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Witchcraft Murder in Modern London March 3, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback

Beachcombing has spent rather more time than is good for him over the last year looking at cases of, what are in legal terms, child abuse. Nineteenth-century Irish families who (to use an inadequate word) ‘punished’ children because they believed that they were fairies or ‘changelings’: the real child had, the families believed, been spirited away. Beach has been primarily interested in the folklore beliefs, but every so often the full horror of the situation seeps through and he recalls that these children were made of flesh and blood and often had to suffer horrendous treatment at the hands of those whom should have protected them.

Of course, as all this was happening one hundred and fifty years ago, the whole cast of stars, abused and abusers are long since in the ground and this does rather take the edge off things. But the indignation of contemporaries is easy to understand, something Beachcombing was able to measure yesterday in himself when this extraordinary news story broke.  The following quotation comes from the Guardian, which had the best coverage of this case:

When 15-year-old Kristy Bamu left his parents in Paris on 16 December 2010, he was looking forward to spending the Christmas holidays with his siblings, visiting their sister and her boyfriend in London. On Christmas Day he was found by paramedics in the bathroom of an east London high-rise flat. His body had been mutilated, teeth were missing and he was covered in deep cuts and bruising. In the last four days of his life he had suffered acts of unspeakable savagery [101 injuries were found on his body] doled out by a man he called ‘uncle’ and one of his own sisters. Why? Because Eric Bikubi, a powerfully built football coach, and Magalie Bamu were convinced the boy was a witch, possessed by spirits who wanted to bring evil into their home. On Thursday they were convicted of murder. They had earlier admitted actual bodily harm against Kristy’s sister Kelly and a younger sister, who cannot be named.

A BBC video report, meanwhile, carried an interview with the Crown Prosecution Service.

The parallel with changeling belief is there for all to see. The children were ‘possessed’ and were expected to confess their role as witches: much as changeling children were expected to confess their fairy nature.

The guilty party – found guilty by a jury of peers – argued ‘diminished responsibility’, a fact that also recalls the tragic circumstances of some changeling cases, including the most infamous, the Bridget Cleary burning of 1895. The defence though seems to have rested their claims on the shape of EB’s brain rather than his beliefs. The jury, in any case, rejected these pleas, though there were, neurologically-speaking, problems with an MRI scan: Bikubi may have suffered a damaging fall in childhood, something often found in the personal history of serial killers.

The belief system is more interesting for our purposes: kindoki is witchcraft in the Congo.

‘Bikubi’s awareness of kindoki… started early. He was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1983. His mother died during childbirth and he lived with his father, a gold trader. But as a child the shadow of kindoki hung over his life. During the trial, the court heard that from a young age he saw rats and other ‘abnormal visions’. Speaking to a forensic psychiatrist, Dr Tim Rogers, in Pentonville prison, four months after Kristy’s death, he explained he was isolated as a child as a result. ‘It seemed to be he was saying that he’d had the experience of seeing rats and other abnormal visions when they weren’t really there’, Rogers told jurors. ‘He was reporting that his family at the time feared that if he went around saying these things he would be labelled as being affected by witchcraft. Aged seven, to escape the chaos of war, Bikubi moved to Dagenham, east London, with several other young relatives and his uncle. The uncle, the only remaining father figure in his life, then died of Aids. But Bikubi appeared to have found a new family when he began an on-off relationship with Magalie Bamu [sister of Kristy] in 2004.’

If Beachcombing ever tracks down the elusive news story of the Irish child burnt as a fairy by an immigrant family in New York then it will be a particularly frightening parallel to the little hell created in this London tenement. The surviving family members must now spend the rest of their lives trying to forget that this ever happened: good luck to them…

Any other modern parallels with changeling belief? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com