Kufala! Translating witchcraft in an Angolan–Chinese labor dispute

Cheryl M. Schmitz


Drawing on fieldwork conducted at a Chinese state-owned enterprise brought to Angola in the postwar reconstruction boom, this article devotes sustained attention to a labor dispute between an Angolan laid-off worker and his former Chinese employers. Called upon to interpret between the worker and his bosses, neither of whom spoke directly or transparently, the ethnographer found herself implicated in a prolonged negotiation of attempted kindness and unavoidable cruelty. Through repeated translations and circumlocutions, both parties attempted to preserve sociality despite being structurally positioned in an exploitative relationship. Translating this exchange into an ethnographic narrative, this paper explores how the indirectness both of speech and of witchcraft failed as social relations broke down.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/709482