Black Magic and Chicken Blood: Photos of My Week with the Witch Doctors

A gallery of photographer Olivia Acland's latest work from Sierra Leone.

by Olivia Acland
14 March 2016, 6:00am

I recently spent a week visiting witch doctors in their clinics around Sierra Leone. Each person I photographed is a member of The National Council of Traditional Healers, most of whom use a combination of black magic and herbal medicines to cure the sick. As well as offering antidotes to bodily illness, many also claim to be able to curse – and even kill – enemies. Incantations to the devil are often chanted during their ceremonies as they ask for help with difficult magic.

Dr Tarawallie, President of the Union, says, "I often speak with the devil alone at night, he helps me in my work. We do have the power to kill – there is a spell you can do with a bowl of water. The enemy's face appears in the water, and when you hit it, it disappears and the liquid turns red. Then the person will drop down dead."

Belief in witch doctors is widespread throughout Sierra Leone, and they are visited by everyone from politicians to priests, farmers and even doctors of modern medicine.

During my time with the witch doctors I witnessed a young girl with paralysed legs being treated. Blood from a half dead chicken's neck was sprinkled onto her knees. She was then shaken vigorously, in the belief doing so would expel the witch hiding inside her. I also had my own forehead anointed with goat's blood and my arm cursed after being sprinkled with itchy witch dust.


Dr Kabbia in his clinic.

A healer known as Dr Mortal Man Garage points at the wall of drawings which illustrate the illnesses he specialises in.

A close-up of Dr Mortal Man Garage's treatment wall.

Dr Tarawallie and his assistant during a ceremony for a girl with paralysed legs.

Powder used in a love potion that you wash your body with to become irresistible.