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Governance and the Invisible Realm in Mozambique

On the Mueda plateau in northern Mozambique, sorcerers are said to feed on their victims, sometimes "making" lions or transforming into lions to literally devour their flesh. When the ruling FRELIMO party subscribed to socialism, it condemned sorcery beliefs and counter-sorcery practices as false consciousness, but since undertaking neoliberal reform, the party—still in power after three electoral cycles—has "tolerated tradition," leaving villagers to interpret and engage with events in the idiom of sorcery. Now, when the lions prowl plateau villages ,suspected sorcerers are often lynched.

In this historical ethnography of sorcery, Harry G. West draws on a decade of fieldwork and combines the perspectives of anthropology and political science to reveal how Muedans expect responsible authorities to monitor the invisible realm of sorcery and to overturn or, as Muedans call it, "kupilikula" sorcerers’ destructive attacks by practicing a constructive form of counter-sorcery themselves. Kupilikula argues that, where neoliberal policies have fostered social division rather than security and prosperity, Muedans have, in fact, used sorcery discourse to assess and sometimes overturn reforms, advancing alternative visions of a world transformed.

336 pages | 31 halftones, 5 maps | 6 x 9 | © 2005

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: African History


Kupilikula is one of the finest examinations of contemporary sorcery that I have read. The writing is clear and unencumbered. The ethnography is rich and nuanced. The analysis of the sorcery, power, and politics, is impressively subtle, but its unstated nature packs a solid theoretical punch. By the end of the book, the reader has a significantly more profound comprehension of the thorny thicket of contemporary African politics. This is major contribution to African studies, political anthropology, and the anthropology of religion.”--Paul Stoller, West Chester University and Temple University

Paul Stoller | Paul Stoller

"Kupilikula offers a fascinating history of the resilience of uwavi (sorcery) among the Muedans of northern Mozambique. Harry West investigates how the ’language’ of sorcery has survived particularly dramatic changes: the impact of harsh Portuguese colonialism; the FRELIMO regime with its categorical refusal of ’tradition’ in the name of scientific socialism; and nowadays, a spectacular return of ’tradition’ propagated by neo-liberal reformers with their belief in restoring ’civil society.’ West shows how, time and again, uwavi language surpassed the ideologies of outsiders and allowed Muedans to follow their interpretation of the changes"

Peter Geschiere | Peter Geschiere

“This is an entrancing and unsettling work. Through a series of artful, funny, cryptic, and disturbing conversations, Muedan sorcery emerges as an ambiguous anti-vision. It is a means to probe and question the workings of power and reality and a means to wage endless, daily wars in a world of war. West shows how Muedans, scraping by on the margins of colonial, socialist, and neoliberal societies, used talk about sorcery to occlude visions of power imposed upon them and to work on creating more habitable worlds. Ultimately, he follows them towards an excoriating critique of the most hopeful visions of neoliberal reformers in Mozambique. This is historical anthropology at its innovative best.”--Erik A. Mueggler, University of Michigan

Erik A. Mueggler | Erik A. Mueggler

"With verve and insight, West conveys the atmosphere of suspicion, doubt, and ambiguity prevailing on the Mueda plateau. He’s a skilled fieldworker. . . . Students will find West’s style engaging and the book extremely readable. Indeed, by acknowledging the role of his field assistant in nearly every interview, West does a great service to aspiring anthropologists: he subverts the myth of the lone ethnographer-cowboy."

David McDermott Hughes | Anthropological Quarterly

Kupilikula is written in part as a narrative of the author’s fieldwork and in part as a more general reflection on the material that the research generated. Brimming with dialogues, quotations and visual accounts of the author’s encounters with the locals, the book is a vivid portrayal of an isolated people struggling to make sense of the waves of political change (some of them violent) that have washed over them in the past century. The style is reader friendly and makes it easy to enter the world of the invisible, which emerges as though through special night-sight goggles as the book unfolds. It is an intriguing and arresting read. . . . Kupilikula is that rare book which manages both to make real the texture of ordinary life and to explain how the particular is relevant to the appreciation of the bigger picture.”

Patrick Chabal | International Affairs

"A fascinating analysis  of the intersection of sorcery and authority . . . in northern Mozambique. Based on years of research and dozens of interviews and conversations with residents of the plateau, [West] describes a variety of beliefs and practices with an eye to explaining local ideas about government and political power."

Kathleen Sheldon | African Affairs

"I thoroughly enjoyed this book. West’s is not a ’celebratory portrayal.’ Rather, he insists that readers grapple with Muedans’ ambivalence uncertainties and contradictions. In short, he renders his ’ordinary Muedans’ believable—whether they are visible or invisible."

Jeanne Marie Penvenne | African History

"A fascinating study of the enduring ideas on power relations in a distinctive part of northern Mozambique. The book is appropriatefor graduate students in social anthropology and/or African studies on the subjects of sorcery and witchcraft in Africa."

Magnus P.S. Persson | Canadian Journal of History

"West has done careful field research and has used carefully selected narrratives not to provide an ethnographic catalogue of ideas of sorcery, but rather to bring the reader into the logic of sorcery as it exists within a broader system of thought."

Robert M. Baum | H-Africa

Table of Contents

Prologue: Immaterial Evidence
Part One
1. The Settlement of the Mueda Plateau and the Making of Makonde
2. Provocation and Authority, Schism and Solidarity
3. Meat, Power, and the Feeding of Appetites
4. The Invisible Realm
5. Healing Visions
6. Victims or Perpetrators?
7. Complicated Careers
8. Sorcery of Construction
Part Two
9. Imagined Conquerors
10. Consuming Labor and Its Products
11. Christianity and Makonde Tradition
12. Conversation and Conversion
13. Christians, Pagans, and Sorcery
14. Night People
15. Deadly Games of Hide-and-Seek
16. Revolution, Science, and Sorcery
17. Rewriting the Landscape
18. The Villagization of Sorcery
19. Self-Defense and Self-Enrichment
Part Three
20. The "Resurgence of Tradition"
21. Neoliberal Reform and Mozambican Tradition
22. Limited Recognition
23. Transcending Traditions
24. Uncertain Knowledge
25. Postwar Uncivil Society
26. Democratization and/of the Use of Force
27. Governing in the Twilight
28. Constitutional Reform and Perpetual Suspicion
Epilogue: Lines of Succession


Royal Anthropological Institute: Amaury Talbot Prize

African Studies Association: Melville J. Herskovits Award
Honorable Mention

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