11 women and men were murdered in western Kenya because they were suspected of witchcraft. According to reports, most of them were over 70 and at least 8 were women. I am having problems processing this information.
The figure of the witch exists in many communities in Kenya, and this figure is, more often than not, the ambivalent object of respect and revulsion. But I am not interested in the ethnography of this figure.
Instead, I am interested in what witches and their counterparts, prophets, represent. I am thinking, here, of Thiong’o’s The River Between, and the tragic history it tells of prophets who were ignored and dismissed as crazy. I am also thinking, to indulge ethno-history for a moment, of the Gikuyu belief that introverted individuals were witches, that those who dared to think or dream or express themselves differently had to be destroyed.
It might seem counterintuitive if not silly to align witches, prophets, intellectuals, artists, and queers, but this kind of clustering allows me to imagine what might be at stake.
Witches are often accused of wishing ill on their societies, of re-forming those societies, imagining them differently. For some, the act of imagining society differently is akin to wishing it ill.
Yet an unwillingness to envision if not support bone-deep changes impoverishes who we are and who we can be.