By Susan Kendi
Dressed in a brown skirt suit and a checked blazer, Harriet Adong this past week came up as the third defence witness to testify in the Dominic Ongwen trial.
Testifying in open court, Adong told the International Criminal Court (ICC) that she is a Catholic by religion and an ajwaka. She gets possessed by five different spirits which have different roles.
One spirit focuses on hunchbacks, another exorcism, casting demons and treating herbs, the third spirit is a messenger, the fourth spirit is a female spirit that assists barren women and women that cannot produce milk and the last spirit is responsible for Labii and other spirits responsible for producing herbs and medications.
Here are the excerpts of the exchanges between Defence lawyer Abigail Bridgman and the third defence witness, Harriet Adong:
Bridgman: Do you feel respected by your community members for the services you provide?
Adong: The community that I reside in I am respected…There are some people who are jealous and the jealous people are the ones who look down upon me but when they understand what I am all about…The spirits that I have, work against bad spirits and have helped me work on the person that has been possessed and has been healed.
Bridgman: Apart from the swollen symptoms that you mentioned tell me any other people that came from the bush with bad spirits?
Adong: Some of the signs of one possessed by cen, you might see someone seated amongst people and they starts attacking people like they want to strangle the people. Making noise at night and suddenly calms down…Such people are brought to me.
Bridgman: Do you ask them where they get the cen from or does your spirits tell you?
Adong: The spirits reveal to me these things. The spirit of the person killed are invoked and they tell me where exactly the person was killed
Bridgman: What is the purpose of the goat?
Adong: The spirit will take this goat for its meal because since it died no one knew it died and the goat is supposed to be the spirits meal.
Bridgman: For the people who returned from the bush, that you “removed” bad spirits, how long did it take?
Adong: Once I perform this ceremony, I exorcise the spirit. This person remains free. I give the herbs that he or she puts in here bathing water for two or three weeks and give me feedback on how they are doing. I also follow up to see how the person is doing for a period of one year.
Bridgman: So healing varies from individuals?
Adong: Yes that is correct
Bridgman: Do you have an explanation for why?
Adong: There are reasons for this. Spirits are different. Some spirits are very difficult. They don’t want to go so that this person can kill and be stubborn. Some spirits say, “It is okay, I have eaten” and they leave.
Bridgman: The people who returned from the bush are they young people or adults. Give us the age of the people you have taken care of?
Adong: Some were abducted at 10 years and grew in the bush in captivity and return in old age or specific time…It also depends how long someone spends. Some return old age, others young around 18 years… They are various groups of people.
Bridgman: Have you identified distinctions between people abducted at young age and the effect of cen on them?
Adong: There could be a slight difference. If one was abducted at a young age, this person has done so many bad things and he will remain with it and it will affect him for long time.
Bridgman: Is there impact on the people who have stayed long in the bush?
Adong: Yes. The people who have stayed long in the bush when you look at them they don’t lead normal lives. When they return home everyone is scared of them. But some of them once they come and you cleanse them they start living a normal life.
Bridgman: You said the kind of lives they lead in the bush is not normal. Explain?
Adong: Because in the bush they were remaining hungry, killing people when asked to, pillaging. Unless something is done and someone is cleansed, the person won’t be a free person.
Bridgman: So cen can still come when you are forced to do something bad?
Adong: Even though you were forced or not forced, when you have already killed a person the spirit of the person killed does not mind if you were forced or not.
Bridgman: Madam Witness in your work do you collaborate with cultural leaders on some of the work you do?
Adong: We collaborate with some cultural leaders like those concerned with compensation.
Bridgman: What do you mean by compensation? Who is being compensated?
Adong: When compensating for the death of someone, you have to pay for the death of this person. That is when this (compensation) is done. When you also kill someone and no one knows, when they find the body, the family will bury the body in a way that it can revenge. And they will say “We don’t know who killed you. Go and find your killer.” It will affect the family and clan of the killer example in the family of the killer they will experience accidents, sicknesses, death and so the family will seek intervention. The spirit will be invoked and will speak in front of the clan members of the killer and it will cry to them and ask them to take him home and ensure funeral rites. It will ask before that the family of the killer to compensate for the death. The role of the witchdoctor stops there and it is left to the cultural leaders in charge of the compensations.
Bridgman: Are you familiar with concept of Luk?
Adong: Are you talking about following a girl who is going to find her family? I need to understand
Bridgman: Yes the enrockment.
Adong: When a girl goes to find her home, her family members have to follow her up to where she has gone to. The man’s family will give some items such as money to be given to the family of the girl when they go to follow her in a new family.
Bridgman: These concepts you have discussed, spirits and compensations, in Acholi when do children learn about the spirits?
Adong: The children learn issues to do with spirits from the elders. For children to learn this, the person should be from 17 and 18 years onwards and this child will learn from the elders when they are discussing about the spirits affecting the family.
Bridgman: Do children learn the presence of the spirits much younger, if the spirit is not disturbing the family?
Adong: Children find out about spirits even though there is no particular spirits disturbing people during storytelling. That is how they learn about spirits when young.
Bridgman: So is it the same way they are taught about religion?
Adong: When talking about religion, after about a week a newborn is presented in child and is baptized and becomes of that denomination, and you go with the child to church. In future that is when the child decides what way to take, if the father is a catholic and the mother Anglican that’s when they select which church they want to attend.
Bridgman: Speaking of your spirits, have they interacted with your family members or children?
Adong: The spirits that possess me were there when I gave birth to my children. They (the children) see when I perform the inculturation.
Bridgman: How many spirits do you have?
Adong: I have five different spirits
Bridgman: Do you know them by name, gender?
Adong: Otira is also known as Amot. This spirit focuses on hunchbacks. I have kalawinya and this spirit particularly is about exorcism, casting demons and treating herbs. I have mola. It invokes dead spirits and spirits. I have akwang, it is a messenger. It tells me where to go. Labii this is a female spirit. It also works on another spirit and helps with barren women and those that cannot produce milk. It is responsible for Labii and other spirits responsible for producing herbs and other medications.
Bridgman: Did these five spirits pick you or you picked them?
Adong: I don’t know. I just realised I am possessed .They send me and instruct me to do something.
Bridgman: Can you use your spirits to influence other people around you? An example, if someone has bad intent against you?
Adong: In order for somebody to change their intent I speak to the spirits and the spirits do what they have to do. They speak to themselves.
Bridgman: Do your spirits warn you if someone has a bad intent against you?
Adong: The spirits will say “bewiri,” “take care of yourself, there are some people who have ill intent against you.” They don’t tell me the people because they don’t want to create hatred. I don’t think about it.I leave it to God…The spirits pray, they have their own gods. They pray that whatever they send me can be successful.
Bridgman: Madam Witness, do you know the difference between Abila and a Kac?
Adong: The difference between Abila and the kac is very minimal.Abila is a shrine and Kac is a small one does not have a lot of things. It like where they bury umbilical cords of twins. An Abila may cause bad things like the family being drunks. Kac is smaller, if an adoch wants to be fed he will be fed
Bridgman: You talked about the ancestors being in the shrine. Are they meant to stay there or may they came and speak with you?
Adong: It usually speaks to male children, on how the male children in that family are behaving…If the ancestor says this is what it want, if it wants food then it is fed.
Bridgman: One last question madam witness. When you say the ancestors talk to the boys, when they are unhappy about something do they tell them to do bad things and you come to appease those ancestors?
Adong: The ancestors will show what it is that they want because people won’t know what the problem is. Like alcoholism in the family or other things, when the person has problems they will not kill…Like the spirits of our ancestors, they come to me inform of my dream and they say “Aaah it has been a long time” and I perform rituals and see what can be done.
Bridgman: Your honours I have no further questions
Odongo: Madam Witness, your purpose is to explain some of the problems. To help us understand the mind of the person before court. Is there a difference between those who can use the spirits to direct the minds of the person to act according to their will?
Adong: People who possess spirits have spirits that work or perform in different matters. They are very few that are similar. Even the type of herbs I use they are very similar but minimal.
Odongo: In case where the children are abducted and went through certain spiritual rituals in the hands of Kony, is it possible for an ajwaka to direct the spirit to affect the mind of the child to do the things he cannot do in his normal state of mind?
Adong: The bad spirits, in the bush they perform rituals which are different from other rituals. They use spirits and people in other ways but if we speak of witch doctor from home from the person who is using his spirits to use the young person but if the person returns home the spirit can then be cast out.
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Mr Gumpert
Gumpert: No questions for this witness.
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Mr Manoba
Manoba: No questions for this witness.
Judge Bertram Schmitt: Miss Adong this concludes your testimony and the hearing for today. We adjourn the meeting to Monday 9:30 am with defence witness D-087.
Also read www.jfjustice.net/en/icc-cases/witness-speaks-of-his-arrest-by-musevenia-s-forces