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Shelves: read-anthropology-history-pol-econ , reviews-culture Wow, what an amazing book. The subtitle of that book is A description of the modes of livelihood and political institutions of a Nilotic people. And yet in Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande, E-P says next to nothing about Zande modes of livelihood or political institutions. It almost seems as though the two books had distinct authors.

On the one hand, The Nuer is about food and ecology, Wow, what an amazing book. On the one hand, The Nuer is about food and ecology, kinship and politics, and a subsistence economy. And The Nuer is about cows, the most significant possession for the men of this tribe. On the other hand, Among the Azande is about witchcraft and magic, belief and action, the social function of mystical rituals, and the psyche of the typical Azande.

And it is about chickens used in oracles, oracles being the central quasi-judicial preoccupation of the Azande. It seems the two books are so different because the two tribes, Nuer and Azande, are so different. The Nuer and the Azande have contrasting ways of looking at the world, and they both revealed to E-P where their primary interests and concerns lie.

Witchcraft is very much a primary interest and concern for the typical Zande male. As E-P makes clear, witchcraft is the key to understanding many other aspects of Zande belief and behavior.

Witchcraft explains all sorts of unfortunate events, even nightmares. The Azande treat all deaths as the result of witches. At that point the granary collapsed and the people were killed. The granary fell on account of termites.

When a kindred dies or when a crop fails, witches are always to blame. The Azande believe that a substance called mangu inhabits the body of witches, perhaps unbeknownst to the witch. If a witch feels anger or contempt toward some person, and then that person dies or suffers a major mishap, the witchcraft substance mangu is said to be hot or active in the witch.

In order to verify that someone is a witch, an oracle must be consulted. There are a number of different kinds of oracles, but the most reliable and most expensive of these is the poison oracle.

The oracle is asked if so-and-so is a witch. A poisoned chicken is observed. If it dies, the question is repeated with a second chicken, and if that chicken dies the answer is no. And if the first one lived, and the second one lived the answer is also no. To be an affirmative response to the question, the oracle must be performed twice, with one chicken dying and one living in either order. Part of the reason this form of divination is preferred is that it is harder to cheat or fake an outcome, and so the poison oracle is felt to be the most reliable.

If someone is found to be a witch, the wing of the dead bird is brought to that person. He will almost certainly claim that the he had no knowledge of being a witch and did nothing intentionally wrong. When a neighbor in the village subsequently dies, this is often taken as indicating the success of the vengeance magic in identifying the culprit and bringing him down. Interestingly, there once again appear to be nobody in Zandeland who admits to being a witch, and it is probable that nobody ever actually practices black magic there.

The Azande freely consult witch-doctors and diviners and administer good medicines to help counteract evil witchcraft. But evil magic appears always to be imputed to others and not actually practiced.

Witch-doctors are not themselves witches, but they are tasked with identifying and collecting magical vines and tree barks which are prepared into medicines. The fact that people usually recover from illness or misfortune is taken as evidence that the medicine is potent and effective. The witch-doctors belong to secret associations, but they are not clergy.

It would in fact be difficult and perhaps unwise to try to see the Azande as having anything comparable to what one might call organized religion. The Azande practice ritual in accord with their oral tradition. Being illiterate, they have no religious texts to consult. Yet these practices witchcraft, oracles, and magic fulfill a similar role to religion and science by providing a rationale for the unexplained. Now as an underground institution, this form of shamanism has become a counter-discourse against foreign powers and against the Zande princes, who fear secret associations as subversive and who are seen as being in complicity with the colonial regime.

In it, E-P emphasizes the importance of linguistic research as the bedrock to effective fieldwork. For E-P, ethnography ultimately comes down to translation.

And what is translated in the end comes down to what the natives are interested in talking about. In the field, you study what you can. And if your informants are into magic and witchcraft, that is what you write about.

And if your informants are into cattle herding, then you write a book about that instead. Like I said, this work is amazing. But I do have a few critical remarks. The reasoning and rationale behind Zande beliefs is presented without any kind of coherent psychological analysis. The reader is left to form his or her own opinion about what it feels like to be an Azande in the heat of mystical battle.

Maybe that is a good thing. The emphasis is all on social machinery and not about subjective experience. Also, there is little trace of how the Azande gain a livelihood. If magic does not touch an aspect of their culture, then we simply do not hear about that aspect of the culture.

Finally, the work does not offer much of a political analysis of either the Zande princes or of the colonial British. If Gluckman were writing about the Azande, I would expect to see more about how witchcraft regulates or channels conflict and about how missionaries are rending the Zande cultural fabric apart by prohibiting witchcraft, oracles, and magic for being in some way satanic.

The observations in the work are perceptive, sympathetic, and clear. And despite the lack of any cogent narrative, the writing feels crisp, and the analyses are seldom dull. Like E-P, I started out in the field of classics, and in this his first ethnography, this work about the Azande, E-P answers many questions about how witchcraft, oracles, and magic might structure belief and experience in any pagan culture, including classical pagan civilization.

In conclusion, If the reader wishes to know how an African culture physically functions in a particular ecology, then you should go to The Nuer. But if the reader wants a classic account of how an African culture psychically functions in a web of social bonds and suspicions, then Azande is the way to go. A really great and interesting read regarding the customs and beliefs of the Azande people.

However, reading the book in public and wearing dark colored clothes made me look like a wicca.





brujeria magia y oraculos entre los azande de evans pritchard e e


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