Dr Nyende attributes the students’ feats to the breakdown of the bio-chemical processes in the body causing electric impulses in the nerves.
An eerie feeling lurks over the environs of Kitebi Day and Boarding Primary School. When the trees shake, the teeth of the feared dragon bite deep into the residents’ flesh.
Today, walking past the school has become a nightmare. The fear is that there are ghosts that torment the pupils, and no one wants to be heard talking about them lest they end up being tormented too.
The area has now become a dreaded, haunted territory. As I skittishly make my way towards the massive rusted boundary marker, I wonder if it would release a ‘demon’ any time. My nerves get the best of me and my stomach is wrenched in knots on this chilly April day.
“Vaawo awo! Oyagala ki?” (Get away from there! What do you want?), a security guard, who had been watching me, barks, almost sending me into a spasm.
This is the feeling you get when you hang around the school. When I visited, no one was being allowed into the school premises apart from parents.
As I weigh my options, an elderly woman comes to my rescue. Although she wouldn’t tell her name, she’s willing to narrate part of the ordeal that has engulfed Kitebi primary.
For the last two months (although the case just caught the media’s attention three weeks ago), demons have allegedly been on the rampart, attacking pupils and creating a sense of fear in the community.
“My granddaughter has been sitting at home for two weeks now. We do not even allow her to watch television whenever stations air an exorcism taking place at her school,” the old woman says.
Holding back tears, the woman painfully reminisces the curse that has befallen the school. She narrates that her ‘possessed’ grandchild once claimed that a primary one teacher planted charms under the giant mango tree in the corner of the school.
The other narrative is that the head teacher, Godfrey Senfuma, fell in love with both a teacher (Naomi Wandera) and a secretary and that jealous of the secretary, Wandera planted charms around the school to harm her.
It is claimed that the demons turned savage when Senfuma, instead of sacrificing a cow as instructed, added alcohol, which set them off. Now, the demons are angry and demanding for two children from the school.
“From around 10pm to 2am, one can hear the pupils screaming and some even climb trees unknowingly,” a mother of two, whose children attend the school, said.
She led me to yet another side of the fence and showed me a mango tree under which the exorcism takes place. Pastors and diviners alike gather around the tree to exorcise the demons. On one occasion, a primary seven girl spoke languages she never knew before, shocking all who had gathered.
According to Sylvia Nabuzaale, a primary two pupil, the attacks are more common with primary seven pupils, who, when attacked, lead to a stampede at the school. On one occasion, a pupil revealed it was Wandera allegedly bewitching the school.
In response, the pupils, shouting hysterically, led a manhunt for her, and by the time police arrived, they had torn Wandera’s clothes. She was taken into custody for safety.
News about the demon possessed pupils has spread like wildfire through Kampala and to date, more pastors have visited the school than it has ever seen. The pastors, led by Mark Kiyaga, have since displayed God’s miraculous powers and most pupils spend their time locked up in classrooms where the pastors find them.
To the religious fold, such phenomena are supernatural in origin. However, to many of the parents, this is a nightmare, not least because the school was also hiring witch doctors to quell the trauma.
“Witch doctors can be very dangerous as they draw on the power of “ancestors” and “spirits”. The more powerful the demons that the witch doctor calls on and is in cahoots with, the more powerful the witch doctor,” a pastor said.
But while hordes of traditional healers have appeared at the school, their leader, Sylvia Namutebi a.k.a Mama Fina, is yet to make a presence. Apparently, her asking price is too high for the school. Demons are described as spiritual beings that cannot be seen by humans because they are not created from visible materials.
Despite the fact that all monotheistic religions condemn contact with demons, their interference with human beings is a common occurrence. In fact, psychical diseases like schizophrenia are often linked to demonic possession.
“Possession is not the most common type of demonic attack. While rare, they [demons] aren’t exceedingly so, as many imagine,” Dr Paul Nyende, a psychologist at Makerere University, says.
Nyende attributes the students’ feats to the breakdown of the bio-chemical processes in the body causing electric impulses in the nerves to flow haphazardly. He adds that there is a distortion of
perception which results into visual and auditory hallucinations.
Call it madness, drama or circus; what is clear is that the pupils at Kitebi primary are in dire need of help. Dr David Basangwa, director of Butabika mental hospital, says the pupils could be suffering from mass psychogenic illness.
Such illness is characterized by symptoms that occur among a group of persons with shared beliefs that suggest organic illness but have no identifiable environmental cause and little clinical or laboratory evidence of disease.
“Incidences of mass hysteria usually kick off after a handful of people exhibit certain psychosomatic symptoms which then rapidly spread in a relatively confined area through the power of suggestion,” Basangwa said.
Patients suffering from psychosis are unable to distinguish the real from the unreal. They experience hallucinations and/or delusions that they believe are real, and they typically behave in an inappropriate
and confused manner.
When the pupils began making noise (apparently because of our presence), I quickly vacated the premises.
“These children are just suffering in this school. These so-called demons attack them any time and they end up hurting their bodies for nothing. What should they do?” a boda boda rider I hired asked.
For now, the school has been closed and perhaps the children will get the much needed help.