TOP
Monday,November 30,2020 23:35 PM

In The Witchdoctor’s Den

By Vision Reporter

Added 16th May 2002 03:00 AM

For his entire prowess that includes making people rich, Peter Kityo of Bwambale village, Mpigi district, is stinking poor.

For his entire prowess that includes making people rich, Peter Kityo of Bwambale village, Mpigi district, is stinking poor.

For his entire prowess that includes making people rich, Peter Kityo of Bwambale village, Mpigi district, is stinking poor. Back bent and clad in some ragged, threadbare excuse of clothing that no thief would take, he is the perfect scarecrow for your shamba. If his shack of a shrine-cum-home were located within Kampala, the City Council would have quarantined it off long ago, for being outright unsafe for human habitation; even if the terms were liberalised to maximum. Half of the mud and wattle hovel has collapsed and he inhabits what is left of it. As you approach it, a ghostlike feeling creeps down your spine and into your bowels as your eye catches rather weird objects not too visible in the dark corners. You can almost swear you feel the spirits are watching you. Welcome to the witchdoctor’s den, where you get goose-bumps just looking around and your tummy goes into serious olympics before you are half-done. The shrine of Badru Batuli Semisambwa of Busabala, near Kampala is all this and more. Bark cloth covers the floor, strange sounds come from the dark rooms and an uneasy silence grips you. As the eyes get accustomed to the darkness, you can make out a woman sitting still, with a child in her arms. Perched peacefully on her head is a hen, black, I think. Semisambwa says the spirits and diseases are being transferred from the child and mother to the hen. Silence please, healing in progress! The typical witchdoctor’s home is a hospital with an out-patients wing where one can consult, get treatment and go home; and the in-patients wing where the more serious cases are admitted, sometimes for months. By the time they come, many are at the point of death or muttering gibberish. But soon they are talking just fine and indulging in intellectual banter. That is a sign they are on the road to recovery. At Semisambwa’s shrine, the long-staying become friends and family. They eat together and chat and argue. Life in the witchdoctor’s den is fascinating and never the same two days in a row. The witchdoctor is a link between his patients and the spirit world. Disgruntled clan spirits are the leading cause of disorders in people’s lives, the witchdoctors agree. They are the origin of impotence, poverty, illness, etc. Much of the time it is a case of when the parents ate the sour grapes and the children got the sour taste. “That is the justice of the spirits. The elder may say ‘I am old, let them kill me if they like.’ But if they attack the children, that is where it hurts most. It will prompt the parents to react in submission,” explains Semisambwa. “Sometimes the spirits tell me the problem is medical, not spiritual and tell the patient to go to the bamagulu-meru (the men with white legs) — medical doctors,” says Semisambwa. If it is a clan spirit they tell the patient to comply and give them what they want. Clan spirits are usually not ill-intentioned. All they want is recognition and sacrifice. So if you give them what they demand, you get well.” Many a witchdoctor is a slave in his own domain. It is the spirits who set, decide how much the patient should pay. Florence Nakaliisa paid just sh30,000 for four months treatment at Semisambwa’s. That is pretty unreasonable, but something the doctor cannot question. He is there to take orders, not question them or disagree. The spirits do not allow the witchdoctor latitude to argue, dispute or reason. It is obeying orders, first and last, pure and simple. “The spirits just order us. The job (of healing) is not ours. Sometimes the fee is just sh20 or sh200,” says Semisambwa. “Sometimes the patients give us busiimo (tokens of appreciation). That is where we benefit most. It could be a radio, money, clothing or whatever.” Looked at this way, it is easy to understand why some witchdoctors are stinking poor. The spirits feed real well. They never ask for maize and ripe bananas. It is always chicken, goats, sheep or cattle. Blood must always be shed before they can be placated; before they can cool down and smile again. Ideally the witchdoctors do not advertise. Their patients carry the message around. Witchdoctors also face stiff competition; but not from medics. It is the born-again folk with whom they have an axe to grind. “We do not fear the medics,” says Ben Gulu Ssalongo, chairman of Uganda N’eddagala lyayo Association, which regulates the practice of traditional doctors. “At least 85% of the people who fall sick come to us,” he boasts. But when they start talking about born-agains, it is with venom and vengeance that they spit out each word. They acknowledge them as the cardinal competitors. “I will soon start crusades also just like these saved people,” says Gulu. “I will bring my people to give testimonies of how the power of my spirits changed their lives.” Part of the problem is that in the rural areas health centres are not easily accessible. “The nearest one here is Semuto, which is more than 20km away,” says Adera Nampewo of Bwambale. “Yet the witchdoctor (Peter Kityo) is just a five-minute walk away. Even then, the private clinics are too expensive.” There are two ways one may become a witchdoctor. “Some of us are born into this trade,” explains Umar Ndiwalana Kawungezi of Ndeeba. “But some just buy the spirits.” The price varies from place to place. Those who buy spirits, do it for purely commercial reasons. They help or harm as they are ordered. They have no sympathies and do not reason. It is business first and last. The way the witchdoctors talk, you get the feeling many people in Uganda spend most of their time plotting evil against others. You get the feeling no one is completely safe from the jealous neighbour or envious workmate. Kityo claims he was born a witchdoctor. “I am no longer an ordinary human being,” he boasts. “I have many spirits on me. I can cure 1,506 diseases.” Many of these witchdoctors still profess religious faith. Kityo is a passionate Catholic but he sees no contradiction. Semisambwa and Ndiwalana are faithful Muslims. Ends

In The Witchdoctor’s Den

Related articles

More From The Author

More From The Author