Melanie McDonagh: Kendoki? It might sound like sudoku but it destroys your life

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The Independent Online

Kendoki might until last week have been assumed to be one of those amusing new crossword-style number puzzles, but it's now something we'll all be hearing about. Sita Kisanga talked a lot about it.

Kendoki might until last week have been assumed to be one of those amusing new crossword-style number puzzles, but it's now something we'll all be hearing about. Sita Kisanga talked a lot about it.

She's the Angolan woman convicted of aiding and abetting the cruelties perpetrated on a little girl by her aunt, who believed her to be a witch. In order to "beat the devil out of her", the aunt had hit the child, rubbed chilli in her eyes and made as if to drown her.

Mrs Kisanga said that she believed the girl was "kendoki" and "in our culture kendoki can kill you and destroy your life completely. Kendoki can make you barren, sometimes kendoki can ruin your chances of staying in this country."

I'm all in favour of making that last bit a self-fulfilling prophesy by sending Mrs K right back to Angola after she's served her time, along with the aunt (whose asylum claim was earlier turned down). But even minus these two, there would still remain the difficulty of what to do about African communities whose native beliefs are difficult to reconcile with British cultural norms.

I was less taken aback by the belief in black magic than I might have been if I were not an occasional reader of Loot. In that useful free ads paper, an entire page is given over to spiritual healers. Mr Sheikh Hamed, Mr Sheikh Ebrihima, Professor Kabiro and Professor Alhasana all offer their services to the afflicted and deal with the problems of black magic or evil spirits as well as more conventional complaints.

"I will," promises Professor Bakayer, "protect you from EVIL forces - (Black Magic) and from Jealous enemies." The obsession with witchcraft is not unique to this case of child abuse, although I'm sure the above-mentioned practitioners behave quite properly. There are bound to be calls to regulate the "evangelical" churches to which some Africans, including the aunt in this case, belong. But so very far from being churches in any conventional sense, most are assemblies under the direction of self-styled, charismatic pastors whose connection with Christianity is often tenuous. In them, native African spiritual beliefs in witchcraft and evil influences are imperfectly grafted onto Christianity. It's a phenomenon which, by its nature, is difficult to control.

And yes, I know that you get exorcisms in a Christian context too. I once interviewed two exorcists working for British Roman Catholic dioceses. Both were eminently sane men, one a former medical practitioner who took pains to distinguish between obsessive or plain loony behaviour and cases where, he thought, prayer would help. The other, an elderly friar, recalled one case in which a young woman over whom he was praying became so agitated that her mother-in-law sat on her, to keep her quiet until he was finished.

Both recalled cases, including that last-mentioned one, where the prayers seemed to work and people who were profoundly disturbed were afterwards at peace with themselves. I don't pretend to know whether this was divine intervention, but it was a far cry from witchcraft, child beating and attempted drowning.

Yet while there may be little we can do about animist beliefs in East London, short of sending in missionaries, there are aspects of this case which we can remedy. In 2003, this little girl was briefly taken into care by Hackney Council before being returned to her aunt. She was examined by a doctor, who managed to miss the 43 wounds and scars on the child's body - because, she says, the light was dim. That doctor should be sacked.

* * *

Grief counselling is, it seems, useless. A two-year study by Dutch psychologists of 128 recently be-reaved people suggests that there is no link between the emotional expressions of grief and becoming less sad. A student at college was once wailing so loudly that I knocked on the door to ask what the matter was. The wails stopped like a switch being turned off, and she said in a perfectly normal voice that this was her therapy to deal with a family bereavement. I'm all in favour of crying when you're sad, but this is a different matter from being encouraged to probe your raw wounds. After one loss, quite the best therapy I got was from a friend who said brutally after I'd gone on and on about my feelings, that I wasn't the first woman this had happened to.

I got a grip on myself. The truth is if you've lost someone you love, you don't need to be encouraged to explore your grief. It comes out all by itself.

* * *

Sir Ranulph Fiennes has abandoned his attempt to reach the summit of Everest, just hours from his goal. The strain on his heart from his exertions, and his forced two-month wait in base camp, was too great, and he'd recently had a by-pass. Commentators have said that he'll be devastated by his failure, because he would feel he'd let down the British Heart Foundation, for which he'd hoped to raise £2m.

Failure? A fool would have pushed on in order to prove his mettle, an attempt which might easily have been fatal to him and perhaps to the people who would have had to help him. Sir Ranulph's prudent acceptance of his limits is proof that he really is a great man.

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