Power and Social Struggles through Magic/Witchcraft

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Kapferer (2002) and Ciekawy (1998) considered the performance of magic in relation to social and political conditions and struggles. This essay answers the research question: What does magic or witchcraft allow people to do and say about their changing politico-economic relations? It explores the question from the side of witches/magicians/sorcerers and those who aim to control or eradicate them, using Ciekawy’s notion of five technologies of power. Magic and witchcraft have been a way of expressing, possessing and maintaining power in colonial and postcolonial times Before this essay proceeds to supporting its main argument, it will define first what magic and witchcraft mean. Magic and witchcraft have numerous, sometimes conflicting, definitions, depending on the epistemological and ontological views of the scholars and the people being interviewed. Since the seminal work of Evans-Pritchard’s Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (1937), modern anthropology has continued to explore the ontological, epistemological and methodological issues of examining and describing witchcraft and sorcery (Shanafelt, 2004). Evans-Pritchard argued that Azande magic and witchcraft are different from the European definition of witchcraft. Ciekawy (1998) defined witchcraft in relation to producing harmful magic (122), although good witches or healers are included, who are called aganga (123). As in other cultures, the good healers/witches/sorcerers counter and fight off the curses/magic of the bad. Shanafelt (2004) provided a broader definition that combined magic and miracle into the term marvel, where it means that it can specify any event or effect of extraordinary wonder, thought to be tangibly real, that is claimed to be the result of ultranatural force (336). This essay embraces a holistic understanding of magic and witchcraft as events or effects that practitioners and believers believe to be real and to come from supernatural forces. People use witchcraft to influence state formation. In Witchcraft in Statecraft: Five Technologies of Power in Colonial and Postcolonial Coastal Kenya, Ciekawy (1998) examined the relationship between witchcraft and statecraft in coastal Kenya from the end of the 1950s to the beginning of the 1990s.2 She learned that speakers of the language of Kimijikenda employed the Kimijikenda word utsai when talking about magic. The chiefs and officials of Mijikenda, Mijekenda people who speak English well, and many who see themselves as Christians refer to utsai as witchcraft instead (Ciekawy, 1998: 120). Ciekawy (1998) proposed that there are five basic practices, which she labelled as witchcraft technologies of power (120). She believed that they are applicable to state formation processes in other colonial and postcolonial African societies, and that they can be used to describe and analyse the processes of forming new kinds of magic and the occult. The technologies of power are: 1) the implementation of state legal instruments that define rituals as witchcraft and to prosecute witches, 2) the policing of witchcraft rituals, 3) colonial, European, and Christian discourse produce ideas and actions of mystical harm, which combines with magic/witchcraft discourses, 4) the making of communal moral discourses among the people about the