The two elderly women, their faces swollen from beatings, were pulled and shoved along by a group of seven irate elderly men until they stopped in front of a startled guerrilla, Capt. N'Dala Domingos Tchiang.
An adolescent stepped from behind the group and walked up to Tchiang beaming a triumphant smile. The youth announced, "These two women are ongangas (witchdoctors). They have hexed my father. We want you to try them."
Tchiang an urbane high-school graduate, was obviously uncomfortable in his role of judge in a witchcraft trial. He was uncertain whether he belived in withcraft. Also, he is a Ganguela, all of the people involved were Ovimbundu, and he was not sure he knew all the Ovimbundu rules covering witchcraft.
As an officer in UNITA, however, he was looked upon as a leader, both in the traditional sense as a soba chief, and in the more comtemporary sense as a guerrilla warrior. The situation was made the more awkward by my presence, a representative of the Western press who, he assumed rightly, did not believe, in witchcraft.
Tchiang ordered the two women to sit with their backs to him, facing their accusers. He then asked the youth's father to tell him how he had been hexed, occasionally bending forward and asking the two women to be quiet. The two women wailed loudly and denied the accusations after each of the elderly men's sentences.
Several days before, the father began, his goat had eaten some of the women's corn.
The women shouted that most of their corn, was eaten.
The man continued that the two women demanded that he pay and threatened him with a hex when he refused.
The women cried that they had only demanded payment.
Four years before, the man continued, his son had suffered a swollen leg after crossing the women's farm. He believed, he said, that they had bexed his son for crossing their land. "Lies, lies!" the two women shouted in unison.
The day before he had brought [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to Tchiang, he said, he had seen one of the women muttering an oath and throwing handfulls of dirt towards his house. That night he had suffered neck pains.
All of this had taken 45 minutes to tell, and Tchiang had thought himself out of his dilemma. He stood and told the man that he owed the women payment for their corn. He then turned a stern eye on the youth an told him he should be in the guerrilla army instead of "fooling around in such matters."
Finally, he told the other elderly man, the ones who had beaten the women, that he had no authority in matters of witchcrafts and that such matters should be taken to the local chief. "I am a guerrilla." Tchiang told them "I do not understand these things I don't want to be involved in them."
He then ordered the two women released. The two women jumped up the walked hurriedly away, laughing and joking as they looked back over their shoulders at the crestfallen elders. The youth and his father, looking rather sheepish, followed the elders in the opposite direction.
"Most of the peasants in Angola believe in witchcrafts," said Tchiang as he watched the men walk away, "My parents do, but I don't know if I do."
Soba Mutemba is a member of the Luimbi tribe, the president of a UNITA assemly of three villages and the traditional chief of his village near the Cuanza Ruver. For more than a year and a half, the UNITA guerrillas have been trying to persuade him to move his villages away from the river and from a wide dirt road along side them.
"They are too close to the road and if the soldiers come, you will be killed," said guerrilla Maj. Eugenio Ngolo.
Part of the strategy of the UNITA guerrillas is to move peasant villagers away from areas where they can easily be approached by government forces and induced to switch their allegiance. The guerrillas also claim that government troops come to villages to kill young men who could be recruited into the guerrilla forces and to rape the young women.
"I am aware of all that," said Mutemba to Maj. Ngolo, "but only a little of that has happened at my villages. It is very difficult to move a village," Mutemba continued.
Mutemba said both Cuban and government soldiers have come to his village periodically. "They left us alone, but killed about 20 people from other villages. I don't know why. They took some girls with them and killed their husbands."
"We now see that they kill people, so we will run away if they come again," Mutemba contined. Asked by Ngolo why he did not move the village no, Mutemba responded, "To change the village has many problems. It is necessary to build new houses."
Ngolo told him that was not the reason he was refusing to move.
"Well," Mutemba added, "the grounds far from the village are not as fertile as the ones near the village. We would not be able to grow much."
"The history and traditions of the village make it difficult to move," Mutemba contined. "The old people in the village have great, great grandfathers who founded the village. They will not leave."
Ngolo told Mutemba that as soba he had the authority to overrule the elders in matters that affect the whole village.
"All of the people in the other villages near the Benguela railroad have not moved. So we are not moving also" retorted Mutemba. "Living near the railroad is just as dangerous as living near the road."
Exasperated, Ngolo gave up his sixth attempt to try to persuade Mutemba to move his villages. Mutemba, who had been visiting Ngolo in his forest base, smiled, shook Ngolo's hand and moved off.
"The real reason he won't move," said Nogolo, "is because the spirits of the dead ancestors live in the villages' trees and rocks. They protect the villagers from harm. They won't move unless something major happens.
"That is why we like it when the government troops come and kill some of them," Ngolo continued. "Only then will they move. Force them to move ourselves? Can't do it. Then we become the enemy. He can tell the government where our bases are."