Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Stranger than fiction, "possessed" school in Uganda...

You know the phrase  "The truth is stranger than fiction"? Thats exactly what this is, If this story hadn't been so widely reported in Uganda news I would not have believed it myself. Its a long story but read on, let us know what you think....
 This story has been taken from the Sunday Vsion newspaper in Uganda
 * sh = Ugandan shillings, approx 3000 - £1
* Mayembe = demon spirit

“My daughter barks like a dog, and she cannot sleep. She tells me (that) she gets nightmares in which a man and a woman are asking for human blood and telling her to leave their school" 

KITEBI Primary School in Rubaga division has lately been the scene of mysterious happenings. Is this a demonic attack or just mass hysteria? Elizabeth Namazzi and Carol Kasujja investigate

THE young mother is desperate. She has been in this state since her only child, Nanyonjo Najjiwa started barking like a dog. Her voice dripping with emotion, she describes how her daughter, a P6 pupil at Kitebi Primary School, has been unable to sleep since a bizarre incident happened at her school. “My daughter barks like a dog,” she says, “and she cannot sleep. She tells me (that) she gets nightmares in which a man and a woman are asking for human blood and telling her to leave their school. Yesterday she woke up crying that an old woman was walking with her while beating her.”

She explains that the little girl does not want to eat although, surprisingly, she is very powerful. To Fatuma Najjuko and other parents with children at that primary school, this strange thing can attributed to nothing other than demons. Located in Rubaga division, Kitebi Kindergarten and Primary School started recording cases like Nanyonjo’s three years ago. But according the school’s matron, Edith Namusisi, this year’s attack has been the worst case.


Bizarre attacks
It all began in February, shortly after the term opened for the new school year. According to Sarah Namutebi, the school’s deputy headmistress, she was in her office when she heard that one of the P7 girls had been attacked by evil spirits. “She was shaking and shouting, claiming one of our teachers, Naomi Wandera, had concealed charms somewhere on the compound. She attracted other pupils’ attention and many of them became hysterical.”

One by one, pupils started acting peculiarly and speaking in strange voices. They would fall down while shaking violently and crying. Many could not eat or talk. Having witnessed this weird and frightening behaviour before, the school authorities and unaffected pupils had a good idea of what was happening. Another demonic attack had just been unleashed on them.

At the climax of the bizarre attacks early this month, 30 pupils had been affected by the evil spirits.

One of the parents, Hajara Ssenyonga, laments that her son, Abraham Ssali was one of the affected pupils. “My child was attacked by evil spirits,” she narrates, “and he could not recognise me when I picked him from school. He was calling for someone called Naomi Wandera to come and give him blood,” she says.

Najjiwa narrates that “I feel weak when I am about to get possessed. I get a headache and lose my sight. I feel like someone is holding my neck so as to stop me from talking. I can’t to sleep at night and prefer to be left alone. I never wanted to be with my family members.”

Henry Ssensuwa, another pupil, also says that he was attacked when he attempted to help some demon-possessed girls.

To check the rate at which the students were being attacked, the school was closed for one week and a Parents Teachers Association (PTA) meeting was convened to discuss the incident.

“It is Teacher Naomi who sent the demons. She was once our headmaster’s wife but the headmaster threw her out for another teacher"

Mass hysteria?
 A few, however, think that there are no evil spirits in the school. These believe that what is happening is either a case of mass hysteria or anxiety. One parent, who preferred anonymity, revealed that he had taken her daughter to Mulago hospital for a medical check-up. “I was called to pick my daughter. Teachers told me she was violent and her eyes were closed. I took her to Mulago where doctors told me she had hysteria and gave her medication. She has never disturbed us again,” the parent testified.

A medical doctor, Mawejje Bakojja, confirms the diagnosis of doctors at Mulago hospital. “It is mass hysteria and anxiety,” Bakojja affirms, “so those pupils just need counselling. Parents should give their children time to rest. Give them lots of drinks and food to eat so they get some energy,” he advises.

The mass hysteria theory suggests that when one person is affected by hysteria, the people around that person have a high chance of being affected the hysteria. According to the internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia, mass hysteria is also referred to as a “collective obsessional behaviour,” which it defines as “the manifestation of the same or similar hysterical symptoms by more than one person”.

One of the common manifestation of mass hysteria is, according to Wikipedia “when a group of people believe they are suffering from a similar disease or ailment”. This, according to medical doctors like Bakojja, might be the case with the pupils of Kitebi.

Superstitious people
Ugandans are generally a superstitious lot and the parents, teachers and pupils of Kitebi are no different. Most are convinced the pupils were attacked by evil spirits locally referred to as mayembe. As Ssenyonga says, his son’s request for blood is a sure sign that “those are demons”. Whenever talk of demonic or evil spirit attack is rife in an area, people rush to search for solutions from anyone or anything who they think can get rid of the evil spirits. The religious turn to God while the secular turn to traditional medicinemen/women or witchdoctors who they believe have the powers to get rid of the offending spirits.

Ssenyonga falls in the latter category. “I have to take my son to a witchdoctor for healing,” he says. The school’s headteacher, Godfrey Ssenfuma also falls in this category, for, as Hadija Nnalongo, a mother to Shakira Nakato, a P7 pupil, says, he undertook special measures to protect his students from the attacks. “My daughter told me that the headmaster slaughtered a cow last month and smeared its blood on every pupil’s ankles,” Nnalongo reveals.

She further narrates that parents collected sh4m to pay for the services of Mama Fina, a famous traditional medicinewoman from Katwe in Kampala. She’s also the head of traditional healers in Uganda and her fans believe she has special powers that can evict demons from the school.

Finger pointing
Even more interesting is the fact that some, including pupils, claim to know who sent the mayembe to the school. Most people Sunday Vision talked to are convinced that one of the teachers, Naomi Wandera, who also happens to be Ssenfuma’s ex-lover, sent the mayembe to spite him.

“It is Teacher Naomi who sent the mayembe. She was once our headmaster’s wife but the headmaster threw her out for another teacher. They attacked my friends and they started speaking in tongues,” swore Zakai Nabitaka, a P7 pupil who stayed at school when her parents delayed to pick her up. She believes the demons did not attack her because she had a rosary and had started fasting.

The pupil’s testimony is backed by one P6 teacher. “I believe that Naomi is behind those demons because she was once involved with the headmaster, but he left her for another teacher,” the teacher says.

To spite her replacement and win back the headmaster’s love, Naomi’s accusers insist, she sought the services of a witchdoctor. “When this failed, she decided to plant charms in the school so that the headmaster leaves the school,” the P6 teacher claims.

Seeking solutions
The lack of consensus over the cause of the attacks not withstanding, different authorities are trying to devise ways of dealing with them. Religious leaders, convinced that this is the devil at work, are asking God to intervene and fight the demons on their behalf. Some teachers have taken to a seven-day fast in the hope that God will answer their prayers and heal the pupils. “These are invisible powers. The experience is bad because we are idle, but we are engaged in intensive praying and fasting,” said one teacher on condition of anonymity.

The parents on the other hand are asking the school authorities to get traditional medicinemen and women/doctors to deal with the mayembe so as to ensure that their children are safe from future attacks. One parent, Edith Babirye, even threatened to withdraw her child from the school if the authorities do not call witchdoctors to get rid of the mayembe.

Parents have particularly singled out Mama Fina, as their only hope. They did this, according to Nnalongo, because the school authorities refused to raised the required amount. “Mama Fina asked for sh4m to remove the spirits but the school authorities refused to give her that amount. As parents, we should bring our own witchdoctors,” she suggests.

No consensus
The school pastor, however, along with other Christians in the school, does not agree with the suggestion that witchdoctors be copnsulted. “It is true there is darkness in our school,” the pastor admits, “but we are not going to consult Mama Fina because darkness cannot light darkness. Such things were also recorded in the Bible and it is the power of God that can chase away demons, not witchcraft,” he preaches, though the his message is unwelcome to the parents, who advised him to save his preaching for his congregation.

Head teacher missing
 At the height of the saga, the headteacher had been away from the school for two weeks. When we talked to him, he revealed that he had been hospitalised at Mulago hospital, where he was receiving treatment for diabetes. But the parents, ignorant of this, started spreading rumours that he was hiding from them. They directed the acting headteacher, Sarah Namutebi, to disclose his whereabouts. He is still on bedrest at his home in Kyengera.
School re-opens
It is amidst all this drama that the school eventually reopened on April 4 after being closed for a week. The opening day was uneventful in the sense that no pupil was attacked by evil spirits. But this was not to last, for the spirits broke loose the next day when Sunday Vision visited the school. WBS’ Drake Sekkeba, who was at the school at the same time we visited it, sat six P7 pupils under the mango tree where the mayembe are said to have been ‘planted’.

Evil spirits re-attack As he was talking to them, one of the girls, Betty Natume, got possessed and started shouting Wandera’s name. She also asked for human blood and food.

Throwing herself on the ground and rolling around with amazing energy, her eyes were wide open as she asked for Wandera at the top of her voice. Teachers tried to calm her with promises of posho and beans since it was coimg to lunch time. She rejected their offer because, she said, ‘spirits do not eat such things’.

“We feed on blood,” she said hysterically as fellow students gathered around and started asking her questions. “Where did she plant the demons?” asked one pupil. But before she could answer, other pupils started getting possessed, interrupting ongoing lessons in the nearby classrooms. Chaos reigned in the school as the possessed pupils began shouting. Other pupils were running up and down, while others stood on benches their faces betraying curiosity.

At 1:00pm, parents came to collect the children from the kindergarten section. They, along with residents near the school, were attracted by the mayhem. The lone gateman at the school gate tried to cut off their access to the school but he was overwhelmed by the large crowd.

Pastors suddenly appeared and stretched their hands over the pupils and started praying for them in a bid to cast away the demons. One little girl was as stiff as a corpse as she lay on the ground. “You deaf and mute spirits, I command you to come out of her and never enter her again,” prayed a pastor.

The girl eventually woke up and started hitting her head against a tree. When she started urinating on herself, the crowd became angry and started stoning the pastors who they accused of being part of the problem.

“The more you pray, the more those demons will continue disturbing our children,” the parents chorused as they organised themselves to collect witchdoctors.


Witchdoctors intervene
By 2:00pm, three witchdoctors who claimed to have come from Tanzania, were already at the school. But before they could begin looking for the spirits, they asked for two red cocks, a basin and shs100,000 from the school. The parents raised some money from among themselves and bought two cocks at sh45,000 and a basin at sh2,500. One of the witchdoctors touched the girl’s head and she became peaceful. “Jjajja webale,” shouted one of the people in the crowd by way of giving thanks to the witchdoctors’ gods.

The witchdoctors cut off the cock’s head and started moving around the compound with one of the possessed girls. She took them to one of the big trees in the compound. Pouring blood around the tree, they got a hoe and started digging in search of the demons. One of the witchdoctors sprinkled blood as they dug. They eventually found a small plastic bottle with small soil-like particles inside it. Fear gripped the crowd nearest to the bottle. They started screaming as the witchdoctors displayed the contents of the bottle. They demanded for sh100,000 to continue with their work.

 “We even planted some medicine in those flowers,” said one of the possessed schoolgirls.

Another possessed girl came and led one of the witchdoctor’s by the hand to Wandera’s house, which is located within the school.

“I planted those demons with Mr. Mbazira,” she said as the crowd followed them. At Wandera’s door, the incensed crowd tried to break the window pane in a bid to gain access to the house. They threatened to throw away her belongings but the Police intervened and started dispersing the crowd by firing bullets in the sky. But their efforts were in vain, for the crowd was too busy praising witchdoctors and singing songs of praise to the ‘jjajjas’.

Promises of doom
The witchdoctors had one message for the headteacher and his staff: “If the headmaster and his teaching staff do not get serious, these demons are going to kill two pupils. Naomi is the one who planted these demons but right now she is in Tanzania at the waterfront,” said Sheikh Swaibu, a witchdoctor. He adds: “Naomi had an affair with the headmaster so she wants to also get a big position in the school so that she is respected.”

“You should give us sh100,000. Otherwise, blood is going to be spilled. The headmaster knows it but he is just pretending,” warned another witchdoctor. Are these witchdoctors telling the truth or are they another bunch of fake witchdoctors out to mint money from superstitious Ugandans? 

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