The village of the damned

Just outside the city of Toliara, cut by the Tropic of Capricorn in southern Madagascar, the biggest community of African lutheran exorcists was founded: a whole village where all the citizens are exorcists, often both husbands and wives, and their little children attending the school for young exorcists, where many candidates are training how to fight the devil. Every one among the 300 exorcists living there hosts a single cage in their gardens, made of iron or wood, where a “patient” they are responsible for is permanently living.

These are the possessed ones, the cursed, the mentally ills. Living with heavy chains on their ankles and wrists, they get as only treatment an exorcism session twice a day. Far from being dangerous or “evil” people, the inmate are for the most part young girls, condemned to live in cage for the sins of being single mothers without being married, suspected of having cheated on their husbands or boyfriends, of being lesbians or occasional drug users.

Among them is Fafah, a young girl who, after her father died by poison, was reported by her stepmother as being possessed by the devil, with the clear intent of taking possession of her inheritance. Since the past year Fafah lived inside an iron cage, without seeing the sunlight with chains welded on her ankles.

One of the exorcist, who got moved by the story of the girl, secretly asked to me if I was able to help the girl to get her freedom back. Not the photojournalist, but the man behind the camera decided to intervene without any hesitations and to do whatever it takes to help the young girl. After a week of negotiation with the exorcists’ community, Fafah was finally released. It took about 5 hours to cut her chains, not just locked, but tightly welded to her ankle. The photographer’s thought came only later, conciliating the personal choice with the professional ethics: this single story won’t be only the proof of the factual tragedy, but will bear witness to the concrete hope that an happy ending could be a reachable goal for the ones who are still kept in chains.

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