Witchcraft and Life in the New South Africa: Reflective Essay

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When one thinks of witchcraft terms like magic, sorcery, familiars, old ladies on brooms with long pointy noses, or rather everything associated with evil doings crosses the mind but is a comprehensive concept. Witchcraft differs in various cultures and shapes society in a way. Thus, if one is to study witchcraft, they would have to familiarize themselves with the background of that certain group of individuals. Evans Pritchard is also one of the recognized anthropologists to conduct an ethnography on witchcraft. He studied witchcraft among the Azande, thus the Azande people define witchcraft as a gift that everyone has, yet to perform magic is something that has to be learned and it can be used to do harm, also the Azande use witchcraft as a way of punishing those that have committed witchcraft upon others (Pritchard,1965). Witchcraft may seem unreal when trying to put reason into it, yet it is a dilemma in places such as South Africa, peoples belief in witchcraft occurs thus is a major issue that forms almost the entire population in South Africa. Witchcraft has been studied by a number of intellectuals and they have broken it down to the context of psychology, politics, economics, and historical setting. Therefore in this essay, I shall be attaining to provide an analysis of the ethnography done by Isak Niehaus

In 1990 Isak Niehaus conducted research in a place called Impalahock, during the end of the apartheid era. People were faced with a lot of the trauma caused by the apartheid, now that the worst was over measures of rebuilding were in motion and everyone was adjusting to what was to become the new South Africa. Niehaus on this ethnography follows the life of Jimmy Mohale who had developed a belief that his own father was bewitching him and that caused him bad luck in his life. Niehaus had developed a relationship with Jimmy as he was his assistant. Jimmy would visit Niehaus in his home, and he seemed fond of his mother. Until Jimmy stopped being in contact with Niehaus, he later learned that this was due to Jimmy’s illness and found out Jimmy was blaming Lockman Mohale (Jimmy’s father) for bewitching him. Furthermore, Niehaus speculated that Jimmy had AIDS, yet he could not draw any conclusion that his peculation was true because he refused to go see a doctor. Thus, the core matter in the book is Jimmy’s story and how this moulded the understanding of witchcraft.

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The author divides the book in chapters. Chapter two to chapter three he begins with Jimmy’s upbringing, his family, and also when he first circumcised. When he was first introduced to fatherhood. Jimmy’s life did not seem to go as he had planned in his head, he was a teacher for sixteen years, yet he failed to achieve great lengths because of political struggles. Thus, he started developing theories that perhaps it was someone else’s doing agitating his life on downhill. Chapters four, five, and six explore Jimmy’s relationship with his father whom he at first argued in his defense that he was not a witch but later he seems to have taken a sharp turn, In chapter seven he and his brothers even orchestrated for their father to be killed. Chapter eight talks about the AIDS pandemic which had seemed to have spread along the area which Jimmy was living in. Most deaths he believed were due to witchcraft he believed. He then sought for help from prophets and diviners and never agreed to consult a medical perspectives until he passed on in 2005. The final chapter then discusses his funeral, how people never mentioned anything about circumstances that lead to his death, never was it mentioned thither faced any type of struggles, yet people had seemed to be faking.

The writer’s ethnography is a monograph, it is so because it focuses on Jimmy Mohale therefore it provides a detailed description of the character and the main subject being witchcraft. Niehaus uses arguments that are made by Ashforth and Comarof and Comarof to try to illustrate the origins of witchcraft as a way of people dealing with situations that come across as ambiguous and they cannot explain and thus turn to witchcraft to try make sense of them. Therefore, the writer tries to portray witchcraft as a metaphor as opposed to what people say is real. Yet why would one person be held accountable for bewitching others what characterizes one as a witch in a community? Well, Niehaus tries to answer such questions. Jealousy amongst family members and neighbors in most cases becomes the roots of where witchcraft begins. As cited by Niehaus individuals who cannot make social progress will say that wicked powers of envious and jealous people were to blame (Ashforth).

In 1986 couple of elders were killed in the movement which was executing people whom were speculated to be witches. These witches were also accused of turning kids into zombies. Doris whom was Jimmy’s aunt also lost her life in this catastrophe. There were boys who had reported that they saw a monkey that they were chasing away from a café run into Doris’s yard thus they depicted the monkey to be her familiar. Years later, the Maatsie family lost a child due to measles. The child was then buried on the backyard of their house. Doris was a neighbor to the family, few months after the Maatsie child was buried Doris’s cattle flocked upon the grave of the child which tumbledown the grave. People who saw described that Doris was sitting on the grave digging up the soil from the grave. Doris was later stoned to death. Jimmy was furious about this and disagreed that his aunt was a witch and did not have anything to do with the death of the Maatsie child. On the contrary the father of the child had polluted the chid because he was in heat due to having sex with his wife thus when he came to see his child when she was sick, this affected her, therefore, resulting in her death. This predicament was then drawn back to Lockman, Lockman was suspected to have sent a familiar to put a curse on Doris so that people could think that Doris was the Witch.

Adding Niehaus cites that Witcraft's allegation come from hostile fights among the family and hate that branches way deep(Ashworth).In this case from the earlier feud that Lockman and his brother once had, it had produced so much hate that he saw that Lockman would never wish him well, as a result, all the misfortune would be because he envies him thus makes him a Witch. Perhaps the neighbors had also learnt that Doris was family with such a man thus when the cattle incident occurred it was easy for them to just assume that Doris had bewitched their child.

Niehaus does not basically believe in the whole perspective of Witchcraft, this is evident when he numerously tries to convince Jimmy to go see a doctor because he could not see how witchcraft could have been responsible for such a series of events thus his research conflicted with his own beliefs. Niehaus tries to come up with reasons why certain incidents could have happened that people assume is the doing of witchcraft and what shapes witchcraft in black communities. He points out that witchcraft seems to be part of culture when it comes to black societies, not every anomalous event could be explained thus they are taken to such an extent to be labelled as boloi (witchcraft). He introduces us to diviners, he makes assumptions that these diviners strengthen the belief on witchcraft. Diviners or a diviner rather is defined as an individual who has the ability to see peoples anonymities by using divination items and they have connections with the dead also they can see beyond life itself (Neterian: 2017). Thus, when Jimmy was faced with this series of unfortunate events he consulted a diviner which occluded what he already knew, that his father was the one who was bewitching him.

Niehaus seems to strengthen that witchcraft was mostly prevalent in at the end of the apartheid era yet confounding information that I found argues. During the pre-colonial times whilst South Africa was occupied by the Khoi and the San people. They used myths, tales, and rituals as a form of communicating with the ancestor and sacrificed animals such as the giraffe which was kind of a sacred spiritual animal, these beliefs held the notion that magic existed. Their belief also carried that those who were departed were now their ancestors thus, they continued to protect them, and warn them from any spirit realm. Therefore, they would have to keep the relationship with the dead by performing rituals. As a result, anything hey would ask from these spirits would be granted (Wallace:2015).

Adding after the apartheid era witchcraft was more famous according to my understanding because the AIDS pandemic was still surfacing and black people were not educated around those times, only the fortunate could get an education. So, they could not understand this illness that was sweeping out the population, in order to take control or seek answers people like Jimmy put the blame on witchcraft, as witchcraft was already installed in their beliefs. Witch doctors were also benefiting from this because they would not tell them the truth, yet they would only strengthen their beliefs. After apartheid, the country was still dealing with repairing, and black people were now to sought for better living thus competition in the work market increased those who were unfortunate on finding jobs or those would fail to succeed would put the blame on witchcraft. But magic were long before installed as I have mentioned on the above paragraph.

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Witchcraft and Life in the New South Africa: Reflective Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/witchcraft-and-life-in-the-new-south-africa-reflective-essay/
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