Jombola "cult"

30+ deaths

The mystical Jombola cult, believed to be made up of more than 300 men and women, surfaced in the war-ravaged regions of the southern part of Sierra Leone three months after the signing of the November, 1996, peace accord between the government and the rebel Revolutionary United Front. Operating in the southern districts of Bo, Pujehun and Bonthe, the cult has carved along its way a path of death and destruction.

"We are not exactly sure how many people have been killed by cult members who clearly have supernatural powers," said Pa Santigie Murray Kawa, a 60-year-old resident of Lugbu chiefdom in Bo. Reports state that at least 30 innocent people have died at their hands. The Jombolas are believed to possess the power to transform themselves into bats, cats, dogs and other creatures before wrecking havoc on villages. Terrified residents of the troubled areas have remarked that the sight of the transformed cult members when they are going on their military operations, mesmerizes their victims.

According to a captured 25-year-old cultist, the Jombolas have a political agenda. "Our objective is to overthrow the government and the local hunters' militia -- Kamajors -- and we are doing this not only by force of arms, but through the power of the dark."

Analysts believe that the brewing conflict between the Jombolas and the Kamajors is a battle for supremacy in the wake of the weakening of the national army. Both groups are said to possess mystical powers. The Kamajors' mystical powers have been revered in the country, especially in their fight against the RUF rebels. "The vacuum created by the government army's impotence in holding the rebels at bay, the rising power of the Kamajors, and in fact, the general chaos that has followed the six-year long war, combine to explain the emergence of the Jombolas," opines political analyst Desmond Williams of the University of Sierra Leone.

According to a captured member, the cult's leader, Pa Kujah, "lives in the southern town of Yambama. About 52 of us were recently initiated, and this number included 25 women." Although thse women are members of the cult, their role appears to be that of sex objects to entice victims. "We use our womenfolk to overpower male victims, often sexually."