19.08.2008 Feature Article

Essay/Ghana: The Evil of the Bibiani Hunchback Ritual

EssayGhana: The Evil of the Bibiani Hunchback Ritual
19.08.2008 LISTEN

How do fathom the fact that despite advances in science and technology, despite advances in human reasoning some people somewhere in Bibiani, a town in Ghana's Ashanti Region, credulously believe that a hunchback's hump can be ritualistically cut off for rituals, among reasons, to make them successful?

Psychoanalytically, while such fatal rituals are part of the ancient Ghanaian/African culture, it is hardly an everyday practice and is at the fringes of the culture, where some few people, normally moved by either desperation or envy of somebody's wealth or success engage either wrong-headed traditional spiritualists or bad-hearted juju-marabou mediums for such rituals to make them rich or successful. Still, over the years, such fringe lethal rituals have been enriched by certain parts of juju-marabou rituals. It is, therefore, not surprising that almost all those arrested for the Bibiani hunchback ritual murder are Muslims, a virtual pointer to the speculations that the ritual might have been performed by a juju-marabou spiritualist.

Modern science and some aspects of the Ghanaian culture see hunchback differently, at least for those who want to use hunchbacks for certain dark ritual practices. Science says hunchback, or humpback, a deformity of the back shaped like a hump, called kyphosis, is an abnormal backward curve to the vertebral column or a person whose back is bent because of abnormal curvature of the upper spine. On the other hand, traditionally, certain Ghanaians believe superstitiously that hunchbacks are evil, freaks of nature and therefore can be killed ritualistically for varied reasons. As part of the ritual, normally, part of the hump is cut off and the hunchback is left to bleed to death. In the Bibiani case, the hunchback was tied to a rope, like a dog, and part of his hump cut off, and left to bled to death.

But as Ghana is increasingly being modernized, its dark cultural practices are receiving intellectual attention. Nana Akufo-Addo, the December 2008 presidential candidate for the ruling National Patriotic Party, talk of modernizing the Ghanaian society – part of this, I understand, is refining the inhibitions within the culture that have been stifling progress. While some call for further modernization of the education system to incorporate all aspects of the culture, others question what Ft. Lt. Jerry Rawlings and his horde of revolutionaries were doing all these years during their almost 20 years in power in the face of all these cultural inhibitions that have been stifling Ghana's progress.

In avant-garde Rawlings' own home region, Volta, despite the indigenes hard work and immense love for education, there are perceptions that certain dark cultural practices such as juju are partly responsible for the area being one of the poorest in Ghana. Not surprising, the Volta Physically Challenge Independent Group, an association of disabled people, has urged “the public to help the Police to fight the inclinations towards the murder of physically challenged persons for superstitious reasons.”

However, you need not be a historian or psychologist to understand that this isn't larger Ghanaian character, but some very few wrong-headed individuals who are prone to evil deeds. What Hannah Arendt might call the “banality of evil” may provoke surprising predictability of explanations but in the final analysis 99 percent of Ghanaians are even afraid to dabble in the cutting off a hunchback's hump for rituals. Yet, the few, with their juju-marabou medium accomplices, are threat to the larger Ghanaian society. As the rapper Cardinal-Marshall would say, they are “dangerous” to the Ghanaian society.

This is despite the view that such dark cultural practices are counter-productive in the long run and is evil. But it is impossible to think about Ghanaian civilization, possibility, evil, or, of course, the Supreme Being, without confronting the culture's dark aspects. Despite such thoughts circling in the Ghanaian brain, none of the governments Ghanaians have had for the past 51 years have thought that the easiest way to solve Ghana's problems is to engage in the dark parts of culture by either undertaking mass human sacrifices or assembling enmass juju-marabou spiritualists to ritualize to end poverty or cure diseases or make Ghana a First World country.

Despite its amorphous, intellectually unmanageable nature, Ghanaians believe there is evil, as their cosmology and other spiritual practices say, and some spend a lot of time vainly contemplating about it. The abduction and ritually cutting off of the Bibiani hunchback's hump is one of them, regardless of its primitive bewilderment.

Nana Akufo-Addo and his like-minded modernization folks have a lot of work before them in helping to refine the dark aspects of the Ghanaian culture for progress. For, despite Jean Baudrillard arguing in The Transparency of Evil that all freedom has been accomplished in the post-orgiastic age, all inhibitions erased, all limits eliminated, all barricades torn down, in Ghana certain components of its culture are barriers, limiting, inhibiting, and stifling progress.

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong