Common beliefs

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Witchcrafts: its effects on lives of people with 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.

Spirituality in Churches/faith healers:
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. the spiritual 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.

Registering traditional healers by some governments is another advantage for the users/survivors movement to identify legitimized groups to work with,


Africans say “Time is ours, life is ours, land is ours so there is no hurry in Africa”

Europeans say “time waits for no man, life is short, land is scarce- act quickly”

  • For the Africans life keeps rotating from the physical world to the spiritual world, from spiritual world to the physical world and again to spritua and so on.

  • For the Europeans life grows from child hood, to the old age then to heaven or to hell. It ends there.

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