So I was sitting in the computer lab/staff room, marking my learners’ papers, when I was called by a teacher to the principal’s office. This isn’t really unusual, being as he frequently asks me to do both administrative and personal tasks for him, so I thought nothing of it. When I entered the office, however, I realized something really serious was going on. A woman was speaking to my principal in Oshikwanyama, but I was able to tell that the tone was quite serious and concerned. I sat there for several minutes before they addressed me, racking my brain trying to figure out why I had been called in. I had pretty much decided that it was a learner’s parent who was angry at me for something and was anticipating a conflict. Fortunately, I was wrong, but what it turned out to be was just as disturbing.
I was called in regarding one of my class register learners (my “homeroom” class). The girl’s mother had come to the school because her daughter had frequently been absent in the previous weeks and she wanted to address why. The learner is actually a girl who comes to visit quite often and I had been pretty concerned about her absence from school. It turns out that she hadn’t been attending school because she believes that she is “witched” and is terrified of coming to school.
I wasn’t really sure how to react to this and was quite surprised when my principal asked the secretary to find the Circular that the Ministry of Education had sent out regarding witchcraft. As the secretary searched, my HOD filled me in on the recent “witchings” that had been going on in the North. Apparently there have been many “Salem Witch Trial” like events going on up here (minus the killing the witches!). Several schools in the North have temporarily closed due to “witchings,” which my HOD explained meant that a few people genuinely believed that they were being “witched” and then the other learners just realized that if they pretended to be witched that they could stay home from school. At some schools the learners were all fainting and in others they were itching so badly that they broke skin and bled. The schools then requested money from the Ministry for “cleansing rituals,” and the Circular addressed these requests. The Ministry basically asserted that it was absurd for them to pay for “cleansing rituals” and that the schools needed to deal with these matters in a more rational, scientific way. My principal took this to mean that the girl needs to simply come back to school, and I’m hoping that his decision doesn’t have any negative consequences for the girl or for the other learners.
The language barrier made it impossible for me to gage how serious the problem was, but I know that the mother has taken the girl to both a psychiatrist and a general practitioner, so I don’t think that the girl is simply making this all up. I’m not suggesting that she is actually witched, but rather that she may have a serious physical and/or mental problem that cannot be addressed by simply making her come back to school. The mother was obviously incredibly worried and prepared to do whatever was needed to help her child, which was reassuring, but I hope that the girl receives the necessary support and counseling that she needs from the school. My principal explained that it is quite common for people to attribute bad luck or misfortunes to “witchings,” and it is generally believed that members of a rival tribe are the ones casting the spells. It’s interesting to see how tribal beliefs such as withcraft exist despite the overwhelming prevalence of Christianity. I hope that I am kept updated on the situation regarding my learner and am quite interested in learning more about the attitudes and beliefs regarding “witchcraft” here. My principal and HOD certainly dealt with the situation analytically, but several of the things they said led me to believe that they themselves have these superstitions as well.