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Human Sacrifice and the Supernatural in African History

Lawrence E.Y. Mbogoni

Publication Year: 2013

Since time immemorial, human beings the world over have sought answers to the vexing questions of their origins, sickness, death and after death; the meaning of natural phenomena such as earthquakes, eclipses of the sun and moon, birth of twins etc. and how to protect themselves from such mysterious events. They invented God and gods and the occult sciences (witch craft, divination and soothsaying) in order to seek the protection of supernatural powers while individuals used them to gain power to dominate others and to accumulate wealth. Human sacrifice was one way in which they sought to expiate the gods for what they believed were punishments for their transgressions. One example, the Ghana Asante Kingdom's very origins are associated with human sacrifice. On the eve of war against Denkyira, individuals volunteered themselves to be sacrificed in order to guarantee victory. Later, human sacrifice in Asante was mainly politically motivated as kings and religious leaders offered human sacrifice in remembrance of their ancestral spirits and to seek their protection against their enemies. The Asante Kingdom is one of several examples included in this study of human sacrifice and ritual killing on the African continent. Case studies include practices in Sierra Leone, Tanzania (Mainland), Zanzibar, Uganda and Swaziland. Advertisements relating to the occult was a common feature of Drum magazine, the popular South African magazine in Southern, Eastern and Central Africa in late years of colonial and early years of postcolonial periods, indicating a wide belief in these practices among the people in these countries? Each case examined is introduced by an expose of folklore that puts in perspective beliefs in the supernatural and how folklore continues to perpetuate them. Through careful study of these select cases, this book highlights general features of human sacrifice which recur with striking uniformity in all parts of sub Saharan Africa, and why they persist until today. He draws upon extensive written sources to expose these practices in other cultures including those in Western societies.

Published by: African Books Collective


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-5


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. viii-xi

The subject of this book is the practice of human sacrifice in African history as a result of belief in the efficacy of supernatural powers. However, let it be un-derstood from the outset that we do not have the materials for anything like a complete survey or a comparative history of human sacrifice in Africa, and that nothing of the sort will be attempted in this book. But still a careful study and ...

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pp. xii-xiii

My thanks go to a number of individuals and institutions that helped me in the course of researching and writing the chapters in this study. Most important, I am indebted to Judy Mathews, Jeneen Artis, and Urooj Khan, the Interlibrary Loan staff of the Cheng Library at William Paterson University, who went beyond the call of duty to get me many of the sources used in this study. The ...

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Chapter 1. Human Sacrifice and the Supernatural in African History: An Overview

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pp. 1-22

In African historical studies the practice of human sacrifice remains largely unexplored on its own merit even though the practice has a long history on the continent as it does in other parts of the world. In 2010, an online search by the author in the World Catalogue brought up three hundred and thirteen entries under the title ?human sacrifice in Africa?. However, most of the entries had ...

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Chapter 2. Human sacrifice and the supernatural in the Asante Empire and modern-day Ghana

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pp. 23-44

The name and geographical position of modern-day Ghana should not be con-fused with that of the legendary Empire of Ghana that was situated much fur-ther to the north in the Sahel region of West Africa. At its zenith toward the end of the nineteenth century the Asante (aka Ashanti) Empire?s territorial size was much larger than the modern-day state of Ghana. V. S. Naipaul notes that ...

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Chapter 3. Human sacrifice and the supernatural in Sierra Leone

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pp. 45-70

Sierra Leone (officially the Republic of Sierra Leone) is a former West African British colony. It is geographically bounded by Guinea to the northeast, Libe-ria to the southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. Colonial Sierra Leone comprised of two quite separate units, namely the Colony of Sierra Leo-ne (the mountainous peninsula around Freetown) and the Protectorate, which ...

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Chapter 4. “Medicine murder” in Lesotho

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pp. 71-90

Lesotho (officially the Kingdom of Lesotho) is a small country about 150 miles long by 100 miles wide (about 11,583 sq. mi) that is completely encircled by the Republic of South Africa to which it is economically dependent. Lesotho?s economy is predominantly agricultural, with the majority of its population de-pendent on subsistence farming. The majority of men have historically found ...

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Chapter 5. “Medicine murder” in Swaziland

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pp. 91-114

Swaziland (officially the Kingdom of Swaziland) is a small landlocked country bordered by South Africa to the north, south and west, and Mozambique to the east. It extends for about 120 miles from north to south and about 81 miles from east to west. Swaziland?s economy remains predominantly agrarian, with 75% of its population being engaged in subsistence agriculture on land that suf-...

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Chapter 6. Human Sacrifice and the Killing of Albinos in Tanzania

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pp. 115-138

Tanzania (officially the United Republic of Tanzania) came into being in April 1964 as a result of the union between Tanganyika (now mainland Tanzania) and Zanzibar (the islands of Unguja and Pemba). Both were formerly British Protectorates; Tanganyika became independent in December 1961 whereas Zanzibar was given independence under the Sultan?s government in December ...

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Chapter 7. Human sacrifice and the supernatural in Uganda

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pp. 139-168

Uganda, nicknamed the Pearl of Africa, is a landlocked former British Protector-ate in East Africa. Uganda became independent in October 1962. It shares bor-ders with five countries; Sudan to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Kenya to the east, Rwanda and Tanzania to the south. This chapter focuses on two of Uganda?s numerous ethnic groups, namely the Baganda and ...

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Chapter 8. Human sacrifice and the supernatural in Zanzibar

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pp. 169-204

Before becoming a part of the United Republic of Tanzania on April 26, 1964 Zanzibar had had a long history as a city state up to the end of the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth century as a sultanate under the Oman Busaidi family before it became a British Protectorate in 1890. The Zanzibar sultanate became a vibrant commercial empire that was driven by a plantation ...

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Chapter 9. Mail Order Magic: Commercial Exploitation of Folk Belief

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pp. 205-230

The title of this chapter is borrowed from Loudell F. Snow?s article published in the Journal of the Folklore Institute, vol. 16, no1/2 (Jan. ? Aug., 1979). Loud-ell?s paper entitled ?Mail Order Magic: Commercial Exploitation of Folk Be-lief,? examines how the folklore of voodoo is used in mail-order advertisements to extort money from those who believe in it. The most susceptible to such ex-...

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Chapter 10. Conclusion

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pp. 231-240

In sub-Saharan Africa, the exigencies of life, complicated by the continent?s chal-lenging environment and externally influenced deprivations, have since time im-memorial created disparities in wealth and power. Such disparities in wealth and power, however, have specifically been attributed to and explained by a number of factors which fall under the following three broad categories, namely:...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 241-252

Subject Index by Alphabetical Order

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pp. 253-256

Back Cover

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p. 270-270

E-ISBN-13: 9789870827047
Print-ISBN-13: 9789987082421

Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2013