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History of Anthropological Thought - Essay Example

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History of Anthropological Thought

The word 'mangu' means 'witchcraft' and to some extent witchcraft and sorcery are alike. Both have general purposes, but their practices are different. Witchcraft was said to be a 'psychic power which often inherited, it can be activated if the owner became angry or jealous, and this power are normally unconscious as well as limited to those with the substance in their body. Sorcery is skill, which can be learnt by anyone and can be passed on through study. This skill also knows as "black magic" which can be defines as evil use of medicines' (Evans-Pritchard, 1937, p.42). Both are used for destructive private ends against the lives and possessions of law-abiding people.
The centre of this book is the three oracles of the Azande in the Sudan. These being in order of decreasing significance: the poison oracle, the termite oracle, and the rubbing board oracle. Amongst the Azande, witchcraft is viewed as a main hazard. They are sure that witchcraft can be inherited and that a person can be a mage, making others harm, without understanding her or his impact.
Anthropologists have had long disagreement concerning the nature and importance of beliefs in witchcraft and magic and, in particular, concerning rationality of the witchcraft beliefs. Evans-Prichard underlines that they are rational since they are very utilitarian, they are the mighty mechanism of social top og hierarchy. Evans-Pritchard provides a sociological model of such beliefs, he proves that they are what the chief needs to maintain submission and keep people in constant fear. That is the importance of such beliefs for the whole community; without them the structure if community itself will be destroyed, and community would parish to the extent of values and culture. In addition, beliefs are important since they explain to them many things and give the image of person who is 'omnipotent' and who can help in any trouble as well as make a great harm.
Michael Taussig in his 'Devil and the commodity fetishism' offers an expanded ethnographic research of commodity fetishism that demonstrates how the values of market economy reform local modes of life. Taussig discovers the social sense of the devil used as a symbol in the rustic communities of Columbia and Bolivia. He displays how this representation, contrasted against the embodiment of the saint, is connected to commodity fetishism. Evans-Prichard, however, states that witchcraft is evil from the beginning up to the end and shows the impact of this statement on Zande people's consciousness and outlook. Taussig's study contains more economical sense, since he uses personification (devil an embodiment of capitalism), while Evans-Prichard examines social and cultural meaning of primitive beliefs. According to Evans-Pritchard, witchcraft has first of all social meaning since it serves for satisfaction specific demands. Those who are gifted in witchcraft are considered powerful but dangerous, so they are always treated suspiciously.
Commodity fetishism symbolizes the historical situation of the people who integrate it as a cultural practice: in the conditions of the Columbian and Bolivian communities that Taussig highlights, it ...Show more


Ideas of the supernatural and witchcraft are both reasonable and have a social meaning in the context of community in which they take place. Comprehending the social meaning in the social context of magic and witchcraft is based on understanding the meaning of the supernatural and witchcraft…
Author : martine22
History of Anthropological Thought essay example
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