Kupilikula: Governance and the Invisible Realm in Mozambique / Edition 1

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Overview


On the Mueda plateau in northern Mozambique, sorcerers are said to feed on their victims, sometimes "making" lions or transforming into lions to literally devour their flesh. When the ruling FRELIMO party subscribed to socialism, it condemned sorcery beliefs and counter-sorcery practices as false consciousness, but since undertaking neoliberal reform, the party—still in power after three electoral cycles—has "tolerated tradition," leaving villagers to interpret and engage with events in the idiom of sorcery. Now, when the lions prowl plateau villages ,suspected sorcerers are often lynched.

In this historical ethnography of sorcery, Harry G. West draws on a decade of fieldwork and combines the perspectives of anthropology and political science to reveal how Muedans expect responsible authorities to monitor the invisible realm of sorcery and to overturn or, as Muedans call it, "kupilikula" sorcerers' destructive attacks by practicing a constructive form of counter-sorcery themselves. Kupilikula argues that, where neoliberal policies have fostered social division rather than security and prosperity, Muedans have, in fact, used sorcery discourse to assess and sometimes overturn reforms, advancing alternative visions of a world transformed.

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Editorial Reviews

Anthropological Quarterly
With verve and insight, West conveys the atmosphere of suspicion, doubt, and ambiguity prevailing on the Mueda plateau. He's a skilled fieldworker. . . . Students will find West's style engaging and the book extremely readable. Indeed, by acknowledging the role of his field assistant in nearly every interview, West does a great service to aspiring anthropologists: he subverts the myth of the lone ethnographer-cowboy.

— David McDermott Hughes

International Affairs
Kupilikula is written in part as a narrative of the author’s fieldwork and in part as a more general reflection on the material that the research generated. Brimming with dialogues, quotations and visual accounts of the author’s encounters with the locals, the book is a vivid portrayal of an isolated people struggling to make sense of the waves of political change (some of them violent) that have washed over them in the past century. The style is reader friendly and makes it easy to enter the world of the invisible, which emerges as though through special night-sight goggles as the book unfolds. It is an intriguing and arresting read. . . . Kupilikula is that rare book which manages both to make real the texture of ordinary life and to explain how the particular is relevant to the appreciation of the bigger picture.”

— Patrick Chabal

African Affairs
A fascinating analysis  of the intersection of sorcery and authority . . . in northern Mozambique. Based on years of research and dozens of interviews and conversations with residents of the plateau, [West] describes a variety of beliefs and practices with an eye to explaining local ideas about government and political power.

— Kathleen Sheldon

African History
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. West's is not a 'celebratory portrayal.' Rather, he insists that readers grapple with Muedans' ambivalence uncertainties and contradictions. In short, he renders his 'ordinary Muedans' believable—whether they are visible or invisible.

— Jeanne Marie Penvenne

International Journal of African Historical Studies

"[Kupilikula] qualifies as one of the most effective exercises in 'writing culture' that I have ever read. . . . An outstanding contribution to a group of recent and theoretically notable ethnographies set in Mozambique and an important addition to the growing body of work on 'sorcery and witchcraft' in Africa. It should also be priority reading for scholars of contemporary developemnt and governmentality in Africa, for African anthropologists and social historians, and indeed for historical anthropologists and ethnographers writ large."
Canadian Journal of History
A fascinating study of the enduring ideas on power relations in a distinctive part of northern Mozambique. The book is appropriatefor graduate students in social anthropology and/or African studies on the subjects of sorcery and witchcraft in Africa.

— Magnus P.S. Persson

H-Africa
West has done careful field research and has used carefully selected narrratives not to provide an ethnographic catalogue of ideas of sorcery, but rather to bring the reader into the logic of sorcery as it exists within a broader system of thought.

— Robert M. Baum

Anthropological Quarterly - David McDermott Hughes

"With verve and insight, West conveys the atmosphere of suspicion, doubt, and ambiguity prevailing on the Mueda plateau. He's a skilled fieldworker. . . . Students will find West's style engaging and the book extremely readable. Indeed, by acknowledging the role of his field assistant in nearly every interview, West does a great service to aspiring anthropologists: he subverts the myth of the lone ethnographer-cowboy."
International Affairs - Patrick Chabal

Kupilikula is written in part as a narrative of the author’s fieldwork and in part as a more general reflection on the material that the research generated. Brimming with dialogues, quotations and visual accounts of the author’s encounters with the locals, the book is a vivid portrayal of an isolated people struggling to make sense of the waves of political change (some of them violent) that have washed over them in the past century. The style is reader friendly and makes it easy to enter the world of the invisible, which emerges as though through special night-sight goggles as the book unfolds. It is an intriguing and arresting read. . . . Kupilikula is that rare book which manages both to make real the texture of ordinary life and to explain how the particular is relevant to the appreciation of the bigger picture.”
African Affairs - Kathleen Sheldon

"A fascinating analysis  of the intersection of sorcery and authority . . . in northern Mozambique. Based on years of research and dozens of interviews and conversations with residents of the plateau, [West] describes a variety of beliefs and practices with an eye to explaining local ideas about government and political power."
African History - Jeanne Marie Penvenne

"I thoroughly enjoyed this book. West's is not a 'celebratory portrayal.' Rather, he insists that readers grapple with Muedans' ambivalence uncertainties and contradictions. In short, he renders his 'ordinary Muedans' believable—whether they are visible or invisible."
Canadian Journal of History - Magnus P.S. Persson

"A fascinating study of the enduring ideas on power relations in a distinctive part of northern Mozambique. The book is appropriatefor graduate students in social anthropology and/or African studies on the subjects of sorcery and witchcraft in Africa."
H-Africa - Robert M. Baum

"West has done careful field research and has used carefully selected narrratives not to provide an ethnographic catalogue of ideas of sorcery, but rather to bring the reader into the logic of sorcery as it exists within a broader system of thought."
Paul Stoller

Kupilikula is one of the finest examinations of contemporary sorcery that I have read. The writing is clear and unencumbered. The ethnography is rich and nuanced. The analysis of the sorcery, power, and politics, is impressively subtle, but its unstated nature packs a solid theoretical punch. By the end of the book, the reader has a significantly more profound comprehension of the thorny thicket of contemporary African politics. This is major contribution to African studies, political anthropology, and the anthropology of religion.”--Paul Stoller, West Chester University and Temple University
Peter Geschiere

"Kupilikula offers a fascinating history of the resilience of uwavi (sorcery) among the Muedans of northern Mozambique. Harry West investigates how the 'language' of sorcery has survived particularly dramatic changes: the impact of harsh Portuguese colonialism; the FRELIMO regime with its categorical refusal of 'tradition' in the name of scientific socialism; and nowadays, a spectacular return of 'tradition' propagated by neo-liberal reformers with their belief in restoring 'civil society.' West shows how, time and again, uwavi language surpassed the ideologies of outsiders and allowed Muedans to follow their interpretation of the changes"
Erik A. Mueggler

“This is an entrancing and unsettling work. Through a series of artful, funny, cryptic, and disturbing conversations, Muedan sorcery emerges as an ambiguous anti-vision. It is a means to probe and question the workings of power and reality and a means to wage endless, daily wars in a world of war. West shows how Muedans, scraping by on the margins of colonial, socialist, and neoliberal societies, used talk about sorcery to occlude visions of power imposed upon them and to work on creating more habitable worlds. Ultimately, he follows them towards an excoriating critique of the most hopeful visions of neoliberal reformers in Mozambique. This is historical anthropology at its innovative best.”--Erik A. Mueggler, University of Michigan

 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226894058
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/5/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Harry G. West is lecturer in social anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is author of numerous articles and book chapters, and editor or coeditor of two previous volumes, including, Transparency and Conspiracy: Ethnographies of Suspicion in the New World Order.
 
 

 

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Read an Excerpt


Kupilikula
Governance and the Invisible Realm in Mozambique

By Harry G. West The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2005
The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-89404-1


Chapter One The Settlement of the Mueda Plateau and the Making of Makonde

"There are lots of bandits in the villages these days."

Maunda raised his head and looked beyond his compound toward the center of Mueda town, directing our thoughts to the marketplace, where idle young men passed their days.

"They would have been sold into slavery in the past," he concluded, with a hint of nostalgia.

Maunda Ng'upula was a valued historical source not only to us but also to Muedans. It was often said that he knew more than any other Muedan about precolonial times. Nearly every elder with whom we worked told us, at one point or another, that we should speak with Maunda. These men-many quite aged themselves-often asserted that, when they were boys, Maunda was already an old man. "He looked as old then as he does now," they often said, prompting me to consider the adage that the elderly had more time to learn sorcery's secrets; age apparently empowered Maunda and, in turn, his power manifested itself in prolonged life.

As we sat with Maunda on this cool, misty morning, I was struck by the fact that his words resonated with accounts of the earliest European travelers to the region. Until Henry E. O'Neill-then British consul to Mozambique- ascended the not-yet-named plateau south of the Rovuma River in 1882, the plateau's inhabitants appeared in the historical record only as the objects of rumor and speculation. Following their African guides, European travelers referred to these people as "Mavia," meaning "fierce" (Liebenow 1971: 30). The British geologist and explorer Joseph Thomson surveyed the Rovuma River region only a few months before O'Neill's journey and wrote of these "Mavia": "They are noted as the most exclusive tribe in East Africa, as even the Arabs have as yet been unable to penetrate beyond the outskirts of the country.... They are said to live apart from each other, not forming villages. There are few roads, and these hardly passable. They are described as being very treacherous, and difficult to deal with" (1882: 79).

O'Neill, however, succeeded where his predecessors had failed and traveled inland along the southern bank of the Rovuma some 60 miles and ascended the 3,000-foot-high plateau in the company of a headman named Lishehe who had heard of O'Neill's arrival in a lowland village at the plateau base and had come to see for himself this strange white-skinned visitor (see map 2, in chapter 9). O'Neill described Lishehe's settlement as follows: "A circular belt of about 60 or 80 feet in width was thickly planted with trees and thorny underbrush, every crevice in which appeared to be filled up so carefully that it became an utter impossibility for man, or beast of any size, to penetrate it. At two or three points a narrow path was left for entrance and exit, which is strongly guarded by double or treble gates.... During my stay at Lishehe every gate was carefully closed at sunset" (1883: 399).

The defenses O'Neill described were intended to protect Lishehe's settlement, which was in the midst of a turbulent region that for centuries had been beleaguered by raiding and slave trading (Alpers 1975). Indeed, O'Neill traveled the area in order to gather evidence of the continuing trade in slaves despite Portuguese assent to the trade's abolition in 1842. Whereas O'Neill's predecessors vilified the Mavia as a hostile tribe in a perilous region, O'Neill portrayed them as the quarry of predatory slave dealers, who gave them good reason to mistrust visitors. He further cast them as people who might benefit from-even embrace-British overrule in this unruly corner of southern Africa.

The picture of these times painted by living descendants of the plateau inhabitants who so fascinated O'Neill and his contemporaries suggests that raiding and slave trading shaped social life on the plateau in myriad ways. Unlike these European travelers, however, present-day Muedans, including Maunda, generally spoke of their forebears neither as treacherous villains nor as innocent victims but rather as complex historical subjects living and acting in a turbulent environment.

When we asked Maunda to tell us about the time before the arrival of the Portuguese, he said:

[In that time], there were many slaves [in the settlements on the plateau]. People would come wandering through the region, and they would come to the settlement of the nang'olo mwene kaja [settlement head] Maunda. There, people would give them food, but the hosts would mix ntela [a drug] into the ugwali [porridge] that they offered. After leaving the settlement, these wanderers would lose their sense of direction because of the drug. They could be captured then. If it was known where they were from, the settlement could demand a ransom for their return. The captors would play a drum to signal to the surrounding settlements that someone was captured and that if they wanted the captive back they would have to bring a musket or some cloth. If those captured were not ransomed, they could be adopted into the likola [matrilineage] of their captors, or they could be taken to the coast and traded. If the captors wanted to trade the captive at the coast, they might not even play the drums. They might just take [the captive] and sell [him or her].... Some of those sold at the coast were taken from within the settlement, but these people were normally tricked by family members. A man would pretend to be going to the coast, or to another settlement, to trade, and he would ask a nephew to go with him. Then, he would sell the boy there. This would happen if the settlement needed arms. They would choose a youth who wasn't worth much-one who behaved badly.

The acts Maunda described to us contrasted only in their subtlety with the more aggressive tactics that other elders told us were used to take captives on and around the plateau in this period. Herman Nkumi, an elder in the village of Nanenda, told us of the time of his mother's youth:

Even to go to the fields, women needed an armed escort. The young men would go out ahead of them, yelling all the while, "We see you!" even if they saw no one. They did this to scare away attackers. Then, all the women would work fields in the same area while the men guarded them. It was worse when the women went to the water sources at the base of the plateau. This was a favorite place for bands of raiders to take captives.

In any case, according to oral accounts in general, no settlement was impervious to the slave trade, whether as victims or as perpetrators. Indeed, in a dangerous environment, each settlement sought to defend itself from predation by augmenting its numbers through preying on (generally weaker) neighbors and absorbing captives into its ranks. The same elders often told me how their forebears both guarded the women of their own settlement when fetching water and, on other occasions, lay in wait at water sources to capture the women of other makola (matrilineages).

As a result of these practices, most settlements comprised persons of diverse origins, including, sometimes, people taken captive in the lowlands surrounding the plateau. Marcos told me that his Makonde matrilineage, Vamilange, was (and is) called Amiransi in the Makua-speaking region where they originated. After his "mother" was captured by the Makonde Vaivava matrilineage, she was "eaten" by them-that is, adopted as a Vaivava woman. Later generations questioned why her offspring descended from Vaivava on both sides only to find that they did not-that they were vana va mulidodo (leg children), meaning descendants of slaves (cf. Gengenbach 2000: 530). Marcos told me: "There are many, many makola on the plateau who are 'leg children.' Each one shares its history-its origin myths-with a matrilineage somewhere off the plateau, some among Makua, others among Yao, Angoni, or other groups."

While many contemporary plateau residents descended from peoples who were captured in the precolonial period by plateau dwellers, others descended from peoples who took refuge on the plateau from raiders and slave traders in the same period.

"We came to the plateau from Mataka's country, fleeing Angoni," an elder told me in Mwambula. "We were once Yao."

"We are really Makua," said another. "We took refuge here from the slave caravans."

As the historian Malyn Newitt has written, with reference specifically to Mozambique:

[T]he slave trade was not simply an export trade. Slaves were sold internally in Africa and accumulated in the hands of chiefs and warlords, and many of them were used to build up private armies, to increase the number of productive women in a community, or to support the status of chiefs and other leading males within matrilineal societies.... [T]he slave trade led to the emergence of large protected settlements, militarised societies and large-scale political organization, particularly among the matrilineal peoples north of the Zambesi. The losers were the small, scattered disorganized communities which often had to abandon whole areas of countryside and gather under the protection of some warlord or retreat into more easily defended regions. The depopulation created a vacuum and encouraged migration, so that whole chieftaincies relocated in the early nineteenth century. (Newitt 1995: 253)

The oral testimony of Muedan elders with whom we worked generally suggested that migrants to the plateau south of the Rovuma were none other than the "losers" described by Newitt-"small, scattered disorganized communities" who fled to "more easily defended regions." The plateau-previously unsettled owing to its porous soil and, hence, total absence of sources of water-served these peoples-in-flight as a more defensible home.

According to oral testimony, the plateau's first settlers referred to themselves by the names of the elders who led them to their new homes and founded the settlements in which they lived. Those led by Lishehe, for example, called themselves Valishehe (or Vanalishehe) and called their settlement Lishehe. Although these migrants undoubtedly sought likonde (fertile land) that would allow them to grow the crops they needed to sustain themselves-and found that land beneath the dense bush growing on the high plain-they would come to call themselves Makonde, said by some (e.g., Dias 1964: 64) to mean "people in search of likonde," only with the passage of time.

Even as these settlers reconstituted their social, economic, and political institutions and thus gave birth to a new collective identity, however, they spoke of power, according to their descendants, in the language of sorcery. In their struggles for survival, the clever sought competitive advantage against rivals through the use of medicinal substances such as the ntela that Maunda told us the people of his settlement used against strangers. In a world whose every crevice potentially concealed peril, the powerful persuasively boasted of their abilities to see enemies not only lying in ambush at the water source but also, as we shall see, in an invisible realm.

Chapter Two Provocation and Authority, Schism and Solidarity

"As a young man, I had a reputation for provoking fights," Mandia told us.

We sat together on the verandah of the elder's home in Nimu, the village where Tissa had grown up and where his father and younger brother still lived. The reverence Tissa exhibited for Mandia surpassed ordinary respect for one's elders. But then, Mandia was no ordinary elder. He was, Tissa told me with pride, one of only three vahumu still living among the Makonde of the plateau region.

"When we went to dance mapiko in neighboring settlements," the humu continued, "I was always insulting people."

He spoke softly, holding his arms and hands still and close to his body rather than gesticulating as most Muedan men did when speaking.

"If someone insulted my likola, I was off to war."

So gentle was the humu's demeanor, I found his words difficult to believe. He addressed this contradiction directly when he next spoke: "Eventually, those in my likola became tired of it-tired of participating in the fights that I had started-and so they decided to make me humu. That way, they reasoned, I would have to behave more responsibly and be finished with this thing of going around provoking fights all the time."

Mandia's career embodied the paradoxes that defined power on the Mueda plateau in generations past. The acts of ushaka (provocation) through which he demonstrated his courage and audacity, and through which he won respect as an nkukamalanga (provider), sometimes gave rise to tensions within his matrilineage. Mandia sometimes bit off more than he-or his Vashitunguli brethren-could chew. The Vashitunguli digested the young Mandia's energies by making him humu-charging him with balancing the appetites of his peers and serving the matrilineage as diplomat.

As he explained to us: "In times past, the humu acted as counselor. When others in the likola were unable to resolve a dispute, the humu intervened. In wars between matrilineages, vahumu were not touched by anyone on either side."

Vahumu, however, were not the principal figures of authority among plateau populations of the precolonial period. Their existence was in fact necessitated by complex dynamics between plateau settlements and the authority figures who governed them: vanang'olo vene kaja ("settlement heads"; literally, "elders-stewards-of-settlement": vanang'olo meaning "elders"; vene meaning "chiefs," "heads," "stewards," or "lords"; and kaja meaning "settlement"). Settlement heads traced their authority to the ancestor-founders of the settlements they governed, inheriting from these matrilateral kinsmen not only titles but, often, also names. Deceased settlement heads were remembered by their successors in rites of ancestral supplication, called kulipudya, during which requests were made for the beneficent intervention of the departed in the affairs of the living.

Some settlement heads enjoyed greater prestige than others. If a nang'olo mwene kaja (s.) claimed descent from a founder who had settled virgin lands, he inherited from this founder status as a nang'olo mwene shilambo ("land chief"; literally, "elder-steward-of-lands": shilambo meaning "lands"). Descendants of migrants who had requested land and amicable relations with the existing occupants of the regions they settled-as many were forced to do with increasing population density on the plateau over the course of the nineteenth century-recognized their hosts as land chiefs, expressing their dependence and gratitude in perpetuity by participating in the kulipudya ceremonies of their hosts.

The continuity of a settlement was by no means assured in the midst of the chaotic and dangerous environment of precolonial northern Mozambique-shaped, as it was, by episodic drought and famine, as well as by endemic raiding and slave trading. Among those that perished, for example, was Lishehe's village. When in 1999 I sought to identify his descendants so that I might discover whether accounts of O'Neill's visit had been passed down to the present day, I found that his name was still uttered in rites of ancestral remembrance in the region, but that Lishehe and his people had fallen prey to more powerful matrilineages and disappeared completely.

In attempts to forestall such catastrophe, settlement heads (whether founders or latecomers) and their populations (whether large or small) stood to gain much in the precolonial period by forging alliances with others. By the time of Portuguese conquest (ca. 1917), plateau populations had begun to form concentrated alliances, comprising as many as ten or twelve matrilineages, under the leadership of powerful warlords (sometimes land chiefs and sometimes not) capable of organizing and protecting caravans to trade India rubber, gum copal, beeswax, and sesame at the coast for cloth, iron, and, most importantly, arms, ammunition, and powder.

The elder Lyulagwe, in the village of Litembo, provided us with an excellent description of the settlement in which he grew up. The nang'olo mwene kaja, Malapende, was widely feared in the southern central region of the plateau, Lyulagwe remembered, and other settlement heads in the vicinity were forced either to forge an alliance with him or to contend with him as an enemy. Malapende, Lyulagwe told us, integrated into his defenses the settlements of less powerful vanang'olo who requested Malapende's protection. Other elders shared similar descriptions with us of the settlements of powerful warlords in the regions with which they were familiar. As we shall see, the power of such warlords was inseparable from their reputations as capable sorcerers.

(Continues...)




Excerpted from Kupilikula by Harry G. West Copyright © 2005 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Prologue : immaterial evidence
1 The settlement of the Mueda Plateau and the making of Makonde 23
2 Provocation and authority, schism and solidarity 29
3 Meat, power, and the feeding of appetites 35
4 The invisible realm 40
5 Healing visions 48
6 Victims or perpetrators? 57
7 Complicated careers 61
8 Sorcery of construction 72
9 Imagined conquerors 87
10 Consuming labor and its products 99
11 Christianity and Makonde tradition 109
12 Conversation and conversion 120
13 Christians, pagans, and sorcery 127
14 Night people 133
15 Deadly games of hide-and-seek 143
16 Revolution, science, and sorcery 150
17 Rewriting the landscape 164
18 The villagization of sorcery 174
19 Self-defense and self-enrichment 180
20 The "resurgence of tradition" 195
21 Neoliberal reform and Mozambican tradition 201
22 Limited recognition 207
23 Transcending traditions 222
24 Uncertain knowledge 231
25 Postwar uncivil society 239
26 Democratization and/of the use of force 246
27 Governing in the twilight 253
28 Constitutional reform and perpetual suspicion 259
Epilogue : lines of succession 267
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