‘Branded a Witch’, BBC3, Kindoki and African Witchcraft Belief

What I’ve been watching:

‘Branded a Witch’, BBC3 Monday 20th May 2013 (still available on iplayer here.)

Kevani Kanda, our host.

Kevani Kanda, our host.

‘Ignorance’ and a ‘culture of secrecy’ that should not be allowed in any ‘civilised society’, is how former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton summarily ended BBC3’s documentary upon the rise of kindoki (witchcraft) amongst  African communities across the world. Hosted by former abuse victim Kevandi Kanda we follow her as she returns to her native Republic of Congo to find her cousin Florence pregnant, homeless and recently accused.

This documentary covers dangerous, heartbreaking issues (a child less than five is shown beaten and burnt at a ‘deliverance’) that deserve a much bigger platform than BBC3 and a far more serious production and execution. With harrowing images of abuse and death backed by dodgy drum and bass music and final conclusions rounded off to a bed of the Temper Trap’s  ‘Sweet Disposition’ (you’ll know it when you hear it, it’s underpinned a bajillion adverts) I spent more time wondering who on Earth thought this score was appropriate than how on Earth can I donate money to these poor kids? The show was in my opinion a funny kettle of fish. In my opinion these children deserve a prime-time BBC2 slot, end it with links to charities use it as a platform to raise some major money.

Yet I digress, what I really wished to strike upon is that quote with which I began this piece with. That this should not be allowed in a civilised society. As a history undergraduate I focused my final year upon the witch-hunts in Europe, America and England yet even before that I was taught to treat (past) societies as a different world, an entity that should be free of the ‘enormous condescension’ that EP Thompson wrote of. These societies justify these actions with faith. Kevani Kanda put it well ‘this is like Medieval…’ It is I would argue, but most of all it is similar in that the early modern witch-hunts too were rooted in religious faith worsened by the incitement of Pastors, famine, poverty and warfare.  How do we then tackle Kindoki? Do we wait for a new Reginald Scott for a twenty-first century version of the Discoverie of Witchcraft? Wait for it to run it’s course (I hope not) or intervene?

I don’t have any answers but I do find this rise fascinating and terrifying, as have a variety of historians. Keith Thomas’ classic Religion and the Decline Magic featured a large number of anthropological studies of African cases. Yet to conclude. If you can handle dodgy music and quite disturbing images of abuse this documentary is both fascinating and chilling all at once. I know I’ll be reading more and once I can find a way to contribute to the charities in the Congo that aid the victims I’ll be re-routing some Starschmucks money.

It has also inspired me to dig out my dissertation & I will be posting the stories of the seventeenth-century accused men I studied over the coming weeks.

– Kerry

@thehistorygrad on twitter.

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