Witchcraft Imputation and Cruelty to Animals in Africa

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Belief in witchcraft is common in many African communities. Pictured here are smoking pipes retrieved from a shrine in Kibuli, Kampala.
Belief in witchcraft is common in many African communities. Pictured here are smoking pipes retrieved from a shrine in Kibuli, Kampala.
Spining

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AfAW) condemns the torture, ill-treatment of animals in the name of witchcraft across Nigeria and beyond. As in the case of humans, cruelty to animals linked to witchcraft has largely been ignored and condoned. The belief that witches turn into animals to inflict harm on other human beings and their estate is pervasive in Africa. These animals include cats, dogs, bats, owls, etc. In many societies, black cats and owls are often associated with witchcraft. Due to this superstitious notion, these animals have become endangered species. People attack, torture, and kill them wherever and whenever they are seen in the communities. Their presence evokes panic, occult fears, and anxieties. Their presence trigger suspicions of witchcraft and magical harm. People assume that some witchcraft attack is imminent. To thwart such an attack, these witch-animals are killed. They are treated without compassion.

On February 21, 2022, somebody posted a video on Facebook showing an owl that was caught in Enugu state

The post says: “Somewhere in Igbo-Eze South Enugu State an owl which witchcrafts (sic) used to parade was caught red-handed, the owl looked at the people that caught it and shaked (sic) its head, already know that it’s finished. One down. Villagers awaiting (sic) something to happen to someone around”.

The person who made this post and others who commented believed that this owl was not like any other nocturnal bird of prey that is found worldwide. The belief is that this owl was an animal form of a witch usually an elderly woman somewhere in the community that was out to harm or suck blood.

They believe that now the owl has been caught, the planned witchcraft has been scuttled and the alleged witch would eventually die. According to the post, the owl looked at the people who caught it and shook its head. That means it was unhappy that the witchcraft scheme has failed, or has been foiled. The post concludes that “Villagers are awaiting something to happen to someone around”. That means the villagers are waiting for the alleged witch whose evil scheme had been aborted to suddenly die.

It is unfortunate that this superstition persists across Africa and has been weaponized to endanger the lives of humans and other animals. Socioeconomic stress, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, abuse of power, lack of social welfare, and mismanagement of the economy, has occult fears and suspicions of witchcraft. Birds such as owls are often scapegoated and suspected to be witches trying to cause harm in the communities.

AfAW urges the public to desist from attacking and killing animals in the name of witchcraft. The notion that human beings can turn into animals has no basis in reason, science, and reality. Like alleged witch-humans, animals linked to witchcraft are innocent. Witchcraft belief is deployed against the wildlife, and to endanger the flora and fauna. The government should take measures to punish violators and all who treat animals with cruelty in the name of witchcraft. Nigerians, Africans, need to abandon this superstitious, and occult fears that motivate them to abuse and ill-treat cats, owls, and other animals.

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