‘The notion of Witchcraft explains Unfortunate events’ by E.E. Evans-Pritchard

Evans-Pritchard explains that witchcraft, which he deems impossible, is an omnipresent phenomena and used by the Azande as a way of explaining events of misfortune. To us the idea of witchcraft is a scary one and something we would describe as mystical or even supernatural but to the Azande it is an everyday occurrence and as Evans-Pritchard notes, they would ‘be just as surprised if he were not brought into daily contact with it as we would be if confronted by its appearance as we would be if confronted by it’s appearance’. (p.19)

An example Evans-Pritchard uses to help us gain a better understanding of the Azande’s concept of witchcraft is a boy stumping his foot on a piece of wood, causing a cut which in turn gets infected and begins to fester. The boy and many others put the event down to witchcraft, explaining that it was not witchcraft that it placed it there but the witchcraft itself inhibited him from seeing the wood by bewitching him and as a result not allowing him to avoid it. The Azande do not use witchcraft as a scapegoat and blame all misfortunes on solely on witchcraft but as being part of a chain of events which lead up to an incident.
Another example of witchcraft Evans-Pritchard uses is when a skilled potter’s pots have cracks in them. If the craftsman used the exact same materials and processes as he usually does then what has caused the cracks to occur now if it is not witchcraft?
From a Western perspective, as Evans-Pritchard points out, it is hard to accept the Azande reasoning as we would put it down to merely coincidence or bad luck and this scepticism is shown through his writing. Throughout this chapter Evans-Pritchard seems to be questioning and challenging the logic of the Azande by first claiming that ‘witches, as the Azande see them, clearly cannot exist’ (p. 18) and his cynicism continues as he seems to be constantly patronising their beliefs and practices.

Evans-Pritchard is clear to point out however, that not all event of misfortune can be explained by the witchcraft doctrine and that social situations and morals also play an important part in accounting for failure and misfortune. For example if you commit adultery, tell a lie or steal you cannot elude punishment by blaming your actions on being bewitched as ‘witchcraft does not make people tell lies’. (p. 26) Also if a taboo has been broken then witchcraft is not seen as a cause for failure or illness. For example, if a man who is a known adulterer has contracted leprosy then it is said that adultery is the cause for leprosy and not witchcraft.

Without knowing the traditions and culture of the Azande, it is easy to mistake their understanding of witchcraft to simply be putting the blame on it for death or misfortune when in fact it is used as a way of connecting the dots between the actual cause of the incident and the person/people involved. ‘His perception of events is as clear as our own’ but they use the concept of bewitching as a way of explaining what Western thinkers might just put down to coincidence.


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