by Christopher Balzano
Halloween is fast approaching, and as the season hits people begin their yearly trek to Salem, Massachusetts, the Halloween capitol of the world. It is official site of remembrance for the Salem Witch Trials, and amidst all of the revelry and fun, organizations will ask people to honor the deaths that were the result of those dark days in the late 1600s. Those times should be remembered, but this week let us also remember that the connection between witchcraft, politics, and death is still alive today.
Sunday in Butembo, Congo, a simple soccer matched turned into a show of force by the police according to a United Nations radio story. Loosing a soccer match to their bitter rivals, the Nyuki System’s goalie began to chant spells of common knowledge to the other players. Incensed a player would resort to witchcraft to win a game, a fight broke out between the two teams, causing the referees to try and break up the scuffle. Fans began throwing rocks at the officials, at which point the police fired teargas into the stands. The next few moments were a blur to many in the crowd as they rushed to escape from the police retaliation. Fear had long been hovering over the city as government officials and rebels had clashed violently for some time.
The result was the death of 13 people, most of them children, with many more injured. Citizens took to the street to protest the police action, and more violence is expected in the coming days.
Sometimes the connection between the spirit world and the political one can be lost to modern day Americans. The close ties many Africans still feel with the supernatural is a part of everyday life, often expressed through rural versions of witchcraft and spell casting. Performing such rituals and publically calling upon the spirit world to help win a soccer match is taken very seriously, enough so that it is considered cheating. The line between the deep beliefs of the common citizens and the political complexities of the conflict between the government and rebels gets blurred, often adding the spark to the powder keg of rural displeasure.
As we stop and remember the innocent sent to death in Salem more than three hundred years ago, let us keep an eye on today. For many, ghosts are a centerpiece of faith, and that belief can sometimes prove fatal.