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Africa’s exiled ‘witches’


In West Africa, many people believe in supernatural powers. Every year, thousands of women are branded as witches and persecuted. They can only survive in isolated villages.



Witches1One woman is made responsible for the fact that her nephew died of a snake bite. Another is accused of making someone else’s child sick. In Ghana, allegations of witchcraft are common. They’re a way for families to get rid of women who are no longer of use to them or who have become too independent. Munich-based photographer Ann-Christine Woehrl spent time with some of the accused women.



Women in West Africa who are branded as witches have to fear for their lives. Many of them are poisoned, strangled, drowned or burned to death. They find refuge in northern Ghana in six so-called witch villages. Gambaga and Gushiegu are the two villages Ann-Christine Woehrl visited.



Women accused of witchcraft lose their homes and their identities. They are forced to give up their role as mother, daughter and wife and are sent into exile. Now they live in a community of women who share their fate. Each woman has a small hut to herself and they all contribute to fulfilling their basic needs and supporting the village.



Ann-Christine Woehrl hung black fabric in front of one of the huts and posed 40 women in front of the neutral background. She listened and gave them space to tell their stories. In front of the camera, the women were able to show who they really were or who they wanted to become once again.



The women build their huts and plant the surrounding fields. In the dry season, they go to the market and collect grain that has fallen to the ground, which no one else wants. They are thinner and poorer than other market-goers and no one pays any attention to them. Essentially, the women are invisible. Their lively conversations can only be heard when they return to their village in the evening.



The belief in supernatural powers is widespread in much of West Africa – in both urban and rural areas and across ethnicities and religions. An estimated 1,300 to 1,500 women live in Ghana’s six witch villages, plus a number of their children. In her photos, Ann-Christine Woehrl captured their collective sense of stigmatization.



The women in the “witch villages” know that they cannot return to their families. Yet, many of them still hope for a small miracle. Ann-Christine Woehrl’s photos gave them a new sense of confidence and pride. For some of the women, it was the first time they had seen an image of themselves.

Author: Silke Bartlick / kbm



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22.11.2016 | 14:48