E.E.Evans-Pritchard – ‘The Notion of Witchcraft explains Unfortunate Events’

After starting the chapter with a very striking statement ‘Witches, as the Azande conceive them, clearly cannot exist’, (p18) Evans-Pritchard spends what I believe the entirety of the chapter talking about how the idea of witchcraft for the Azande is not as obscure as we are first made too believe.

Witchcraft for the people of the Azande, provides a way to explain the things which happen to people that are out of our control. The most significant point that I took away from this chapter is that ‘Witchcraft is to Azande an ordinary and not an extraordinary, even though it may be in some circumstances be an infrequent, event.’ (p30) Evans-Pritchard explains throughout that the Azande only use witchcraft to explain why some events have happened, for example a boy hitting his toe on a stump, a pot maker’s pot breaking, and a termite infested building collapsing on people seeking its shade from the sun. These parallels in the Azande belief of witchcraft could be to some extent similar to western culture beliefs in fate, bad luck, karma, superstition or even belief in higher beings in the form of Gods. The fact that the Azande have no concept of natural and supernatural, as we understand it only goes to show that from a different culture ways of looking at the world can be viewed in many ways and may only make sense in the culture it belongs in.

In order to acquire the knowledge to write up this ethnography Evans-Pritchard has spent a lot of time in understanding the role of witchcraft to the Azande. In Azande culture witchcraft is not used to explain every failure or every misfortune. Telling a lie, adultery, stealing, disloyalty and murder of another tribesman are all exceptions according to Evans-Pritchard, as in Zande doctrine, witchcraft does not make people do these bad things. Incompetence, carelessness, ignorance and laziness can all be selected as other causes for certain behaviour.  Witchcraft to the Azande people then has its own set of rules to adhere to and ‘belief in witchcraft is quite consistent with human responsibility and a rational appreciation of nature.’(p30)

I find this chapter intriguing as it makes you question how if witchcraft is a way to describe some actions that happen which are out of human control, then just because you don’t understand it doesn’t give you the right to say it doesn’t exist. I think Evans-Pritchard gives the Azande belief in witchcraft a lot of justice as it makes people reading question, in the simplest sense, how you think. One way I think anthropology is so invaluable is that it teaches you to look beyond yourself and your own beliefs to appreciate and try to understand how other people from other cultures understand the world.  


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