Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Unvisited Witches Camp of Gambaga

2-14 January 2011
It was the second day of the year 2011 and also a day off being the weekend. We decided to spend the day by going somewhere out. Gambaga, about which I have read in the travel guide book, seemed to be a convenient option as it was likely to be a day trip from Bolgatanga. We were four people who gathered for the trip, me, Jason, Jillian and Olke. We started early in the morning and made our way to Walewale, the junction town in between Bolgatanga and Gambaga, where we got off the tro tro and found another tro tro for Gambaga. There were a number of buses and tro standing at the junction. One man asked us by shouting loudly, “where?”, I had to answer him in the same volume level, “Gambaga”. The man smiled and directed towards the right bus. We gave money to the ticket seller and in return we were given one wooden chip each which was taken back when the bus was about to start. It took about 30 minutes to get the bus full.
The real painful part of the journey started from Walewale onwards. It was dirt road all the way up to Gambaga and the bus ride was dusty and bumpy. The bus stopped at a number of places where the passengers were alighting and boarding. Suddenly and unexpectedly a tar road started when I thought at last the dirt road had ended but Jillian showed me on the book that it was going to be only short. Exactly as the book showed, it ended abruptly and we were back on the dirt road. There was no way anybody could be asked “why is it so?”. I thought that I should stop thinking about the questions starting with why till I am here in Ghana but it is impossible, otherwise there is no point in volunteering. But still I did not go in for the enquiry of it.
When we alighted in Gambaga, the town seemed to be totally inactive. It was obvious that there were very few people on the road because it was 12:30 in the afternoon and it was Sunday. One person who looked unclean and insane approached us and started following by telling us that he could help by taking us to whatever our destination was. Nobody had any idea about how to approach the Witches Camp, which we wished to see. As we wanted to get rid of that person, we decided to have some cold drink before we started for our destination. But the man won, as we did not find any convenient place to sit near the lorry station.
We just followed him as he took us to a small open hut where few people were sitting. A woman was busy preparing the yam chips nearby and she by washing them in the dirtiest of water I had ever seen being used for food preparation. The person told us that we shall have to wait till the youth who was seating there under the hut would go the chief and get his permission for allowing us in the Witches Camp. The youth returned and another man who was seating there took over the scene. He introduced himself as the prince and grandson of the Chief. He told us that as per the African tradition, being a foreigner in the Chief's land, we were supposed to greet him and give him a small gift of Kola nuts and or some money. The arguments started thereafter.
Olke: But why we have to pay the chief? I have been living in Bolgatanga for last one and half year. I have met so many chiefs like those of Zuarungu, Vea and Tongo. I have never given them any money.
Prince: Madam, you have to respect our African tradition. It is not like that we want to cheat you or ask for your money after seeing your white skin.
Sachin: But you know that happens with us at many places. Our experience has always been like that.
Jillian: Some of our friends have visited here before. They never told us about giving any money to anybody.
Then she called one of our friends to check whether it was right to give money to the Chief.
Prince: You don't know Gambaga chief. He is superior to all the chiefs in this area. He is even superior to the one in Yendi. (Yendi is major traditional Chieftaincy area and infamous for the conflicts resulting into killings.) and I am the prince. I work in Tamale and I know what I am talking about. (talking to Jillian who was busy talking with the friend on the phone) Do you understand?
Jason: Brother, she understands English.
Jillian finished talking on the phone.
Prince: Have you finished talking on the phone? What does your friend say? Am I right?
Jillian: Well you can see the book which we are having. Nothing is mentioned here that we should pay something to the chief. But still we are now ready to pay.
Prince: So you don't believe me. You know chief is taking rest now. He is sleeping. You'll have to come some other time. It is not possible to visit the Witches camp now.
There were some further discussions but there was no point in arguing the prince and certainly we did not want to lose our pride by begging him to allow us to the witches camp and we left the scene. We found a spot and took some cold drinks and headed to lorry station. We found that buses on their way to Walewale get full by the time they reach Gambaga so we had to go to Nalerigu, a town further up on the road from where tro tros start. We found that there was a small attraction of ancient wall built by a local King, which we thought we would explore but the taxi driver cautioned us that we might lose the bus and since it was Sunday, we might end up without having any transport to get back to Walewale afterwards. We had to drop the plan to visit the wall and we took the bus back to Walewale and then returned to Bolgatanga.
After returning we again went through the Bradt guide book to check whether it was mentioned about giving money to the chief. It was there and we had completely overlooked it. The first line in the paragraph about Gambaga said, “it is the trail for exploring a part of the country, that is least visited by the tourists.” We laughed over the fact that though we did not visit the camp we had done that.
I am giving some information about the Witches Camp now. Belief in witchcraft is huge here. Many times women are the victims of accusation of being witch for some bad things happening in the family or surroundings. Such women are outcast and they have to live their villages and go somewhere else. Chief of Gambaga is supposed to have some magical powers due which these women are not able to practice their witchcraft. Some two hundred women from various parts of the country have taken refuge in this village and there is now a small hamlet where these women live. They earn their livelihoods by selling firewood and some other petty businesses and some are living their with their children as well.
It was claimed that some women were cured and lost their witch power completely. When they went back to their home villages, they were beaten and again sent away. Due to this reason, women feel that they are safe in Gambaga and do not want to return to their homes. A Christian organization with the help of Gambaga chief is trying to support these women. If one strikes conversation with other Ghanaians, including the educated lot, they say that they are real witches with magical powers and in interest of all the people it is best that they remain in Gambaga.
Why only women? Why Gambaga is the only refuge for them? How were they started to be termed as witches? We won't be able to find answers to any of those questions because we could not make it to Gambaga and don't have the energy to go back there on that long dusty and bumpy ride.