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The Modernity of Witchcraft Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa (Sorcellerie Et Politique En Afrique-LA Viande Des Autres)

by Peter Geschiere

  • ISBN: 9780813917023
  • ISBN10: 0813917026

The Modernity of Witchcraft Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa (Sorcellerie Et Politique En Afrique-LA Viande Des Autres)

by Peter Geschiere

  • List Price: $65.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Univ of Virginia Pr
  • Publish date: 06/01/1997
  • ISBN: 9780813917023
  • ISBN10: 0813917026
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Description: To many Westerners, the disappearance of African traditions of witchcraft might seem inevitable with continued modernization. In The Modernity, of Witchcraft, Peter Geschiere uses his own experiences among the Maka and in other parts of eastern and southern Cameroon, as well as other anthropological research, to argue that contemporary ideas and practices of witchcraft are more a response to modern exigencies than a lingering cultural custom. The prevalence of witchcraft, especially in African politics and entrepreneurship, demonstrates the unlikely balance it has achieved with the forces of modernity. Geschiere explores why modern techniques and commodities, usually of Western provenance, have become central in rumors of the occult.

Witchcraft is viewed as both a leveling and an oppressive force: a weapon of the weak to attack the powerful but also a tool of the powerful to maintain their position. Modern witchdoctors play a pivotal role not only in local cultures but also in stories of success and failure of state politicians, businessmen, and local football teams. Since the early 1980s they have been used as expert witnesses in state trials, helping to condemn defendants by their supposed expertise, rather than by hard evidence. The belief in witchcraft pervades all political levels: President Soglo of Benin, one of the few democratically elected on the continent, nearly missed his own inauguration because of an alleged witchcraft attack. Geschiere suggests that the African state is a true breeding ground for modern transformations of witchcraft because the ambiguity of this discourse can contain both the obsession of power and the increasing feelings of powerlessness among thepeople in the face of modern developments. There are unexpected parallels here with certain aspects of politics in Western democracies.

The ease with which witchcraft has incorporated the money economy, new power relations, and modern consumer goods is a striking example of its resilience in the face of Western influences. Geschiere uses the evolving relationship of witchcraft and modernity to demonstrate that democracy in Africa can succeed only if it is related to local cultures and their discourse on power.

This study is one that anthropologists, political scientists, and others concerned with contemporary Africa cannot afford to ignore.

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