Thursday, April 28, 2011

Modern Day Witch-Hunts: Azande pt. 3

“To the Azande the question of guilt does not present itself as it would to us.” This is a notion that is brought up when talking about whether the witches confess to their crimes or not. There is a question then of morality among the Azande and whether they really understand what is right and wrong. To explain this lack of morality they ultimately blame witchcraft. These notions of a moral compass being off track are side effects of witchcraft. So for example if a man commits adultery he is said to be a witch (Evans-Pritchard 56).

So are these witches dealt with? Well that is a very complicated question in which Evans-Pritchard spends a good third of the book trying to explain. See to first find out who the witch was, the victim has to go to a “poison oracle” who then goes through different rituals (yep all involving poison) to find the witch and bring them to justice. Now there are charts and examples out the wazoo of different types of rituals and the aftermath of the rituals (Evans-Pritchard 57). Once again if you want to get the full story read the ethnography (which I can’t stress enough is incredibly fascinating) but what it comes down to is this. Witchcraft is blamed for everything in the society but the witches aren’t burnt at the stake like we see in Europe and other parts of the world. This whole cycle of retribution through these oracles is a normal part of the Azande society. Think of it as our system of law, well sort of.

Out of all the different views of witches and witchcraft there are some among the Azande that are just plain, well weird for lack of another word. First I have to mention that the Azande believed that many animals were actually witches or dead witches inhabiting animals. The Azande then feared many of the wild animals but none more than the wild cat that they called adandara. The Azande describe the adandara: “It is witchcraft; they are the same as witchcraft” (Evans-Pritchard 237).

It is believed that the male of the adandara have sexual relations with women of the villages. The women then give birth to kittens and breast feeds them like human children (oh don’t worry it gets weirder). These cats are supposed to be avoided at all times and it is believed that even hearing their cries in the brush are fatal. To drive off the adandara, one has to get a magical whistle from an oracle. One blow of the whistle will scare away the adandara (Evans-Pritchard 237).

In addition to the cats being evil and associated with witchcraft, so is Lesbianism. In fact sexual relations between two women is given the same name as the wild cats: adandara. “They say ‘it is the same as cat.’ This comparison is based upon the like inauspiciousness of both phenomena and on the fact that both are female actions which may cause the death of any man who witnesses them.” Because Lesbianism is considered evil, the women who were caught engaging in it were punished. Now, one would think that they would be punished similar to the witches, with the oracles involved. It is interesting though that many of the women who were engaging in homosexual activity were executed, for it was considered the highest evil among witchcraft (Evans-Pritchard 238).

I mentioned in the previous post that women and men were equally responsible for witchcraft, but that didn’t mean that men and women were treated equally. As we can see just from the accounts of Lesbianism, women were more likely to be punished than men. In fact the women in the society could be punished for many different things most of with were blamed on witchcraft (like everything else in the society). Then any “unusual” function of the woman genitalia in general was considered to be unlucky and evil which goes back to giving birth to cats and homosexual tendencies. In fact even menstruation was considered to be an agent of witchcraft (Evans-Pritchard 239).

Okay and then we get even weirder. If a man is the possessor of bad teeth he is called an irakörinde and is thought to be extremely bad luck. Also if when he was born the man grew his top teeth before his bottom teeth he was also considered an irakörinde. The irakörinde were then kept away from new crops and anything that was being built since they caused things to break or crops to die. The problem is then how can the villagers tell who has bad teeth? Well that is hard to tell, so once again they relied on the oracles to provide them with magical charms and guidance against them (Evans-Pritchard 240).

Hopefully you have learned a lot from this study on the Azande and their bizarre notions of evil and witchcraft. What you should take away from this is that this is all going on now, this is not an account from thousands of years ago; it is the 20th century. That is what the 30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts has strived to do, expose the atrocities that are plaguing our world. Just because these 30 days are now up does not mean that we stop spreading the word. We have to continue to open people’s eyes up to this because (once again sounding like a broken record) most people don’t know and don’t want to know that this is something that is still alive and well today. I hope that you pass the information that you learn in my blog, as well as other participants in this movement, along and that you take something away from it all.


E.E. Evans-Pritchard. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. Oxford University Press, 1976.


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