The Notion of Witchcraft Explains Unfortunate Events

E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s account on the Azande concept of witchcraft was fascinating to read from a Western perspective, especially as for the Azande people, witchcraft plays its part in everyday life. Indeed, as Evans-Pritchard notes ‘he would be just as surprised if he were not brought into daily contact with it’ (p.19).

The Zande perceive witchcraft not as the sole reason for certain phenomena, but as being part of a chain of events of causation for an event or incident to occur. For example, a boy who stubbed his foot on a tree root causing a wound that got infected declared that witchcraft had ‘made him knock his foot against the stump’ (p.20) blaming witchcraft for bewitching him so that he did not see the root. The boy did not blame witchcraft for the position of the root, but as an explanation as to why he missed seeing the root and why the cut became infected.

Evans-Pritchard also offers the example of people sitting under an old granary which collapses. Witchcraft is seen as the explanation for coincidences in Azande culture, for why else would the granary collapse precisely when there were people sitting underneath it? It is difficult to understand from a Western perspective, as we would see it as merely a coincidence in time and space that it happened to collapse at that moment.

The doctrine of witchcraft however is not used to explain every misfortune, indeed the Zande recognise the plurality of causes, and that the social situation plays a role particularly if it is a matter of common sense. The doctrine states if you tell a lie, or commit adultery you cannot use the excuse of being bewitched to avoid punishment and witchcraft cannot also be offered as an excuse if taboo is involved as a reason for an event happening. Therefore, as Evans-Pritchard concludes ‘witchcraft has its own logic, its own rules of thought’ (p.30).

Throughout this chapter I could draw parallels between the Azande belief in witchcraft and similar notions in Western society such as karma, or belief in a God/Gods to explain certain events. It was extremely thought-provoking and it is fascinating to think of everyday occurrences and try to apply the Azande concept of witchcraft as an explanation to it, as it just seems so bizarre!


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