“Fear of witchcraft (Bayie) obviously has deep roots in the socio-historical psyche of the Asante” McCaskie (1981).
The Akan words for witch and wizard is “Bayifoↄ” or “Ayen” in Fante, which they use in two senses. Bayie is derived from two (2) words ↄbae (came) and yie (well or good) according to ↄkↄmfoↄ Damuah.
J. G. Christaller also presents the derivation of Bayie as from the words ‘ba’ which means child and ‘yi’ which also means to take away. Thus, Bayie connotes a person who kidnaps or kills a child. It’s believed that witchcraft originated from the Aduana clan who believed to have came out of a hole the from the ground on one Monday known as ‘Nkyidwo’ that is the succeeding Monday after an Akwasidae.
In the first usage, Bayifoↄ is any person who behaves abnormally; that is, outside the expected patterns of behaviour. Among abnormal behaviour are: not being fond of greeting people; living alone in an isolated area; exacting too much for sales of anything; walking about in the night; crying at night (in the case of children). The rest are not showing adequate sorrow at the death of a relative or somebody from within the community; not taking proper care of one’s parents (particularly aged parents), children, wife or wives; hard-heartedness. Thus, anyone who sets him/herself apart from others is quite simply Bayifoↄ “not a person’. What is important here is that deviance is not seen as inherent in certain forms of behaviour; it is rather seen as conferred upon these forms by social definitions. Thus, when somebody confesses to being Bayifoↄ or is identified as one, it’s assumed he/she possesses these characteristics.
In the second usage, Bayifoↄ refers to a person with an extraordinary spiritual power which enables a person to perform deeds beyond the capabilities of his/her fellow human beings. A cocoa farmer whose farm produces more than expected may be referred to as Bayifoↄ. Similarly, a student who scores 100% in all his/her exams may be called Bayifoↄ or an old woman/man with extraordinary wisdom in the community may be called Bayifoↄ. These examples refer to people assumed to have extraordinary wisdom. Since the Akan have their own way of assessing or evaluating an individual’s success, any person who exceeds their estimation is labelled as such.
The word Bayie is not equivalent to Bonsam (Satan) whose power is used exclusively for evil nor does Bayie refer to the notion of black magic according to Murray. Rattray (1927) though, mistakenly makes this association and the translation in his book “Religion and Art in Ashanti. The term Bonsam perhaps is derived from what the Akan call Sasabonsam, a being that has red eyes and long legs so that when he sits on a branch of a tall tree his feet reach the ground. Sasabonsam is believed to wander about in forested hills and is seen only on sacred days (when no one is expected in the forest) by a few hunters with extraordinary powers. Rattray translates Sasabonsam as a “West African “devil”.
It seems the early Christian missionaries accepted Rattray’s translation and association, and Bayie became Bonsam “someone who does the work of the devil’. But Bayie has nothing to do with the devil that features in the Judeo-Christian religion. Among the Akan, Bayifoↄ is rather a person who has extraordinary power. The term has a positive connotation. The negative aspect probably stems from the Akan axiom that: Obira yɛ bayifoↄ, which means “each person has an evil intent in him/her’. The Akan believe that every Bayifoↄ has a physical substance functioning as another body that allows the soul to engage in errands. Bayie’s substance is usually in the form of Toma “beads” worn around the waist. If the Toma is tied around the waist and the person comes to a house where his/her victim is lying asleep, he/she turns round and presses the Toma against the outside wall of the hut. The Toma then makes a connection between the Bayifo and the person who is asleep.
The Akan believe that there are more female Abayifoↄ than male. Though there is no statistical evidence to support this assertion, it seems there is some truth in it that there is a strong linkage between witchcraft and feminine fertility. Apart from its transfer through Toma, which is like birthing, it is believe that Bayie is most often kept in a woman’s belly or vagina or in her ɛtam “the red pubic cover-cloth over the vagina”. There is no reference that Bayie is harboured in man’s penis.
Bayie activities are conducted in secret and only the participants know their arts. If their secrets are shared or made known to the public, the guilty person is killed. Some of the Bayie’s secrets include initiation or rituals, undertaken when an individual reaches specific points in his or her life cycle. It is believed that Abayifoↄ power is confined to one’s own house. That is, if Bayifoↄ wants to kill, she/he can kill only from within his/her family, not outside. The Akan stress this in their proverbs and axioms: Bayifo didi n’anomye, na ontumi amfa ntwa asuo, which is literally translated as “However fierce a witch may be, he/she eats on his/her own side of the stream and cannot cross to the other side of the river”. Another Akan axiom is Aboa bi bɛka woa na ɛfiri wo ntoma mu, which is literally translated as “It is the person from the same house who can render one wretched while he/she lives”. In other words, Abayifoↄ operate within the family circle. This is perhaps the point which Rattary referred to when he stated that “Abayifoↄ have limitations in their operations”
Abayifoↄ social organisation is believed to be similar to the Akan political system with chiefs, linguists, messengers and so on. Groups of Abayifoↄ meet together periodically to discuss issues of common interest. It’s belief that Abayifoↄ can kill any person they hold a debate whether to kill or not to kill. They can meet any place or any time, but their preferred meeting places are at the top of tall trees on the edges of villages and towns.
Akan fear Abayifoↄ only because of their physical appearance. They walk with their head’s upside down, fly, or are carried at great speed. They also turn into animals as well as other natural objects and it is difficult to track them down.
Another reason why Akan are afraid of Abayifoↄ is that they can meet in another place while their bodies are asleep on their beds. And they go about their daily activities in the night instead of the daytime. The worst fear of the Abayifoↄ is their desire to drink human Mogya (blood).
The Abayifoↄ usually attack women whose Mogya links them to their children, and the bond that holds family life together. By sucking the Mogya the Abayifoↄ cause a breakage in family bonds and weakens the individual. The Akan believe that the effect on the victim whose blood is drained by spiritual means is that he/she becomes lean and gradually wears away until finally he/she dies.
Another positive way of understanding and interpreting the Akan concept of Bayifoↄ is to view it as part of the Akan “retributive order”. This is clearly seen in the way some Akan people decide to become Abayifoↄ. People may decide to become witches because of their natural tendency to “pay evil for evil” or “to do evil”. They are envious or jealous, or may have had some conflict with their relatives or some other persons within the family or community and want to hurt them as enemies. A second motive to become a witch is because he or she suspects another person who is in a state of enmity with him or her to be a witch. The only way he/she can prevent being bewitched is to become a witch himself or herself.
The Akan concept of Bayie is used to explain misfortune in daily life. The Akan say ɛnyɛ kwa, “there is nothing by chance”. That is, when only one person out of a bus load dies in an accident and a snake bites only one out of four that walk on its trail, there is a reason. The interpretation is that the person is a victim of Bayifoↄ for having done something wrong. The Akan concept of Bayie does not only explain misfortune but also enforces moral judgement. To the Akan, if one wants to be free from Bayie, then he or she has to carry out his or her social and moral obligations by living a charitable life and being generous in dealing with his or her fellow human beings, particularly his or her household members. Thus, the concept of Bayie exerts a powerful restraining influence on anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour such as glumness, hard-heartedness, ill temperedness, and bad manners, invite the suspicion of being witched.
Although most educated Akan pretend not to believe in Abayifoↄ, but there is a fact that, such of these people visit Pastors, Mallams and Abossom for spiritual protection against Abayiefoↄ.
By Kofi Frimpong(TheKingdom of Asante)
Asante #culture #tradition #customs
Source :thekingdomofasante Facebook page.