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Moral Power

Moral Power: The Magic of Witchcraft

Koen Stroeken
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Moral Power
    Book Description:

    Neither power nor morality but both. Moral power is what Sukuma farmers in Tanzania in times of crisis attribute to an unknown figure they call their witch. A universal process is involved, as much bodily as social, which obstructs the patient's recovery. Healers turn the table on the witch through rituals showing that the community and the ancestral spirits side with the victim. In contrast to biomedicine, their magic and divination introduce moral values that assess the state of the system and that remove the obstacles to what is taken as key: self-healing. The implied 'sensory shifts' and therapeutic effectiveness have largely eluded the literature on witchcraft. This book shows how to comprehend culture other than through the prism of identity politics. It offers a framework to comprehend the rise of witch killings and human sacrifice, just as ritual initiation disappears.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-849-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction: The Meaning of Witchcraft
    (pp. 1-40)

    Sukuma farmers and healers from north-west Tanzania use the wordbugotafor medicine. The term magic in this book refers to medicine, yet with an emphasis on the structure underlying Sukuma medicine: whatever plants are used, at least one ingredient calledshingila, literally ‘access’, should be added to wed the power of plants to the subject’s intention. This ingredient of access, establishing a link which Westerners would call metaphorical, is required for all potions, whether for cure, for initiation, for seduction, for business, for protection or (allegedly) for the witch’s sorcery. In magic one can never be sure of the...

  7. Chapter 2 Why Magic Works: Systemic Healing
    (pp. 41-66)

    The first time I witnessed the work of ‘the shell’,nonga, was late at night on returning to the compound of my host, the healer Lukundula. As his son and I neared the entrance, we heard the frenzied speech of a woman in great distress. From the cluttered words we discerned fragments in Swahili, ‘Jesus is my saviour!’ and ‘He will punish you!’ Swahili, the Tanzanian national language, was not commonly heard in the village, and nor was the name of Jesus. A Landrover stood in the middle of the compound, its engine running. In the headlights a young woman...

  8. Chapter 3 The Dancer: Gift and Sacrifice
    (pp. 67-99)

    ‘Aren’t we all witches?’ I once heard a young Sukuma man ask jokingly during a spontaneous discussion in a village bar. He knew he could rely on general consent. Most Sukuma, particularly household heads, will not deny possessing medicinal knowledge of some kind. In the evenings, by the campfire at the centre of the compound next to the cattle pen, I have often heard Lukundula and his peers making insinuations somewhat jokingly about the power of theirlukago, their lethal magic for protection of the home. No responsible family head should be without it.

    And yet, there exists another type...

  9. Chapter 4 Four Forms of Social Exchange
    (pp. 100-118)

    Before describing practices of magic, and interpreting them in a manner admissible to our discipline, we have one major hurdle to overcome. What if our culture’s epistemology, even at its most phenomenological and non-positivistic, lacks the sensitivity to comprehend magical practices? Inhabitants of Europe, the U.S. and other places with a particular schooling system and public discursive milieu might recognize the socio-symbolic features of magical practices but miss out completely on the experiential layer, which cannot be observed and is very hard to convey. Suppose I give full reign to my Sukuma interlocutors, who describe to me a specific sensation...

  10. Chapter 5 The Witch: Moral Power and Intrusion
    (pp. 119-151)

    Before leaving for my fieldwork in Tanzania, I adhered to the uncontroversial view of the witch being in essence a deviant, marginal figure, an outsider isolated by an accusing community. Therefore I was somewhat apprehensive about my future position in the community. What if misfortune or accident were at some time imputed to my presence? In the village I quickly came to realize that it was exactly that I did not belong, my exteriority, which reassured the community. ‘The witch resides within the home’ (Nogi ali mu kaya), I heard Paulo say. It is not just that the wealth white...

  11. Chapter 6 Divination: A Healing Journey
    (pp. 152-185)

    Chapter 2 introduced us to Seele’s patients, such as Sara and Albert longing for an oracle to conclude their therapeutic journey. This chapter will discuss the oracle of a patient who had completed treatment. Mashala¹ began therapy as a patient of Seele’s father, Lukundula. As is often the case, the story of his affliction is mostly that of a search for the correct diagnosis through divinations. I followed Mashala’s case through to the oracles that were consulted in the final stage of his treatment.

    Two kinds of divination are commonly practised in Sukuma villages: the mediumistic type (ng’hambo) and the...

  12. Chapter 7 The ‘Pure’ Reason of Witch Killing
    (pp. 186-213)

    A situation arises. Culture explains it in some way (witch construction) and responds (ritual). In systematic violence, such as witch-hunts, we notice something else: the explanation itself (beliefs) causes violent situations to arise. Students of culture should be wary of limiting witchcraft to this alternative. When culture is allowed to be creative and dynamic, there will be shifting states determining the meaning of magic, such as the ‘cool’ state (mhola) of ‘being with’, contrasted with the ‘hot’ state,busebu, which Sukuma cast in terms of intrusion, indeed the exact opposite of ‘being with’. This chapter starts off by showing that...

  13. Chapter 8 Spirit Possession: Incarnating Moral Power
    (pp. 214-234)

    When all therapeutic means, including hospital medication and ritual sacrifice, have been exhausted and yet failed to alleviate the patient’s condition, diviners may claim that the oracles have been misread. The source of affliction is deemed not to be caused by witchcraft or ancestral grudge, nor the pure chance of ‘infinity’ or ‘wind’ of illnesses hospital doctors can treat. The fever, pain or loss of control are symptoms of an ancestral call that remains to be understood. It is assumed that the person’s ancestral guide was a healer in his or her own lifetime and now wants the tradition to...

  14. Chapter 9 Magic, Ritual and the Senses
    (pp. 235-250)

    Mashala was not a spirit medium. He was thought to suffer from andagucurse, of theibonatype. The problem started after he chased away his maternal aunt. She had come to stay in his compound, suffering from a reputation that, according to Mashala’s mother, she did not deserve. Mashala fell ill some time after she left. He went to the district hospital in Bukumbi. He had used the best protective magic. But all of this was to no avail. The question became how to make sure that the witch’s attacks stopped. How to bring to an end the...

  15. References
    (pp. 251-262)
  16. Index
    (pp. 263-270)