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Spellbound: Inside West Africa's Witch Camps

Spellbound: Inside West Africa's Witch Camps

3.0 1
by Karen Palmer

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Spellbound is a vivid account of African witchcraft and its relation to the culture and land.


Spellbound is a vivid account of African witchcraft and its relation to the culture and land.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this empathetic account, Palmer looks at witchcraft, witch doctors, and superstition in present-day Ghana and examines why some believe in them completely, while others do not, positing that belief might have been extenuated through Africa's lack of wealth, education, healthcare, and women's rights. The less somebody understands economics, medicine, science, philosophy or politics, Palmer suggests, the more he or she could credit certain things to the supernatural. The author takes us inside remote encampments where women thought to be witches are isolated and punished. There, they must live on their own, away from the comforts of family, and sometimes beg for work. She recounts the experiences of women like Ayishetu Bugre, who had been accused of witchcraft by a jealous, drunken brother-in-law. Her sentencing depended on the death throes of a sacrificed chicken, which is believed to be a message from the tribal ancestors. Palmer also talks of Asara Azindu, whose success and independence bothered those around her. They blamed her for a meningitis outbreak, claiming she had poisoned the town's main water source. With these and other stories, Palmer effectively highlights the grave effects of ignorance and superstition, and the cruel, abusive situations in which scores of Ghanaian women currently find themselves. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews

Anecdote-rich account of how witchcraft pervades the culture of a stress-ridden region of Africa caught between ancient traditions and modernism.

Palmer, a Canadian journalist working in Ghana to improve investigations of human-rights abuses, became curious about witch camps after she read about them in a 2007 U.S. State Department report. The camps, which in northern Ghana are actually seen as a tourist attraction, began as a kind of sanctuary for people facing beatings or death in their home villages after being found guilty of witchcraft. Today they house thousands of women and a few men in conditions of abject poverty. The author witnessed the judgment process, in which the direction that a slaughtered chicken flops on the ground determines guilt or innocence, and she interviewed women living in the camps, some of whom believed themselves to be witches, people who believed they were the victims of witchcraft, social workers, religious leaders and health providers. Besides detailing the impact of the belief in witchcraft on individual lives, she provides a capsule history of Ghana under British rule, when attempts were made to stifle witchcraft, and she notes the difficulties witchcraft presents for economic development in northern Ghana. Women who have some small success in business arouse jealousy, which leads to accusations of witchcraft from resentful neighbors, which then leads to condemnation and expulsion. Development agencies, Palmer writes, are at a loss about how to help women in the witch camps without increasing their dependency or encouraging the dumping of unwanted wives and burdensome old women by desperately poor families. Interestingly, the author seems to have fallen under witchcraft's spell. "I still can't say I believe, but I don't disbelieve either," she writes. She also purchased and carried with her a protective travel fetish, and the predictions of a witchdoctor prompted her to make an imprudent life-altering decision. Palmer's investigation will not persuade skeptics, but her report leaves no doubt that belief in witchcraft is a cultural reality in that part of the world.

Shapeless and meandering, but full of gritty details and some memorable characters.

From the Publisher
"Fascinating and disturbing..." Canwest News Service

Product Details

Free Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.96(w) x 11.82(h) x 0.94(d)

Meet 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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Spellbound: Inside West Africa's Witch Camps 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Scary and terribly sad that witch prisons are in existance today. I wish the author had kept the focus strictly on human rights...