Studies in Witchcraft, Magic, War, and Peace in Africa: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

By Jézéquel, Jean-Hervé | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Studies in Witchcraft, Magic, War, and Peace in Africa: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries


Jézéquel, Jean-Hervé, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Studies in Witchcraft, Magic, War, and Peace in Africa: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Edited by Beatrice Nicolini. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006. Pp. xix, 383. $129.95 / £79.95.

Beatrice Nicolini, assistant professor of History and Institutions of Africa at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Milan, Italy), has edited an interdisciplinary volume dealing with the complex connections among magic, witchcraft, war, and peace in Africa since the nineteenth century. The book brings together scholars from the fields of history, anthropology, philosophy, and literature, and includes the work of both experienced researchers and young academics.

In the last two decades, studies of witchcraft and violence have mushroomed and scholars have taken many directions1. Thus, the premise of this volume-inviting scholars to think through this growing set of literature by analyzing connections between supernatural forces and violence-appears to be a stimulating one. The most interesting papers are those that re-historicize magical practices and stress both the complexity and the contingency of power relations associated with the manipulation of supernatural forces. Alan Kirkaldy offers a rich study of witch-hunting in Vendaland and convincingly connects it to local systems of justice. Jesse Benjamin analyzes magic as a subaltern tactic against discourses of domination-in this case development discourses-in postcolonial Kenya. Some papers convincingly show that witchcraft is not entrapped in traditions and is a mutable resource for social groups as well as a product of modernity. For instance, Meshack Owino offers a suggestive contribution that deals with the reconfiguration of burial practices among Askaris (African soldiers) in Kenya. In "Where to be an Ancestor?" Stephen C. Lubkemann subtlety analyzes negotiations and power relations around the displacement of spirits in relation to refugee movements in Mozambique.

Terence Ranger's solid contribution elaborates on historiographical debates to establish a convincing distinction between witchcraft and religion. This allows him to revise the overestimated presence of witchcraft in the rebel movement and to unveil the religious dimensions of liberation movements in Zimbabwe.

Another theme that runs through many papers is the substantial effort to develop a coherent critique of colonial discourses on witchcraft (Ranger, Kirkaldy) and find alternatives to the colonial library (Accoroni). While not totally new, these efforts remain interesting inasmuch as they refer to specific historical contexts.

In general, however, the quality of individual contributions and the overall project suffers from poor editing. Because of the number of contributions-twenty-one essays ranging widely across disciplines-the lack of a proper introduction presents a real problem. The reader is left to discover the essays without much background on the rich and often controversial historiographies of war and peace, witchcraft and magic. …

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