One woman’s view: Halloween in Africa

Africa For Halloween? by Akua Djane of New African magazine

Why do Africans celebrate Halloween when our societies hate witches and even kill them? If Halloween had African roots, Africans today would call it “juju” or “muti” and would not celebrate it.

Halloween, as an event, seems to be growing legs in Africa, especially in Ghana, my home country. I personally noticed a few years ago that within the expatriate community in Ghana, people were beginning to celebrate this festival they had brought with them, to Ghana! So much for when in Rome do as the Romans do! Initially I did not see Ghanaians knowing about or indeed participating in Halloween. Well, all that changed this year.

Halloween (an American export) is said to have originated from a pre-Christian festival known as Samhain. According to the website, Encyclopedia.com: “It is believed that the spirits of those who died during the previous 12 months were granted access into the other world during Samhain. Thus, spirits were said to be travelling on that evening.” Do the people now celebrating Halloween in Africa know this? I doubt it very much.

Over the years, the celebration of Halloween has changed from its original roots. Today many people who celebrate it have no idea what or why they are celebrating it. All they know is that, come 31 October, they dress up in ghoulish fashion and hit the streets, trick or treating for children and organising Halloween parties for adults.

And this is where I have a problem with the Africans who participate in these celebrations. If Halloween came to Ghana from Nigeria for example, Ghanaians would call it “juju”, evil, occult. Something never to be practised! Ghanaians would have said: “What? You want me, my husband, and my children to go out dressed as ghosts, witches, and Satan? You want us to go to our neighbours and ask for a “treat” for our children? If they don’t get a treat, we should advise our children to play a trick on our neighbours? Are you crazy?” Yes, this would most likely be the response if Halloween had African roots and was introduced to Ghana from Nigeria or some other African country. But because Halloween came from “the whites”, Ghanaians and other Africans have embraced it, no questions asked! Poor Africa.

Meanwhile, in northern Ghana, for example, women who are branded witches are driven out of their family homes and sent to a camp specially set up for them at Gambaga. In fact, to be “out-ed” as a witch is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone in Ghana and in many African countries.

I personally had the unpleasant experience of dealing with a situation where a young girl (who I shall call Akos, aged only 10 years) was branded a witch by her aunt in Ghana. This girl was raped, and when I went to talk to her aunt, the aunt insisted that the girl was a witch who was out to destroy her marriage, and thus deserved to be raped, and therefore the aunt could not care a hoot about the rape.

Whether this girl was a witch or not, I did not know but I felt I had to help her. To cut a long story short, let’s just say that if I had not intervened, this young girl would have continued to live with a relative who perceived her as a witch and thus would have continued to maltreat her. At the time I met Akos, she was skinny from maltreatment, whereas her cousins (her aunt’s children) were plump, if not overweight.

Yes, this is how Ghanaian and other African societies behave towards witches. We don’t like them. We really believe the devil is alive and kicking and don’t like him either. Most people claim to be Christians, and as such they look down on ghoulish behaviour. It is just not accepted or tolerated… that is unless the white man says it’s okay.

And so we now find it acceptable to dress up as a witch or a ghost or even a devil on 31 October. If that is the case, why don’t we release all the witches at Gambaga and honour them with a Halloween-type celebration? I have always believed that if Harry Potter was a black boy, he would be called an evil wizard. But being white makes him okay and acceptable.

And so, this year, Halloween came to Ghana big-time – thanks to the actress, Juliet Ibrahim, who organised a Halloween fancy dress party for celebrities. According to Juliet, she is not introducing Halloween to Ghana but the fashion of Halloween! The fashion of Halloween? Dressing up as ghosts, witches, the devil, and the like? I find it hypocritical that in Ghana people accept this. The same country where “Sakawa Boys”, who are rumoured to sleep in coffins in order to get rich quick, are seen as evil people! Nobody wants to emulate a Sakawa Boy!

It is so hypocritical the way we are killing our beliefs, traditions and cultures to buy into anything that comes from outside Africa. Even if that thing goes against everything we once believed in, it doesn’t matter as long as it comes from the white man’s land. Our people will not only accept it but will practise it even more fervently than the originators!

Just look at Christianity. Today, there are more churches across Africa than you will find in Europe. Churches in the UK are being turned into nightclubs and apartments. The only reason people seem to go to church in the UK these days is solely to get their children into good schools. And if you do find a flourishing church in the UK today, trust me, it is more likely to be filled with black people as opposed to white people or people of other races.

Back in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa, people will tell you that when they perform a “traditional wedding” ceremony, that it is a mere “engagement”. Until they go through a Western-type church wedding, they don’t feel married. I have a Ugandan friend who is a Muslim, like the rest of her family. She met a Gambian man who is a Muslim, like the rest of his family. When these two decided to get married, they had a traditional Nikah. But they were not satisfied until the bride wore her long white bridal dress, and the man wore a suit; and they did another Western-style wedding in a church! Does this make sense?

What many people don’t realise is that Africa is seen as an untapped market for many businesses. With the celebration of Halloween comes the branded hats, costumes, and the rest of the paraphernalia you simply have to buy! From what I have observed, Halloween is not as big in the UK today as it used to be (not a single child came to my door this or last year). So Africa is the new place to take over this rubbish.

The same thing happened to Valentine’s Day, which was not known in many African countries until the late 1990s or so. Today, as Africans have taken to Valentine’s Day as ducks to water, the commercial aspects have grown exponentially. Africans are now spending so much money on Valentine’s Day like there is no tomorrow. And yet, they don’t even know the origins of Valentine’s Day. Our people. It is now time to wake up!

I wonder if any African has bothered to see any of the Halloween films available. These are not about happy people doing good things. Surely this is a clue to what Halloween has come to signify in these modern times. I am yet to see a Halloween costume of an angel.

Yes the world is a global village, and there is nothing wrong with culture sharing. Sadly, in Africa it is not sharing but rather destroying our culture, beliefs, traditions and way of life.

At this rate, the time will come when nothing in Africa will be authentic anymore. From fried rice to Halloween, it seems, if it is from a non-African country, we are more than happy to adopt it. But not everything coming from outside our continent is positive. And this is what Africans have to realise. But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.

P.S.- This woman makes some excellent points. Mind you there are a bunch of things I don’t agree with.  Wonder how she feels about some of our ancient celebrations like Damballah Wedo? Hmmm. If I knew her I’d encourage her to read Luisah Teish’s “Jump Up” in an effort to create a little more balance to her perspective.

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