The Witches of Gambanga

A lone figure inside the dark walls of a mud hut. The traditional scarifications on her face catching the tears that pour from her deep set eyes. She has been abandoned here by her own family, the newest member of a village of outcasts, banned from her home and accused of being a witch. She is one of The Witches of Gambaga. After few days she emerges, to join the other women in their daily chores, paying for her stay in the village of Gambaga in Northern Ghana.

Salmata is one of the women we meet in this stirring documentary by British-Ghanaian writer and filmmaker Yaba Badoe.

 This powerful film exposes gender discrimination in its rawest form.  It showcases a kind on inconvenient reality, a reality which makes futile the national motto Freedom and Justice.

Although this is largely an exploration of archaic and oppressive traditional practices, Badoe offers an objective portrayal making sure not to ridicule the people for their beliefs.

Her objectivity even extends to the authoritarian chief who reaps the rewards of the toil of the residents of Gambaga. Although it is obvious that he exercises absolute patriarchal rule, the filmmaker makes it a point not to vilify him.

Badoe’s interest for the subject is evident in her return to Gambaga time and time again. Her stylistic sensitivity is clear. She does not let her voice overshadow that of the women.  Their heartache, anger, pain and sometimes happiness and relief at finding refuge, is narrated by them, producing an authentic account that captures the viewer

She successfully infiltrates the village, gaining the trust of the inhabitants becoming privy to not only their lives but their secret cultural practices.

Like many stories coming out of Africa, The Witches of Gambaga leave one with internal turmoil. On the one hand we do not want to be condescending to the beliefs of others but in the same token, this practice is clearly outdated, unfair and unjust. Although this is not an overly sympathetic documentary, one cannot help but feel fortunate to be living in a time and place where one enjoys freedom and justice regulated by laws based on equality and fairness. The witches of Gambaga is a film that is a worthy watch for anyone concerned with contemporary women’s issues on the continent.

 The Witches of Gambaga is part of Fox International’s Only in Africa series

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