Term Paper: Evans-Pritchard Was the Founder

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[. . .] Among these were babies that cut they upper teeth before the lower ones and those that had problem with the gall bladder, as they were possessed of a foul demeanour and uneven temperament.

Evans-Pritchard best describes Azande perceptions of witchcraft:

They did not attempt to account for the existence of phenomena or even the action of phenomena, by mystical causation along. What they explained by witchcraft were the particular conditions in a chain of causation, which related an individual to natural happenings in such a way that he sustained injury. (67)

The author explains this illustrating how the Azande distinguished happenstance with coincidence. The stubbing (and consequent festering of the bruise) of the foot on a tree-stump while carelessly walking or the setting fire to the thatched roof of a hut while inspecting beer are not due to witchcraft. However, when these occurrences cause harm in a manner out of the ordinary is when they are attributed to witchcraft. Witchcraft is necessary to explain these harmful occurrences fully; it answered the questions "why" better than "how." Evans-Pritchard avers that the Azande do distinguish situations where carelessness, stupidity and inexperience cause harm. These situations are ignored as just those. Sometimes, a Zande would attribute his carelessness and stupidity to witchcraft; at these times, others would see through the charade and he or she would be laughed at.

In the case of death, however, the Azande always believed it to be result of witchcraft and never due to natural or causes that can be explained. Only in cases where a sorcerer used magic was death sought by the vengeful. Vengeance was generally achieved not by punishment, but by appeasement. A witch and his family were required to compensate by means of spears and other commodities, including servants and women. The finality of death was beyond their grasp and therefore the only recourse was witchcraft. "That the soul of the witchcraft goes by night and devours the soul of the victim." (82) The constant struggle between the tangible and ephemeral is evident here. The Azande's recourse is not one of pro-action but re-action. They do not establish tenets of witchcraft by which to live, but their behaviour in society is governed by witchcraft. Perhaps an instinctual component was part of Azande subconscious -- its mores were inherently flimsy and it was not worth taking a life in an "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" manner.

If every bad thing that ever happened were attributed to witchcraft, it is conceivable that the Azande would not have the time to engage in any other activity. Typically, witchcraft was so ingrained in Azande customs that mundane occurrences were merely attributed to witchcraft and ignored. It was only when serious illness or emotional and social upheavals occurred that a Zande sought to do something about it. They consulted oracles.

Oracles were perhaps the most important accessories in the life of a Zande if he or she were to conceive a life that approached normalcy -- a life that would allow him to do well by himself and his kin. An oracle was basically a medium that answered most of life's questions. It was based on probabilities more akin to the (1-0) binary digits that are the core of computer-logic. Oracles gave answers of "yes" or "no" to different questions. For a Zande, more often than not, questions were related to identifying witches that caused harm or in the aid of a decision of a venture -- a hunting expedition, building a home or marriage. Witch doctors were often consulted at seances, though oracles were considered to be more accurate and reliable. Surprisingly, apart from at a seance, witch doctors were not accorded any special place in society.

Different types of oracles were used. Each differed in type and mode of use. Azande also had opinions of the efficacy of each oracle. The poison oracle was considered to be the most effective. A strychnine-derivative benge was extracted from a vine. The paste was then fed to a chicken while it was asked a question. The answers depended on what question was asked and whether the chicken succumbed to the poison. The second question was always asked to validate the first. The second time, the results either confirmed the oracle or invalidated the previous results. The vagaries in the results depended on how much poison was extracted (based on primitive methods of extraction), how much poison the paste contained, how uniformly it was distributed throughout the paste and how much poison was actually administered to the chicken.

Occasionally, the poison was discarded as too potent (or too weak) to be useful as the oracle. Other times, the failure of this oracle was attributed to further witchcraft that had rendered the oracle ineffectual. One drawback of this oracle, besides being considered the best was its affordability. Few could afford the number of chickens it took to identify the witches, especially if there results were confusing or if there were more than one witches to be identified. Evans-Pritchard avers that most Azande almost looked forward to consulting the poison oracle. Such was the faith in the oracle as the first step towards a solution to the current affliction.

There were other oracles that were considered less effective. These had the advantage of affordability and portability. There of these were: dapka (termite oracle), mapingo (an arrangement of wood) and iwo (rubbing-board oracle).

Some Azande carried the iwo with them such that they would never be far from an instant consultation. The termite oracle consisted of the branches of two trees dapka and kpoyo. These were inserted into a termite mound -- as termites were considered oblivious to people's talk and thus could not be influenced. Even among termites, the akedo and angbatimongo types were considered to be reliable while the abio termites were often known to "lie." The oracle's decision depended on which of the two sticks the termites chose to eat.

The mapingo was an arrangement of three evenly cut similar sticks, two were placed parallel to each other and the third was placed on top. The answer to a question would be answered depending on whether the wooden arrangement held or fell apart. The mapingo was often used to make a determination if a site was the right one on which to build a homestead. The dapka and mapingo were disadvantageous if an instant decision was required. They involved a nights wait to determine which wood was eaten by the termites or if the wooden pieces scattered.

The rubbing board oracle consisted two parts: the female part was a flat table like structure standing on three legs -- the third leg was differently constructed and was called the tail; the male portion was a flat region that matched the female part and it had a handle. Berries and fruits were crushed with water between the two flat regions. The rubbing-board oracle's decisions depend on whether the two flat portions can be easily if rocked back and forth.

No action was taken without consulting the oracles. A special status was accorded to a witch. The victim or the kin had to proceed cautiously since they did not want to exacerbate the affliction by aggravating the witch -- who was believed to possess special powers. The less frequently used method was to raise a hue and cry by attracting the tribe and announcing the affliction and knowledge of who the witch was without divulging the name. The announcer would plead with the witch that this assembly was called to honour the witch and he would repay the courtesy by revoking the power of the witchcraft.

Direct confrontation was the alternatively: directly by the kin of the victim or by complaining to the prince. The prince, presented with the wing of the dead chicken (poison oracle), would appoint an emissary to present the wing to the witch. The emissary would cautiously and respectfully announce that the witch had been identified as afflicting the victim. Azande recognized that witchcraft could be transferred even when the witch was ignorant of it; therefore their accusations were couched in polite language. The witch when confronted with the wing, sought to assuage the emissary and the victim's kin that he or she was ignorant of the witchcraft, that it was unintentional. He demonstrated his benignity by swilling a mouthful of water and blowing it at the chicken wing. This was to show that the water had calmed the witchcraft (if any) that resided in his belly rendering it dormant. It behoved the accused not to show affront (though instances of these were recorded by the author) to prevent being ostracized and victimized by others.

Under more drastic conditions, the accused would recourse to a post mortem evisceration of his kin to prove innocence. If this final step still showed witchcraft, the "witch" was forced to pay compensation. Often, the victim's condition got… [END OF PREVIEW]

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