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.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora