DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (RNS) – On a recent Sunday morning, congregants gathered at a Pentecostal church in Mbagala, a slum in this port city, to pray against the witchcraft that is still commonly practiced in this East African nation of 55 million.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I bind and break witchcraft and mind-binding spirits,” pastor David Juma shouted as worshippers began wailing, shouting, coiling themselves on the ground. “I bind and break the spirits of Ahab and Jezebel.”
Religious leaders like Juma are battling what they regard as mere superstition, but their fight against witchcraft is also directed at ending a rash of killings in a country where vigilantes regularly strangle, knife and burn alive older women they suspect of being witches.
About 93 percent of Tanzanians say they believe in witchcraft, according to a Pew Research Center report in 2012 — a higher percentage than those who say they believe in organized religion — and 60 percent of the country depends on witch doctors for treating ailments believed to be caused by witchcraft.
Witch doctors are such a part of Tanzanian life that more than 100,000 are registered with the government’s Traditional and Alternative Health Practice Council. Millions more are not registered, according to government estimates.
There is no official certification required to be registered as a witch doctor — what matters is that a village or neighborhood believes in your powers — but most are considered to possess a profound knowledge of the local plants and herbs, complemented by divination that is sometimes used as a diagnostic tool. Witch doctors often report being visited by ancestors or spirits in dreams who reveal medicinal recipes. Read the rest on RNSBLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS