NDJINAA, THE NELSON MANDELA OF NAMIBIA

Chained for 20 years, offered only an average of 250 ml ( small tin of coke) water a day , if there was any, in scorching heat of up to 38 degrees in the summer and even 28/29 in the winter.

Why? Because she was regarded as a dangerous Witch, a ‘ house of evil spirits’

She was no Witch but only a grandmother living with Dementia.

My first memory of her is the words: ‘ I need Tobacco from Sesfontein’ – Later on it was clear to me that she meant by that:

‘I am thirsty….very very thirsty’

That was on 7 October 2012OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ADN had the privilege to unchained her on the 12/12/12.

That day we bath her in 30 liters of water and every day after that Koos Verwey made sure that she had enough water to drink, wash herself in and for the caregivers to prepare her food with.
7/9/16, 5:45:37 PM: Berrie: , 9 July 2016, is another historic day for Ndjinaa and ADN because when the sun will set tonight the 5, 000 liter Jo-Jo water tank in Ndjinaa’s village ( Mbakutuka Komapando ) will be filled by her own borehole next to her village.

The first Himba village in the history of the Himba people with

it’s own borehole and water tank with enough water in which she can swim if she like to.

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Sometimes live pull a trick on the powerful. The men and women who think that they are the untouchables in society.

First look at the picture. Do you see the old man in the middle of the picture with the red and white cap and the blue skirt around his waist? That is Chief Kapika. The man who are able, according to their believe, to hear you gossip about him 500 km from him. The one who is so powerful that he can sent the spirit of dead people to possess any family member he choose.

Yes, the man who chained Ndjinaa for 20 years because a WITCHDOCTOR told him to keep a close eye on her , when he took her to the witchdoctor to cure her from her so called bewitchment ( dementia ). The Witchdoctor at that time said to him: ‘If she dies , you will follow three days later.’

Because of her being bewitched ( dementia) she normally walked into the woods to collect fire wood, but was not able to find her way back. In order to save his own life he chained her. But than also the spirits which he send to possess in her one night attacked him. from that day she was more than bewitched, she was the Witch!

For 20 years , if there was water in Kapika’s village ( Omaramba ) she received maybe 250 ml of water.

Yesterday, 9 July 1016  ( the picture was taken yesterday) the powerful , 84 ,  Chief Kapika, walked from his Village -about 500 meter ) to Chief Ndjinaa’s Village ( Mbakutuka Komapando ) to receive water from the 5000 liter water tank with the blessings of Ndjinaa.

I believe that Chief Kapika begin to understand that sometimes the one in the chains will one day be the Chief. If you don’t believe it, read Nelson Mandela’s book:

‘A LONG WALK TO FREEDOM’

I love this story. I am happy for Ndjinaa and thankful towards God our Creator and people like Koos, Paul, Michaella, Prof Reimer and all the other donators that I didn’t even know and forgot.

Berrie

Would you not be afraid of being accused as a WITCH?

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THE WITCH WHO COLLECTED MAHANGU TO PREPARE LUNCH FOR HER FAMILY:

 

She appeared suddenly from the Mahangu fields next to the village. Her old thin and wrinkled arms full of Mahangu. [ a type of maize]

Slowly she walked straight to me: Êhwah! She greeted me!
Born on 30 January 1930 in Mahangu, today a wild life reserve 20 Km south of Divundu on your way to the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

While we were sitting under a tree, in that same Mahangu field where she collected the Mahangu, her daughter told me:

‘ After my second sister died we took her to a witchdoctor because we suspected my mother to be a witch, killing her daughters, my sisters. The witchdoctor gave her something to drink, if you die it is a confirmation that you are the witch in the family, causing death and other bad stuff. She did not die , but was vomiting a lot! According to the witchdoctor she was stronger than him, that is why his potion where not able to kill her. If someone in the family die again we need to a stronger witchdoctor to stop her, he said’

Well another family member did die, she explained, that is why we want to kill her!

Repuruka had a handbag with her! She was fiddling with it the whole time , never looked up to her 3 children who was sitting next to her.

I tried to make her feel comfortable by asking questions about her childhood , wildlife at that time in Mahangu and the great Okavango river. Later she start to look up and her eyes met mine…did I hear her eyes saying?; Are you also going to accused me!!!,  or was it my imagination?!

At that time three young boys ( age 9,7 and 6) came back from school and joined the conversation in the Mahangu field!

Than her son asked me directly: Do you think that she is a witch? Without hesitation I said: No! I don’t believe it!

I than asked her directly:

Are you afraid if you hear your children accusing you of being a witch?

For a few seconds there were absolutely silence…even nature holds its breath…and than,  she looked me straight into my eyes and said:

“Wouldn’t you be afraid if your family accused you of being a witch?”

Everything in me , every muscle, every drop of blood revolted against this superstitious believe that is tolerated in the name of culture. A Believe that brings huge tensions and distrust in families.

I turned to her daughter, the judge and jury of her mother, and said:

One day your mother will be dead and you will be old and family members in your family, younger than you will die…and then they will accused you to be the witch of the family and your life will be in danger!

Maybe , you will be in your hut , listening to the outcry coming from another hut in the village because a young person had died, and you know you will be accused, but you also know that you had nothing to do with it.

Maybe than you will remember that you believed it about your own mother ,and now it is your turn to be the witch! How do you think you will feel and how are you going to disapproved it?

I am sure that I could see the frightening thoughts in her eyes for a moment! Well I hope that she can’t sleep tonight being haunted by this thoughts!

I told the family, and the old one, about the village we want to build , where she will be save and the community hopefully be educated  about so called witches.

Again the daughter asked me:

What will the advantage be for the family?

I said:

 If a witchdoctor or whoever planted the seed of evil in your minds about your mother being a witch, he/she knew that one of you will someday trying to be the hero of the family and killed her… But he/she will surely go to jail! So , my dear lady to answer your question: Our village will not only be a save place for your mother but will also keep one of your family members out of jail, by not giving him/her the change to be a murderer like the man of KAKE village who is now in jail as you all know!

I greeted everyone and turned to the 3 schoolboys saying:

 Please tell your teachers I want to come to your school and teach you about the Brain and witches like your grandmother!

You might be disagree with my methods but tonight I hope that another witch will go to bed with hope for herself and so called witches like her!

Education is the strongest weapon which can change the superstitions  about witches and wizards in the Kavango!

berrie

Witchcraft and Dementia in Namibia

Witchcraft and Dementia in Namibia

Summary of Witchcraft and its Implications for the Elderly and People With Dementia

The truth is, I don’t even know where to start! I learned so much on this trip, saw some beautiful land and met some beautiful people as well as some dubious people. I don’t want to write an entire dissertation here, so there will be some holes, but I’ll try to cover the basics to give you an idea of the world I discovered.

I didn’t have a specific agenda in my mind when I asked Berrie Holtzhausen, the founder and CEO of Alzheimer’s Dementia Namibia (ADN), if I could travel with him to northern Namibia to learn more about the connection of tribal witchcraft to sufferers of dementia (as explained in my last lengthy newsletter). In the end, I guess my only agenda was to facilitate the making of a documentary film by the Scottish company, Heehaw Films (my relationship to them also explained in the last newsletter).

The structure of this trip was to compile footage for the documentary by interviewing people in the region who had experience with witchcraft, with knowing people who were either witches or bewitched, and equally to portray Berrie’s personal story and mission in locating people suffering from dementia who have been “diagnosed” by witch doctors or presumed by their community to be bewitched.

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I immediately liked Berrie from our first correspondence, but after traveling with him for 16 days and nights, I can firmly say that he is the coolest, most amazing, compassionate and inspiring person I have ever known. I feel so happy that this film is being made and so hopeful that it will get attention and somehow raise funds for his lonely and noble mission.

In a nutshell, what we discovered through the interviews is a culture held wholly prisoner to a deeply ingrained belief in witchcraft. Upon arrival, I had no idea if it would be difficult to find information about witchcraft and to penetrate this culture as white people, or how we would be regarded for probing – if people would be unhappy or trying to keep it secret; just how forthcoming would the locals be?

Well, here is the basic modus operandi: Berrie in his gregarious and straight-forward way asks a random person, say a gas station attendant, a security guard standing outside a grocery store, a proprietor of a bar or store, if they have any witches in their family or community, or if they know of any people in their community who exhibit the signs of dementia. (They do not know the word or concept “dementia,” so he simply lists some of these symptomatic behaviors.) The random person says “yes,” invariably. Then Berrie asks questions about them … are they bewitched by someone else or are they witching others? (it can be perceived both ways when people are behaving strangely) If the “witch” sounds like a possible candidate for suffering from dementia … specifically if they are older, if their behavior is nonsensical like they can’t remember people they know, they get lost in the fields, they see things that aren’t there, etc. … then he asks if Random Person could take us to meet this witch or bewitched soul. Also he asks people if they know any witch doctors. Most people say “yes.” It’s literally as easy as that.

Now, to be sure, if I went around questioning like that, I’d be unlikely to get the people to open up to me. But Berrie is a Namibian citizen and is already somewhat known in the area, as he has been researching it for awhile; he’s already met some of the local headmen (so he can name-drop), and explains to everyone quickly what he’s doing and what he’s looking for, and even straight-up that we’re making a film about it. The people can see the film crew in the van. When we come to a police checkpoint, Berrie says we’re on our way to see Chief So-and-So. One time we even got out of a speeding ticket by using the “we’re not tourists, we’re making a film” card and the police officer kindly let us proceed without a fine.

So we had no problems whatsoever learning the basics. I’m sure there are still plenty of things about witchcraft and witchdoctors that the people are keeping secret from us, though I can’t imagine what … we already learned that the witch doctors kill people with their own hands for their own power (in order to own the life-force of another human), and that they are paid by others to kill people through witchcraft, some of it is very akin to Voodoo practices, sticking pins into images of the person they want to kill, etc., that they accuse people of being witches knowing the implication of their accusation is that the unsuspecting person may be killed by their own family members. We know about the use of body parts … This is all just to say that we have learned a lot of the gruesome details already. We also know they put protection spells on poachers who advertise their supernatural immunity so that the local police are too scared to arrest them. But I need to point out that not all witch doctors are ones who do evil deeds. Some are simply traditional healers who can remove evil spirits from bewitched people or can (for a nice fee, of course) provide a shield against being bewitched.

I don’t think we met anyone who did not say there is either a witch in their family (responsible for killing other members of the family) or someone who has been bewitched (died or had injury or illness). Most people told us that is just a fact of life – every family has a witch. There is no such thing as a natural death in this culture. Every death is the result of someone in the deceased’s family bewitching them. Even if you’re 105 years old and you finally die, it’s because someone has bewitched you. Though you’d be unlikely to reach that age because everyone will wonder why you’re still alive while everyone else your age around you dies, and you will undoubtedly be suspected as a witch yourself and will then be killed rather more violently for it. Kind of like vampires can only be killed a certain way, witches can only be killed with a certain type of axe or a blunt tool they use to pound maize into flour … not particularly merciful ways to meet an end.

Everyone admits that older people are the most likely to be accused of being a witch. If you start growing white hair you are in more danger. And as is natural, your memory begins to weaken a bit with age, or weakens even worse with dementia. With a weakened memory or confusion in your daily life, when someone gets eaten by a crocodile and dies, or has a heart attack, people eye you suspiciously and now you might think to yourself, “Well I can’t really remember where I was last night or what I was doing. What if I AM the witch? What if I went out and killed that person?” Now you are worried and frightened and anxious, which adversely affects your mental state and behavior even more, making you an ever greater target to be accused of being a witch.

Dementia, however, is not only an old-person’s affliction, it can often be induced by HIV Aids and various mental illnesses. Younger people with dementia may be more likely to be perceived on the opposite side … to have been bewitched. People consistently told us that if a witch doctor has tried to voodoo-kill a person (because he was paid to) but it is not yet that person’s time to die, as deemed by the universe or God, then the witching spell will just take their mind away, it will take away the person on the inside leaving only the body to die in its time. I personally suspect that this somewhat incongruous thought is a relatively recently-evolved idea to explain the increased occurrences of dementia, which increasing life expectancy and especially HIV, mental illness and alcoholism have contributed to. Previously the cases of dementia may have been few enough to be explained on a case-by-case basis, but now it’s so prevalent that a formalized consistent explanation has evolved. Everyone we met provided it.

In either case, witch or bewitched, your family and community fears you. And you therefore fear for your own life. Fear is the energy of witchcraft. The second dimension to the bewitching culture has to do with jealousy … this is the other energy driving the malicious practices of witchcraft. But I’ll talk more about that another time.

The first people we interviewed who told about the methods that a witch doctor uses to divine who is a witch and to put a curse on them or voodoo kill them, I thought they were just pulling random stuff out of their head. But these methods were repeated over and over by other people, so clearly these are the truly established practices. They differed between Kaokoland and the Kavango, but were consistent within their own region. Yet, pretty much everyone says the most powerful witch doctors are in Angola, and many people travel there to consult them. They can charge up to 4,000 Namibian dollars for their dark services … for some perspective, the maximum amount of money you can withdraw from an ATM in a single transaction is 2,000 dollars (current exchange rate roughly 15 Namibian to 1 USD). And most of the people consulting witch doctors are very poor and scraping up pennies from who-knows-where to pay the fee in their desperation to dispose of their family members … because believe it or not, typically people can only use witchcraft on members of their own family – your own family are the greatest danger to you.

What has become crystal clear is that there is no way to combat this witchcraft culture, no way to convince people it isn’t true, and so in order to help and protect people with dementia and mental illness, we have to work with the locals within the terminology and culture of witchcraft. To do otherwise would be utterly fruitless. Witchcraft beliefs coexist with Christian beliefs just fine, so missionaries are wasting their time and fooling themselves if they think they are converting people away from this ancient culture. Further, some are taking advantage of this type of belief and promising their own miracles for a handsome price. This has become so prevalent, and the people seldom receive the miracle they paid for, that people are lodging official complaints with the government. Not that they are being duped, but that these “prophets” are of shoddy quality and not delivering the goods. So basically they want a quality control system, ridiculous as that seems.

By the end of the trip, it seemed pretty clear what the best strategies are for starting to address this issue:

(1) Build dementia care villages — a place where people with dementia and mental illnesses can receive skilled care within their own community instead of being removed to some cement-walled cell in a psychiatric ward in Windhoek, but rather live in the type of huts they are used to in their familiar landscape. This way the community takes responsibility for them and might learn to accept them rather than ostracize them or murder them, but the patients will be cared for in the special way that patients with dementia must be, and will be physically protected from being killed by those who think they are witches. Hand-in-hand with this is the need to train caretakers with formal health care courses tailored to address the needs of dementia patients.

(2) Educate the people through the locals … villagers are not going to believe some white people coming in and telling them these symptoms of dementia are a biological illness. However, they are far more likely to believe someone from their own community who can testify to this being the case. For that, we need to recruit “champions” who have seen for themselves the truth of this, people who know some of the success stories of freeing people from the stigma of being labeled “bewitched.” Another time I can relay to you some of those success stories which have already started to cultivate an atmosphere of enlightenment and some people have even expressed to Berrie an interest in being one of these spokespeople, or “champions.”

It’s a long-term vision; there’s no way this culture can be changed even within my own lifetime – it will take generations, but we need to start sometime somewhere. As Berrie says, “A journey of a thousands miles begins with one step.” Berrie is determined to be the man to take that first step. To be clear, neither he nor I want to change and homogenize or Westernize the culture in general, only to rid it of these particular practices which harm innocent people.

For those who made a financial contribution to the ADN “mission” before I left, I used a small portion of those funds to pay for gifts of food to give to families who allowed us to interview them (as they are invariably very poor). The rest I gave to ADN specified to be used to begin a new dementia-friendly village (as outlined above in #1) near Rundu. Another time I will tell you about the village headman we met there who said he would designate some village lands to such a project … If you’d like to contribute to this cause as well, you can contact me via the blue contact button at the top of the page.

Another brief note … if you think this witchcraft belief is relegated to rural people, while I was there, I picked up a national newspaper in a gas station with the front page headline, “Superstitions Cause Panic in Taxis.” The article begins, “At least two Windhoek women have jumped out of moving taxis because of rumours about witchcraft involving snakes. The police have urged people to remain calm.” Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia.

OK … this turned out really long anyway! If you’ve made it all the way down here, thanks for your interest. I intend to write some more in the future and to portray some of the people we interviewed. Lastly, this was our crew traveling through Namibia in a rented van we dubbed the “Berrie Bus.” Which suffered a few unfortunate incidents in our hands …..

‘WOULD YOU NOT BE AFRAID IF THEY CALL YOU A WITCH?’

She appeared suddenly from the Mahangu fields next to the village. Her old thin and wrinkled arms full of Mahangu.

Slowly she walked straight to me: Êhwah! She greeted me!
Born on 30 January 1930 in Mahangu, today a wild life reserve 20 Km south of Divundu on your way to the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

While we were sitting under a tree in that same Mahangu field where she collected the Mahangu her daughter told me:

‘ After my second sister died we took her to a witchdoctor because we suspected my mother to be a witch, killing her daughters, my sisters. The witchdoctor gave het mr something to drink, if you die it is a confirmation that you are the witch in the family causing death and other bad stuff. She did not die , but was vomiting a lot! According to the witchdoctor she was stronger than him that is why his potion where not able to kill her. If some one in the family die again we need to a stronger witchdoctor to stop her, he said’

Well another family member did die, she explain, that is why we want to kill her!

Repuruka had a handbag with her! She was fiddling with it the whole time , never looked up to her 3 children who was sitting next to her.

I tried to make her feel comfortable by asking questions about her childhood , wildlife at that time in Mahangu and the great Okavango river. Later she start to look up and her eyes met mine…did I hear her eyes saying; Are you also going to accused me!!!,  or was it my imagination?!

At that time three young boys ( age 9,7 and 6) came back from school and joined the conversation in the Mahangu field!

Than her son asked me directly: Do you think that she is a witch? Whit out hesitation I said: No! I don’t believe it!

I than asked her directly: Are you afraid if you hear your children accusing you of being a witch?

For a few seconds there were absolutely silence…even nature holds its breath…and than she looked me straight into my eyes and said:

“Wouldn’t you be afraid if your family accused you of being a witch?”

Everything in me , every muscle, every drop of blood revolted against this superstitious believe that is tolerated in the name of culture. a Believe that brings huge tensions and distrust in families.

I turned to her daughter, the judge and jury of her mother, and said:

One day your mother will be dead and you will be old and family members in your family, younger than you will die…and then they will accused you to be the witch of the family and your life will be in danger!

Maybe , you will be in your hut , listening to the outcry coming from another hut in the village because a young person had died and you know you will be accused but you also know that you had nothing to do with it but believe it about your own mother and now it is your turn to be the witch! How do you think you will feel and how are you going to disapproved it?

I am sure that I could see the frightening thoughts in her eyes for a moment! Well I hope that she can’t sleep tonight being haunted by this thoughts!

I told the family and the old one about the village we want to build , where she will be save and the community hopefully be educated from about so called witches.

And than again the daughter asked me: What will the advantage be for the family?

I said: If a witchdoctor or who ever planted the seed of evil in your minds about your mother being a witch, he/she knew that one of you will some day trying to be the hero of the family and killed her… And than he/she will surely go to jail! So , my dear lady to answer your question: Our village will not only be a save place for your mother but will also keep one of your family members out of jail by not giving him/her the change to be a murderer like the man of KAKE village who is now in jail as you all know!

I greeted everyone and turned to the 3 schoolboys saying: Please tell your teachers I want to come to your school and teach you about the Brain and witches like your grandmother!

You might be disagree with my methods but tonight I hope that another witch will go to bed with hope for herself and so called witches like her!

Education is the strongest weapon which can change the believes about witches and wizards in the Kavango!


 

 

 

EDUCATION THE STRONGEST WEAPON

‘Education is the strongest weapon through which one can change the world’ ( Nelson Mandela)

Christoff is working at the petrol filling station in Divundu. I met him on Monday ( 11/4/16). My favorite line when I am traveling in Nambia : ‘Do you know a Witch?’ , start the conversation with Christoff.

“My grandmother is a Witch. Last year I was very ill because she bewitched me. After I recovered , I told her:

If you don’t stop bewitching us ( family) I will cut of your ears because you are not listening and after that I will kill you”

Frieda is the floor manager of Namushasha Lodge in east Caprivi on the banks of the Kwando River.

Last night at dinner I explained to her what I am doing and why I am here. Three times she stopped me and said:

When are coming to us to help us also in the Zambesi?
After showing her the pictures of Ndjinaa and  asking her about her understanding of witchcraft she said to me:

” I think it is only uneducated people who keep on running to witch doctors when they getting jealous about some one like me who are rising up and start to have a better live. Education is very important to counter the superstitious believes of witchcraft. The witch doctors is making only big money.

If their bewitching is not working they always say: “The person who you want me to bewitched went to a stronger witch doctor than I am”

Being in the Kavango/Zambezi is proofing to me that the first step in any region is to established a place where ‘witches and Wizards’ can be save.

A place that can also be the place from where ADN can start education programs in the community , from as young as possible ,to help people Understand Dementia and the impact on the lives of people living with brain diseases/disorders caused by the superstition of witchcraft.

I am today on my way to meet Headman Coster. He had a meeting with the community and they agreed that he need to give ADN a place where a save haven for ‘witches and wizards’ can be build.

Comfort a unmet need

A STORY OF LOVE AND COMFORT

Many moons ago , when Christmas trees where tall and our two daughters where small,

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Sufrani and Elsabe with me and my wife

we as family travelled a lot , and every time when we travelled through the country side and Sufrani and Elsabe noticed big animals with their ‘children’ They always said:

There is the mother ( s) and their children! For me it was very annoying , because It was a proof that I as father and fathers in general was absent fathers in their little minds.

Being with people living with dementia, for a great part of my life the last year or more ,corroborated their statement day by day!

Why? You maybe asked me:

Because in many different ways , we as care givers , very often hear our ‘dementia family’ speak about, or asked for, or cry for their mothers when they are in need for comfort, feels alone or are afraid, or any other unmet need their long term memory reminds them of their mothers, who might be the one who can help

They are calling out for their mothers, hallucinating about their mothers and even act like one another’s mother!

I like to share with you one of the most beautiful ‘mother child comforting’ acts that happened this week at our Dementia care home !

Look at the picture and try to celebrate the beauty of humanity with us, despite dementia! You can, if you do understand that this is a single bed and the ‘child’ in this case is Tannie Sophia who is blind but found her way at night to the bed of her ‘mother’ Tannie Joey!

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Joyi [left] and Sophia [ right]

REMEMBER LINDA

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a Remberance Tree. Linda’s fig tree , where we can go and sit in the shade and enjoy the fruits while remembering her as one of our family memebers, who has joined us in 2010.

She laughed a lot, live dancing and got angry with herself when she struggled to express herself with words that dementia stole from her memory.

she also taught us that music is and will always be part of us, humans but music can also be very annoying and I hope my wife and family will remember that ‘boeremusiek’ is one of the genre in music that annoys me extremely, just as much as some ‘ common’ afrikaans music annoyed Linda and made her aggressive because she couldn’t explain it to us with words but was capable to do it through her body language.

we miss you very much Linda! And thank you very much for the Fig tree, Leon, Janette , Johan, Jana and Lynette.

 

 

Dementia or Witchcraft?

3 murders in 8 months in 2015 in the Kavango. 

2 of them , both in their 80’s, killed by their grandsons because they were so called wizards and bewitched them.
The third one ( 74) was killed by his neighbor because he bewitched the community according to the accused. I interviewed the community and according to them he had strange behaviors which are related to signs and symptoms of Dementia
The police at both police stations at Mushe and Divundu confirmed to me that murders like these are quite common in the Kavango
The last week or more I am daily troubled by what I have seen and heard and two questions in my mind is keeping me awake at nights:
Can signs and symptoms of dementia be the proof for families that some one among them is a witch/wizard and need to be killed when bad things happens with a family? 
Might it be that people in some communities are victims of one of the most dreadful diseases ( dementia) and simultaneously be a victim of mid evil superstition that still exist in Africa in the 21st century? 
Berrie Holtzhausen