Witchcraft among the Azande
Directed by André Singer
Sir Edward Evans-Pritchard’s Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande—based on fieldwork conducted in Sudan in the 1920s and 1930s—is one of the classic texts of social anthropology. Fifty years later anthropologist John Ryle and film-maker André Singer—among the last of Evans-Pritchard’s students—revisited Zandeland, in Western Equatoria province of Southern Sudan, for Granada Television’s Disappearing World series. They recorded the continuities in Zande culture and the changes since Evans-Pritchard’s time. Among the Azande, misfortune has a human cause—there is no such thing as bad luck—and witchcraft is considered to be a constant threat. A person can be a witch—and cause others harm—without being aware of it. Effective means of diagnosing witchcraft are therefore vital to the moral order. One method is through the use of oracles. Several kinds of oracles are explored in the film: the rubbing oracle, the termite oracle and the poison oracle. The poison oracle, which involves administering benge poison to baby chickens, is also used to judge the veracity of evidence in chiefs’ courts.
The film explores the internal logic of Zande thinking through incidents in the lives of individual Azande. Hunters fail to catch wild pigs; they consult an oracle to find out why they failed. A man’s first wife is sick, so the man, Banda, consults an oracle to see if she will live. It confirms she is not in immediate danger, but he suspects his second wife of witchcraft. She says she bears no malice towards her co-wife and believes she is not the cause of illness, but after an oracle confirms that she is responsible she agrees to a propitiatory ritual. Adultery is one of the most frequent charges brought in a Zande chief’s court. A man, Gingiti, brings a case against his wife, Gume, and his friend, Bukoyo in the court of the traditionalist Chief Soro. Chief Soro consults the benge oracle, which confirms the charge of adultery. In the past, he says, the Zande king Gbudwe used the benge poison on humans instead of chickend
The film also examines the influence of Christianity, the role of government and related changes in the social order. A young man, Joseph and his girlfriend, Atonita, undergo a purification ritual after the birth of her first child. Older people interviewed in the film see their children abandoning traditional moral values. After church on Sunday, a Zande Catholic priest discusses the coexistence of Christianity and Zande traditional beliefs. He says he one of few Azande who does not turn to witchcraft in times of trouble. Witchcraft Among The Azande provides a glimpse of Zande society in the late twentieth century, before the civil war that brought independence to South Sudan and .further social change to South Sudanese communities.