Spellbound: Inside West Africa's Witch Camps Hardcover – Oct 26 2010
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"Fascinating and disturbing..." Canwest News Service
About the Author
Karen Palmer applied for her first passport at age 21; in the 12 years since, she has traveled to more than 25 countries, 17 of them in Africa. While living in West Africa, Palmer wrote for the Washington Times, South China Morning Post, Toronto Star, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsday, and Newsweek. She lives in Ottawa, where she works as the media officer with Oxfam Canada. This is her first book.
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Ms. Palmers writes a brief history of how British colonialism created tension in the country and how the British tried to handle the situation. She explains that witchcraft is not outlawed in Ghana and there are "licensed" practitioners who usually are men. She explained how these men may be contributing to the women being accused of witchcraft. The author doesn't belittle the Ghanaians who believe in the practice, and even explains that witchcraft hasn't been absent from European history or her own current beliefs. Actually, Ms. Palmer seems to go out of her way to try to find people to validate the practice. She shares the frustration of trying to obtain substantive proof by interviewing the women, their families, herbalist (the male witches), doctors, government agencies, and aid groups which assist the women. Often times she shares with us the cultural differences of understanding, especially when trying to obtain an answer to her question.
The author doesn't discredit witchcraft, nor does she give definite proof of it. She provides the reader with information to form his or her own opinion.
She writes of the various issues that prompts the accusations against the women which often is caused by poverty: envy that the accused is successful in her business; sudden illnesses brought on by insects, airborne diseases, nourishment and lack of facilities to ensure clean water; competition among wives in polygamous marriages; and the burden of taking care of the elderly are a few. This book explained the frustrations the government, hospitals and aid groups have with trying to find a viable way for the outcast women to survive and to stop the debilitating accusations.
This book is a fascinating cultural and geographic study of Ghana, since both contributes to the hardship the people are currently facing. The only flaw is that Ms. Palmer didn't interview any of the men who were accused of being witches or explain the accusations they faced. I highly recommend this book.
What first appears to be simply an issue of African superstitions quickly shows itself to be more complicated and a way to dispose of women who have outlived their usefulness or who are proving too adept at business. It's also a solution to the jealousy that is common in the polygamous societies of Northern Ghana. While these causes are visible to outsiders, Karen still wants to learn if there is any truth behind these claims...can witchcraft really exist or is it just so deeply engrained in the population that they see the evidence they wish to see?
This was an interesting account of Ghana and this issue. Karen Palmer is careful to examine all sides of the issue and never comes to a hasty conclusion, either regarding witchcraft itself or a solution to the problems. A well written account; recommended for any interested in human rights issues or Africa itself. I only wish that the author would have included some of the photographs that she wrote about taking.
This book would have been much better had the author let go of her inhibitions and been more participatory. I just finished Chapter Six, which had the disappointment of the lack of shrine visit. I'm hoping for better as I continue, but I am not hopeful.
And really, no photos? So many things described verbally would have been so much better represented by a picture.
Overall, a disappointment.
And, no, I didn't buy it from Amazon. I bought it from my local used bookstore.