Expert opinion: Demonic possession a common belief in Africa

2009-03-31 00:00

Dr Pearl Sithole, an expert on heritage and traditional leadership from the Human Science Research Council, said demonic possession is a common belief in African cultures. “Some people believe that there are different forms of spirits that are able to manipulate and possess people,” she said.

Sithole said these beliefs started in the mining communities. “People would die far away from their families and their families would have to go to the place that they died and perform a ritual to collect the spirit of their loved one. If the spirit was not claimed then it was believed that it would try and possess someone else.”

She said witchcraft, which is often linked to demonic activity, is the act of someone using medicines to manipulate another. “It is very difficult to diagnose what is the reason behind an incident unless you are the spiritual practitioner directly involved in the case.”

Dr Bev Killian, the head of the Child and Family Centre at the School of Psychology at UKZN, said conditions that appear to be mass hysteria in Western beliefs are acknowledged within African psychology. “They are common symbolic representations of suffering individuals, or within their school or community.

“It is important that a full culturally-informed assessment of the cause is made before any intervention is done,” said Killian.

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