Nadel’s “Witchcraft in four African Societies”.

In preparation for next week’s lecture on Witchcraft, I chose to read S.F.Nadel’s article “Witchcraft in four African Societies”, from Witchcraft and Sorcery (1970). The article seeks to compare two pairs of communities and their views/beliefs of witchcraft, the Nupe and Gwari in Northern Nigeria and the Korongo and Mesakin in Central Sudan. I found this article particularly interesting, due to the differences in beliefs (or non-belief) between the communities although they are very similar in terms of religion, language and general environment.
The Nupe and Gwari communities are neighbours, sharing very similar characteristics including the succession both societies being patrilineal. They both believe in witchcraft, the fact that it is “evil” and that most of it takes place in a fantasy realm though differences do lie between the societies which prove to be very interesting. The Nupe society believes all witches are women, which is, in general how ‘western, witches are portrayed, echoed by Hollywood and cinema. The Nupe examples of witchcraft tend to involve a young man who is influenced by an older woman who happens to be a witch and places bad fortune onto the young man. On the other hand, the Gwari community believed witches can be either sex. I find it particularly interesting that in the Nupe community, the women tend to be he breadwinners, with the men being dominated in the society, I wonder if the belief of all witches being female has some link to this.
The Korongo and Mesakin societies of Central Sudan also share cultural similarities, which include the fact that children at the age of 6/7 can choose to leave their father’s house and live with their uncle. What is particularly interesting about these two very similar communities is that whilst the Mesakin community believes very deeply in the existence of witchcraft, the Korongo society has no such beliefs of witchcraft. In the Korongo society the anticipated inheritance from the uncle to the child is never refused, nevertheless, in the Mesakin community anticipated inheritance is often disputed which is explained by witchcraft. In this case it seems as though witchcraft is used to account for the disputes in the Mesakin community surrounding inheritance, which are not present in the Korongo society.
It seems as though in the cases in which the community believes in witchcraft, this may have been to explain certain misfortunes and situations, though Nadel suggests the same explanation, enforcing it by mentioning the Korongo, which doesn’t believe in witchcraft, has an elaborate and explicit mythology to explain all situations. Nevertheless Nadel also writes that there do exist some communities which believe in witchcraft and also have a mythological system, so this suggestion may not be valid for these communities. In which case there are very likely to be outside factors or events in history which have lead to the adoption of a belief in witchcraft in the community.


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