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Independent Spirits: the Politics of Policing Anti-witchcraft Movements In Colonial Ghana, 1908–1927

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Scholars have debated the social origins of anti-witchcraft movements within African religions while largely ignoring the effects of colonial laws outlawing their practice. Yet, for the initiates, the period after a witch-finding movement was outlawed was the most difficult. Initiates believed banned gods retained their power to punish them severely if they did not atone for violations of movement rules. Performing ceremonies of repentance, however, meant breaking the law, risking heavy fines, home demolition and even imprisonment. The transcript of a 1913 trial of five men accused of conducting ceremonies of the outlawed Aberewa anti-witchcraft movement in Ghana allows us to explore this predicament. The tenacity of popular belief in outlawed gods influenced colonial policy towards anti-witchcraft movements, witchcraft law, and the development of contemporary Ghanaian Christianity.


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