Guilty until Proven Guilty (Innocent)

The cold water against my skin woke me up from my unconscious state. As I began from regain my consciousness, all the pain came back. I couldn’t move a muscle, I felt someone’s foot on my ribs and then another slight blow to my head saw me counting stars. I tried to make out the figures in the hut but couldn’t because my eyes were swollen, every time I strained or tried to open my eyes, it hurt like hell. Maybe I was in hell, that is how I would describe this ordeal.

I could not move; my hands were tied together with my legs in an attempt to roast me over the fire. The buck line cut through my flesh. I was in this state for the last 10 hours. I saw figures at the entrance of the hut discussing how they would make me talk and confess. I cried in pain as some embers came upon me when a man grabbed big logs and threw them onto the fireplace to feed the sleeping monster.

The light from the fire illuminated the figures, I could see the village councilor with some of the respectable men in the village talking while the other men were smoking and warming themselves beside the big fire. ‘Hotim iron’ someone shouted from across the hut, I’d recognize that husky voice anywhere, it was Kerua. ‘Kerua please stop, inap ya’ I cried and begged, ‘Pasim maus you sanguma!’ he yelled back at me.

This wasn’t the Kerua I knew, he was my late husband’s best friend and a family friend, he always came to my home and spent the night but today, he is leading the mob in torturing me. I cried in pain as another bucket of water was poured me, the water coming in contact with my sore and bruised flesh was enough to kill someone, I screamed in agony.

I tried to recount the horrible events that happened, my head ache, I felt the sharp pain on my chest, my eyes and lips was swollen. How did that I happened? I thought. I remember Manu kicking me with his blundstone boot, that was how I got this cleft lip. I tried to feel it but could not as my hands were still tied.

Thoughts of my children came to me, my children, where are my children? I thought. My daughter Julia and son Kaupa, I was with them just last night.

I tried to remember what happened, it was like any other ordinary night. The sky was clear, me and the kids were in the hut, we just finished dinner and were telling stories when we heard crying and wailing coming from across the creek. It was Martha’s voice, her son Junior had been sick for a while, when they went to the doctor, the doctor said they couldn’t help so they returned home to the village. Junior must’ve passed on.

Martha is my late husband’s cousin sister, I better go and see, I thought. I put the kids to bed and as I stepped out the door, I saw someone running towards my house, from the figure, it was a female but who was it?. The person had a small torch to light up the way as she ran. She ran straight onto me and fell upon me, Monica what’s wrong? What has happened?

She caught her breath and said ‘Run aunty, run! They are coming for you; they are going to kill you’. I was confused, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from my niece. She was sobbing out of control, I grabbed and shook her, ‘why? Why do they want to kill me, tell me’ I yelled at her. ‘They are accusing you of killing Junior, they said you’re a sanguma. You used sanguma to kill Junior’.

How could they think that? How could they bring themselves to say I killed my own nephew? I do not even know sanguma or even practice it. I was lost for words and in thought, what do I do?

I heard angry shouts, I looked saw an angry mob with flames torches crossing the creek. Monica begged me to run but I couldn’t, I didn’t do anything wrong and they are wrong for accusing me of sorcery. As the mob approached my hut, I beckoned Monica to go into the house to stay with the kids.

I went and stood on my small lawn of freshly cut grass beside my husband’s grave because I knew they could never hurt me here but how wrong I was, the first person ran towards me with a four by two timber and struck me across the chest, I fell backwards and before I even touched the ground, I steel toe boot landed on my face splitting my upper lip in two which sent blood rushing out my nose and mouth. An angry mob jumped on me and stripped me naked beating me senseless. I cried in pain and calling out the names of the men who were beating me thinking they would stop but no, they swore at me and carried on until I blacked out.

They said to put me in the house and burn me but Martha’s husband said the hut was built by my late husband so they would not destroy it. They said it was possible that I ate my husband’s heart too just like I ate Junior’s heart right out of his chest when he was still alive and breathing.

I felt sharp pain on my back as they grabbed me by the hair and dragged me on the muddy trail into the coffee garden onwards to the kaukau garden belonging to Martha where an old garden hut stood. They pulled me inside, tied my hands and legs and then built a big fire in the middle of the hut. They tied me to the main pillar of the hut and waited for the leaders to come.

The man leading the angry mob said they would wait for the leaders to come and give further instructions on what to do with me next. The men in the hut found it amusing when I cried out in pain, they said I was lying and was faking the pain as sangumas do not feel any pain.

When the village leaders arrived, they came with iron rods. Heat up these iron rods they said, they will make her talk, roast her until she says she killed the boy. The fire was made extra bigger and when the rods were taken out, they were red like fire. I tried to break free from the ropes, I wish I had Samson’s strength to snap the ropes like a thread and kill all the men. I cried and begged but they shut me up and asked “You kilim Junior or nogat?”, I didn’t kill Junior, I would never do such, I said “Nogat, mi no kilim em” crying, a man holding a red hot iron rod from out the fire said “Em giaman” and placed the rod on my right arm, I screamed till I couldn’t.

They repeated the same question and every time I answered “No, I didn’t kill Junior”, they placed the burning rod on each of my body part. I couldn’t stand the torture, I wished they just killed me right then but alas, no, they enjoyed every minute of it. It amused them burning me and cutting of my flesh. The interrogation went on for hours.

A man born of a cave, not of a woman said ‘katim susu blo em na kukim na em kaikai, sanguma ya’ so another with a small pocket knife cut off my left nipple while another shove a coffee stick into my vagina. I couldn’t breathe. Once in a while, someone would pull their zipper down and piss on my naked body.

This was the longest night of my life, oh how I wished the sun would rise and the day would come, the end of this night would be the end of this ordeal. When the first cock crowed, I let myself go. I woke up from the splash of water against my skin, I wished that this was all a bad dream and wanted to wake up from it but it was not a dream, this was real and my body was sore and burning all over.

I was tired, my spirit was broken. The village councilor said they would release me if I confessed to killing the boy and name my accomplices in the murder. When the sun was up, I said I killed the boy. They asked if I ate his heart, I said yes.

Then waiting for them to release me thinking they would, instead they kicked me and burn me more with fire and dragged me out of the garden hut onto the kaukau mounds and kicked me around like a football. The village elders said drag her to the village, we will burn her in the village square in front of everybody and show them this is what happens to sangumas.

I could not believe what they were saying, I cried more and tried to remind them of their word to release me if I confessed. It was a trick, they tricked me, they were going to kill me anyway, even if I said I didn’t kill the boy or confessed to killing the boy.

They dragged me to the village chanting “Sanguma! Sanguma! Em tok em kilim Junior”, in the village square, some men already set up what looked like a cross and there, they tied me to it.  “Kilim em, kukim em” the chanting continued. The continuous beatings on my head and face made me lose my sight, I couldn’t make out the figures. Blood was gushing out from my nose and ears.

I heard cries from mothers when the men started piling wood and old vehicle tires at my feet underneath my cross. The men chased the women who were crying away and told them not to waste their tears on a witch. I felt something cold on my body, the cold liquid stung my eyes, burnt the wounds on my head and then my split lips.  Then I smelt what it was, it was petrol.

I felt the cold sensation as the petrol flowed down my body giving me shivers. This is my end, I thought as someone struck a match and threw it on the tires. The flames rose and I felt the sole of my feet burn, then my legs.

I cried but no sound came out of my mouth, I screamed but still no sound. I had exhausted my voice box. My tears had stopped flowing, did the tank that holds human tears run dry? I guess they did for me that day. I looked down at the men standing proudly, chest out, faces without emotions, watching as I burned.

 Thoughts of my children came back to me. Where are they now? Are they safe? What are they doing? They were in the hut with Monica, will Monica protect them? I thought.

What will they think of their mother? Will they grow up believing their mother was a sanguma? What will their last memory of their mother be?

I looked up to and sky and cried to God in pain, gnash my teeth but God didn’t answer. He has abandoned me like how he abandoned his son on Calvary. And in the distance, I heard Monica’s voice, “Aunty, Aunty Maria, I will take care of Julia and Kaupa”, and then I heard the men scolding her and chasing her away.

Tears dropped, my children, my precious, fruit of my womb are safe. But why should my children be made motherless, why should they be raised without the loving care of a mother? Why should my daughter grow up alone with a mother to teach her the traditional values and her roles in the society? Why should my son grow up without a mother to comfort him when he is down?

I hated the men I saw before me, they stand proud thinking they handed down justice today by burning me. This isn’t justice, I didn’t get a fair trial, there was no evidence presented. I was Guilty until proven guilty.

Where is justice? Where is the so-called justice?

My mind went to Late Kepari Leniata who accused of sorcery and was burnt alive. This is how she went, no trial whatsoever. Just some men who said she was a witch and everyone took their word like it was the biblical truth and had burnt her alive.

When will justice be served?