Some time in June last year, a teacher approached the neighbour of self-confessed Tala witchdoctor Annah Mutheu.
The teacher’s bicycle had been stolen and he was therefore seeking Ms Mutheu’s services to find the thief. The teacher had heard that Ms Mutheu could make the stomach of an offender bulge by just “performing some magic”.
While in her house, the story went, she would blow air into a simple bicycle pump and the offender’s stomach would start swelling until he/she was rushed to the witchdoctor for treatment.
If this was not done, the offender’s stomach would remain swollen and would likely die after a short while, depending on the request made to Ms Mutheu by the aggrieved party.
The neighbour directed the teacher to the witchdoctor’s home. He was told it was possible to punish the thief, but he would have to part with Sh15,000 for the service. “I could have paid to have the thief punished since he had made me suffer by stealing my bicycle, but then I realised the bicycle was worth Sh3,000. I gave up the pursuit,” said the teacher who did not wish to be named due to the stigma associated with those who consult witchdoctors.
The teacher had heard that thieves had come looking for Ms Mutheu at her home – a modern maisonette complete with a swimming pool – on the edge of Tala town. Some would be chewing grass and in a trance as they approached the homestead.
The witchdoctor of Tala would then perform her magic to “set the culprits free”.
On Thursday, it was her turn to be set free by Milimani Court Senior Resident Magistrate Electer Riany after police failed to get sufficient evidence to support a criminal case against her.
Her release was as dramatic as her arrest in Tala two weeks ago.
Officers from the Flying Squad Unit swooped on her home in a high level operation to smash a car theft syndicate. The officers, numbering about 35, stormed the palatial home at around 11pm on Monday.
They ransacked her house until the following day.
The police questioned several people including family members and workers in connection with stolen vehicles in different parts of the country.
Residents milled around the home after learning about the dramatic raid by the heavily-armed officers who drove into her compound in seven saloon cars.
During the operation, Ms Mutheu would be seen strolling from one end of her compound to the other sandwiched between officers as she talked over her mobile phone. “We have found engines, gear boxes and 130 national identity cards of different people in the house. We are still investigating the circumstances under which the IDs found their way here,” said Flying Squad boss Musa Yego.
He said Ms Mutheu and another person were being treated as robbery suspects and would be charged once investigations are complete. She was driven away at a high speed as scores of residents watched in amazement.
On Thursday, Justice Riany discharged Ms Mutheu and declared her case file closed.
Speaking to the Nation on phone, Ms Mutheu said: “We are from court now. The file has been closed. They said I’m not the person they were looking for.” She promised to call back, but never did even after several attempts by this writer to reach her.
When the Nation visited he home, a woman ushered us to a couch on the veranda of her maisonette. “We have come to see ndakitali. We are not bad people,” this writer introduced.
In Tala town, most people who know Ms Mutheu simply refer to her as ndakitali (doctor). “No problem. Even if you are bad, we are used to dealing with bad people. Just wait there,” said the woman.
After waiting for about 20 minutes, another woman came out of the house to inform us that Ms Mutheu was not at home and could not be reached on phone since it had been switched off.
Such are the ways of the witchdoctor of Tala who defies the traditional description of a witchdoctor. In a past interview with a local newspaper, her home is quoted to be worth Sh40 million. She also owns petrol stations, residential and commercial property.
Her home, she was quoted saying, is frequented by high profile personalities including politicians and business people.
While some people say Ms Mutheu pays her clients to stage the healing acts in order to gain popularity, her mysterious acquittal by the court within two weeks has heightened speculation about her real or imagined powers. No one seems to be sure whether the woman, said to cruises around in expensive vehicles, is a witchdoctor or a fraud.
Ms James Kisia in his book Akamba Traditional Values (African Comb Books, 2010) says witchcraft is very secretive and only known to those who practise or believe in it. He says the foundation of witchcraft is knowledge.
“Knowledge can be used for good or bad,” says the 87-year-old author.
He adds that in traditional Africa most of the so-called witchcraft is purely clinical knowledge which is not based on the widely publicised super natural forces. The author does not however entirely dismiss witchcraft.
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