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(ndi Igbome)

Since witches fly with birds or swift nocturnal animals or with other materials, it is not surprising that their favourite haunts are on top of trees. Tall trees in the forests or hollow or curiously shaped trees, especially silk-cotton, baobab and Iroko trees are widely held to be their meeting places.

It is also generally believed that the guild of witches has its regular meetings and ceremonies in forests, or in open sandy places called ubom (covens) in the middle of the nights. The meeting, a respondent explained, is the meeting of “souls”, ‘spirits’ of the witches. It is believed that the spirits leave the bodies of witches in the form of birds.

Their main purpose is to work havoc on other beings; but the operation is the operation of spirits upon spirits; that is, the mortal bodies of the victims are attacked, extracted and devoured. This is what is meant when it is said that witches have sucked the entire blood of their victims. ‘Spirits meet spirits’, spirits operate against spirits, while the actual human being lie ‘asleep’ on their beds. It is always held that if anything prevents the return of the witch’s soul to its body, the owner (witch) will die. By definition, therefore, a witch is known to harm not through any palpable materials and as such, there are no rites, ceremonies or incantations which a witch has to perform. Perhaps, this is why it is not easy to know who is a witch in the community.

Witchcraft is an evil thing. Another respondent explained that it is hereditary with more than eighty percent of its practitioners being women. She said that mothers pass down their witchcraft to their daughters, but very rarely to their sons. Some, she agreed, are born witches; others acquire it, while many more are unknowingly given the act of witchcraft through food, kola nuts or drinks. Practitioners of witchcraft are mostly old and handicapped women, she said.Another respondent said that it is a well known fact that witches bewitch mostly themselves and their families. In line with her thinking, the witches are charged, each to provide victims in turns, and they meet to feast on their victims. These victims brought to the assemblies are mostly close relations of theirs.

Witches prey most often upon those who are in close contact with them. The new witch entering the company must bring the soul of a relative, often one of her children. “Witches are terrible, and that is how they are initiated”, the respondent added. If the witch does not find a victim, she is liable to be torn to pieces by the other enraged harpies. The witches are said to eat their victims spiritually; that is to say that although descriptions of the feast sound like cannibalism, yet it is spiritual. The assembled ghouls tear the victim limb from limb, eat it raw or cook it. Or the blood may be sucked, vampire like fashion. Yet all these are done to the soul and not the body. “The soul is closely linked to the body, and as the witches devour the ‘spiritual body’, so the mortal frame weakens. Its blood is sucked away spiritually. Pains, paralysis or impotence appear in different victims. When the centre of blood, the heart or liver, is reached, then the victim dies”.

In the olden days, and even till date, it is believed in Ika that all kinds of troubles may be caused by witches, from barrenness in human beings to bad harvest. A wife who was a witch was believed quite capable of sucking her husband’s blood at night. In such a case, the husband would waste away, while the wife grows fatter and more robust.

Witches could cause abortion, and could delay a pregnancy beyond the usual nine months or indefinitely. They could enter the womb and devour the unborn child, so that a full-blown pregnancy would gradually wither away until it disappears. Witches could cause monstrous births. The child could turn into a tortoise, chimpanzee or snail, or it might have two heads, and so on.

Virtually, any illness whose cause was unknown was attributed to witchcraft, especially those diseases that cause the patient to lose weight progressively. To provoke illness, witches are said to enter the bodies of their victims in the form of crabs, lizards, spiders, ants and the like; thus, it was quite unusual for a sick person to complain of creatures crawling round his body and causing pains. Sudden deaths, lunacy, crop pests, invasion by soldier ants or bees, witches take the blame for them all. Children who cry out in the night may be troubled by witches, and even animals that behave strangely have perhaps been bewitched. They cause social disaster, sickness, unemployment, etc.

Some sorcerers and idibie are able to extract disease so caused from the bodies of their sufferers. The extracted diseases usually assume the form of stones, pins, nails, tiny pebbles, etc. The extracted materials are shown to the patients who would often recover thereafter.

A respondent told this writer. “Well, you are a child. Those who have seen life know that there are witches and wizards. One just prays that they do not put their hands in one’s load”

In modern Africa communities like Ika, there is great fear of witchcraft; and people look round before voicing their opinion on matters concerning witchcraft.

The subject which occupied the people’s minds in the olden days, in Ika community, was witchcraft with which the aged, and perhaps, childless women were constantly accused to their destruction. No matter who they might be, whether the mother or wives of a king, of a rich or poor person, when once accused of witchcraft by any priest or dibie, they would be prepared to die. They had to pass through the danger of drinking the poisonous tonic drink made from the leaves or barks of inyin tree to prove their innocence, which nine cases out of ten proved fatal. The result of an ordeal would sometimes be manipulated through the influence of bribery. Thus, a poison brew for an ordeal could be diluted or strengthened if the death of the accused was desirable. Tradition has it that the doses were regulated by the priest according to whether the priest regarded the accused as innocent or guilty, or in some cases, whether he had been bribed or not. The ordeal might include that of pouring poisonous fluids in the eyes and beating.

Witchcraft can also be used for the benefit of man. In that case, it is called white witchcraft. This is so because it is thought to be used for protection as when a woman uses it to protect her children, a respondent said.

BELIEF IN ANCESTORS IN IKA CULTUREAncestor-worship is at the centre of Traditional Religion in Ika culture. In the community, any ritual begins with the invocation. Osolobue (Deity) come and eat kola nut, Olokun come and eat kola nut; our ancestors come and eat kola nut. This shows indisputably that the ancestors are assigned a significant place in rituals.

The people of Ika do not debate whether their ancestors are gods or can be prayed to or not; they believe that having passed the grave, the ancestors have out-soared the shadow of their nights. They have acquired new powers, and so can help mortal beings on earth. It is this belief that makes a man to appeal to his ancestors for help in times of need. Their belief is generally that only good people become ancestors after they have received a ‘well-done’ judgment by the deity or by the ‘court of the ancestors’. In other words, they are those who lived well and great live when they were on earth; those who attained perfection and have joined the ancestors in the final home of mankind, okun.

Bad or wicked people will be cast into a ‘rubbish heap’, the ‘hell of midden’, or the ‘hell of potsherds’. In some cases, they become wanderers in celestial plain. The bad and the wicked people never arrive at the sublime resting place. They stay in their graves or keep roaming about on earth constituting bad or wandering spirits, ihoghai, and disturbing human beings and causing troubles. When they re-incarnate, they are afflicted with all sorts of misfortunes as punishments and purification for their bad deeds.

The Ika people believe that the ancestors have survived death and to be living in a spiritual world, but still taking active interest in the affairs of their families. They are believed to be watching over their families like a ‘cloud of witness’. Everything that concerns the family, its health, wealth and fertility are of interest to the ancestors since they are its elders, and will also seek rebirth with the same family. The family land is their property, and they must be consulted when land is let out to other people. In everyday life of the community, the dead are very present. Most people, as a regular habit, never drink and may never eat, without throwing a small portion on the ground for their forefathers.

As a result of their concern about, and their presence with their families, the community believes that their lives are profoundly influenced by their ancestors. Consequently, the ancestors should be continually loved and respected; their names should be adopted; their descendants should bear their titles of relationship like father and mother, respect their beliefs, values and culture handed over to them. These beliefs require the people to respect their parents and elders, maintain their family bounds such as to avoid meddling with wives of their kinsmen, ina nwunyen ebon, and so on; and practice hospitality towards strangers and visitors. The living should always call upon them when they are about to undertake any great task. They should invoke the ancestors when they break kola nuts, or when they are at meals. Their ancestors should always be in their lips so that their lives may be guided by their sacred presence. And above all, they should strive to live noble lives so that they may join them after death.

(To be continued)
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Source: Ika News Agbor