Nine women and 14 men in a village of Tanzania’s Rukwa Region were arrested last week for allegedly destroying the homes of other villagers whom they suspected of practicing witchcraft. Mr. George Kyando, the Rukwa Regional Police Commander, announced that the suspects in Kazila, a village in Mwazye Ward, Kalambo District of the Rukwa Region—in the heart of traditional Fipa territory—had invaded homes of the people they were accusing of witchcraft and had burned them to the ground.

Dried fish from Lake Rukwa, in the Rukwa Region
Dried fish from Lake Rukwa, in the Rukwa Region (Photo by Lichinga in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The Fipa in the region still practice farming, or in villages along the shores of Lake Rukwa and Lake Tanganyika, fishing, and they still accept their traditional beliefs in sorcery and witchcraft.  Mr. Kyando said that the villagers accused Conrald Nyami (45) of terrorizing them through his witchcraft. Mr.Nyami was asleep in his home around 9:00 pm on September 24 when the crowd of arsonists broke in and set the house on fire. Fortunately, he awoke and fled for his life. He went into hiding.

Presumably flushed with their success, the crowd went on to the house of another suspected witch, Japhet Telemka, and set it ablaze also. The Regional Police Commissioner added, “preliminary investigation established that the cause of the suspects’ rampage was based on superstitious beliefs.”

A recent journal article on Fipa witchcraft by Machangu (2015) focused mostly on accusations against elderly women in the farming villages of being witches, and why that trend is not diminishing. An older article by Willis (1968), however, provided information that may be more directly relevant to the situation in Kazila and the possible reasons for the witchcraft accusations against the two men.

A witch doctor and his apprentice in Malawi in 1910
A witch doctor and his apprentice in Malawi in 1910 (Photographer unknown, in the public domain in Wikimedia)

Willis mentioned in his article that the potions used in one of the incidents he discussed had come from Malawi, and that an anti-sorcery revolutionary movement on which he focused his research had also originated in that country. Willis maintained that the accusations of witchcraft that occurred—and still seem to occur—in Fipa villages were the result of personal misfortunes and problems with relationships. Losses of crops or livestock might result in accusations of witchcraft against another villager. The accusations were normally against people in the same generation, he found.

He argued that, while the spontaneous, disorganized anti-witchcraft movement, called Kamcape, was clearly designed to eradicate witchcraft, “its latent function is to effect a resolution at the psychic level of a generalized sense of internal conflict and to recreate the moral climate of village communities in accordance with the traditional ethos of unity and harmony (p.13).” Since conflicts are endemic to the Fipa villages (and to almost all human communities), those sorcery, and perhaps anti-sorcery movements, appear to be a recurring phenomenon in Fipa country.