Evans-Pritchard as an anthropologist….

As I read this particular article, one of the most apparent observations I found lies in the underling approach and feelings of the writer himself towards the Zande people and their beliefs. On occasion throughout the piece of writing I found the way he phrased things could be interpreted as ignorant and certainly contrary to how I understood anthropological fieldwork and writing has been and should be done. I think anthropological studies should always be undertaken with a base of neutrality and that personal opinions, feelings and ideas should be harboured and temporarily buried in order to undertake a fair, unbiased and altogether more accurate study.

The tone is set from the outset after the opening sentence of ‘witches as the Azande conceive the clearly cannot exist’.  I don’t believe the objective of anthropological research is to prove or disprove another groups experience and beliefs but rather to understand them, regardless of their logical sense to you. To label the zande beliefs as ‘naive explanations of misfortunes’ is certainly not neutral and is more than tainted with ignorance. Evans-Pritchard states that ‘ I always argued other zande and criticised their statements’. Perhaps the time at which this was written, anthropological research was in its earlier stages but such a statement, helping us gain an idea of his research methods and approach, would most probably not be considered ethical and legitimate practice nowadays. It is hard to see how arguing against your research groups beliefs is trying to understand them.

Evans-Pritchard even goes as far as to say that the ‘Zande cannot analyse his doctrines as I have done for him’, which is not only ignorant but could certainly be construed as arrogant. It is possible to suggest that an underlying racism can be detected, which at the time may well have been acceptable.

He further makes reference to ‘primitive peoples’ that ‘cannot enunciate theory of causation in terms acceptable to us’, which is more than a little patronizing.

Having done anthropological fieldwork in Africa this past summer, I experienced hearing ideas and beliefs that were entirely different to my own, sometimes in complete contradiction. It was still important to remain impartial in order to fully understand why certain beliefs are present and why certain things are done.

This all being said, though I may not agree with his methods and approach, I found the article interesting and clear to understand, especially compared with the other readings, which were perhaps a little more complex and at times convoluted.


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