Welcome to African Religion and Ritual.

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One thought on “Welcome to African Religion and Ritual.

  1. A comment on E.E, Pritchard’s ‘Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande’: Chapter II – The Notion of Witchcraft explains Unfortunate Events, By Talia Levitt

    The time and context in which a piece of research is written inevitably influences the descriptive language which is used by an anthropologist, which is what I found the most interesting within this chapter. E. E, Pritchard does not use outlandishly offensive language when commenting and describing the Zande’s notion of witchcraft, however it is noticeable when compared with the modern day anthropological language.

    A subtle example can be seen when Pritchard states that, to “us” witchcraft is something which was feared by our ancestors, yet to the Zande is it expected; during hunting for example. It causes fear in us but anger in the Zande; Anger that they have been targeted for seemingly no reason and it has affected their fortune. There is a clear notion of ‘us’ and ‘them’ throughout the chapter, highlighted by Pritchard’s comparison of the Zande culture to “our own culture”, by which we assume he is referring to Western culture.

    Pritchard does not explicitly state that Western culture is more advanced than Zande culture but he infers that our reasoning is more rational, by saying that when someone gets ill it is because they have caught the flu, rather than because the forces of witchcraft are involved. Both explanations are out of human control yet Pritchard subtly puts across that ‘our’ reasoning for misfortune is the ‘correct’ reasoning. This hints at ethnocentricism and in doing so, placing slight negative connotations on the Azande culture.

    However, when looking at another culture other than one’s own, it is difficult to not compare that culture to your own and remove all traces of cultural bias. Yet it clear than Pritchard comprehends how the Zande understand misfortunate events, which is seen in the words, “it is the aggressiveness and not the eeriness of these actions which Azande emphasise when speaking to them, and it is anger not awe which we observe in their response to them. This also shows he is conscious of himself as the observer and researcher.

    The theme of ethnocentricism continues when Pritchard states, “I found it strange at first to live among Azande and listen to naive explanations of misfortune which, to our minds, have apparent causes, but after a while I learnt the idiom of their thought and applied notions of witchcraft as spontaneously as themselves in situations where the concept was relevant.” And in the event where a boys foot became infected after cutting it on a tree stump, he argued with and criticized him over the cause of the injury, which he says he “did so on occasion”. I appreciated how honest Pritchard was about his thoughts of a culture so different to his own, by challenging their reasoning and not just accepting it straight away, and it is clear through the chapter that he goes on to accept that the Zande simply have a different way of explaining the seemingly unexplainable cause of coincidences: through witchcraft.

    Yet as a modern reader, it is the use of outdated words such as “naive” that allude to the time and context in which the piece was written. However, it is understandable that such phrases were used to describe some of the Zande’s rationale, as this was an early piece of ethnography in the anthropological timeline, as well as Pritchard’ s first piece of fieldwork.

    Additionally, he is conscious of the different ways to extract information from the Zande, bearing in mind their difference in language and general concepts about society and life. He states that it would be too general and indeterminate to simply ask them what they think about Witchcraft, but “it is possible to extract the principles of their thought from dozens of other situations in which failure is attributed to some other cause.” This illustrates how much thought Pritchard has put into his methodology and how aware he was that if he used regular fieldwork techniques that a lot of the information would get lost in translation so he tailored his approach to fit his audience.

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