News

    Controversial Practices: Trial by Ordeal in Liberia

    Multimedia

    Audio

    For several years now, rights and other interest groups have been strongly advocating for the abolition of several harmful traditional practices in Liberia. One such traditional practice is trial by ordeal - locally referred to as "sassywood."  As VOA reporter Frank Sainworla reports from Monrovia, the brutal deaths of seven people in southeastern Liberia from the practice last June heightened pressure for the sassywood to be banned.

    The practice is said to have started in Liberia many generations back, and breaking this deep-rooted cultural belief remains a challenge. Joseph Jangar is Liberia’s Assistant Minister in charge of culture at the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

    “Sassywood has been practiced by the traditional people of the Republic of Liberia. They have loved (it) because they believe in it.  Whenever there is a problem in their various homes, they practice sassywood to clear their doubt.  (It) has been practiced long ago even before I was born," he says.

    There are various kinds of sassywood, or trial by ordeal, performed against people accused of committing crimes or who are said to be involved in witchcraft.

    In one sassywood ritual, a machete is put into a fire. When it gets red hot, the machete is rubbed on the legs of several suspects and the one who gets burnt is declared guilty.  In another type, suspects are given a potentially deadly concoction to drink.

    It was the drinking of such a concoction that caused the deaths of at least two of seven suspected witches in the southeastern River Gee county in June.

    The butchered corpses of the others were later discovered and gruesome photos published in local newspapers, something that prompted a serious public outcry against the sassywood practice.

    Assistant Internal Affairs Minister Jangar says the Liberian government has now put a halt to trial by ordeal.

    “Nobody is above government. Nobody is above the law of Liberia. The Justice Ministry has advised that it be abolished because its causing lot problems. People are not practicing it [properly] bringing the destruction of lives. So these are some of the things the human rights people are looking at to say sassywood should be abolished. But sassywood had been enjoyed by our traditional leaders. So there’s a need for us to educate them on why it must be abolished," he says. 

    Human rights groups such as FIND, the Foundation for International Dignity, says it is closely monitoring the government’s ban.

    Roosevelt Woods is FIND’s Assistant Program officer.

    “Obviously, we have the capacity, and we have been doing that. This message has been sent across the entire country. We are monitoring. We are also involved in a radio campaign as well.  We’ve just produced about 25 jingles related to sassywood practices and its illegality. We are doing everything we can. We have the capacity and we are doing everything we can as a grassroots organization to ensure that the sassywood problem is brought under control,“ he says.

    Enforcing the ban on sassywood may be difficult, given the way it’s deeply rooted in Liberia’s cultural practices. 

    Recently, a 71 year-old man being tried in Monrovia city court for allegedly raping a five-year-old girl requested authorities to use sassywood so that he could be cleared of the statutory rape charges.

    Around 40 per cent of Liberians are animists, with a similar proportion of Christians, many of whom would also profess beliefs in ancestral spirits. In a land where the courts have been decimated by civil war – and are also several days journey from many villages -- sassywood provides for many a quick solution to crime. Many say they do not realize that they do not have to take part.

    Let us know what you think of this report and other stories on our web  site.

    Send your views to AFRICA@VOANEWS.COM or to atabe@voanews.com. 

    Please include your phone number. Or, call us here in Washington, DC at

    (202) 205-9942.  After you hear the VOA identification, press 30  to leave a

    message.

     

    We want to hear what you have to say !

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.