Perceptions of Nupe Witchcraft

Nupe witchcraft expresses the social threats and tensions from which they spring with little disguise“.As a proof he lists three points of reference:

(a) The existing legends on the development of witchcraft

(b) The concrete accusations against witches

(c) The explicit reference to the market organisation of Nupe women, with respect to witchcraft-control. But quite contrary to Nadel, the interpretation of these symptoms might be not easy at all, but highly controversial. This will be shown in analysing his arguments one by one.

Ndako gboya 4The first reason given by Nadel, i.e. the analysis of existing legends on the origin of witchcraft, is of course highly speculative, but it may be accepted for the sake of argument against the background of the methodological concepts of social psychology, current at his time. As far as Nupe concepts of the historic origins of witchcraft, as well as counter measures to defeat it are concerned, Nadel refers to two founding legends of the anti-witchcraft cult of the Nupe, the Ndakógboyá, taking them as decisive indicators of the social psychology of Nupe society. One of these legends centres around people living under the reign of Etsu Shago (the founding father of the Nupe state), leading a lawless life and refusing to listen to their elders. Men would steal each other's wives and commit adultery without shame. The older women, especially, caused much trouble; they quarrelled among themselves and 'gave no peace'. The more law-abiding among the men grew angry and spoke harshly to the women; but these 'replied with insolence’.” In trying to solve this problem, a young man of great strength invented a mask (later called Ndakógboyá) to frighten away the insolent women. But one woman refused to run away; she was caught and killed with an iron rod (sányŋ, a slave chain, cf. below). This legend was still widely known among the heads of the Ndakógboyá lodges to the north and south of the Niger whom I interviewed in 1982. However, the legend, used by Nadel to back his thesis of “sex-antagonism” as the principal source of witchcraft accusations among.... Read More