Archive for the ‘Witches' Village’ Category

Subsistence and Opportunity

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

The witches’ jewelry has become so popular that they can hardly keep up with demand. Part of the problem is that the women have had to divide their time between the immediate demands of the harvest and the less-immediate but potentially more lucrative demands of jewelry making. The women can bring in a good return on their labor selling the jewelry here, but Melinda, the American jewelry designer who taught them, has offered to show their jewelry along with her own back in the States. There the necklaces, bracelets and earrings these women create can bring in a much larger profit. The problem is that Melinda needs the jewelry to show before Christmas, and the women are having trouble making enough jewelry to send her for the show.

The reason for the difficulty was evident on the day Carolyn (the Peace Corps volunteer who coordinated the jewelry-design project) and I went out to Gambaga with several of the medical volunteers who had taken the day off to help work with the women making jewelry. Getting to Gambaga without a car of your own (which none of us have here) requires walking to the other side of Nalerigu to the “station” where you can find a taxi to Gambaga. They usually fit six passengers, plus a driver and miscellaneous small children into a compact car. Once you arrive in Gambaga, you then walk through the village and a field to arrive at the office of the Outcast Women’s Home.

After making this trek, we arrived to discover that not a single woman had come to make the jewelry. They had all gone to farm. “But couldn’t five or six have stayed behind to make jewelry?” we asked. Apparently not. The minimum wage in Ghana (for people with jobs) is GH2.65, or about $1.86. I’m not sure they make that farming. A single bracelet brings in more than that, if it’s sold in Ghana. If they can make enough to send to the U.S., a bracelet could be worth a weeks’ wages.

For women who have lived hand to mouth their entire lives, their focus is on the immediate need (food) and the immediate solution (farming). And I agree that farming is important. A good crop will provide their basic dietary needs for the next year. The jewelry-making seems less important to them because the benefits are less concrete and will take longer to materialize. Jewelry can’t be shipped to America, sold, and the profits returned overnight. But a little foresight and advance planning could meet both their farming needs and their jewelry profit potential. Most of the women can go out and farm every day. But if a rotation of five women stayed behind to make jewelry each day, they could produce both plenty of food and plenty of jewelry.

We discussed these concepts with the lady who runs the home, and when Carolyn and I returned the next day, a contingent of women showed up, too, ready to make jewelry. They’ve been pretty steady workers ever since. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to send some jewelry to Melinda soon. Then the women should really begin to see the profit from their labors.

Learning to Make Jewelry

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Carolyn is a Peace Corps volunteer who has been working closely with the witches’ village in Gambaga to develop income-generation projects and skills training for the women there. She and Madame Lariba (who runs the Outcast Women’s Home) decided that jewelry making would be a good project for the women to undertake. So, Carolyn wrote a grant and bought some beads. She intended to teach the women (and herself) jewelry design. That’s when Melinda showed up. An artist and jewelry designer herself, Melinda accompanied her OB-GYN husband on a two-week mission trip to BMC in Nalerigu. She wasn’t sure what her role would be, but she was ready for whatever might come.

What came were the witches of Gambaga and a two-day jewelry-design seminar culminating in a show for community leaders. Melinda taught us all how to attach the clasps, reinforce the string, and make a pretty pattern with our beads. All this without being able to communicate directly with the women themselves, as none of them spoke English, and Melinda did not speak Mampruli. One thing she did learn was the big smile a simple “di vela” (that’s good!) could bring to the faces of the women creating the jewelry. Most of these women have spent their lives at hard manual labor, so the creative outlet of designing something beautiful created a real sense of joy and excitement among the women.

After two days of training, leaders in the community came to see and purchase the jewelry the women had made, as well as to offer advice for creating a successful business model. The endorsement of these people was very important to the women’s efforts to insure that their products were not shunned as the product of “witches.”

Each woman was presented with a certificate to show that she had completed her training, and the ceremony ended with refreshments and pictures. The women were truly proud of what they had accomplished.

The Witches’ Village

Monday, November 9th, 2009

One village over from Nalerigu, in the district seat of Gambaga, is a settlement officially known as the Presbyterian Outcast Women’s Home. Unofficially, it’s known as “the witches’ village.” The residents of the home are women from villages across the region who have been accused of witchcraft and turned out of their families. They are sent to Gambaga because local tradition holds that the chief of Gambaga has the ability to nullify powers of witchcraft within his village. When the women arrive, the chief sacrifices a chicken. The way the chicken falls on the ground determines the women’s guilt or innocence. If her chicken falls the wrong way, the woman is then sent to the Outcast Home.

At first I was a little confused about the juxtaposition of the chicken sacrifice with the home’s Presbyterian affiliation. Most Presbyterians I know don’t usually endorse animal slaughter as an effective means of justice. From what I can tell, the sacrifice has been around since before the Presbyterians began running the home. The Outcast Home just takes the women who are declared witches but doesn’t actually have anything to do with the sacrifice itself.

So, how are women accused of witchcraft? Often the accusations come from rival wives in polygamous marriages, perhaps the result of jealousy. Or the accused could have had an argument with someone who later became ill or even died. Occasionally a woman will admit that she tried to put “juju” on someone else, but most women deny any involvement with witchcraft.

The system is inherently unfair and sends the women to live in this camp without any real system of justice. The problem is that once a woman is accused of witchcraft, it’s no longer safe for her to remain at home. Others from her village and even her own family may try to harm her.

The ultimate goal of the witches’ village is to reintegrate the women into their home villages. Sometimes the women only stay for a few days. Sometimes they stay for decades. In the meantime, the women farm communal land for the chief of Gambaga in a kind of sharecropping arrangement, and the Outcast Home arranges practical training and income generation projects for the women. They learn how to make soap and charcoal, which they can then sell in market, thus raising money to support themselves at the home and learning a skill that they will be able to use upon returning to their own villages. Most recently, the women have learned jewelry design with Ghanaian beads. I got to take part in that training, so I’ll write more about that in my next post.