus another social problem that leads to witchcraft accusations. The older drivers who lost their jobs to younger and educated drivers attributed their job loss to bewitchment thus showing their insecurities under changing circumstances. In turn, the belief that they bewitched their juniors perhaps reflected their desire to reinforce their position in the hierarchy of status based on age.

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Also, greed and jealousy contribute to the increase of witchcraft accusations against widows in society. Conflicts may also intensify as a result of land scarcity which may cause people to label each other as witches. When one dies their widows are vulnerable to family members who label them as witches in order to take their land. These women are accused of killing their husbands in order to gain wealth from them so the greedy relatives of the husband take over the wealth of the deceased. Bonate( 2003) notes that in post-war Mozambique women who insist on holding on to the land of their late husbands have been accused of being witches by the relatives of the deceased. This ma results in them losing the land and in some instances are left homeless. In Sukumaland in Tanzania land disputes are also an underlying cause of accusations of widows. According to inheritance laws, widows may continue to live on the land but without ownership which will now be transferred to the son. Accusations of witchcraft are therefore used to get rid of widows living on the land as tenants. One young boy killed his mother when a traditional healer had told him that his widowed mother was the cause of all his problems. Therefore this change from wife to widow can earn a woman a witchcraft accusation in order for someone to accomplish a mission of greed.

In addition, women are the most targeted especially in patriarchal societies in order to strip them of any power. Women entrepreneurs or economically empowered women are often accused of witchcraft by men who feel threatened by this new development of women who are independent of men. Elderly people returning to their villages with the savings of a lifetime have found themselves charged as witches and removed from their houses and earnings, or worse have been killed through hanging or other methods(African Agenda 1999). Elder women are the most targeted group. Masese(2006) notes that those who are excluded and are defined as at the margin of social interaction are liable to be thought of as witches. In this regard, they have built an image of a witch as of an old woman who eats greedily alone in her house. These may include those who do not attend funerals believed to be evading revenge from the spirit of the dead. These accusations also emanate from myths concerning how a witch should look like-that they have red eyes for instance. The eyes of many older women are red from a lifetime of cooking on smoky stoves, or from medical conditions such as conjunctivitis.

Limited knowledge of diseases also brings about witchcraft accusations combined with such a cultural belief system predisposes people to look for a scapegoat. (MacLean 2004). It is believed in Kissi County Kenya that witches normally harm people that have started improving their socio-economic status causing them to fall ill as a way of hindering their progress(Masese 2007). Mostly young people who would have moved from rural to urban areas in search of livelihood are more prone to HIV/AIDS. When they fall sick it is then taken that some members of their kin are against their effort to better their lives. Among the Abagusii of Kenya, illness that shows any symptoms of wasting in nature and defy any form of treatment were taken to be caused by witchcraft. Since the young ones are the most vulnerable; such deaths are classified as bad deaths and thus presumed to be caused by only witchcraft. (LeVine 1982). It was also noted that most accusations were in the month of July to August. It could be because at this time there is always an outbreak of Malaria so at this time many people fall prey to the disease. In Kisii County, Kenya Malaria is so dangerous that it can kill within two days. Therefore if it is not diagnosed many people will blame it on witchcraft. In this regard, they have even gone on to name it the month of witches. In this light, the coming in of new diseases may give rise to witchcraft accusations.

Economic globalization, that is, cultural change may also lead to the increase in witchcraft accusations. Any change that is not understood may cause people to escape the frustrations of trying to figure it out and find solace in accusing others of witchcraft. Economic globalization, coming up with new modern ways of entrepreneurship in which many people become rich but more stay poor has promoted violence against those accused of witchcraft in Kisii County.(Comaroff 1997). Imminent changes in fortune has generated frustrations among the young and impelled them to accuse and in some cases kill the old whom they see as hindering their progress through witchcraft. Maybe the youth feel threatened that their elders possess knowledge gained by experience in life but are unwilling to hand it over. Ogembo(2006) argues that structural adjustment programs and trade liberalization have also destabilized Kisii County, undermined their production system, and households are left in deprivation and despair that many people have come to believe that they are victims of witchcraft. Their failure to understand such processes has also increased witchcraft accusations in Kissi County. It becomes difficult for them to understand why some people prosper and some do not. Urbanization has increased suspicion between rural and urban dwellers as Jane Parish writes personify witches in the eyes of urban dwellers. (Geschiere 1998). Villagers use witchcraft accusations against the urban elite to enforce fading kinship norms concerning standards of mutual support.

Furthermore, witchcraft accusations can also be caused by the coming of new religious movements. Churches may play an important role in these accusations, the UNICEF has documented cases in Africa where pastors have designed children as witches for financial gain, charging families huge fees to exorcise the bad spirit (Safe child Africa n.d.)(UNICEF 2010)(Mungai 2014). The coming of new religious movements such as charismatic churches has promoted witchcraft accusations in Kenya with their emphasis on exorcism(Ogembo 2006). People’s anxiety has been increased by evangelists who preach about the connection of the devil with misfortunes, deaths, illnesses through books and open-air sermons. Churches condemn all misfortunes as witchcraft. Some say they can identify witches through visions. This spiritual work reinforces beliefs in witchcraft and increases accusations.

Physical disability, abnormality, mental disability, or physical illness may include autistic children or epileptic children (Cimpric and WCARO 2010). These are increasingly targeting children according to human rights reports and organizations working on this topic (Mungai 2014). Some societies believe that disability is as a result of witchcraft and the fear of the burden of taking care of people with disabilities will just compel them to find a way to get rid of them. These relatives of the people living with disabilities will be the first to label them as witches but in most cases, it is just name tagging. Also, albinism can bring about allegations due to a lack of public awareness. In Malawi albinism is believed to be associated with witchcraft. Women who give birth to children with albinism were to confess that they are witches in front of the whole community as albinism was believed to be a manifestation of witchcraft. Heinmann (2000) wrote that witches are believed to have intercourse wirh the devil in exchange of supernatural powers and albinos are the result.

Children can be more or less susceptible to witchcraft accusations depending on several factors. They can be accused of witchcraft because of unusual birth, these may include premature children or twins. Orphans and children with certain behavioral traits –that is- aggression, laziness, being withdrawn or antisocial may also be accused of witchcraft. Children may also be accused as secondary victims if their mother or grandmother is accused and they join in the exile. Some even consider it to be hereditary as a result these children are condemned to be later on accused in future. Pritchard ( ) notes that the power of witchcraft is considered as increasing with age. Children are thought of as weak witches and they had to inherit their power from their parents. Children who have conditions that people are not accustomed to are especially at risk of being accused of witchcraft. In Togo, if a child’s upper incisors break through before the lower, it is a Busu, which means once it grows it will see all kinds of unsettling things. Their anomaly testifies their future wickedness which dwells inside them. Moreover, most of those that are accused are orphans or only have a single parent. They are accused mostly by people who do not want to be burdened with looking after them.

Furthermore, witchcraft accusations may arise from some family setups like polygamous marriages. Intra-family accusations among co-wives are very common. As Douglas(1980) has observed accusations of witchcraft among the Azande of South Sudan, arise only in those social situations that fall outside of the political structure. Thus co-wives may accuse each other as might rivals in other arenas.

Mass media has played a big role in promoting an increase in witchcraft accusations. Most movies especially from Nigeria have a witchcraft theme where witches are brought to the book or destroyed according to the movie. This also creates awareness about witchcraft and gets people thinking about similar things happening in their lives.

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