GROWING up in a family like mine, whose parents were teachers and worked mostly in rural areas, was both exciting and scary.
It was exciting because the family had opportunities to shift to different places.
But it was also a nightmare because the family was exposed to a horrendous practice in Chikondu.
Chikondu is a practice where behind every death there is a suspected witch.
This practice is rife especially in North-Western Province, parts of Copperbelt rural and some areas near neighbouring Angola and Congo DR.
It is in these areas where Chikondu, a practice that involves meting out punishment on a suspected wizard whenever a person dies, is flourishing even in modern times when society has embraced Christian beliefs.
A keen follower of this column agreed that the practice is also popular in areas like St Dorothy on the Chingola-Solwezi Road in Lufwanyama district, some parts of Mufumbwe district and in localities near the Solwezi-Mwinilunga Road.
Chikondu is also famous among the Lamba-speaking people on the Copperbelt where the local people call the abhorred practice, “bwela bwela.”
In layman’s language, Chikondu or bwela bwela is a ritual that is used to single out witches.
In Mwinilunga, Chikondu is popular in places such as 18 Miles, Mundwizhi, Mapung’a, Samuteba, Kawiku, Kakoma, Nyilamba, Nyakaseya, Nswana Mutombu, Kanong’esha areas, among others.
While in Solwezi’s Kalumbila area, Chikondu is rife in Shiinda, Mutanda, Kachikwe, Kabombu, Chitung’u, Kisasa and Jiundu areas.
On the Chingola–Solwezi Road, the practice is also rife in places such as Kabisapi and Kapijimpanga.
However, most traditional leaders are severely punishing those behind hiring witch ‘detectors’ by banishing them from their chiefdoms.
What normally happens is that whenever there is a death of someone, a witch finder will be hired to detect the source of death.
In most cases, the witch finders are allegedly hired from neighbouring countries, such as Angola and Congo DR.
Apart from being pampered with bundles of money, the witch finders are given items such as cattle, goats, chickens, sheep and pigs by the alleged wizards or witches.
High on a traditional brew such as dituku (a potent spirit with an unknown alcoholic percentage or kasolu (a wine-like brew made from honey), pallbearers are also engaged by the witch finder to carry the coffin.
Once a witch finder utters some words after mixing his concoction, is then given to suspected witches to drink, the wizardry act is merciless on its victims.
The practice leaves a trail of destruction equivalent to a mini tsunami.
Out of fear of losing their lives, some suspected witches are forced into admitting to being behind the death of the deceased.
In the West African nation of Ghana, these dancing pallbearers lift the mood at funerals with flamboyant coffin-carrying dances and families pay for their services to send their loved ones off in style.
The Zambian version is deadly.
There is no natural death in most rural areas.
Behind every death is a witch.
And so, it is still a common practice.
After every death, a traditional healer is enlisted to nab the one behind it, usually on burial day.
On burial day, there is no wailing, especially by the womenfolk who are emotional during funerals.
An order is given by the witch detector beforehand.
As part of the funeral rites, this old grumpy witch detector or medicine man makes a concoction of barks, roots and leaves, some which he chews, does a traditional war dance and spits some of the concoction in the coffin.
He walks on fire, rubs himself in ashes, chants and then hammers the last nail in the coffin.
This is after mixing the concoction that is laced with the skull of a dog.
Then the pallbearers, some of whom are high on the local brew, which they imbibe overnight, stagger forward and take up positions by the coffin.
On average, they can be four of them.
The group is eve able to stagger through thorns without feeling any pain.
As though under a spell, these drunken pallbearers push and shove through the mourners, claiming the coffin directs them to the killers.
It is bizarre, bloody and chaotic at best.
In the ensuing confusion, the witch detector bolts.
The pallbearers move back and forth, seemingly in a trance.
The elderly, widowed and those with walking sticks are easy targets of accusation during this ritual.
So, mostly the elderly hide a night before burial or flee to avoid blame.
The elderly dread this spectre and the blame game.
Even the real killers manage to slip through.
Sometimes, there can be no body in the coffin.
Whatever is inside may just be a dummy.
The actual body might have been secretly buried the previous night.
So when watching the funeral procession of the Chikondu or the bwela bwela, one is not supposed to blink.
The secret is to read the lips of the witch detectors, medicine men and pallbearers who, like in a Harry Potter movie, perform their wizardry act amidst ululations.
Because of the inhumane way in which suspected witches are brutalised, some years back, the late Chief Kanyama Makandakanda of Mwinilunga district banned the hiring of witch detectors.
This was after a witch detector called Mukalayi, who was hired from Congo DR, allegedly caused the death of an elderly woman of Chisanda area of Kanyama chiefdom.
The named woman was brutalied by the coffin carrying pallbearers who also administered a concoction of traditional herbs on the poor granny.
Apart from the brutalising act leading to her sustaining grave wounds, the old woman also had her house demolished in the ensuing melee, ignited by the Chikondu.
With such barbaric acts still happening in the modern era, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has its work cut out.
Such cases, which are being perpetuated under the guise of hunting for witches, deserve to be investigated to the later with culprits made to face the law.