Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition

Article excerpt

Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition Yvonne P. Chirau California University Press, 2003

The magico-religious customs of African slaves brought to the Americas from the earliest times was reported to center around fetishes. As Willem Bosnian, a Dutch colonial administrator in the African port of Elmina wrote of African practices in the late 1600s, "they cry out, let us make Feiche, by which they express as much, as let us perform our Religious Worship." The earlier Portuguese navigators who explored the West African coast invented the term "fetish," deriving it from the Portuguese verb "feilico," meaning "to fabricate"; and European missionaries to the West African Coast, from whence the slaves that were shipped to the Americas were derived, described the African serpent deity Whydah as a fetish. In the Americas, African magico-religious practices acquired ideas also from Christianity, and the result was hoodoo, voodoo or "Conjure," the latter term being based on the English term "to conjure" or work magic.

Author Yvonne Chirau, an associate professor of religion at Swarthmore University, has produced a scholarly and fascinating survey of early Afro-American spirituality, which was more magic than religion, in that it represented efforts to control the actions of other men and women, protect against evil spells, and at its highest represented attempts to control the spirit world. Black magic was frequently efficacious, since those who believed that they had become the object of harmful magic worked by others could not be cured of their illness by European medicines, yet often responded to magical intervention by Conjure practitioners working on their behalf. …

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