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The Dark and Disturbing Case of Akuah Denteh

The shocking case of the accused witch Akuah Denteh shocked Ghana in the 21st century was captured on video of the torture of this 90-year-old woman. 

Tragic Witch Trial of Akuah Denteh in Ghana
Akuah Denteh witch trial caught on video in 2020

Witch Trails in Africa are happening today

Amidst the global concern surrounding COVID-19 in the year 2020, a tragic incident unfolded in the rural village of Kafaba, in East Gonja, within the Savannah Region of Ghana. In the shadows of this small village, the horrifying torture of an accused witch, Akuah Denteh, was captured on video, capturing the world's attention as it circulated virally across continents.

The Tragic Witch Trial of Akuah Denteh in Ghana

The issue of accusations of witchcraft in Ghana is a powerfully concerning and troubling matter, as it is based on long-held societal beliefs. Most accused victims, such as 90-year-old Akuah Denteh (pronounced as Ah-kwah Den-teh) have been vulnerable women, who are aged, uneducated, widowed or divorced, and of lower socioeconomic status. 

In Ghana, accusations of witchcraft are deeply rooted in cultural and traditional beliefs. Some 300 women falsely accused of witchcraft are spread across five witch camps nationwide. Disregarded by society, they often live in dire conditions. Accused witches often face public humiliation and dehumanization. Accused witches live in constant fear for their safety, knowing that their lives are at risk due to the accusations. 

On Thursday, July 23, 2020, Hajia Mohammed Serena and Latifa Bomaye, and many other villagers many hours, tortured a 90-year-old woman named Akua Denteh, who was accused of witchcraft in Kafaba, a small town in East Gonja, the Savannah Region of Ghana. 

A recorded video of the murder went viral on social media. The viral video circulating shows how they surrounded the 90-year-old woman, using objects to hit her head, slapping her, and whipping her several times as she sat on the ground. After the beatings, she became unconscious, and the tortures gave her concoctions to drink; then, they took her to her house, where she later died.

On July 5, 2023, the court found Serena and Bomaye guilty and sentenced them to 12 years in prison for their involvement in the murder. Five other people were acquitted, including the chief of the remote community of Kafaba. Denteh's son spoke at the sentencing, his voice trembling with emotion as he delivered a powerful and heartfelt plea for justice and an end to the tragic cycle of witchcraft accusations in their community.

Signs of Witchcraft

The concept of witchcraft in Ghana often revolves around the idea of supernatural powers or abilities possessed by certain individuals. Witchcraft is believed to be the source of harm or misfortune directed at others, typically through malevolent actions or curses.

In this context, Witches are perceived as individuals who have made a pact with malevolent spirits or deities to gain power and use it to cause harm to others. The perceived harm can be physical, emotional, or economic, and accusations are often made as an attempt to explain misfortune or unfavorable circumstances.

The perceived signs of witchcraft can differ based on local beliefs and customs. Some common signs or behaviors that may lead to an accusation include:

Dreaming about someone who later experiences misfortune or death.

Owning unusual or rare animals or objects.

Being a loner or living in isolation.

Engaging in practices such as herbal medicine can be misinterpreted as witchcraft.

Having physical abnormalities or deformities.

Torture of accused witch Akuah Denteh
Torture of accused witch Akuah Denteh

Causes of Witchcraft Accusations

Accusations of witchcraft can be triggered by events or circumstances, including:

Sudden illness or death of a person, especially if it occurs after an argument or conflict with the accused individual.

Droughts, crop failures, or other natural disasters are seen as a result of supernatural interference.

Economic hardships or other misfortunes within the community.

Fertility issues, miscarriages, or infant mortality.

Envy, jealousy, or personal conflicts among community members.

Strange behavior or actions perceived as abnormal or unusual.

Ghana Witch Camps

Akuah Denteh never had the opportunity to escape to a witch camp. An estimated 1,000 women live in witch camps scattered around Ghana’s Northern region and are counted as the lucky ones who escaped death. 

These women have been ostracized from their communities by voluntarily fleeing or being banished forcibly into witch camps. 

Ghana has six witch camp communities in its Northern region in Gambaga, Kukuo, Kpatinga, Boyasi, Naabuli, and Ngnani villages. The history of these camps dates back several decades, and some have existed for generations. 

The primary purpose of witch camps is to provide shelter and protection to individuals who have been accused of practicing witchcraft. These accusations are often made during times of misfortune, illness, or other social problems within the community. Accusations of witchcraft can lead to severe consequences, including violence, banishment, and even death.

Throughout Africa, Witch trials are not a thing of the past

Most residents of Ghana's witch camps are elderly women. These women are often vulnerable due to their age and lack of familial support, making them more susceptible to accusations of witchcraft. Accusations may arise from envy, personal conflicts, or a desire to scapegoat someone for misfortune in the community.

Traditional beliefs and practices hold significant influence in these regions, and beliefs in witchcraft are deeply rooted in the local communities. Residents of the witch camps face social stigmatization within and in broader Ghanaian society. The label witch carries significant negative connotations and can result in isolation and exclusion.

Traditional healers and spiritual leaders, such as witch doctors or fetish priests, influence these regions significantly. Their practices often involve the identification of witches or sorcerers responsible for misfortunes, further perpetuating beliefs in witchcraft.

In the case of the 90-year-old woman, Akua Denteh, who was accused of witchcraft and tortured to death, the fetish priestess of the village Hajia Filina, performed chanting and dancing, during which she revealed that Denteh was a witch. After Filina's revelation, the villagers subjected Denteh to torture and death.
Tragic Witch Trial of Akuah Denteh in Ghana
Akuah Denteh RIP

The Life of Accused Witch Akuah Denteh 

In the village of Kafaba, one finds the roots of Akuah Denteh's family. Among eight siblings, she was the cherished second-born, a role that instilled in her a sense of responsibility and love for her kin.

Embracing the sacred bond of matrimony, Akuah Denteh embarked on the journey of motherhood. She cradled seven precious lives in her warm embrace, a testament to her nurturing spirit. Two boys and four girls were blessed to call her mother, a title that she wore with grace and tenderness. As time weaved its tapestry, the oldest of her children reached the remarkable milestone of 70 years, a testament to the enduring legacy of her care and guidance.

Amidst the verdant fields, Akuah Denteh toiled as a farmer, her hands sowing seeds of sustenance for her family and the community. Though formal education eluded her, she gathered wisdom from the earth's embrace, becoming a custodian of traditional knowledge passed down through generations.

Let it be known that Akuah Denteh was not the essence of darkness cast upon her by malevolent whispers. Rather, she embodied love—a devoted mother, grandmother to 21, a great-grandmother, and a resilient widow who carried the strength of a thousand souls.

In the heart of Kafaba, her memory shall endure, forever etched into the lives of those she touched. May her soul find solace and rest in the embrace of her ancestors as her legacy continues to inspire generations to come.

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