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Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the Azande,

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 558 pages
  • Publisher: The Clarendon press (1950)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007K250Q
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Format: Paperback
I first came across this book over thirty years ago when I studied social anthropology for the first time. At first I protested that witchcraft beliefs could have nothing to do with social science and I should not be required to apply my rational intellect to such mumbo jumbo. But then I buckled down and soon began to learn how wrong I was.
Evans Pritchard was one of the pioneering anthropologists who set out to understand what others thought was familiar in 'advanced' societies by looking at life in unfamiliar, supposedly 'primitive' societies. He took himself off to live among tribal communities in the non-muslim south of colonial Sudan. One such community was the Azande, at the time ruled - under Anglo-Egyptian supervision - by King Lobengula. One method of investigation included training Azande 'informants' to tell him how their society worked. But his main apprapoch was 'participant observation.' He used his own eyes and ears and an acute brain to find out and interpret for himself.
One thing he observed was that whenever something unfortunate happened to an Azande he - or she - suspected witchcraft, and was not backward in accusing whomever was suspected of using it. It wasn't that the Azande denied common sense explanations and observations. if a gourd falls on my head its because it's ready to drop. But why did it fall on my head? That's witchcraft. What he also noticed was that - unsurprisingly - victims tended to accuse people they didn't like very much. He used witchcraft accusations as a way of mapping all the tensions in the community.
One doesn't get too many accusations of witch craft in British or American society these days - but local gossip or the media still 'demonise' individuals and groups in subtle and not so subtle ways.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchased this with an Anthropology book, hoping to find out more about Anthropology, but did not find this an easy read. Who are these authors trying to communicate with, I think themselves and like minded and qualified people. But what is the point in that?
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Format: Paperback
A good copy
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars 13 reviews
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A controversial classic! 13 Feb. 2001
By DocCaligari - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an abridged reprint of a book originally published in 1937.
This book by anthropologist Evans-Pritchard is best understood as a reaction against the work of the earlier anthropologist Levy-Bruhl. Levy-Bruhl had argued that "primitive" people have a "pre-logical" mentality, in that they are willing to accept worldviews that include contradictions. Evans-Pritchard disagrees, and uses the case study of the Azande, an African tribe, to make his point.
The Azande routinely appealled to "witchcraft" in their daily lives. (I cannot say how accurate Evans-Pritchard's account was of the Azande during his stay, or how much they have changed since the 30's.) For example, the Azande would explain at least some bad events as the result of witchcraft being practiced against them, and would use a "poison oracle" to determine who the witch was. ("Azande" is the noun, "Zande" is the adjective, like "Britons" vs. "British.") At first glance, this all seems irrational. However, Evans-Pritchard sets out the Azande beliefs in a way that shows that they form a fairly coherent system. He also notes that it was possible for him to live according to these beliefs during his stay with the Azande.
This book (and some of Evans-Pritchard's essays) have stimulated an immense amount of secondary literature. Peter Winch (see his articles in Bryan R. Wilson, ed., _Rationality_) argues that Evans-Pritchard did not go far enough, because Evans-Pritchard claims that the Zande beliefs (while not "pre-logical"), are nontheless unscientific, and mistaken. Winch argues that the test of whether something (e.g., electrons or witchraft) is real depends on the language and culture within which the judgment is being made. Consequently, it is simply a sort of category mistake to desribe the Zande beliefs as unscientific, since "science" is our standard of rationality, not their standard.
Charles Taylor (in an essay in the volume of his collected papers on "rationality and the human sciences") argues against Winch that, since the Azande beliefs have empirical consequences (e.g., there should be "witchcraft-substance" in the intestines of actual witches), it must be possible to test the Zande claims. Consequently, the Zande beliefs can fail (or conceivably pass) scientific verification.
If you are interested in contemporary anthropological studies of Africa, you should look for a more recent book. However, this is an interesting gateway to some challenging debates over how to think about rationality cross-culturally.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great anthropological work 8 Sept. 2003
By Empyreal - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am in an anthropology class that studies magic, witchcraft,and healing among other cultures. This book was assigned for the class.
Evans-Pritchard explains everything in great detail, and although the book is over 70 years old, he makes the culture seem alive to the reader. E-P doesn't write as though the Azande witchcraft beliefs are inferior to our own, and he admits that while he lived among them, he accepted their beliefs. He explains, at length, that their beliefs are just as logical as our own, they just stem from different premises.
The writing itself is very clear and concise, and I have had no problems reading 120 pages of it over the weekend. It's genuinely interesting and reads almost like a novel. The main ideas are easy to catch and highlight, so it is an easy book to study. E-P doesn't bog the reader down in details but adequately explains everything of the Azande's beliefs. His analysis of the beliefs are objective and easy to follow, yet not condescending.
Overall, a very interesting book that I would recommend to anybody who is interested in anthropology in general or religious beliefs of other cultures in particular.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine work of Anthropology 28 Sept. 2002
By Blah - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Evans Pritchard is one of the foremost anthropologist in the twentieth century as well as being one of the first to do serious work in Africa. In this book his main focus is the three oracles of the Azande in the Sudan. These being in order of decreasing importance: the poison oracle, the termite oracle, and the rubbing board oracle. He spent extended time researching and was directly feed information from an informant who being taught the secrets of witchdoctors. On the negative side it does have a somewhat condescending tone to African Culture as well as to Africans in general. However, this takes away little from the whole product. the Abridged version is almost as good as the unabridged and is well worth the read.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars African Witchcraft 1 Jun. 2003
By Zekeriyah - Published on
Format: Paperback
Although somewhat dated (being written around the turn of the century), this book is an excellent cultural survey of Zande magico-religious beliefs. The author spent time amongst the Azande of the Sudan and was one of the first westerners to study about the belief in witchcraft and sorcery. I would like to point out that in the terms of this book, witch is used to define malicious (or at least selfish) sorcerers. No offense to Wiccans or other New Agers, but traditional African religion does regard witchcraft as something that is evil, or at least negative. Aside from the material about witches, there is also a wealth of information about oracles and how the Azande detect the witches within their societ. This is a study of the religious beliefs of the Azande, and I strongly recommend that anyone with an interest in African cultural or religion to take a look at this book. Please do note that it is somewhat dated, and contains somewhat paternalistic views towards African society. And furthermore, Zande culture (which is alive and well in the Sudan) has changed somewhat over the years. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend this book
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good starting place for those looking to learn about the field of anthropology 17 Jan. 2014
By Dakota Chacon - Published on
Format: Paperback
E. E. Evans-Pritchard is regarded as one of the "founding fathers" of anthropology. Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande is the result of his first fieldwork experience. Western cultures tend to consider other cultures inferior or primitive in comparison to their own and this unfortunately shows in Evans-Pritchard's writing. There are many points in the book where one must seriously consider the possibility that Evans-Pritchard had misunderstood a part of Azande culture due to the tint of his own cultural lens and misreported it as a result of misunderstanding. Evans-Pritchard discusses many parts of Azande culture as if they are something primitive and inferior. An example of this is a discussion between Evans-Pritchard and a friend of his among the Azande who believed that he had been the victim of a jealous neighbor's witchcraft. The man was a woodcarver of note in the area who's wood had suddenly split during carving. In the man's belief, the sudden split was due to witchcraft. Evans-Pritchard's treatment of the subject had an air of annoyance with the man's inability to consider other possible causes of the split that would have made more sense to a European mind.
Despite what might be seen as an occasional and mild sense of cultural superiority over the Azande on part of Evans-Pritchard, the book is well worth the read. As previously stated, Evans-Pritchard is one of the first prominent figures in anthropology and Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande is considered a classical anthropological text. Aside from the importance of the piece as a record of the evolution and form of such cultural studies, there is quite a bit to learn from the text. Regardless of how the tone that the text may occasionally take one can obviously still learn quite a bit about the Azande, their fears, how they handle social problems, how the social structure of the Azande works, and the effect on Azande culture that the British had. It is quite clear from the text that witchcraft has an effect on how people among the Azande interact with each other. For example, a witch must pay for his or her witchcraft if it has led to the death of another. Payment may mean some sort of compensation or it may mean the death of the witch. Evans-Pritchard acknowledges that British rule had an effect on the form of payment, compensation became the only payment for witchcraft, and that the relatives of the witch were not obligated to assist in the payment of such compensations at the time that he conducted his field work. It is explained after this statement that a witch's family had, in the past, aided in paying compensations as a duty to their relative (ch. 1, section III).
E. E. Evans-Pritchard's Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande is a classical piece of anthropological literature and would be an essential read for those interested in anthropology. It provides a good snapshot of the field around the time of its formal birth, is an excellent starting place for those who are interested in assessing the evolution of written cultural studies, and can be used in comparison with modern texts to assess how globalization has affected the way that a person's cultural lens colors their view of other peoples.
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