Bubandt, “The Empty Seashell”

Bubandt, Nils. 2014. The Empty Seashell: Witchcraft and Doubt on an Indonesian Island. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Publisher’s DescriptionThe Empty Seashell explores what it is like to live in a world where cannibal witches are undeniably real, yet too ephemeral and contradictory to be an object of belief. In a book based on more than three years of fieldwork between 1991 and 2011, Nils Bubandt argues that cannibal witches for people in the coastal, and predominantly Christian, community of Buli in the Indonesian province of North Maluku are both corporeally real and fundamentally unknowable.

Witches (known as gua in the Buli language or as suanggi in regional Malay) appear to be ordinary humans but sometimes, especially at night, they take other forms and attack people in order to kill them and eat their livers. They are seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The reality of gua, therefore, can never be pinned down. The title of the book comes from the empty nautilus shells that regularly drift ashore around Buli village. Convention has it that if you find a live nautilus, you are a gua. Like the empty shells, witchcraft always seems to recede from experience.Bubandt begins the book by recounting his own confusion and frustration in coming to terms with the contradictory and inaccessible nature of witchcraft realities in Buli. A detailed ethnography of the encompassing inaccessibility of Buli witchcraft leads him to the conclusion that much of the anthropological literature, which views witchcraft as a system of beliefs with genuine explanatory power, is off the mark. Witchcraft for the Buli people doesn’t explain anything. In fact, it does the opposite: it confuses, obfuscates, and frustrates. Drawing upon Jacques Derrida’s concept of aporia—an interminable experience that remains continuously in doubt—Bubandt suggests the need to take seriously people’s experiential and epistemological doubts about witchcraft, and outlines, by extension, a novel way of thinking about witchcraft and its relation to modernity.

Macdonald, “‘Lucifer is Behind Me'”

Macdonald, Fraser.  2015. ‘Lucifer Is Behind Me’: The Diabolisation of Oksapmin Witchcraft as Negative Cosmological Integration.  The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 16(5): 464-480.

Abstract: This paper examines the diabolisation of Oksapmin tamam (here glossed as ‘witchcraft’) as an example of negative cosmological integration. The article takes as its point of departure Robbins’s model of cultural syncretism developed in a series of recent papers, wherein diabolisation occurs as people insert those aspects of their indigenous religion that do not contravene the Christian God’s paramount creative power into the Christian cosmos as representatives of the Devil. Through my own discussion of the diabolisation of Oksapmin witchcraft, I build upon the model in three main ways. First, I draw attention to the role of the mission in providing and enforcing these negative moral terms of reference. Second, the article highlights that in cases of negative cosmological integration, whether within or outside the frame of Pentecostalist Christianity, syncretic melding and mixing may occur, regardless of rhetoric to the contrary. Finally, I point out that the subordination of indigenous religious realities within the Christian cosmos does not necessarily entail their restriction or reduction of expression, as Robbins shows for the Urapmin nature spirits known as motobil. Indeed, in the case of witchcraft, integration into the Christian cosmos and related complexes of deliverance may actually serve to intensify and amplify their expression.

Lindhardt, “Who bewitched the pastor and why did he survive the witchcraft attack? Micro-politics and the creativity of indeterminacy in Tanzanian discourses on witchcraft”

Lindhardt, Martin (2012) “Who bewitched the pastor and why did he survive the witchcraft attack? Micro-politics and the creativity of indeterminacy in Tanzanian discourses on witchcraft.” Canadian Journal of African Studies / La Revue canadienne des e ́tudes africaines 46(2): 215–232 

Abstract: Many Tanzanians share a basic understanding of the occult as a moving force in the visible world. But at the same time, notions of the occult are characterised by indeterminacies in meaning, thereby allowing for multiple interpretations of particular events. This article explores various readings of two particular incidents that both occurred within a suburb of the city of Iringa in South-central Tanzania. First a Lutheran pastor started suffering from a paralyzed shoulder and a few weeks later an old woman was found lying naked outside of his home in the middle of the night. While both incidents were widely ascribed to witchcraft the article shows how particular interpretations were embedded in and reflective of a dense social climate, characterised by different kinds of tension, inequalities, suspicions of corruption and by religious and medical pluralism and competition. The article argues that the very opaqueness and uncertainty of witchcraft knowledge enabled a variety of actors with different stakes to make claims to truth, spiritual status and moral identity.