Uchawi Upo: Embodied Experience and Anti-Witchcraft Practice in Mwanza, Tanzania

Nichols-Belo, Amy, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Metcalf, Peter, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

In Mwanza, Tanzania’s second largest city, it is commonly said that witchcraft exists (uchawi upo). However, witchcraft in Mwanza is more than just a discourse, but is an embodied everyday reality for Mwanzans regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic background. People afflicted by witchcraft describe diverse experiences including physical and mental symptoms, involuntary spirit possession, relationship problems, economic issues, and fantastic encounters with otherworldly entities. As they seek restoration of wellness, afflicted individuals employ treatments located in seemingly oppositional “disciplines” such as traditional healing and revivalist Christianity. I argue that the use of multiple disciplines by people suffering from witchcraft illness is not haphazard, but demonstrates the assemblage of, what I call, “tactical repertoires.” Tactical repertoires are creative, flexible, and operate outside of the epistemological boundaries of disciplines.

Taking seriously the experiences of people afflicted by witchcraft, this dissertation uses anti-witchcraft practices as a means for making sense of uchawi in an urban, multi-ethnic environment. Anti-witchcraft, as I use it here, stands as an umbrella term for a wide variety of practices enacted by experts to diagnose, contain, combat, and prevent witchcraft. After historically contextualizing witchcraft in Mwanza, I offering numerous case studies that depict embodied experiences of witchcraft and the tactical repretoires assembled to treat affliction. Next, I devote individual chapters to describing and analyzing specific disciplinary practices located in traditional healing (uganga), revivalist Christianity (ulokole), vigilante violence, and state biopower (Foucault 1978). My analysis of these practices leads to a simple, but counter-intuitive argument: uchawi is created, sustained, and made meaningful through anti-witchcraft practices.

In its focus on both the embodied experiences of afflicted persons (and their efforts to improve their suffering) and a wide variety of diverse anti-witchcraft practices, this dissertation offers a culturally-specific, historicized, and nuanced view of practice and experience. Uchawi, in Mwanza, is a lived reality made meaningful through a layering of epistemologically distinct practices that make and remake experience.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tanzania, witchcraft, anti-witchcraft practices, medical anthropology, anthropology of religion
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