A mob in a village near Sumbawanga, in southwestern Tanzania, attacked and killed a suspected witch last week. Numerous earlier reports of sorcery and traditional healing have surfaced in recent years in Fipa territory, but the murders of suspected witches have not been as common.
Maria Jorah, also known as Salamba, was a 63 year old resident of the village of Mafulala, in the Sumbawanga area. Several recent unexplained deaths had been attributed to her alleged witchcraft. Students at two schools in her neighborhood attributed the mysterious death of a form four pupil, Gabriel Masika, to her evil work. Infants had also died recently, and mysteriously, in her village. She had to be the perpetrator, the people thought.
On Friday, a neighbor of Ms. Jorah’s, Titus Francisco, claimed that he had witnessed the woman trying to bewitch him. He said he saw her place a black cloth on his doorstep, and that she put another mysterious cloth in his toilet. He grabbed the elderly woman and forced her to pick up the doorstep cloth. Unwrapping it, he saw some black hair, which he assumed was human. He yelled for help.
A crowd quickly gathered, including a large number of students from the two nearby schools. One eyewitness described the scene as horrifying and bizarre. The mob used clubs and machetes to batter the woman to death. They then burned her body and her house.
The Rukwa Regional Police Commander, Isuto Mantage, explained the incident to reporters, saying that Francisco had complained of Jorah’s witchcraft for some time. Other villagers had tried to set her house on fire a year ago. The policeman indicated that Francisco and two other people, Anna Kalimanzila and Gradis Mlenga, have been arrested on suspicion of killing the old lady.
While suspicions of witchcraft are common in many African traditional societies—see, for instance, Paul Stoller’s fascinating book In Sorcery’s Shadow, about the Songhay society of Niger—the implications of this belief among the contemporary Fipa are not clear.