In Africa, superstition and magic have a centuries-old history that is lost in time, and many people still believe in evil spirits. After all, on a continent where disease and illiteracy seem to be incurable wounds, witchcraft continues to be considered one of the answers to people’s problems. When a sudden calamity occurs or something serious and inexplicable happens, people do not always look for a rational cause, the origin of evil is found in occult reasons. In this context, asking a wizard for help when one is sick, to “exorcise the evil that caused the disease”, is still a widespread practice.
In the past, only adults were accused of witchcraft, especially women and the elderly, who risked death by burning or strangulation; in the best-case scenario, they were chased away from the community. Today, also children can be accused of “dark arts”, “responsible” simply for living in an environment where physical sufferings are on the agenda. They are called enfant sorciers and always come from very poor families in small villages.
This growing phenomenon of bana ya kindoki, literally “children sorcerers”, has been denounced mainly by Catholic missionaries who operate on the Congolese territory. In Kinshasa and Brazzaville, about 40 thousand children wander in a state of absolute malnutrition after suffering unspeakable violence.
Interris met a Congolese seminarian (whose identity we have chosen to protect), who is studying in Rome. He told us about these execrable ancestral practices. “Kinshasha and Brazzaville share the dubious primacy as to the number of children sorcerers”. In Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo – he explains – witchcraft “was born as a form of protection for the family and it was passed down from generation to generation. This practice has changed over time”.
There are many households and often, almost all the time, envy divides relatives”, this leads to “very harmful behaviors, sometimes against children.” “When the power of a child to harm his relatives is acknowledged, (s)he ends up being chased away; in the worst cases, they burn these children. In my own family, 5 people were accused of witchcraft, then killed. Many of my citizens are accustomed to it”.
Forthose who open to the Gospel, like this young seminarian, to return to their country and confront this reality inside their families is an “enormous suffering.” What is difficult, is mainly the relationship with their relatives. “Some of them are sorcerers – he adds – and they fear me, but I am not afraid of them. Priests frighten them because they recognize strength and a light in them, which according to these superstitions, might weaken their powers. In my family, there is another priest and not everyone is happy with that.”
At the root of the phenomenon, he stresses, there is fear. And the latter, he says, leads people to chase away children accused of witchcraft. Despite the fact that Catholicism is deeply rooted in Congo, it coexists with situations like that. “Evangelization is a difficult task, but the most important thing to do is to bring peace to families and to the society as a whole.”
“The problem does not concern Congo and the DRC alone, but also Nigeria, Togo, and Africa in general. Unfortunately, the Church faces its mission while being surrounded proliferating sects or pseudo Christian groups. Even money is used to push people to abandon the Catholic Church”. There are also extreme situations where would-be priests “paradoxically foment belief in these superstitions, to get a chance to perform exorcisms for a fee afterwards.
According to the testimonies of some missionaries, both lay and religious, family members entrust more and more often their children to sects, false prophets, alleged exorcists, charlatans and impostors of all kinds, paying generous compensation. The purification rituals are always violent and, at times, very cruel. Sometimes, they injure children, then pour gasoline or sprinkle salt on them, or leave them without food or water, or torment them with hot irons.
In Kinshasa, there is a committee that oversees children’s rights, but the court is inefficient. It means that a multitude of children is abandoned to terror and uncertainty about their future.