I sent you here some articles and some further notes and
materials. But please read the material below
If you get a chance - as it is a useful wide-ranging review, have a look at the Religious traditions piece
and then if you can bear it, some of Evans-Pritchard's classic 'Witchcraft... among the Azande' - to get the hang of how to do witchcraft!
However, Pels whose work we reviewed last week has his doubts as to the true aims of Evans-Pritchard's classic work and Pels of course, as a radical anthropologist, wishes to claim that Evans-Pritchard's work is underpinned - is constructed through - a 'Colonial discourse'. Pels notes
"There remains an ambiguity, however: now that the horror of there being any truth in "witchcraft" is unmasked by discovering the fraud
of the witch-doctors, we are still left with the horror of the fraud itself. What is the terror of magic, anyway: the possibility of "witchcraft's"being true, or the possibility of the fraud's being believed in by so many in African society? Evans-Pritchard tries to lay both those ghosts to rest, first by unmasking the "witch-doctor," and second by demonstrating the rationality of Zande beliefs.
However, one can also find indications that Evans-Pritchard's work on Zande witchcraft functioned as colonial intelligence, and that in that sphere, the containment of witchcraft was a much more immediate problem. In a paper published two years before Witchcraft, Oracles nd Magic, Evans-Pritchard introduced the subject of "witchcraft" to his audience-the anthropologists, missionaries, and colonial administrators who were supposed to read
The Magic of
Author(s): Peter Pels: African Studies Review, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Dec., 1998)
and note what Kohnert says at the beginning of his article about how leaders in
Henrietta Moore in her editorial opening to 'Magical Interpretations, Material Realities Modernity, witchcraft and the occult in postcolonial
"Around the turn of the nineteenth century, anthropologists and other westerners frequently (mis)took ‘witchcraft’ in Africa and elsewhere for evidence
of ‘primitive’ or ‘pre-logical’ thinking (Lévy-Bruhl 1926); for something Europeans themselves had, in times past, endured, but had now outgrown.
African witchcraft thus served as an unmistakable marker of ‘the primitive other’. This idea, popular in its day, meshed neatly with European social
evolutionary thinking – underpinned as it was by those grand, Enlightenment inspired notions of progress, development and modernization (Frazer 1959
; Tylor 1913 ). Social evolutionary theory, like all theories, made a number of assumptions. Principle among them was that all societies have an inbuilt
telos, allowing or even causing them to ‘evolve’ along a linear path from ‘primitive’ to ‘modern’. This movement logically implied an eventual
convergence of societies everywhere, and that this was a ‘natural’ process. As societies ‘evolved’, a number of things allegedly happened: scientific
understandings grew; instrumental rationality increased; a secular world view triumphed; ‘superstitions’ like witchcraft vanished; and people made an everclearer
distinction between facts and fictions, objective Truth and subjective falsehoods. Social evolutionary theory suggested that Europeans had somehow
‘evolved’ quite a bit further than had Africans or other ‘primitives’. Such evolutionary notions of course sprang directly from eighteenth-century
European Enlightenment thinking, and also underpin the works of later, foundational social theorists: Marx’s inevitable move from precapitalist social
formations through to communism; Durkeim’s transition from mechanical to differentiated, organic forms of social cohesion; Weber’s modern capitalism in
which ‘religious and ethical reflections upon the world were increasingly rationalized . . . [and] primitive and magical notions were eliminated’ (Gerth
and Mills 1958: 275). Yet it should not surprise us that education and science, the two most potent symbols and purveyors of progress and modernity, should not eradicate belief in the unseen, in the magical, in powers that transcend ordinary human control and comprehension. Since the 1980s, there has been an upsurge of popular and academic interest in ‘witchcraft’ in Africa – as it has been generally termed – in occult powers, ritual murders, the commoditization of body parts, and the role of God and the Devil as opposing forces in the world."
But in modern times there has been an upsurge of Witchcraft in modernising cities e.g. Nigeria: Misty Bastian in her contribution to the Moore volume 'Vulture men, campus cultists and teenaged witches: Modern magics in Nigerian popular media' Misty L. Bastian notes:
During my first field experience during the late 1980s, I often heard urban
legends about mysterious transformations in places like Lagos and Onitsha, the
southeastern Nigerian city where I was working. Such stories began with a
normal animal witnessed performing abnormal feats, whether walking on two
legs, speaking or appearing suddenly in an unusual location. When people who
saw this phenomenon were moved to act, they invariably tried to attack the
uncanny beast. If the animal was wounded or killed, there were two possible
consequences. The first was that the uncanny being managed to escape or
disappeared in magical fashion. The second was that the beast was immobilized,
suddenly turning into a person known to onlookers. The denouement of the first
version is that the same wounds were invariably found on some suspected person
the next morning – or that person was found dead in her (or, more rarely, his)
bed, with wounds that corresponded exactly to those inflicted on the werebeast.
In such narratives, city streets, or other public spaces, were peculiarly prone
to infestation with uncanny fauna, and urban spaces at night were most often
the sites for hybrid, human-bestial behaviour. People reported such sightings to
me both as first-hand observations (much like that of Mr Ukor above) and as
choice market gossip. A few urban sceptics considered these only to be tales
from the more credulous or ‘illiterate’ of their countrymen. However, most people
who related such narratives were sure of the stories’ veracity, pointing to specificities
in the tales in order to legitimate their truth-quality. Such specificities,
however, are the hallmarks of the urban legend, combined as it often is in
took place and who, exactly, was present to corroborate it.
Stories about animals with human characteristics have long had their place
in southern Nigerian folklore (cf. Amadi 1982: 22). Wily snake-men who seduce
beautiful but arrogant maidens, as well as witches who fly about as nocturnal birds,
looking to cause harm to ordinary people, are staples of both Igbo and Yoruba
folktales.1 However, in most of the standard folkloric narratives about trickster
animals or creatures out of category, the uncanny beasts work their magical
transformations in the forest. This is a place where human beings are at a distinct
disadvantage, but where animals and other wild spirits are at home.
more fraught relationship, not only with animals in the forest, but with the
countryside more generally (cf. Bastian 1993). Nonetheless, this estrangement
between country and city would seem to have produced, within the stories
a displacement of forest magic into the very centres of town. But is this
really as ironic as it might appear, or could there be an internal logic to forestbased
tricksters taking on urban dress and performing their magics in spaces that
would seem antithetical to them? To answer this question, we will examine one,
more recent story from the Nigerian electronic media, that of the ‘vulture man’
During late August 1999, rumours circulated in the southeastern coastal city
that a child had knocked down a flying vulture that subsequently transformed
into a man. Adebayo Brown, a reporter for the Post Express Wired, tells us that
police were called in when a group of people encircled the ‘vulture man’,
intending to kill him. The man was hospitalized because of the beating he
sustained before the police could break up the ‘angry mob action’, remaining in
protective custody a week after the event. The man’s transformation into a
vulture was taken seriously not only by those passers-by who claimed to be its
witness but by the local media. Some reporters went so far as to question the
any further animal transformations while in custody (Brown 1999). Peters then
scolded journalists at a press conference for seeking out sensational stories ‘for
sale of newspapers, and entertainment on television’, and averred that the
supposed vulture man was actually of ‘unsound mind’.
Whatever the official position of the
Squad, however, people in town were less sure about the vulture man – and
remained interested in him and his fate. It was not that vulture men, or other
human-animal hybrids, were perceived as so rare in Nigerian cities, but that the
capture of a living specimen and its preservation by the police offered much
food for thought. Madness is understood both as a medical and a spiritual
condition in contemporary
the shrines of healer-diviners are often known, have long histories and not
always separate adherents among
Nigerians have their own symptomologies of madness, including seeing animals
that no one else can see (Sadowsky 1999: 14, 88), southerners do not consider
people caught performing an animal–human transformation to be mad. There
are other categories for those capable of such a feat: witches, members of secret
societies and elders with special powers, gained from connections to powerful
It would be difficult to say which of these categories of person causes the most
anxiety among urban dwellers. Witches, as noted above, become animals when
on their nightly errands – carrying out their murderous plans disguised as
predators. Members of contemporary secret societies are thought to take on the
animal forms of the societies’ forest patrons, including vultures, civet cats and
leopards. In the
associated with the Ekpe/Ekpo secret societies that once punished Igbo and
Ibibio people who transgressed local prohibitions (Offiong 1991: 2, 62–63).
Early twentieth-century colonial reports are also rife with popular rumours
having to do with ‘leopard men’ who terrorized both ‘natives’ and colonial
officials alike.2 Elders, whose persons have been medicated by magical practitioners,
are often viewed in the modern urban context as regressive agents of
rural power, and their appearance in towns is a cause for unease among West
African city dwellers (cf. Bastian 1993; Geschiere and Nyamnjoh 1998).
Vultures, however, have been positively valued in Ibibio religious practice, as
they were once considered to be representatives and sometimes even incarnations
of ancestral forces (Talbot 1967 : 173–174). Their appearance at rituals of
sacrifice was absolutely required; any sacrifice that did not draw the carrion birds
was considered unsuccessful. Among southern Igbo-speakers (another significant
part of the
symbolic associations. As scavengers of the marketplace, they are considered
‘useful’ animals – beings who help to keep the market clean and beautiful
(Bastian forthcoming a). Conversely, the birds are perceived to be polluted and
polluting because they eat the kills of other animals. This view is conducive to
the worst Igbo ‘reading’ of vultures as cannibal beings who live off the bodies of
the more productive or less fortunate. Such readings can help to explain why
the notion of a ‘vulture man’ flying over the skies of
both so fascinating and repellent to urbanites. The idea of ancestors manifesting
themselves as vultures might also take on a more problematic status if we
consider how ill-prepared to face ancestral forces, or any other powers connected
with older modes of rural life, most urban dwellers feel themselves to be.
In southern Nigerian discourse the spiritual forces of the forest have never
confined themselves strictly to the wild, but always seek to infiltrate civilized
human spaces. At the beginning of the twenty-first century,
areas are not so privileged by global modernity that they can claim immunity
from this infiltration. If anything, the modern cityscape offers new avenues for the
creativity of the forest and its denizens. Where people living in even a relatively
populous village-group can be familiar, at least by sight, to most of their
neighbours, the Nigerian urbanite is mobile, less rooted and finds it more difficult
to know those who live and work in close proximity. Other city dwellers’ personal
histories are a mystery, only to be learned by dint of great effort, and intimate
connections have to be made. They cannot be taken for granted. The sheer
numbers of people around the urbanite makes it impossible for him or her to feel
secure about the motivations and interests of others. Strangers do not, as in the
rural areas, come from outside. They live next door or even in the next room.
Vulture men therefore need not find an excuse for their presence; the
buildings and complex, badly marked streets are as good a cover as the trees of the
subtropical forest once were. The cities and their suburban satellites indeed
have replaced many of the old, forested areas of southern
space only in one sense. The loss of the trees and underbrush did not, in the
imaginary of southeasterners, necessarily mean the loss of spiritual entities that
once made these areas their home.4 Instead of becoming disenchanted,
cities have taken on a modern magic: with forest creatures reinventing themselves
as entrepreneurs and fashion victims, the better to snare their old prey,
The following points by Jacob Olupona (Prof of African Religious Traditions at Harvard) may help orient us
1. African traditional religion refers to the indigenous or autochthonous religions of the African people. It deals with their cosmology, ritual practices, symbols, arts, society, and so on. Because religion is a way of life, it relates to culture and society as they affect the worldview of the African people.
2. Traditional African religions are not stagnant but highly dynamic and constantly reacting to various shifting influences such as old age, modernity, and technological advances.
3. Traditional African religions are less of faith traditions and more of lived traditions. They are less concerned with doctrines and much more so with rituals, ceremonies, and lived practices.
4. When addressing religion in Africa, scholars often speak of a “triple heritage,” that is the triple legacy of indigenous religion, Islam, and Christianity that are often found side by side in many African societies.
5. While those who identify as practitioners of traditional African religions are often in the minority, many who identify as Muslims or Christians are involved in traditional religions to one degree or another.
6. Though many Africans have converted to Islam and Christianity, these religions still inform the social, economic, and political life in African societies.
7. Traditional African religions have gone global! The Trans-Atlantic slave
trade led to the growth of African-inspired traditions in the
8. There are quite a number of revival groups and movements whose main aim
is to ensure that the tenants and practice of African indigenous religion that
are threatened survive. These can be found all over the
9. The concerns for health, wealth, and procreation are very central to the core of African religions. That is why they have developed institutions for healing, for commerce, and for the general well-being of their own practitioners and adherents of other religions as well.
10. Indigenous African religions are not based on conversion like Islam and Christianity. They tend to propagate peaceful coexistence, and they promote good relations with members of other religious traditions that surround them.
11. Today as a minority tradition, it has suffered immensely from human rights abuses. This is based on misconceptions that these religions are antithetical to modernity. Indeed indigenous African religions have provided the blueprint for robust conversations and thinking about community relations, interfaith dialogue, civil society, and civil religion.
12. Women play a key role in the practice of these traditions, and the internal gender relations and dynamics are very profound. There are many female goddesses along with their male counterparts. There are female priestesses, diviners, and other figures, and many feminist scholars have drawn from these traditions to advocate for women’s rights and the place of the feminine in African societies. The traditional approach of indigenous African religions to gender is one of complementarity in which a confluence of male and female forces must operate in harmony.
13. Indigenous African religions contain a great deal of wisdom and insight on how human beings can best live within and interact with the environment. Given our current impending ecological crisis, indigenous African religions have a great deal to offer both African countries and the world at large.
14. African indigenous religions provide strong linkages between the life of humans and the world of the ancestors. Humans are thus able to maintain constant and symbiotic relations with their ancestors who are understood to be intimately concerned and involved in their descendants’ everyday affairs.
15. Unlike other world religions that have written scriptures, oral sources form the core of indigenous African religions. These oral sources are intricately interwoven into arts, political and social structure, and material culture. The oral nature of these traditions allows for a great deal of adaptability and variation within and between indigenous African religions. At the same time, forms of orature – such as the Ifa tradition amongst the Yoruba can form important sources for understanding the tenants and worldview of these religions that can serve as analogs to scriptures such as the Bible or the Qur’an.