Crime and Custom in Savage Society

By Bronislaw D.Malinowski | Go to book overview

II
SORCERY AND SUICIDE AS LEGAL INFLUENCES

IN the preceding section I have described a case of breach of tribal law and discussed the nature of criminal tendencies as well as of the forces which set about to restore order and tribal equilibrium as soon as it has been upset.

We touched in our account upon two incident -- the use of sorcery as means of coercion and the practice of suicide as expiation and challenge. A more detailed discussion must now be devoted to these two subjects. Sorcery is practised in the Trobriands by a limited number of specialists -- as a rule men of outstanding intelligence and personality, who acquire the art by learning a number of spells and submitting to certain conditions. They exercise their power on their own behalf, and also professionally for a fee. Since the belief in sorcery is deeply rooted and every serious sickness and death is attributed to black magic, the sorcerer is held in great awe, and, at first sight, his position lends itself inevitably to abuse and blackmail. It has been in fact frequently affirmed that sorcery is the main criminal agency, as regards Melanesia and

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