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Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the…

Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (1937)

by E. E. Evans-Pritchard

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Wonderfully written and useful, classic. A reaction against the "pre-logical" theory of Levy-Bruhl. Azande beliefs fairly coherent. E-P could live within this system. Cross-cultural thinking about rationality. Somewhat outdated. ( )
  clifforddham | Feb 3, 2014 |
Evans-Pritchard is well known in the anthropological world as one of the most coherent theoretical writers of all time. His style of fieldwork, largely influenced by Malinowski, is so detailed and precise yet also incredibly interesting to read. His descriptions of oracular addresses and witches are all described as an Azande would describe them: Evans-Pritchard not only records observations, but takes on the persona of the people he is observing. Yet, he still understands the nuances and problems with "becoming" part of the ethnographic study.

In the appendices of this book he talks solely about the art of ethnographic fieldwork. He states, "I found it useful if I wanted to understand how and why Africans are doing certain things to do them myself...But clearly one has to recognize that there is a certain pretence in such attempts at participation, and people do not always appreciate them. One enters into another culture and withdraws from it at the same time...One becomes, at least temporarily, a sort of double marginal man, alienated from both worlds.(emphasis added)"

It is this theoretical concept which makes Evans-Pritchard one of the greatest anthropologists to grace the field. For his time he was relatively objective, yet saw the problem with objectivity (something modern anthropologists are still grappling with: is attempted objectivity at all productive since bias is always manifest?). He grappled with important theoretical questions, all-the-while having a crazy experiences in the field: For example, not only did he participate as a fighter in African tribal wars, he also lost all of his ethnographic fieldwork TWICE! The first time, he actually burnt it himself during WWII, afraid that Italians would find it and use it for their own purposes. Afterwards, he rewrote all his notes from memory, and had them returned home on a ship--but the ship sank! I suggest reading more about him: he was an incredibly complex man with a razor sharp mind. ( )
  SweetbriarPoet | Jan 15, 2012 |
This book is a classic ethnography within anthropology. It continues to be cited in various recent works not only on Africa, but also Amazonia and England.

Its strengths are the absolute thoroughness with which Evans-Pritchard approached this topic. He discusses the Azande beliefs about witchcraft, how these ideas influence their everyday life, witchdoctors and how to become one, and many other topics. Although at times his Western bias shows through, the author is generally careful to relay the information without too much of an ethnocentric point of view.

However, two main points are missing from this text. The first is an equally complete discussion of the role of women in ritual and magic, and also the effects of colonialism upon the Azande. That is not to say that he never mentions women or the British government, but his information is much poorer than on other issues. The introduction by Eva Gillies corrects some of these problems. She gives a brief, but useful history of the Azande and also describes some of the post-colonial changes. To be fair, Evans-Pritchard does mention some changes in Azande culture in his chapter on secret societies.

Although the book is rather divorced from any historical or politcal context which might make the reader feel lost, it is a must read for any anthropologist, or individual interested in witchcraft and sorcery of a specific group of people. ( )
1 vote brlb21 | Oct 31, 2007 |
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