Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Fetish Priests of Modern Ghana - self serving soothsayers or prolific prophets?

(Some) Ghanaians take their fetish priests seriously. So seriously that the poorest of folk are willing to bet their last pesewa on lotto numbers read out by one such priest during a ‘trance’.

Yesterday’s local media covers the story here:


Despite the failure of the spirit man’s predictions, you can’t take these guys lightly – they even have a Wiki page!

Traditionally, despite the influence of foreign religions like Christianity and Islam, people have consulted fetish priests for everything from illness to financial troubles.

Here’s a quote from Africaloft blog on the topic:

“It is not strange to find many Africans walking the gray line between their accepted religion (Islam/Christianity) and traditional religion. For example, a woman who might be having problems conceiving might be visiting a traditional healer on Saturdays while going to her church on Sundays. Are traditional healers quacks? I believe that is a story for another day. But, many educated people outwardly state that they are while they inwardly fear them.”

Driving across Ghana’s rural expanse, one can see small signboards peeping out from the tall grass along empty stretches of road, with the advertisement of a powerful fetish priest – claiming to cure everything from AIDS to sexual frigidity.
Sure enough, there will be a narrowly plodded footpath leading away from the road, toward this mystical man’s chambers. I’ve always wanted to venture in, but have reigned in my naïve curiousity and limited myself to taking photos of some of these wild and wonderful roadside signs from the safe seat of our 4x4.

But some of Ghana’s mystical miracle workers have come to meet me (and others) in the modern world of websites and e-mail consultations!

Take Nana Kwaku Bonsam. His website intro reads:

Nana Kwaku Bonsam is ready to help. Be it spiritual guidance, business promotion, bareness, visa problems, marriage problems, want revenge, ?, etc

There’s an orange button on the site just below this that says: Send me your problems: GO!

Now there’s a modern traditional man. I have to say I’m amazed how easily his craft lends itself to the online world. I have no idea how many people use his services, but he has been interviewed on local media and youtube features some footage of his ritual performances…

His services page claims that wherever you are in the world he can assist you with: visas, barrenness, madness, poverty, spiritual attacks, impotence, vengeance and others.

He claims to charge nothing except the things needed for the rituals, but makes an open threat that those who fail to honour this stipulation will be further cursed…

Scary stuff.

I encourage everyone to take a virtual tour of the site.

On a serious note however, due to lack of education in many instances, and a failing medical system on the other, many Ghanaians (and other West Africans) attribute undiagnosed illnesses to the spiritual world. It is common to hear that someone is under spiritual attack. January 2011, Ghana reported that a well known Nigerian actress is suffering in this way.


The spiritual world also dominates the entertainment industry with Nollywood (Nigeria’s Holly/Bollywood) being the third largest film industry in the world, and pumping out nearly $300m worth of movies every year, many with such a theme.

I've watched a few minutes of Nollywood's finest here, with the bad special effects, showing serpents escaping from people's mouths in the night, and 'witches' disappearing with a snap, only to reappear in another scene. And though I was less than impressed, it was the hordes of Ghanaian kids, huddled around the TV in my compound, enthralled, and shrieking with fear, that got me wondering how much of this was taken as fact, and carried along into adulthood as a cultural belief.

And this week's lotto disaster has sadly answered that question.
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DiDi said...

I am an African but then i don`t really believe in all this stuff,not because of too much exposure to the western world but just because as HUMANS our FAITH & believes takes us places.Even the Bible said with Faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. :) its all psychology if u ask me..

Expat mum said...

Well I'm currently in the middle of obtaining my Visa for a July trip, so as a last resort I can always go on line and see yer man up there!

Mireille said...

haha.. interesting stuff, but not really to be taken serious!... at least by me!

Anonymous said...

It's the same here Hollie, but in Joburg flyers are handed out at trafficlights (or robots as we call them here)

Celeste said...

I have always been intrigued by the seemingly incongruous combination of often very devout religious beliefs with the use of traditional healers/doctors but it does seem very common throughout many African countries.

Anonymous said...

Mr Bonsam charges a 'consultation fee' as my friend discovered. And then you have to pay for services upfront - not if they have any effect.
Maybe I'm cynical but I'm not impressed with someone dancing with talcum powder.
It's significant he doesn't show videos of his proclaimed powers because what I witnessed, seeing him live, was the same kind of fakery used by the Pastors and Mallams.

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