Madumo, a Man Bewitched

Adam Ashforth, Author University of Chicago Press $20 (264p) ISBN 978-0-226-02971-9
When Ashforth, an Australian social scientist now at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, returned to South Africa for the summer he found his friend Madumo, an affable, philosophically inclined, habitually unemployed young man, actively tormented by witchcraft. Cast out by his family, shunned by his friends, and plagued by bad luck, Madumo, with Ashforth's help, began a desperate search for a cure. Their quest took them to Mr. Zondi, a traditional healer (inyanga) who consulted the spirits in a small tin shack in the slums of Soweto, to the headquarters of the Zion Christian Church, an African-evangelical hybrid where they were barraged by eager prophets, and to the distant suburbs of Johannesburg, where they hosted a ritual feast for the ancestors. Journalistic in tone, Ashforth's book joins Karen McCarthy Brown's Mama Lola in a growing tradition of personal ethnographies where the narrator is less than omniscient, confidants are friends and not ""informants,"" and the boundaries are blurred between observer and observed, between truth and fiction. Ashforth offers his compelling story with very little in the way of explanation. He makes no appeals to anthropological theoryDthe book does not even include a glossary. Indeed, one of his major points is that spiritual beliefs are untranslatable. He concludes that witchcraft is ""something akin to a religious mystery,"" ultimately incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
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