‘How I became a cruel witch’

LAST Sunday the self-confessed witch from Ndola Rural, now Masaiti District on the Copperbelt, narrated how she fell from a flying witchcraft aeroplane and crashed onto the roof of the house of a witch hunter in Ndola’s Lubuto township.
She and other witches and wizards had been on a mission to kill the witch hunter back in the ‘90s.
After falling off the open mystic ‘war plane’ the 75-year-old witch, whose name I have deliberately been withholding, rolled down the asbestos roof and crashed to the ground with a bone-rattling thud.
She was later taken to Ndola Central Hospital where she was admitted and treated for a fractured hip for one week, after which police arrested her and charged her with confessing to practising witchcraft.
The Ndola Magistrates’ Court found her guilty and gave her a two-year suspended sentence before the Department of Culture arranged for me to interview her.
After the first day of the two-day interview the witch led government officials, police, the female witch hunter and me to the village of the chief wizard, who had been the pilot and leader of the ill-fated mission.
We found the diminutive old man with a short, unkempt beard, sparsely distributed tufts of grey hair under his bald pate and small, alert eyes.
Angry villagers dragged him out of a thicket in which he was found cowering on the outskirts of his village.
He was driven to Ndola where he joined the witch.
As I interviewed the witch the barefoot wizard was huddled in a corner, clad in a dirty white shirt and an equally dirty grey pair of trousers.
In another corner was a fearsome array of witchcraft paraphernalia, including their ‘aeroplane’ (puku horn), which the witchdoctor had confiscated from the two.
With a subdued voice he admitted being a wizard and having led the aborted mission to kill the witch hunter, who was present, but adamantly refused to be interviewed.
The witch said the old man used to chair all their (witches and wizards’) meetings in different graveyards at night and that he was the most feared and dangerous.
She explained that during the meetings if any witch or wizard did or said something that annoyed him or had violated the oath of secrecy he would point his flywhisk (umupunga) at him or her and that person would die instantly.
We continue with the interview:
Witch: Mr … (pointing at the chief sorcerer) was our pilot and I was at the back. The puku horn (aircraft) started gaining height again as I was sliding downwards. I was frightened. I pleaded with him to save me, but he threatened to kill me there and then if I did not keep quiet.
Chief wizard: (murmurs and shakes his head in disagreement)
Witch: (undaunted) I finally slid off, past the tip of the horn and started falling. I suddenly found myself on the ground in the yard of the witch hunter’s house with people surrounding me. My friends were gone!
My hip was very painful. I couldn’t get up.
Me: Thank you grandmother. Yours is an interesting story. But how did you become a witch? Don’t you feel any remorse after killing innocent people using witchcraft?
Witch: It is a long story my child. (she looks relaxed)
Me: You can make it short.
Witch: Okay, I will tell you since you insist. I was initiated into witchcraft at a tender age. I was a teen girl then. I suffered from a terrible headache. My mother tried different medicines but the headache was not stopping.
She then took me to my grandmother, her mother. She used to treat such ailments with herbs. My grandmother took some dry herbs in powder form and mixed them with washing powder.
Me: Yes?
Witch: Then she cut tattoos (inembo) on my forehead and in the sides of my head up to the ears with a new razor blade and rubbed the herbal mixture into the bleeding cuts.
Me: I was also born and brought up in the village, and experienced that quite often.
Witch: Oh! (looks at me) It was very painful. Sometimes the blood did not come out and grandmother had to make the cut deeper.
Me: (I wince, feigning pain) I can feel the pain.
Witch: (smiles at me) It was bad, my child. My mother had to call another woman to help pin me down so that my grandmother could administer the medicine.
That night I managed to sleep. When I woke up the next day the headache was gone. I was very happy. My mother took a white chicken to grandmother to show appreciation for healing me of the nagging headache according to tradition.
Me: That was good.
Witch: (looks up and frowns) Good? Wait until you hear the rest of the story.
Me: Okay.
Witch: I regret that day my mother allowed that wicked witch, my grandmother, to cut those tattoos in my head. That is the day she initiated me into witchcraft. My mother was not aware that her mother was a witch.
All we knew was that she was able to use herbs to treat some common illnesses such as coughs, headaches and sores.
Me: Mmmm!
Witch: Imagine my own grandmother initiated me into witchcraft. She had selected me long before I suffered that headache to inherit her witchcraft charms and become a witch when I grew up.
Me: Where is she?
Witch: She is dead. She confessed many years later.
Me: When did you know that your grandmother had initiated you into witchcraft?
Witch: (clucks her tongue) I did not know for many years until I was a big woman with children.
Next Sunday the old lady shares how she finally knew that she was a witch and how she had been unknowingly participating in witchcraft expeditions, and later ordered to bewitch and kill her own granddaughter.

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