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Witch Hunts In Tanzania
August 15th 1999 1:24 P.M. EDT
Tanzanian medicine men blame family misfortunes on them. Old women killed in witch hunts
By Rodrique Ngowi


SHINYANGA, Tanzania - Fear of witches and greed are proving a deadly combination on the windswept plains of northwestern Tanzania, and old women with red-rimmed eyes are paying the price.

Stories abound in Shinyanga of children, grandchildren and neighbors orchestrating the killing of elderly women whose eyes have grown red from years of cooking over cow-dung fires. Medicine men and diviners say the women are witches responsible for the misfortune of friends and relatives.

"A group of two or three hooded individuals, dressed in black, bearing bright torchlights and razor-sharp machetes, converge at the house of a potential victim, break open the door, and order relatives to identify a woman they seek," Shinyanga Police Chief Wolfgang Gumbu said.

"A lightning-fast machete strike on top of the head, followed by another on the hand attempting to cover the face and a final blow on the shoulder. They harm no one else and take nothing except, of course, the life of the hapless woman."

The Sukuma people of the Shinyanga region, south of Lake Victoria, have always believed in witchcraft, although its practice was repressed by German and then British colonial rulers. When this poor East African nation became independent in 1961, witchcraft again came to the fore.

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