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According to the people of the Mueda plateau in northern Mozambique, sorcerers remake the world by asserting the authority of their own imaginative visions of it.

While conducting research among these Muedans, anthropologist Harry G. West made a revealing discovery--for many of them, West's efforts to elaborate an ethnographic vision of their world was itself a form of sorcery.

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In "Ethnographic Sorcery," West explores the fascinating issues provoked by this equation. A key theme of West's research into sorcery is that one sorcerer's claims can be challenged or reversed by other sorcerers.

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After West's attempt to construct a metaphorical interpretation of Muedan assertions that the lions prowling their villages are fabricated by sorcerers is disputed by his Muedan research collaborators, West realized that ethnography and sorcery indeed have much in common.

Rather than abandoning ethnography, West draws inspiration from this connection, arguing that anthropologists, along with the people they study, can scarcely avoid interpreting the world they inhabit, and that we are all, inescapably, ethnographic sorcerers. Here, Harry West is concerned with the question of how Muedans use sorcery discourse, both 'to speak about the world and to act within it.

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Lecture 14, Ethnographic Sorcery - Ethnographic Sorcery...

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Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Harry West has written a short reflective follow-up to his study Kupilikula , an important ethnography of sorcery practices in the Mueda plateau of northern Mozambique during its postsocialist liberalization period in the [End Page ] s and early s. Kupilikula , a Makonde-language verb meaning roughly "to invert," refers to the transcendent maneuvers of both destructive and constructive sorcerers of the Mueda plateau who create phantasms such as man-eating lions and make magical medicines in a never-ending game of one-upmanship.


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Where the eponymous monograph investigated kupilikula through the lens of contemporary local politics, Ethnographic Sorcery juxtaposes Muedan sorcery with the very ethnography that West himself carried out in Mozambique. Using Jose Luis Borges's short story "The Circular Ruins" as his prologue—a story where the protagonist realized he was "a mere simulacrum … a projection of another man's dreams"—West argues that the ethnographer also participated in never-ending transcendent maneuvers by attempting to gain an interpretive ascendancy over a confusing and hostile environment, only to become himself an object of the sorcerer's practice.

This potentially glib proposition serves, fortunately, as a useful frame to speculate on the meanings of sorcery and participatory ethnographic fieldwork, as well as to consider the limits of symbolic anthropology. Ethnographic Sorcery addresses several vital themes of contemporary Africanist witchcraft studies and has already attracted much scholarly attention, including a published roundtable discussion in African Studies Review It is a short book comprised of very short chapters that trace the arc of one ethnographer's assumptions, experiences, and epiphanies.

Ethnographic Sorcery by Harry G. West

Having given up on a preliminary project to study Muedan conceptions of the future, West began to investigate sorcery practices in the s by first seeking classical sociological patterns of accusations. Tools Export citation Add to favorites Track citation.

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