- Kupilikula: Governance and the Invisible Realm in Mozambique
Good anthropology is always wonderful to read, and West's study of the invisible world of the Makonde of the Mueda Plateau is in the finest traditions of anthropology. He tackles a classic issue, how sorcery (uwavi) is understood, used, and deployed in four historical time periods: the precolonial, colonial, early socialist independence, and contemporary neoliberal. Each chapter begins with a shortened version of a conversation in which West participated, before he turns to a more detailed consideration of the issue at hand. One never doubts that real people inhabit his ethnography, and, as he acknowledges, the invisible worlds and learning about them are not linear or fully understandable. As he demonstrates, those worlds change. He worked in almost a hundred villages while having a semibase in one (Matambalale). His longest fieldwork period was in 1994 (eleven months), with more work during academic holidays in 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2004—in short, enough time and repeat visits to permit ever greater knowledge, refinement, and new questions about earlier findings. Nonetheless, the central argument, that sorcery constituted for Makonde Muedans the framework to make sense of and to give shape to power relations remained throughout. In an earlier article, West wrote that, for the Muedans (specifying the plateau, but also ethnicity), sorcery made sense (2001:122), but what makes his work so significant is his attentiveness to the multiple domains of power and governance in different historical periods—his ability to establish trusting, honorable, and (it would appear) deep relationships with Mozambicans.
Throughout the book, West endeavors to describe and analyze how sorcery discourses and practices, of which there are several, continue from the past, but yet have been worked and reworked. His work challenges all scholars who seek to understand African societies in their historical and other contexts. Certainly sorcery is far more widespread than just the Mueda Plateau or the Makonde, but the Mueda Plateau is mostly the unit of analysis, and so obtaining a broader sense of how Muedans might carry sorcery with them is difficult.
For West, sorcery pivots on two possibilities: to do harm to others (for revenge or jealousy, or to gain advantage), and to protect members of one's matrilineage or village, or broader social units, from those who seek to do harm. The latter is what West terms sorcery of construction (uwavi wa kudenga in Shimakonde). In terms of continuity, West describes how the Makonde used the idiom of sorcery to understand why and how the Portuguese had defeated them militarily. Since the Portuguese were far more interested in labor than in ending sorcery, it wasn't until missionaries had established themselves that there was an effort to combat sorcery and other superstitions; however, missionary efforts can be understood in terms of new powers and medicines (mitela), and were therefore incorporated by the Muedans into their ongoing sorcery discourse. [End Page 130]
The Mueda Plateau, adjacent to southern Tanzania, was a key zone in which the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) fought to end colonial rule and establish a socialist Mozambique. At best, FRELIMO's leaders were seen as sorcerers of construction, protecting their villages and people from destructive sorcery. Despite campaigns against obscurantism (sorcery, superstition, lack of scientific explanations), FRELIMO too was incorporated into the discursive frames of the Mueda Makonde, though not until after it had banned divination (the means by which healers confirmed that sorcery was at work), and attempted to cast doubt on the efficacy of mitela. Nonetheless, FRELIMO's leadership was assumed to be practicing sorcery of construction, rather than of destruction. With independence, the new government implemented villagization to consolidate social services and create the new socialist Mozambicans under FRELIMO's tutelage. FRELIMO's powers were put to the test by the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), though RENAMO had much less success in Cabo Delgado Province than elsewhere. With the peace and the elections of 1992, the Makonde attempted to incorporate Chissano, the FRELIMO presidential candidate...