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The Trials of Mrs. K.

Seeking Justice in a World with Witches

In March 2009, in a small town in Malawi, a nurse at the local hospital was accused of teaching witchcraft to children. Amid swirling rumors, “Mrs. K.” tried to defend her reputation, but the community nevertheless grew increasingly hostile. The legal, social, and psychological trials that she endured in the struggle to clear her name left her life in shambles, and she died a few years later.
In The Trials of Mrs. K., Adam Ashforth studies this and similar stories of witchcraft that continue to circulate in Malawi. At the heart of the book is Ashforth’s desire to understand how claims to truth, the pursuit of justice, and demands for security work in contemporary Africa, where stories of witchcraft can be terrifying. Guiding us through the history of legal customs and their interactions with the court of public opinion, Ashforth asks challenging questions about responsibility, occult forces, and the imperfect but vital mechanisms of law. A beautifully written and provocative book, The Trials of Mrs. K. will be an essential text for understanding what justice means in a fragile and dangerous world.  

192 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2018

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Political Science: Comparative Politics


“Ashforth has written a marvelous, original book that brings together the rich ethnographic qualities of his memoir, Madumo: A Man Bewitched, and the trenchant political analyses of his monograph, Witchcraft, Violence, and Democracy in South Africa. His investigation of the ‘modernity of witchcraft’ clearly demonstrates that witchcraft is squarely of the here and now and profoundly present in the everyday lives of the ordinary Malawians whose stories the text pursues. Ashforth’s highly accessible prose transports the reader deep into the world with witchcraft that his subjects inhabit, making this a vivid and fascinating book.”

Katherine Luongo, Northeastern University

Table of Contents


1 The Most Abhorrent Crime
2 The Name of the Witch
3 A Fair Forum?
4 A Witch in the Family
5 The Case of the Kasitos
6 When a Witch Confesses
7 A Child’s Tale
8 Judgment Day for Mrs. K.
9 Human Rights, Norwegians, and the “President of Witches”
10  “Material Dreaming” and the Ways Witchcraft Stories Work
11 Truth and Consequences: The Work of Witchcraft Stories
12 In Defense of Witch Trials
Appendix 1: The Malawi Journals Project
Appendix 2: Alice_090312
Appendix 3: Bibliographic Essay
Works Cited

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