The witch revival –Why we need for me about sorceresses

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Tales of witchcraft have existed since the dawn of time. As an essential part of folklore and religious beliefs, witches have fascinated our societies for centuries and are now an integral part of popular culture. In African societies and spiritual traditions, witches’ tales were told to reflect the link between the spiritual world and our material world. Today in African cinema, witches stories are part of a global movement to highlight the continent’s spiritual and cultural heritage.

Mami Wata, queen of the Seas 

In 2023 came out the Nigerian film Mami Wata written and directed by C. J.   Obasi. The film draws direct inspiration from the water spirit, Mami Wata. Often compared to a mermaid, Mami Wata is a complex spirit whose presence first echoed throughout West Africa and spread throughout the African diaspora in the West Indies and South America. Children are often told to stay out of the water during the night as the sorceress might be lurking in. She is described as a beautiful and seductive spirit often associated with fertility. Worshipped as much as she is feared, she has succeeded in cultivating an iconic imagery, however, we observe a lack of representation in popular media. C. J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi’s film is most likely the most popular project to date displaying  the sea witch, although she has been revered for centuries. This lack of representation is a shame, as she stands as one of the most interesting figures of mystical feminine energy: her simultaneously sensual and dangerous aura can be the premise for a very interesting project, reminiscent of the one of Greek figure Medusa.  

Picture obtained through  @TRIGONFILMS mami-wata/ Link: https://trigon-film.org/fr/films/mami-wata/ visited on the 28/05/2024

Accusation of witchcraft, a relevant problem

Often considered solely as mythical creatures, they are still the sources of  societal issues in countries like Ghana. Forget the broom and the cauldron, some people face witchcraft accusations in some regions of the country, which results in forced isolation and a life of discrimination. Victims of witch hunts find themselves excluded from society and end up in what we would refer as “witch camp”. These camps serve as the last place of asylum for these isolated people, who mostly are older women and girls. These beliefs still have a strong hold on Ghana’s society and government officials have been trying to fight this deeply rooted issue. The efforts started by the  dismantling of  witch camps and the creation of prevention campaigns. The problem has such grave consequences that it is referred to on Amnesty international’s website  concerning women and children’s rights in Ghana. On the 27th July of 2020, Ghanaian parliament passed a bill which makes witchcraft accusation an offence, however, the president refused to enact this law, citing  procedural issues. 

Thus, this problem not only lies in the hands of the government alone, but is also a problem of widespread prejudice and misinformation. The need for a strong movement towards the education of the people regarding the topic of witchcraft, as well as the need for direct help towards isolated women and girls is pressing.

“ I Am Not a Witch”  or Shula, the witch of our time

 “ I should have chosen to be a goat. At least goats can move about freely and eat what they like.” 

The issue of witch camps is largely addressed in the satirical  2017 film “ I Am Not a Witch” from zambian filmmaker Rungano Nyoni. The film tells the story of a young girl named Shula who is accused of witchcraft and sent to a witchcamp with other women. In this camp, the women are exhibited and used as an attraction for tourists visiting the country.  This film makes a commentary not only on the horror of those witchcamps but also on the place of women in society and their lack of free will. Shula, our main character finds herself tormented between her role as a witch and wanting to be a normal child. 

As these women are qualified as “government workers”, we engage in a conversation on the exploitation of women. Along with their work as tourist attractions, these older women work in treacherous fields and don’t receive any financial compensation  for their work. Therefore, they have to rely on Shula who is just a child and on the government  which is feeding and dressing them. It is not a matter of if they are real witches or not but rather how they can be exploited by society. Dressed in monochrome, blue attire, they reflect a homogeneity which suppresses their identities as women. Although they live outside of society like outcasts , they are a vital part of the fictional country’s economy. It’s in this dystopian satirical setting, that Shula exists, a child who only wanted to be normal but unfortunately finds herself ambushed in this peculiar life. 

Picture obtained through @PYRAMIDE FILMS /  http://distrib.pyramidefilms.com/pyramidefilms-distribution-catalogue-i/i-am-not-a-witch.html visited on the 28/05/2024 

Reclaiming the role of witches 

We cannot ignore the misogynistic undertone of witchcraft accusation: women accused of witchcraft are almost always  older women or women who don’t fit societal conventions. These are women who are seen as nuisance and trouble, thus explaining the terrible fate they are forced to face. It is now time to tell their stories and embrace the status of being a witch. We have seen examples of films in the U.S, such as The Witch (2015) directed by Robert Eggers, which sheds light on the misogyny behind the witchhunt of XIXth puritan New-England. The nineties cult classic The Craft (1996) from director Andrew Fleming uses the figure of the witch to talk about teenage outcasts in american highschool. 

This shows us that the witch is not only a figure of mystique,but also a commentary of the way we view women that don’t fit societal expectations;witches are strong, independant and unapologetic women. A woman with those characteristics as well as possessing the richness of african spirituality would be an excellent protagonist for a film. There is a growing need for such a movie, but there is hope, as we see more and more feminist films in the African cinema landscape, and, in my opinion, the figure of the witch is one that would perfectly fit this growing movement. 

Picture obtained through @A24/ ​​https://a24films.com/films/witch visited on the 28/05/2024

Written by Whitney Janivel

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