View Full Version : The spirit child phenomenon

25th September 2013, 03:07 AM
*The spirit child phenomenon, the untold story, our shame*

By Joseph Osei

“It happened within our house, our family and within our community so I have witnessed it several times. And when that type of child dies, they don’t use a proper thing to carry him for the burial, they will take a rough mat and put the child there and hold it just like anything and go and throw it away. They normally don’t take the baby to the hill alive. They will use something like a stone, stick, or a cutlass to hit the child and kill him*”*

The spirit child phenomenon started in some part of the upper east region in the northern part of Ghana, in 1975, is a culture practice whereby children born with disabilities or whose birth coincide with a tragic incident in the family, such as the loss of a parent. The practice is common in sirigu in the Kassena Nankana West district of the upper east region; it takes about 45 minutes to drive from Bolgatanga to Sirigu

Such babies are called *spirit children* and are thought to be bad omen. For the community, is considered blasphemy and a curse by the gods and for that matter the unfortunate creature must return. The first time I heard this story, I could hardly believe it. I’ve always lived in a community where great merry-making accompanies childbirth, no matter the condition of the baby or the mother.

I meet the assemblyman for the sirigu area, Azokulgu Azotipelba, and he makes a shocking admission*. * {They put the child on the hill and put plenty rocks on the child, the babies in they are not considered ‘real’ human beings by their families. They have been cast out as evil spirits… either because they were born physically deformed or their mothers died during childbirth. And, according to an ancient cultural practice that survives in this area the babies must die to save the families from evil.}

Trying to understand innocent blood being shed in the name of culture, I talk with an elder in the town, John Ayamaga. He takes time as he explains.

{When you give birth and the mother dies instantly, the myth is that it is the baby that has killed the mother so the child must also go so when there is no intervention, the baby is sent to the hill there for that rituals. If the child is born with some deformities either with some teeth or some of the hair being white, that child is termed a spirit child or that baby is not accepted in that community. We have a very big hill; they take them there and put a stone on that spirit child so that it will not get up again. The family will not fail to do that because they think if that baby has killed the mother, it can kill the rest of the family.

My entire body is shaking. My mouth is wide open and I’m close to tears as I visualize the events the Assemblyman and this Elder is describing.

A stubborn woman, Akolpoka Ateni refused to let her child to be taken to the shrine, although the husband, Akolgo Akundikiya has given the permission. She run away with her baby boy who was supposed to be killed because he had one arm when he was born.

{At times the children will grow up to 10 or 15 years and they will still manage and go and kill that particular child. If a baby like this escape, the whole family and the entire community will come out and go and search and kill that baby. Because it is a culture for that community and the whole community believes that whatever the soothsayer says is for all so they have no reason to defy it.}

Akolgbila Akundikiya now Francis Ayinbotima (meaning God loves me) was the boy Who narrowly escaped death, Francis mother’s action changed negative culture practice, Francis works with Afrikids in Uk and has establish a number of works in the upper east region. I listen carefully to the stories of the people who have seen this horror first hand. I try to put myself in their shoes, to understand the fear and ignorance that leads to the slaughter of innocent children.

Francis mother with the help of the Catholic Church and Afrikids Ghana changed bad practices in a society; Francis told me how helpful the Catholic Church has been to him and his late mother who saved him from being gruesomely killed.

I believe Francis mother took inspiration from this famous quote.

“Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength” – Barbara Kartz Rothman.

As I speak to Francis, I can see how gratitude he is; joy has over filled his soul. “Time will not permit me to tell you the full story about what my mother went through when she run with me”

* *

After listening to the story of Francis, which for time sake I can’t put all in black and white, I decided to visit the sirigu, again. I finally reach Sirigu.

At the Mother of Mercy Babies Home in Sirigu a Catholic Sister, a caretaker and a community leader are in front of the fading, brown iron gate of the home to welcome us. I look at the children and wonder what stories they would tell if they could find the words and exchange it with me.

There are 16 babies in this 26-year-old home and the youngest is only two months old. Francis started from this home, and as I entered and in the faces of these children I remember how Francis was saved

The caretakers tell me the babies in the home are not considered ‘real’ human beings by their families. They have been cast out as evil spirits… either because they were born physically deformed or their mothers died during childbirth. And, according to an ancient cultural practice that survives in this area the babies must die to save the families from evil.

In some situations there were strange events at the time of their birth. All of the children except one, are motherless. The caretaker, Sister Innocent Depor tells me how some of the children are rescued by the Catholic Church and arrive on their doorstep.

{Because of the education, family members of the babies bring them themselves. The moment they get to know that the child can be termed a spirit child, they rush them here. So come very hefty, sick and weak.}

The catholic has establish orphanage to save these children and the local community has started taking advantage of the facility, bringing children who are not endangered but merely because they cannot afford to raise them.

{It was before that they don’t want the children that they always want to kill. But now with the education, they want their children but how to take care of them, very tiny, they prefer to bring the children here so that after three years when they can eat anything then they come for their child. When they bring the babies we always tell them not to come and throw the babies here like that. They should always visit them. And when they are bringing the babies, here, each child with a caretaker so that when the baby is discharged, he will have somebody he is familiar with. He will not feel like a stranger in somebody’s house.}

Poor people from the surrounding villages, outside Sirigu, have heard about the home and now bring their babies here because they are struggling to make ends meet.

One child was recently brought from Bongo, a town in the Upper East Region. Little Marilyn as they’ve named her is only a month old but motherless. She is fortunate to have been spotted and saved by Hajia Mary Issaka, a midwife in-charge of the Anafubisi health center.

{Last week Friday we went to a community to run a clinic then we saw a pregnant woman holding this baby at the outreach point then we ask of the mother and she said the mother died at Bolga hospital. We ask what they were given and they told us that some people came to the funeral and donated some money and bought some lactogen and they are giving to the baby. So when we saw her, we knew that they cannot take care of the baby in the house so I sent this nurse to go the house and meet the community members and speak to the people about this orphanage. If they agree, we will arrange and bring the baby to Sirigu and they agreed.}

But little Marilyn is one of the more fortunate, like francis

Everywhere I go in this town people have stories about baby killing that make my blood run cold.

{There are certain things they don’t even want to mention it. There was a community like that when a woman died after delivery and they gave the baby to another woman who died when there was an outbreak of CSM. And they are saying that it is the baby that has killed both the mother and the caretaker so they brought the baby out and knock the child on the tree and it died. So some of these things they are silent}.

The services of the Sirigu home is made possible by the Catholic Church and donations from foreign NGO’s like Friends of African Babies (FAB), based in the region. Mary Kaglan is from Ireland and a member of the NGO. She tells me what motivated her organization help the home.

{I think it was to see these sisters working so hard looking after so many babies thus the least we could do as we live in the area and that any help we could give them would be a bonus. The sisters of course take very good care of the babies so it is not that the case that the babies are looking after. But I think it is that people would be aware there is a home in Sirigu so people can visit and assist with the little they have}

But even with the assistance of the FAB NGO, sister Innocentia Apor and the staff here struggle to raise these children.

TO BE CONTINUED……full story about Francis and others who escaped death also the medical explanation of children born with disabilities.

*The writer is an investigative Journalist *

* Ultimate Radio, Kumasi.*