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Email from Ngeti

Email from Ngeti: An Ethnography of Sorcery, Redemption, and Friendship in Global Africa

James H. Smith
Ngeti Mwadime
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 235
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  • Book Info
    Email from Ngeti
    Book Description:

    Email from Ngetiis a captivating story of sorcery, redemption, and transnational friendship in the globalized twenty-first century. When the anthropologist James Smith returns to Kenya to begin fieldwork for a new research project, he meets Ngeti Mwadime, a young man from the Taita Hills who is as interested in the United States as Smith is in Taita. Ngeti possesses a savvy sense of humor and an unusual command of the English language, which he teaches himself by watching American movies and memorizing theOxford English Dictionary.Smith and Mwadime soon develop a friendship that comes to span years and continents, impacting both men in profound and unexpected ways. For Smith, Ngeti can be understood as an exemplar of a young generation of Africans navigating the multiplicity of contemporary African life-a process that is augmented by globalized culture and the Internet. Keenly aware of the world outside Taita and Kenya, Ngeti dreams big, with endless plans for striking it rich. As he struggles to free himself from what he imagines to be the hold of the past, he embarks on an odyssey that takes him to local diviners, witch-finders, Pentecostal preachers, and prophets. This is the fascinating ethnography of Mwadime and Smith, largely told through their shared emails, journals, and recorded conversations in the field. Throughout, the reader is struck by the immediacy and poignancy of coauthor Ngeti's narrative, which marks a groundbreaking shift in the nature of anthropological fieldwork and writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95940-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    James H. Smith and Ngeti Mwadime
  4. ONE Emails from the Field: AN INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-32)

    It is 2009, and Erastus Ngeti Mwadime, a man of forty years from the Taita Hills of Kenya, is resting on the stick bed beside me in a forest mining town in the North Kivu province of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. We are staying in an impromptu lodge for artisanal miners and traders in a town that sprang up from nothing in the middle of the rainforest just a few years earlier, when trappers who live in the forest discovered bauxite and cassiterite here. A few weeks ago, the mine was seized by an armed group that...

  5. TWO English Makes You See Far
    (pp. 33-53)

    As our correspondence continued, it became clear to me that Ngeti wanted to use the opportunity that his knowing me presented to communicate his story to a larger, global community, and perhaps even to profit from the often puzzling and at times traumatic events that he had experienced. Over the course of telling me this story via email communications and in person, Ngeti’s circumstances and his feelings about the events described in this book have changed, but he has always seen this as his story, which he, an existing, coherent (if not exactly autonomous) subject, is telling. It would be...

  6. THREE God Helps Those That Help Themselves
    (pp. 54-84)

    In this chapter i have grouped together a series of emails that Ngeti wrote to me in 2002, recounting his adolescent visits towaghanga, or what Ngeti refers to, in English, as “witchdoctors” and “bush doctors.”¹ In these emails, Ngeti narrates the beginning of a personal odyssey that is at once a physical journey and, as Ngeti puts it, a trip into the “twilight zone of the unconscious” where “reason plays second fiddle to the intricacies of the subconscious mind.” In his visits to witchdoctors, Ngeti was now finally traveling, although not to the places he had hoped, read about...

  7. FOUR Good Ants, Bad Milk, and Ugly Deeds
    (pp. 85-104)


    I wrote him this in an email in 2003. Ngeti was caught up in his story about how he had been forever cursed by these rituals, but I felt there was more that needed to be accounted for, so I asked him to write additional background. Why had his parents assumed that his decision to drop out of the seminary was caused by other people’s witchcraft? Why were they so quick to believe “witchdoctors”(waghanga)who told them that a dead co-wife was bewitching him? And could he write more background to these family conflicts? I...

  8. FIVE The Power of Prayer
    (pp. 105-137)

    A few years ago, ngeti and I were in central Kenya conducting fieldwork on Mungiki, a neotraditionalist Kikuyu religious movement and occasional transport mafia composed mostly of unemployed male youth, who often receive support from powerful politicians. There we met Grace, a very well educated Kikuyu religious leader in her fifties. Grace, who had long struggled with diabetes and kidney troubles, told us that she had cured these ailments herself by visiting a Chinese herbal clinic in Murang’a, where she bought “Magic Chinese Detoxipads.” These are soft, herb-filled cotton pads that you place in your shoes, under your feet, to...

  9. SIX Works and Days
    (pp. 138-167)

    Ngeti has been coming up with new business ideas nonstop for as long as we’ve known each other, always hoping that one day I’d be sold and want to join in with him on something particularly credible. He continued to try to persuade me to enter into business with him, via email, long after I left Taita and returned home. Some of Ngeti’s ideas have included loan sharking, “matching” African wives with Chinese bachelors, using the Internet to make divination and witchcraft accessible to foreign consumers via a website, selling pirated pornographic DVDs on the street, and establishing a church...

  10. SEVEN A Confrontation
    (pp. 168-185)

    And now we arrive, finally, at the unfortunate climax to Ngeti’s story, an event that allowed him to partially realize his dreams of independence while leaving him really alone for the first time in his life. Ngeti, fed up with empty promises from Patroba and goaded by his mentor’s warning that confronting his parents meant death, decided to bring everything out in the open in the spirit of transparency. In defying God and social mores in this direct way, he put the transgressive spirit of Pentecostalism, democratic political reform, and his entire generation into action. If Ngeti was not cursed...

  11. EIGHT Reflections
    (pp. 186-212)

    Victor, a former mai mai soldier who has now been “reintegrated” into the Congolese army, was sitting outside the door to my room in a small lodge for miners and traders in the town of Bisie, in the Walikale District of North Kivu. While the nonchalant way he carries his AK-47 may suggest otherwise, Victor is a fun, affable Azande guy, who likes to smoke pot to alleviate the inevitable foot and leg pain that comes from hiking long distances in the forest. Victor thinks soldiers—whether Congolese army or not—are the only righteous people in the DR Congo,...

  12. Appendix of Names
    (pp. 213-214)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 215-224)
    (pp. 225-230)