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Resurrecting Cannibals

Resurrecting Cannibals: The Catholic Church, Witch-Hunts and the Production of Pagans in Western Uganda

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Resurrecting Cannibals
    Book Description:

    This book explores cannibalism, food, eating and being eaten in its many variations. It deals with people who feel threatened by cannibals, churches who combat cannibals and anthropologists who find themselves suspected of being cannibals. It describes how different African and European images of the cannibal intersected and influenced each other in Tooro, Western Uganda, where the figure of the resurrecting cannibal draws on both pre-Christian ideas and church dogma of the bodily resurrection and the ritual of Holy Communion. In Tooro cannibals are witches: they bewitch people so that they die only to be resurrected and eaten. This is how they were perceived in the 1990s when a lay movement of the Catholic Church, the Uganda Martyrs Guild [UMG] organized witch-hunts to cleanse the country. The UMG was responding to an extended crisis: growing poverty, the retreat and corruption of the local government, a guerrilla war, a high death rate through AIDS, accompanied by an upsurge of occult forces in the form of cannibal witches. By trying to deal, explain and "heal" the situation of "internal terror", the UMG reinforced the perception of the reality of witches and cannibals while at the same time containing violence and regaining power for the Catholic Church in competition for "lost souls" with other Pentecostal churches and movements. This volume includes the DVD of a video film by Armin Linke and Heike Behrend showing a "crusade" to identify and cleanse witches and cannibals organized by the UMG in the rural area of Kyamiaga in 2002. With a heightened awareness and reflective use of the medium, UMG members created a domesticated version of their crusade for Western (and local) consumption as part of a "shared ethnography". Heike Behrend is Professor of Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Cologne, Germany, the author of 'Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits' [James Currey, 1999], and co-editor of 'Spirit Possession, Modernity and Power in Africa'[James Currey, 1999].

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-996-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Heike Behrend
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Tooro is a small kingdom in Western Uganda at the foot of the legendary Mountains of the Moon. These steep, partly snow-covered mountains form part of the East African Rift Valley. Named after a celestial body, the moon, thereby transcending the boundaries of the earth, the Mountains of the Moon formed part of an imaginary geography in antiquity. The ancient Greek geographer Ptolemy filled his map of the then unknown heart of Africa with a range of snowcapped mountains that he named ‘Mountains of the Moon’. According to his geography, the people inhabiting the area around the Mountains of the...


    • 1 ‘Eating the King’: Fragments of a History of Tooro
      (pp. 17-26)

      Tooro, a small kingdom in Western Uganda, was founded three times: the first time was around 1830, when Kaboyo, a son of King Nyamutukura of Bunyoro-Kitara (c.1786-1835) decided to establish his own independent kingdom. After having been reintegrated into Bunyoro again around 1876 (Nyakatura 1999:124), Tooro was founded a second time by Captain F.D. Lugard in 1891. After 1967, all the kingdoms of Uganda were abolished, and in 1993 they were finally allowed to be re-established, not as political but as cultural institutions.

      In the following, I will give a rather brief and very selective outline of the history¹ of...

    • 2 Ethnography of Eating: Mediating Food and Power
      (pp. 27-40)

      As this book explores cannibals, food, eating and being eaten in its many variations, I attempt a reconstruction of precolonial cosmology in Western Uganda as a vast machinery of consumption and digestion. As I will show later in the following chapters, images of consumption, cannibalizing and digestion continue to be used to describe relations of power and violence in colonial and postcolonial times up to today. I begin with a few general remarks about the relationship between body, food and society. As I strongly rely on the ethnography of the CMS missionary John Roscoe, a critical comment will be made...

    • 3 ‘Eating God’: Western Images of the Cannibal and the Eucharist
      (pp. 41-52)

      In his famous article on the techniques of the body, Marcel Mauss encouraged scholars to move and explore the margins between their disciplines ‘where professors eat each other’, because in these deserted spaces the most urgent problems are to be found (Mauss 1975:199). By referring to ‘cannibalizing professors’ Mauss connected the protagonists of Western episteme with the most ostracized practice of eating, cannibalism, bridging the domains that are normally carefully separated, in particular by professors of anthropology (cf. Därmann 2010).

      Cannibalism, in its many variations, seems everywhere to have been a matter of some cultural preoccupation – not only of Western...

    • 4 Eating to Destroy: Cannibals and Witches in Tooro
      (pp. 53-66)

      This chapter examines some of the complexities of the figure of the cannibal in Tooro which oscillate between an internal as well as external Other. I will explore a local cannibal geography that not only locates cannibals beyond the margins of Tooro in the Congo but also inside Tooro, in a place named Kijura. In addition, I will trace the complicated relationship between witchcraft and cannibalism from a restricted historical perspective (1970s to the present) by analysing, in particular, two texts by local ethnographers of Tooro. The chapter concludes by showing that in the local perspective, cannibals, far from being...


    • 5 Crisis and the Rise of Occult Powers
      (pp. 69-84)

      In recent decades, religion and even the ‘religious’ have resurfaced in various parts of the world with unprecedented force. Numerous religious groups – Islamic as well as Christian – have entered the political arena challenging the notion that secular society and the modern nation state can provide the moral fibre that unites national communities (Juergensmeyer 2000:225). Responding to the forces of globalization, the liberalization of the market, the decline of states and the rise of new media, political theologies have emerged that strongly counter the Western idea of the separation of church and state and the concept of religion as a private,...

    • 6 The Catholic Church and Religious Pluralism in Tooro
      (pp. 85-96)

      Since the 1980s, Christianity – in the wider context of a ‘return of the religious’ on a global scale (de Vries 2001:3) – has come to have widespread acceptance, not only in many regions of Africa, but also in Western Uganda. As Catholicism is a ‘world religion’, understanding the specific history of the Catholic Church at the periphery in Western Uganda cannot be restricted to an analysis that treats it as a purely self-contained social and cultural unit. The religious arena in which the Catholic Church operates extends far beyond Rome, and even Tooro and has gained a new quality since the...

    • 7 The Uganda Martyrs Guild
      (pp. 97-110)

      This chapter presents the history of the Uganda Martyrs Guild (UMG) and traces the Guild’s emergence as an anti-witchcraft movement in Tooro. I will explore various body techniques of the UMG through which the Holy Spirit, associated with air and/or electricity, was mediated in the fight against evil. This examination is continued in the following chapter, focusing on the processes of mediation. I am interested in the Catholicized Pentecostal ‘aesthetics of persuasion’ (Meyer 2010) and the creation of the UMG as a ‘pneumatic community’, in which, above all, the power of the Holy Spirit became accessed and shared. Further, this...

    • 8 The Guild’s Crusades
      (pp. 111-130)

      The religious practices of the UMG are considered in this chapter as mediations. As Hughes and Meyer (2005) have shown, once religion is understood as a practice of mediation, media do no longer appear as alien to the realm of religion but as an inalienable element for accessing and rendering present other-worldly powers. Yet, in contrast to Meyer, I think it necessary to take a more critical view on processes of mediation by focusing also on the discontinuous, disturbing and disruptive aspects of mediation. Centring on the human body, I will explore how different materialities are (re)mediated or fail to...


    • 9 The Making of a Christian King and ‘Pagan’ Persecutions
      (pp. 133-142)

      When exploring the figure of the cannibal in Tooro, I was surprised to find elements that were obviously taken from Christian discourse and practice. Cannibals in Tooro were not solitary figures like most witches but organized in a secret society and were, in particular, bound together by a common meal. They ate their victims following the widespread ‘classical’ image of the ‘cannibal feast’ that also recurs in fantasies as witches’ Sabbaths. Cannibals in Tooro celebrating their sinister banquets thus appeared as an inverted form of the Eucharist, the Holy Communion.

      The most astonishing aspect of the cannibal in Tooro was,...

    • 10 Christian Catechists and Missionaries in Tooro
      (pp. 143-154)

      The colonial administration in Uganda strove towards ‘national’ missions, on the principle that ‘whose land it is, to him belongs also religion’. Hence, after the religious wars, certain areas of Uganda were given to Protestants while others were reserved for Catholic missions (and for Muslims).

      In 1894, the Catholic White Fathers asked for and received permission from the Protectorate administration to open a mission in Tooro which they considered to be a western extension of their sphere of influence. However, they did not have the personnel to take advantage of this permission until the end of 1895 when the first...

    • 11 Missionaries, the Eucharist and Cannibals in Tooro
      (pp. 155-164)

      Enid Schildkrout and Curtiz Keim report that today, the Mangbetu, who were famous cannibals in travelogues of the 19th century in the Congo, tell tales of their former cannibalism with great amusement and point to the Eucharist as evidence that Europeans manifest the same tastes and even practise cannibalism overtly (Schildkrout and Keim 1990:258 n 3, 34). This (anecdotal) connection between the Eucharist and cannibalism has also been noted by other Western scholars. A few of them attempted to relate in particular the identification of Catholic missionaries as cannibals by Africans with the transcendent cannibalism inherent in the Eucharist and...

    • 12 Resurrecting Cannibals
      (pp. 165-176)

      One of the most perplexing aspects of the cannibal in Tooro is his capacity to resurrect his victims. Cannibals are said to bring the dead back to life in order to eat and kill them a second time. A cannibal bewitches his victim and the person dies. After the funeral the cannibal either plays a bamboo flute or blows a whistle, a strong wind blows and the corpse is – like Jesus – resurrected from the grave. The resurrected person moves straight to where the cannibals are waiting to eat him or her during their sinister banquet. Not the Christian God, but...

    • 13 Medical Spectacles of Resurrection and Colonial Mirroring
      (pp. 177-190)

      Mimesis as a faculty to imitate and to explore difference played a central role in the encounters and interactions between Africans and white men in the second half of the 19th century and also later. In these encounters, Africans and Europeans folded into the assumed otherness of each other. What was taken to be an African practice met with what was taken as a European one; here assumed meanings met with assumed meanings to form strange mutual dependencies that bound African understandings of European understandings of Africans to European understandings of African understandings of Europeans (Taussig 1987:109).

      Parts of central...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-206)
  9. Index
    (pp. 207-216)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 217-217)