Moral crises

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Max Gluckman. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau4.2.025


Moral crises

Magical and secular solutions
The Marett lectures, 1964 and 1965




It is a double honour for me to be invited to deliver lectures in honour of Richard Ranulph Marett in this Hall.1 Such an invitation must honour any anthropologist; and in addition I think I am correct in asserting that I was the last of his pupils to become a professional social anthropologist. In this Hall, too, I partook of that commensality which, even over meals we grumbled at, made me feel so deeply I was a member of your Society.

I have selected for the theme of my lectures two subjects on which Marett wrote at length: morals and magical activity. Indeed, he first moved from the study of classics into social anthropology when he was awarded the Oxford University Green Moral Philosophy Prize for an essay on the ethics of tribal peoples (1893). His later, best-known work, The Threshold of Religion (1900), examined those forms of activity, such as magic and sorcery, which he held to precede religion. Marett, like most of his contemporaries, considered that one of the main functions of social anthropology was to set out the evolutionary series through which the institutions of human society have developed. I too am an evolutionist in that I consider that when we assess and try to understand the significance of institutions it is essential to examine them against the background of what has undoubtedly been a major trend in the history of human society as a whole—the increasing complexity of technology, and with it of economic organization. I believe that when we work out the forms of social organization and of social beliefs and ideas associated with different ranges of technology, we illuminate them all. This is now an unpopular line among social anthropologists, and has been for a long time, save for the school under Professor Leslie White at the University of Michigan. Of recent years the stress has been on what is common in the institutions of all human societies; and indeed there is much that is common to them all. Yet within this marked common area, it is possible to trace differences which acquire significance from their common matrix in social life.

A further theme that I shall discuss is that of the effect of customs, the standardized practices of a particular population of people, on behaviour; and the relation of various forms of custom to the general techno-economic background. This again is a theme which Marett used frequently to stress; hence the volume of essays presented to him by his pupils and admirers on his seventieth birthday was entitled Custom is King (1936: edited Buxton). And here too I take a line that is, at least among most younger British social anthropologists, a relatively unpopular one: for many of them have moved from the emphasis laid by their elders on social relationships to study human action apart from the constraining effect of custom, which Marett considered so to dominate in controlling human behaviour.

My problem may be briefly posed. Individuals in all societies run into moral crises. The crises with which I am concerned in these lectures are the crises that arise in situations where a person is moved by different social rules and values to opposed courses of action so that no clear solution is available. I shall argue that in such situations tribal custom provides resolutions which are in some form or other magico-religious, or ritual, depending on beliefs in occult forces, and I shall demonstrate this through an examination of a number of African societies.2 Durkheim and many other scholars have asked why there should be such customs, and this is the problem to which I shall address myself. I shall then report and analyse one similar crisis in an industrial society, and show how it is handled in terms of secular beliefs. From this comparison I shall suggest that there may be certain consistent contrasting approaches in the sets of beliefs of tribal societies and those of at least many members of a modern industrial society.

I must emphasize here initially one point to which I shall have to refer on other occasions. Recent work on the incidence of accusations of witchcraft and sorcery, or divinations of ancestral wrath, to explain the one cause of misfortune has related these to areas of tension in social life. For example, the set of beliefs I shall particularly examine are those in witchcraft, sorcery and divination. I have selected these because they enable me, in delivering a lecture to honour Marett, at the same time to honour his successor, Professor E. E. Evans-Pritchard, at present Professor of Social Anthropology in the University of Oxford and, like myself, a member of this College by origin, though he holds his Chair in All Souls. His study, which initiated the line of research I shall follow, largely through my own work and the work of other of his pupils, is well known to social anthropologists and has influenced other disciplines. Furthermore, I shall in presenting the work that flowed from Evans-Pritchard’s be setting out some analyses I have published before, though I hope that I succeed in emphasizing their major points more adequately and in developing further their implications. I fear it is inevitable in the Marett lectures, delivered to an audience composed largely of people who are not professional anthropologists, that I must go over some grounds known to my colleagues. But the function of tributary lectures of this sort is to acquaint ‘outsiders’ with developments in one’s own subject. Moreover, because of my stress, following Marett, on the constraining effect of custom, as I have said I shall again draw attention to points of analysis which I consider have been overlooked by my colleagues in their recent concentration on human behaviour itself and in the dropping of evolutionary approaches.

I shall be talking about beliefs in witchcraft and sorcery and divination, and I must insist that they constitute only part of the set of beliefs and ideas of the peoples concerned. All of them have technologies which are highly developed relatively to an absence of tools, though they appear simple in comparison with modern industrial technology. Without an efficient technology they could not have survived. All of them also have codes of law: and I for one have presented in detail records of trials in one African society, the Barotse, in which I have demonstrated that their modes of judicial reasoning are in many respects akin to those of our own judges.3 Africans insist in trials that man is distinguished from animals by his possession of ‘reason’ and ‘sense,’ and this includes ‘respect’ for custom.4 We shall see that they equally exhibit ‘reason’ in their beliefs in occult forces; and it is to a consideration of these that I now proceed.

It appears to me that one of the essential elements in a set of beliefs that ascribe a person’s misfortunes to the witchcraft or sorcery of another is that individuals are made responsible, or at least can be held liable, for the welfare of their fellows in situations where, in other societies lacking such beliefs, there is no such responsible interdependence. Societies holding such beliefs have relatively under-developed technologies. Hence they have much less knowledge of the empirical causes of misfortune and good fortune, present and past. They also have less surety about the future. When they resort to divination to obtain further knowledge it may be, as Forde stressed in his Frazer lecture, because of the limits of their technical knowledge.5 But we have still to explain why this uncertainty and ignorance are interpreted so strongly in moral terms. That accusations of witchcraft or sorcery, allegations of ancestral wrath, and rituals occur in situations of social tension and areas of social strain in itself is an inadequate explanation. Our own society is full of social strain and tension, but anyone who related his misfortunes to them through accusations of witchcraft or the like would be regarded as mentally ill.6 We have to try and explain why some societies have such beliefs and others do not.

The beliefs argue by implication that if the moral situation of the individual in relationship with his fellows were satisfactory, all would go well. If he suffers misfortune, it is because he himself has committed some wrong; or because he has been wronged, possibly by occult means, by one of his fellows; or because—in major, widespread disasters—there is something wrong in the moral state of the society as a whole. As Durkheim showed for early society, there is less differentiation between the natural, the social and the moral orders. The same situation is inherent in divination about the future course of events. Evans-Pritchard showed for the Azande that there is involved in divination into the future a particular conception of time, where the future is there in the present. The divination foretells the future by bringing into the open the present alignment of occult forces—which depend on moral alignments—that will influence the course of events. Thereafter one must either wait for that alignment of occult (moral) forces to alter, or else strive to protect oneself, or alter the alignment, by magic.

These ideas are implicit in customary beliefs. One thing which they do, therefore, from our point of view as outside observers, is to exaggerate the dependence of people on one another. As we shall see, it is believed that if a man feels anger or envy against a fellow the latter may suffer some external misfortune: the effects of feelings are thus exaggerated. Direct moral interdependence is made greater by these beliefs than it would be without them. They thus reflect a characteristic of tribal societies, which is well expressed in a Barotse song:

He who kills me, who will it be but my kinsman?

He who succours me, who will it be but my kinsman?7

This song describes pithily the extent to which close relatives cooperate with and depend on one another, and the extent to which they yet compete with one another. The competition goes on within a highly valued solidarity which stresses mutuality and sharing, and which is very different from that organic solidarity which Durkheim ascribed to the increasing division of labour that finally results in modern industrial situations; here, he argued, the individual is more dependent on the specialized organs of society, yet he is more isolated and alone. Durkheim argued incorrectly that this was accompanied by a shift from repressive law to restitutive law;8 I shall try to show that it is accompanied by a varying emphasis, in occult beliefs, in the placing of responsibility towards one’s fellows, though there are common ideas about responsibility in all societies in judicial or proto-judicial situations. Examination of this varying emphasis leads to an attempt to determine in what situations occult and legal responsibility respectively will be fixed.

I consider that it should be possible to bring out a comparison of shifting emphasis if we looked at units of production in traditional African societies in contrast with units of production in an industrial society. An African village can be regarded as a family firm, with resources and jobs, a number of possible workers who are at the same time shareholders, and a limited number of executive positions. What happens when the number of worker-shareholders and of competitors for executive positions increases beyond the capacity of the firm? Set in this way, we can compare events in an African village with what happens when a similar situation arises in a family firm in industrial England; and we are fortunate in that Dr C. Sofer has provided us with an excellent study of such a situation.9 In Africa the response is to call in a witch-detective, or a diviner; and I shall argue that what he does, in terms of his occult beliefs, is to exaggerate the wickedness of individuals and, as we see it, to hold them responsible for crises arising from struggles rooted in the conflicts in social structure itself. In Sofer’s study an industrial consultant is called in, and he seems to do the opposite to the diviner: he seeks to diminish resort to explanations in terms of individual wickedness or weakness, and to relate difficulties objectively to the exposure of the conflicts within the social system (conflicts of role, etc). Similar procedures are used in investigations of non-family firms. Thus the tendency is to diminish, rather than to exaggerate, the responsibility of persons for group and individual misfortunes, and not to exaggerate it. Finally I ask whether one can relate this difference to changing views on criminal responsibility.

Evans-Pritchard’s study of witchcraft beliefs

From 1926 onwards Evans-Pritchard published a series of essays on beliefs in witchcraft and mystical beings, on divination and on magical practices which completely altered our understanding of these phenomena. In 1937 he pulled his analyses together in a book which is still studied by both students and research workers: Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

First, he examined beliefs in witchcraft as a theory of causation. Briefly, the Azande ask about every unfortunate happening, How did it happen? and Why did it happen? For example, if an elephant tramples on and crushes a hunter, the Azande see how he was killed in terms of the might and weight of the elephant which crushes a man. But they also ask, Why did this elephant, and not another elephant, kill this hunter, and not another hunter, on this occasion, and not another occasion? Again, men seek shade in the heat of a tropical day by sitting under their granaries, which are built above the ground on poles. Termites eat these supports, and the weight of the granary brings it down, perhaps to crush the people sitting in its shade. Azande see that it is the termites that destroy the supports and cause the fall of the granary, whose weight crushes a man as the weight of an elephant does. But they ask again, Why did the granary fall at the particular moment when these particular people were sitting under it? Azande answer these ‘whys’ by saying that a witch caused that elephant to kill that hunter on that occasion, or that granary to fall just at the moment when those people were sitting in its shade.

I have stated that in many technical and social situations Africans—including the Azande—argue in the same terms as we do about events and responsibility. An Azande cannot, for example, plead that witchcraft made him commit adultery, theft or treason. Azande also observe clearly and generalize certain aspects of the empirical ‘hows’ of misfortunes: a heavy weight crushes a man; wild beasts attack hunters. But they also try to explain what can be called the ‘particularity’ of misfortunes—why particular persons suffer them. Here beliefs in witchcraft enter. Similarly, beliefs in witchcraft explain why one man’s crops fail and not another’s, why a man falls ill when he has previously been well and his fellows are still well, why a small wound festers instead of healing, and so forth. Among the Azande the belief is also used to explain why particular warriors, and not others, are killed by particular enemies in battle. Clearly those slain were killed by enemy spears: but an internal enemy, the witch, has caused this particular death. And this witch is held responsible, and may be liable to pay compensation or suffer punishment in internal tribal relationships.

Thus when an Azande suffers a misfortune his society’s beliefs offer him an agent, in the form of a witch, who can be held liable. He seeks the particular witch responsible for his immediate misfortunes by consulting oracles or a diviner or witch-detective (a better term than witch-doctor). These modes of seeking for the witch bring out that beliefs in witchcraft are a theory of morality as well as a theory of particular causation. When the sufferer consults an oracle he thinks of people who have cause to wish him harm and puts their names to one of the oracles. The most important oracle consists in giving a vegetable substance, collected and prepared with many taboos, to chickens while asking questions, such as whether a particular person is the witch you are seeking. The chicken dies or vomits the substance to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question. The substance, used widely in Africa, is probably a strychnine which is ‘haphazard’ in its effect, since the operator cannot determine what quantity of the substance will be lethal or will be vomited. Since the consultant puts the name of several personal enemies to the oracle, in the end a man he believes wishes him ill will be indicated as the witch.

Early observers had noted that a man almost always accused a personal enemy of bewitching him. They therefore concluded that the whole business was fraudulent. Evans-Pritchard demonstrated that this alleged fraudulence was essential to the reasonableness and credibility of the system of beliefs. And it is essential to note that the misfortune is suffered first, and this crystallizes belief in witchcraft: accusation of witchcraft follows on misfortune.

An Azande witch is a person with a certain black substance in his intestines, which can be seen after an autopsy. (It is probably a passing state of digestion.) A man may not be aware that he possesses this substance, which is the power of witchcraft. Even if he has this power it will remain ‘cool’ inside him unless he entertains vicious feelings against a fellow. But if he hates another, feels anger against him, or is envious of him, grudging him good fortune and resenting his success, the witchcraft becomes ‘hot.’ Its ‘soul’ will leave the witch’s body to consume the ‘soul’ of the internal organs of the other to make him ill, or it will cause him some other misfortune. The power of witchcraft is believed by Azande to be inherited in the patrilineal line, so a man is not himself responsible for possessing this power. But if he is a good man it will harm no one. Vicious feelings set witchcraft to work. This is why a sufferer seeks among his personal enemies for the witch who has caused his misfortune. Zande beliefs in witchcraft are a theory of morality, and they condemn the same vicious feelings that we regard as sinful.

Witchcraft beliefs condemn these vicious feelings even more severely than we do. For in witchcraft beliefs these vicious feelings are endowed with an occult power, by virtue of which they can, without the knowledge or will of their bearer, cause misfortune to others. Hence they embody a belief that persons bear high responsibility to their fellows.

The morality which is implicit in witchcraft beliefs is shown even more clearly if we look at Azande beliefs in ‘sorcery,’ which Evans-Pritchard distinguishes from ‘witchcraft.’ A witch’s ill feelings are endowed with power to harm others by the substance in his stomach. But a man may wish another harm without possessing this substance. Then he can only harm his enemy either directly and openly, or by resorting to sorcery, which involves the deliberate decision to use noxious magic. Sorcery is used by Azande to account for sudden illnesses and deaths. Witchcraft takes longer to achieve its object. Evans-Pritchard further made a full analysis of how beliefs in witchcraft, oracles and magic accommodate and absorb experiences that appear to show them to be invalid. He shows, for example, how experiences of this kind are explained as due to breach of taboo in preparing the oracle-substance which makes a false detection. Each apparent failure is thus rationalized in terms of other mystical beliefs. Thus the whole system is bolstered by apparently contradicting evidence.

Among the Azande, if a sufferer’s oracles say that a particular man, X, is causing him harm, he sends an intermediary to X with the wing of the chicken that died to X’s name. X is then constrained by good manners to blow water over the wing while he states that he was ignorant of causing harm and, if he has been doing so, he hereby ‘cools’ his witchcraft. The accused acts thus even if he does not accept the charge as valid. In the past, if a death was in question, the verdict of the dead person’s kin’s oracles had to be confirmed by the chief ’s oracles: the accused used to pay damages. After the Anglo-Egyptian government forbade accusations the deceased’s kin made vengeance-magic to punish the witch, and as people died in the neighbourhood the oracle was asked if each was the guilty witch, till an affirmative answer was obtained.

This set of beliefs, therefore, in certain situations obviously condemns vicious feelings which are condemned throughout human society. Furthermore, men and women are constrained to control the exhibition of these feelings, for those who show anger, envy or hatred towards others in their social relationships are likely to have their names put to the oracles.

But witchcraft beliefs do not operate in all social relationships. Among the Azande accusations are excluded from among the patrilineally related kinsmen who have to avenge one another’s deaths. Nor does a commoner accuse a prince, not only because he is afraid to but also because their behaviour to one another is determined by notions of status. Men do not accuse women. Witchcraft is believed to operate only over short distances, and men accuse their neighbours. Evans-Pritchard sums up thus: Azande ‘are most likely to quarrel with those with whom they come into closest contact, when this contact is not softened by sentiments of kinship or is not buffered by distinctions of age, sex and class.’ Sub-sequent research in Africa has confirmed Evans-Pritchard’s analysis of the logic of witchcraft, oracles and magic, and this research has developed his preliminary analysis of the social relationships within which accusations are made or from which they are excluded by cultural norms. It is clear that accusations of witchcraft are not only a straightforward reflection of animosities—otherwise Azande would accuse their patrilineal kin, with whom they must surely at times quarrel. Indeed, it is with these kin that quarrels may be most frequent. Later research on other tribes shows that it is not sufficient to say, as Evans-Pritchard does, that the softening of contact by sentiments of kinship excludes accusations. We know that quarrels often become most bitter where relationships are closest. We can see that the belief in patrilineal inheritance of witchcraft is consistent with the exclusion of accusations against patrilineal kinsmen. By contrast, in the patrilineal societies of southern Africa it is believed that the unrelated women who marry into the group of patrilineally related kinsmen bring witchcraft into their midst. And witchcraft in one of these tribes is believed to be inherited, as in fact haemophilia is among us: women pass it to their children but, while their sons suffer from the taint, they cannot pass it on. Daughters marry out of the group and transmit the taint to their husbands’ children.

We shall not be able to explain this difference in beliefs, or in the levying of accusations, until we have a full analysis of the structure and development of patrilineal groups among the Azande. For, in sharp contrast, in most other African societies, both patrilineal and matrilineal, accusations of witchcraft are often made against closely related kin, within the effective corporate group whose members hold property together and should support one another. These accusations are the outcome of profound moral crises in relationships within the group.

According to Evans-Pritchard’s analysis, a Zande accuses another of witchcraft against him in a social relationship which is confined to their mutual dealings with each other, and which is not set in a wider context of interaction in a group. Such accusations, among the Azande and other peoples, arise out of patent causes of hostility, which may well arise in turn from relatively chance encounters: jealousy over a woman, or skill at dancing, a quarrel over land, and so forth. Other accusations may be made in standardized situations of competition, between seekers after political office or, nowadays, between the employees within a single industrial enterprise. One such standardized situation is that of the fellow wives of a common husband: on the surface this appears to be straightforward jealousy arising from competition for the husband’s favours. Indeed, in many African languages one word for ‘jealousy’ also describes ‘polygyny.’ I shall argue that the jealousy of fellow wives, in so far as it appears in accusations of witchcraft, is not due simply to sexual rivalry but reflects, in some tribes at least, conflicts deep within the social structure. An analysis of this situation will lead us to examine the context within which people of most African tribes often accuse their nearest kin of attacking them with sorcery or witchcraft—that is, they accuse those persons whose equivalents among the Azande are immune from such charges.

Conflicts of value in the South-eastern Bantu agnatic systems10

The tribes of south-eastern Africa (such as the Zulu, Swazi, Mpondo and Xhosa) are organized in patrilineal lineages. In this system, men who are related to one another by common descent through males from a single ancestor some four to five generations back live together in a group of neighbouring homesteads. They are what the Romans called ‘agnates.’ Each homestead contains a number of males closely related in this way; and it is linked to its neighbours by more distant patrilineal ties.

The homestead is not a mere centre of residence, from which men and women go out to diverse ways of earning their living, and to which they return to consume goods as separate families. The members of a homestead assist one another in various productive activities: it is a family firm. Nowadays they even try to operate a rota under which men take turns to stay at home to care for gardens, cattle, women and children, and then to go out to work in European enterprises for money for the whole group.11 Because when individuals acquire goods they share them with their fellows, and all the men tend to eat together, separately from the women and small children.

The men in each homestead have claims on one another’s property in land, in cattle and in marriage payments for women of their families, as well as claims to succeed to one another’s social positions. These claims extend in an elaborate pattern into the other homesteads of the patrilineal group, should all the men of the first homestead die. The claims of men within this system are fixed in orders of priority, partly by the nearness of their relationship through male progenitors, and partly by the respective status of their mothers—the wives of these progenitors. These wives must be married from outside the group. Indeed, they must be virtually unrelated to the group. For a number of these patrilineal groups are held to have common descent, through males, from a long-dead ancestor. This constitutes the Zulu clan. A man may not marry a woman of his clan. Nor may he marry a woman who is a member of his mother’s clan.

Ideally, a Zulu marries several wives. Each wife has an established position and is ranked in relation to her fellow-wives. The ranking of wives is determined partly by the order in which they are married, partly by their husband’s dispositions and affections, and partly by the status of each wife’s father.12 Though the idea of ranking should eliminate uncertainty about the status of each wife and the claims of her sons, these varied rules produce uncertainty and potentially breed disputes between the women. Straightforward competition between fellow wives for their husband’s favours is aggravated by competition in the interests of their respective sons begotten by him. It is even held that a good wife and mother should look to the interests of her husband and children, though this may set her against the interests of other wives and their children and against the interests of the group of male agnates as a whole. Polygyny thus produces quarrels inside the patrilineal group, and these quarrels centre on the strangers—the wives who have married into the group.

These quarrels, centred on the wives of the group, penetrate even more deeply. Most men in fact marry only one wife. She remains liable to be accused of witchcraft by her mother-in-law or her sister-in-law or her brother-in-law. Ideally, the group of males linked by patrilineal descent should remain united and bound together in shared loyalty to one another. With this unity, a premium is placed on each male having many sons both to perpetuate and to strengthen the group. A man can achieve this goal only if his wife bears sons for him. This is therefore regarded as the highest duty of a wife: she suffers severely if she is barren or bears only daughters. But in the very process of fulfilling her duty by producing sons to strengthen the group the wife weakens the group: for her sons will have to compete with their cousins—their father’s brothers’ sons—for the positions and the patrimony of the group. Moreover, though every man is by one set of values closely identified with his brothers, with half-brothers by his father’s other wives, and beyond them with his patrilineal cousins, by another set of values he fulfils himself as an individual through marriage and the begetting of his own sons. He is entitled to look to the welfare of his own wife and her children, and to see in them the nucleus of a following which will establish him independently of his patrilineal kinsmen. The wife, in the very process of fulfilling her creative duty to bear children to strengthen her husband’s lineage, sows the seeds of dissension and break-up in the group.

Zulu themselves see the woman who marries into the patrilineal group as a mischief-maker who starts quarrels between her husband and his brothers or patrilineal cousins. And the Zulu are not the only patriarchal people who hold this stereotype about the wickedness of daughters-in-law and sisters-in-law. It is a stereotype which is held strongly in the Chinese and Indian joint families. The daughter-in-law is soon at odds with her husband’s mother, because she is under the older woman’s domination. Explanations in these terms explain the cause of tension; they do not explain why the tension should be reflected in occult beliefs. For example, Freedman, in a fine study of the South-eastern Chinese lineage, refers to my work on the Zulu without drawing attention to the attempted explanation of the occult beliefs.13 This very real source of quarrelling between them is, I have suggested, underlain by a deeper conflict of values: the mother-in-law represents the unity of all her sons, while in contrast each of her sons’ wives represents the independence of her particular husband from the other sons.

It is this deeper conflict which, I suggest, is represented in this type of society in a whole series of beliefs about the inherent evil of femininity—an evil which is endowed with occult power that can harm others. Since the conflict arises out of the reproductive powers of the woman, logically it is associated with her intense sexual desires. Many agnatic societies have analogous ideas. Chinese believe that contact with women who are yin—like the moon and cold and winter—compromise male vigour—yang, which is like the sun and heat and summer. Hindus believe that in sexual intercourse the male yields part of his life and virtue. The South-eastern Bantu—and many others—believe in the mystically polluting and harmful effects of the blood of birth and menstrual blood, which they may yet consider is built up into the flesh of the strongly desired children.14 Additionally, the Zulu fear that a woman’s desires will attract to her sexual familiars—both sprites and animals— who will then demand from her the lives of her husband’s kin.

Wives are thus believed by the Zulu to be full of inherent evil power—a power they carry into the heavens, where dangerous forked lightning is female, while harmless sheet lightning is male. Only female ancestral spirits afflict their former husband’s living kin capriciously with misfortune: male ancestral spirits are believed to remedy misfortunes they have sent when proper sacrifice is made to them; female spirits may not respond thus reasonably. And among the living a man’s illwishes or nature do not of themselves inflict misfortune. A man must deliberately make the choice to attack another, either openly by force or secretly by practising the evil magic of a sorcerer. Women are witches, with inherent evil power. But women’s powers are ambivalent: in addition to threatening evil power, women also contain ritual power for good, power which can be directed to fertility or to the detection of occult evils.

Because of the strong suspicion with which the Zulu viewed all whites, I found it difficult when I was studying them to collect detailed records of divining sessions where the causes of misfortunes were sought—an activity which was illegal under South African law. The cases I did collect bear out what Zulu say, and what was recorded by earlier students of the Zulu—namely, that most witches detected were women. Detection followed the line of customary belief because the principal form of Zulu divining is controlled by the consultants, and not by the witch-detective. The consulting party come to the witch-detective, who, after preparing himself, asks a series of questions, such as ‘Something is lost?’ ‘Cattle are ill?’ ‘A person is ill?’ while the afflicted clap their hands steadily and chant, ‘We agree, we agree, we agree. . . .’ When the diviner hits on the misfortune concerned, they clap and chant more rapidly and loudly. Then, if someone is ill, the diviner seeks similarly for the occult cause of that illness: someone has broken a taboo, an ancestral spirit has sent the illness, a witch is responsible. Louder and faster clapping and chanting indicate when he has stated the present fears of his clients. He then specifies, say, ancestral spirit or witch or sorcerer by sex, age and kinship or other relationship to the victim.

The clients are clearly in control of this method of detecting which occult agent is held responsible for a misfortune. In the 1860’s Bishop Callaway recorded a text from some young men in Natal who said that, realizing this, they decided to maintain a steady tempo and tone in their responses. The diviner told them to go away and send to consult him some elders who knew how to divine.

Other Zulu diviners work by methods which are less under the control of those who have come to consult. Least under control is the diviner who goes into a trance, during which his (or, more commonly, her) ancestral spirits speak in whistling whispers from the rafters of the hut. Presumably such a diviner works on the basis of local knowledge. Other diviners cast collections of bones and other objects, representing various persons and elements in Zulu life; and these are read according to the patterns in which they fall—patterns which are known to the public. These bones are, as one early ethnographer described them, ‘a résumé of their whole social order,’15 so they cover all possible social contingencies.

Immediately I must confess that when I was studying the Zulu I was not alert to the importance of trying to investigate in detail whether afflicted Zulu consult various types of diviners according to the internal situation within their social relationships. I suspect now that when relationships within a patrilineal group have developed to a point where break-up is imminent, and misfortune befalls those who wish to assert independence, they are likely to consult by the clapping of hands so that they will get the answer they desire. Their reasoning would not, of course, take this form: they will reason that the case is, in an American phrase, more or less open and shut, so an ordinary diviner will suffice. But at more peaceable phases of a group’s development it is likely that open-ended methods of divination are used, with the diviner or his apparatus selecting from several possibilities.16 After all, the clients above all want to know accurately what occult power has caused their troubles in order to end it: it is not in their interests, as they see these, to ‘cheat.’

These guesses I am making now, all too many years after I finished my research in Zululand, are guesses inspired by the recent work of younger anthropologists,17 who have concentrated on the details of developments within particular homesteads or villages as their members mature, marry and produce children, who in turn mature and marry. These recent analyses emphasize that a struggle to control the divinatory decision may proceed between different contestants for superior positions in a village, or between the head of a village and the leader of a section within it who is attempting to establish independence. The struggle to control the divinatory decision is hidden from the protagonists themselves, since—I repeat— they are all motivated by the wish to discover what occult agent is responsible for the misfortune at issue in order that remedial measures may be taken. They are, of course, aware of the issues that lie between them; but they believe that the divination gives an unbiased answer—and indeed some methods of divination operate more or less mechanically. But if the decision does not favour one protagonist he may go to another diviner, and yet another, or seek some practitioner who uses different methods, to get the answer he wishes. This kind of jockeying for position at the divinatory séance appears to occur when the course of the group’s cycle of development has reached a crisis.

I shall later return to these analyses, after I have emphasized some points which have already emerged. The first is that since such high value is placed by the society on kin remaining united and continuing to reside together, a threat to the well-being of some members of the group, a threat which is ascribed to witchcraft or sorcery on the part of another, often seems to be required to justify separation. Either the evil-doer and his close dependants are driven out, or the sufferer and his dependants move away. In South-east Africa, Monica Wilson has reported this process from the Mpondo and Xhosa, and I have noted it among the Zulu. Several anthropologists have described the process in other parts of Africa. I emphasize that this ‘excuse’ is not always necessary: Professor I. Schapera tells me that sorcery was the ostensible cause of Tswana wards splitting in well under half of such divisions on which he has adequate information. Elsewhere the proportion of divisions related to witchcraft is higher. We can say that, in many African cultures, before a man can act against the high value set on maintaining unity he himself often has to feel, and demonstrate publicly, that though he desires unity he and his have suffered or are threatened by disaster caused by maleficent occult agents, and they must separate.

This statement immediately raises the question: why should this rationalization to justify separation be required? Why cannot those who wish to do so simply move away? We know that in some cases—as Schapera again tells me about the Tswana—where there is palpable shortage of land for cultivation or congestion in living quarters people agree amicably to move off: but sometimes even in this kind of situation a misfortune attributed to occult causes is held to justify the separation.

Our problem is, then, why in some societies the total process of development in a group of kinsfolk is conceived to be permeated by occult forces operating either advantageously or maleficently—forces which must be specified through divination. I suggest that one reason may be that the people cannot know the full implications of their own social rules. The Zulu and Mpondo, for instance, see women as mischief-makers, but they cannot recognize that the duty they impose on their women to be fruitful of children, especially sons, must ultimately, if fulfilled, produce effects opposite from those they desire. Were they to do so, they could no longer set such high value at the same time both on the persistence of agnatic unity and on the female fecundity which must destroy that unity.

The ideology and values of the Zulu, the Mpondo and similarly organized tribes are those of stationary societies. They do not accept the idea of radical changes in social pattern—which have indeed occurred. Furthermore, even changes that are within the established cultural pattern (i.e., changes in the personnel of actual groups and in the incumbents of particular established social positions) tend to be handled with ritual precautions. These ritual precautions render safe an implicit interference with the occult forces that are believed to preserve the well-being of a society. For every change in life—whether it be the birth of a child, a boy’s or maiden’s growing to maturity, or a transfer of land—tends to be treated as a disturbance and becomes the focus of a ritual in which related persons participate by performing actions which symbolize their interest in the central parties or object. These rituals have a strong moral element in them: they state the moral character of the relationships between the persons concerned.18 This moral element is highly emphasized in the approach to misfortune. For a misfortune is regarded as a break in the orderly course of events, a break which results from a disturbance in the moral relationships between the sufferer and his fellows. The breach may be by either the victim; or someone connected with him, or by an alleged wrongdoer.19 The moral disturbance either prompts a fellow to harm with witchcraft or sorcery, or provokes ancestral spirits or other occult beings to send ill fortune. Looked at from outside, we see that in these ostensibly stationary societies the natural order, the social order with its moral code, and the occult order permeate one another. Hence there is continual resort to divination, either to detect the occult cause which is connected with present misfortune, or to measure the pressures of occult forces which will influence good and ill fortune in the future.

But these beliefs in the moral aspect of occult causes and forces do not apply most strongly to patent breaches of morality. Patent breaches of morality can be dealt with in a straightforward, rational, secular manner, for example by discussion or by arbitration or by judicial consideration. It seems that occult beliefs are most significant when some major ambiguity is present in social life. My suggestion is that Zulu belief in the inherent evil of femininity can be referred to the major conflict resulting from the effects of female fecundity on the structure of Zulu agnatic groups. In short, a belief of this kind has to be referred to a deep-seated conflict of social rules, or principles of organization, or processes of development, and not to superficial quarrels arising out of divergent interests between men and women. The essence of these situations is that the people concerned are not aware of these conflicts. As I have said of the Zulu, were they aware of the conflict they could no longer operate the system. The occult belief, which is phrased to stress what are apparently common, realizable norms and values, and which indeed stresses the observance of morality, conceals the conflict and the disharmony it in fact produces. Divination selects some alleged slip from morality—be it in feeling only, or an allegation that a woman has a highly sexed sprite as a familiar—as the alleged cause of misfortune which is related to observed social difficulties, even though these arise from the structure of society itself.

We may note that these beliefs predicate that in some situations an illness or death is due to the evil motives of some related person who competes with one for land or cattle. In a sense, therefore, there is an element of psychological truth in them. For at the level of subsistence, when resources become scarce, possession of cattle or land may make the difference between hunger and satisfaction, between illness and good health, between life and death. He who covets the cattle and land to which I aspire, by implication wishes me to be hungry, to be ill, even to die. Yet nevertheless, viewed objectively, the beliefs ‘exaggerate,’ so to speak, the responsibility of a pre-selected individual for the harm suffered by another.20

Conflicts of moral principle

We owe our insight into the relation between conflict of social principles and the occurrence of occult beliefs and rituals to Professor M. Fortes (now of Cambridge, but formerly a member of this College) and Evans-Pritchard in a joint Introduction to a series of essays on African Political Systems (1940). Most of these essays emphasized the occult attributes of political offices, and the ritual responsibilities of chiefs and other leaders. Fortes and Evans-Pritchard pointed out that political rituals aim to achieve prosperity for a political unit as a whole: rain and sunshine at appropriate seasons to produce good crops and pasture, fertility of both people and cattle, success in hunting and war, freedom from disease, and so forth. These are communal goods, and they derive from weather, land, people and beasts. But individual men (taking the men’s point of view) get their good crops from weather which may benefit a small area, affecting only individual plots of land, and they get their calves from individual cows and their children from individual women. Men may compete and struggle with others over these plots of land, these cows and these women. Communal good—the general prosperity of the country as a whole and the fertility of all women and beasts—thus arises out of individual prosperity based on individual plots of land, individual women and individual beasts, over all of which there may be dispute. There is in one sense a deep conflict between general prosperity and individual prosperity. The political system as a whole provides the moral order in which men may hope to hold and work their land, herd their cattle, and marry wives and raise children: so it becomes invested with occult values which hide the potential conflict between communal well-being and well-being for all individuals. These values are expressed in beliefs and rituals.

Since this idea was advanced, several anthropologists have followed its lead. Nadel found among the Nupe of northern Nigeria beliefs similar to those of the Zulu. In Nupe the evil witches who kill are women, while male witches defend their fellows against the female witches. Only female witches are believed to kill, but since this evil deed requires that male defenders default from duty, in effect the female requires the assistance of a male. Nevertheless, the evil again resides in femininity. Women are considered to be sexually insatiable. Nadel seeks to answer why. He finds a striking conflict between the roles which, ideally, women ought to play and what many women in fact do. Ideally, a Nupe woman should be a good wife, subservient to her husband, bearing him many children and staying at home to care for them and their father. In reality a great deal of trade is in the hands of the women. They absent themselves to trade, and some become richer than their husbands. Instead of the husband supporting his wife, she may help him; and she, and not her husband, may help their sons find the marriage payments for their brides. On top of this, those women who prosper at trading often travel to distant markets, where they add to their earnings by prostituting themselves. Some of them are alleged to practise abortion to avoid having children who would interfere with their trading activities. Yet women who work hard at trading to acquire wealth, and then help their menfolk, are also approved. Out of this insoluble conflict between two ideals and hard reality, says Nadel, emerges the ascription by men of witchcraft power to women. A Nupe woman aiming at independent trading faces problems similar to those of a modern Englishwoman pursuing a career; the latter escapes being suspected of witchcraft.

I would add that the Nupe have the same sort of patrilineal lineage structure as the Zulu; and, with all respect, I suggest that the position of the relatively few women traders exacerbates a conflict over female fertility, a conflict which is represented in Nupe beliefs about women’s sexual voracity.21

M. Wilson22 stresses in the same way conflicts between social principles in an attempt to explain why, in two tribes which she studied, witches are believed to be motivated in one by sexual lust, and in the other by greed for meat and milk. The first tribe, the Mpondo of South Africa, are organized in the main on the same lines as the Zulu. Men of agnatic lineages reside close together, and have claims on one another’s land, cattle and social positions. They eat together. They are forbidden to have sexual relationships with any woman of their agnatic clan and with a large number of women related to them in other ways. Hence many women in a district are sexually taboo to a man. On top of this, they are now part of South African society, with its strict colour bar and its strong, legally punishable condemnation of sexual relationships between persons of different colour. Wilson suggests that this situation leads to the belief that both male and female witches are moved by extreme sexual desires and acquire familiars which then demand the lives of their kin or relatives-in-law.

The other tribe that Wilson studied was the Nyakyusa of Tanganyika. Their organization also contains agnatic lineages whose men have rights in one another’s cattle. But the men of these lineages do not reside together. It is forbidden here for a man to be near his daughter-in-law. Hence, as boys of a neighbourhood mature they move out of their fathers’ villages and build a separate new village. Each village is inhabited, therefore, by men of the same age. Here they bring their wives, but they eat as a group of men, not each man with his wife and children. Great value is placed in these Nyakyusa villages of age-mates on hospitality and good companionship: yet the prized foods, meat and milk, are derived from cattle which are ‘owned’ jointly not by fellow villagers but by agnatic lineages some of whose men are dispersed over several age-villages which own the land of the village. Cattle are sacrificed to lineage spirits, and consumed at gatherings of lineage mates. There is a conflict between obligations of hospitality to fellow age-mates in one’s village, and the obligations to one’s lineage fellows with whom one holds cattle. Wilson argues that therefore, although the Nyakusa are better off as regards food supplies than the Mpondo, they believe that witches are moved by greed for food. The belief arises from conflict between membership of agnatic lineage and membership of age-village.

All these societies have in many respects their own well developed technologies. Yet in comparison with us their control over the hazards of life is relatively slight. Drought, floods, crop pests and cattle epidemics threaten their communal wellbeing; if famine comes they have no way to obtain food. Their medical lore is inefficient. Infantile and maternal mortality rates are extremely high, and diseases kill many of those who have survived beyond infancy. It is not surprising that in this situation they believe that they are subject to the influences of occult powers, which affect their good and ill fortune. Furthermore, since these powers work outside sensory observations, it is also not surprising that these peoples should seek, through divination, operating also by occult means, to assess what these powers have done in the immediate past or portend in the future. But what we have to examine is the fact that divination is not concerned merely to unravel a technical problem; beyond this, the problem set for the diviner is a moral problem. And what the studies I have cited suggest is that often it is an insoluble moral problem, since it arises from discrepancies and conflicts in the structure of society itself. The Nyakyusa cannot abolish either his cattle-owning agnatic lineage or his residential age-village. He is caught permanently between the two. My analysis and Wilson’s theory that the Mpondo believe witches are motivated by sexual lust because so many persons around them are sexually taboo to them supplement each other. Between them they explain a further point. Wilson is inclined to think that Mpondo beliefs in witchcraft are less concerned with morality than are Nyakyusa beliefs. Yet sex is a subject on which moral codes have at least as much to say as they have about food. Certainly this is so among the Mpondo and their cognate tribes. I suggest that Nyakyusa beliefs deal patently with individual moral lapses because the conflict between membership of age-village and membership of agnatic lineage, though inescapable, is clear even to the people themselves. On the other hand, if I am right the Mpondo conflict is beyond their view, since it resides in the ambivalent effects of women’s fertility. Hence the belief in witchcraft does not appear to be so directly connected with individual morality: it deals with inescapable, but unseen, conflicts in social morality.

Clearly, if it is disturbances due to inescapable conflicts in social structure itself that produce the strains and pose insoluble choices for people, no rational assessment of them is possible. The human mind, enmeshed in the culture of a particular society of this type, cannot withdraw to consider, so to speak, judicially what is at fault. Divination provides, in various degrees, an external, seemingly unbiased, means of deciding where the moral fault lies.

But why must there be a moral fault to explain a misfortune? To answer this question we may pursue the beliefs of the Nyakyusa. They believe that the power of witchcraft comes from several black pythons in the stomach—pythons which can be seen on autopsy. These pythons lust for meat, and witches fly on them at night and throttle the hated victim or eat his flesh so that he dies. The pythons of witchcraft are fought by defenders of the village—senior men who possess power to destroy witchcraft and witches. This defending power comes from possession of a single python in the stomach (which is not visible on autopsy). If a man is ill, various people may interpret the cause of his illness differently: he may think he is being attacked by the pythons of witches, others may say he is a witch who is being punished by the python of a defender.

This belief (and below I shall quote similar beliefs from other tribes) indicates that there is in a sense a similarity between the powers of witchcraft and the powers of anti-witchcraft. I have already cited how Nupe female witches attack, while male witches defend. In many religions, similarly, the line between the powers of good and evil spiritual beings is a fine one. Here, I think, we are looking at the possible opposite effects of a man’s use of his talents, or a woman’s use of her talents. These talents are potentially of value to society: equally, they may harm the possessor’s fellows. In a stationary society, and one in which men cannot easily separate from those with whom they compete or quarrel, this ambivalence of use of talent is most marked. It is excess that is condemned. Many tribes believe that a man succeeds to political office by killing his rivals with sorcery or witchcraft. Yet a man, to be a man, should not be spiritless. What is the golden mean of legitimate striving between spiritlessness and overweening ambition? What is the golden mean which makes a woman a good wife and mother, between the vice of barrenness23 and the vice of overbreeding?—the latter especially if other women are barren. Richards records of the Bemba of Zambia that to find one beehive in the woods is luck, to find two is very good luck, to find three is witchcraft. There is a mean of industriousness, somewhere between under-working and over-working, since it is believed that if a man’s crops are too fruitful he has used sorcery to steal the crops of his neighbours.24 In Britain, among university students there is a mean between slacking and swotting, and among industrial workers between being a rate-buster and a chiseller; but he who exceeds the mean, or does not attain it, is not accused of witchcraft.

Under these African beliefs those who are lucky or unduly productive both fear that they will be the target of sorcery or witchcraft from their envious neighbours and in practice are likely to be accused of sorcery or witchcraft by the less lucky or productive. The beliefs are appropriate to societies which are basically egalitarian, which have simple tools and no great variation in productiveness of their members, and which produce simple consumers’ goods so that there is little variation in standards of living. Given, too, that they have few types of occupation and categories of elites in which related men may fulfil their ambitions without competing with one another, the universal ethical problem of achieving balance, a golden mean, takes an acute form. A man rises in status at the expense of those closely related to him: a woman breeds many children at the expense of other women closely linked to her but who are barren. Prosperity is achieved possibly at the cost of one’s near kin. So that every talent and achievement is highly ambivalent.

Beliefs in witchcraft and ancestral wrath

I have so far described (in what was my first lecture) how in some tribal societies misfortunes are seen as resulting from breakdowns in the moral relations between members of groups of kinsfolk. The occurrence of misfortune is referred to the evil activity of a witch or sorcerer. In tribal belief it is predicated that the evil-doer is likely to stand in a particular kind of social relationship to the sufferer. Accusations of witchcraft or sorcery fall in certain patterns in different tribes and occult evildoers are believed to be animated by motives inappropriate to their social relationships. An accusation that a particular person is guilty has to be levied or validated by some divinatory or oracular apparatus. Ostensibly, this apparatus works out of the control of the accusers: it is external and appears to be unbiased, although those accused may allege that it has not been properly used.

I described further how in some agnatically organized societies—that is, societies where property and position pass in the male line—people believe that it is women who possess the inherent evil propensity of witchcraft, and indeed other forms of occult evil. I tried to relate this belief to the ambivalent effects of women’s fertility. A duty is laid on women married from outside into a group of agnates that they bear sons to perpetuate and strengthen their husbands’ groups. But the effect of the birth of sons is to produce competitors for the limited land, cattle, important positions and privileges of each group. Their competition produces dissension because of the very increase which first strengthens the numbers of the group’s membership. This dissension, and the breaking off of relationships to which it may lead, enable a man to achieve the independence to which he is entitled. But he achieves this goal only in conflict with the highly valued goal that he should remain united with his agnates. The goals aimed at are thus mutually exclusive; and it seems that in order to separate into independence a man must frequently get a divinatory declaration that he and his dependants have suffered a misfortune which shows that they are being attacked by occult evil. Misfortune comes first; divination of occult causes follows after. This alone legitimates his flouting the value of unity. I argued further that since the conflict in pursuit of goals arises from the birth of sons, it means that wives both strengthen and weaken the group when they discharge their duty to be fertile. This conflict arising from the duty laid on women is concealed by the belief that they are witches moved by insatiable sexual desires.

Many problems can be extracted both from these beliefs and from their social setting. I have concentrated my analysis on the moral crisis created for a group which sets a high value on unity as its own development leads to a proliferation of conflicting interests within it. The interests of members of the group may conflict because of increasing pressure on land, or difficulties in sharing out cattle, or desires for independence and positions of prestige. A situation is created in which persons are moved by different but equally highly regarded social rules and values to opposed courses of action: this I have called a ‘moral crisis.’ The situation is well illustrated in Middleton’s study of the Lugbara of Uganda, but here it is the wrath of ancestral spirits against junior kinsmen who do not respect their seniors that threatens to bring illness—rather more than witchcraft and sorcery.

As long ago as 1934 Schapera25 analysed a Bechuana belief under which if a senior relative was indignant against a junior relative, the pair’s ancestral spirits would cause misfortune to the junior. The senior did nothing: his indignation set the spirits to work. The wronged senior was not in these circumstances guilty of sorcery; and he had to take a lead in the ritual treatment necessary for the sufferer to be cured. A similar Lugbara belief has been set by Middleton in the full context of an agnatic group’s development.26

The Lugbara are organized in small, agnatic lineages, with ritual seniority passing down the generations through the eldest sons of senior wives of successive progenitors within each lineage. Seniority is marked by control over certain shrines, at which offerings must be made to cure those who have fallen ill. Illness is commonly believed to result from the legitimate indignation of a senior kinsman against his junior. The ghosts of dead ancestors become aware of this indignation and, without being explicitly invoked, send illness to the wrong-doing junior. The senior is not aware of what is happening until illness strikes. The cause of illness is determined through divination. Therefore if a junior falls ill, it is a validation of the senior’s authority if the divination indicates that it is his indignation which has moved the ghosts to punish the junior who has failed to conform to the norms of morality.

When a group has grown in numbers, and becomes differentiated internally in several different lines of descent, a senior man in a junior line may try to assert that it is he whose indignation is causing the ghosts to send illness to his own subordinates. He attempts thus to argue that the sick person’s illness no longer arises from the indignation of the elder who had previously been divined as unconsciously moving the ghosts to punish the patient. If this is confirmed by the oracles and by recovery of the patient after offering has been made, the leader of the junior line is becoming successful in asserting his independence. When the junior elder is invited to go as representative of his own following to sacrifices by other segments of the lineage and is allowed to make ritual addresses, he is recognized as independent. During the crisis which leads to this phase, and after it is reached, the new leader will essay to amend the genealogy of the lineage so that his line appears to be equal, if not superior, to that of the erstwhile common leader.

I have had to summarize and over-simplify very complex processes; but I hope I have made clear that here again a misfortune—illness—is referred to a moral crisis in a group, and occult forces are believed to be working through that crisis. To obtain independence the aspiring leader has to claim that dead ancestors are acting on his behalf. The former leader will resist this declaration of independent status and its validation by the divination which detects on whose behalf the ghosts have acted. Each competitor strains to get accepted the divination of the oracle-operator to whom he went; and each man frames the questions answered in his consultation.

In these tense situations of competition men have to go for confirmatory divinations to diviners not related to the group, rather than to the several oracular apparatuses they themselves own, in order to determine who is responsible for the illness of a junior. When the client puts questions to the diviner he frames them in terms of the current crises in the group. Lugbara are aware that social ‘considerations enter into the consultation of the oracles’ but since they believe that sickness is due to occult causes, they concentrate attention on these causes (p. 187). Even an elder aspiring to independence accepted the oracles’ verdict that the leader of the group with whom he was competing had brought sickness on him: ‘he was very worried by [his] sickness, and thought that perhaps [the leader’s] mystical powers of eldership were behind it’ (p. 175).

The situation is very complicated, because several occult agencies are at work. Only God is responsible for deaths, and at times the extant leader may have God divined as the cause of a misfortune. This supports his position, because God is outside and above lineage sectional interests, though concerned in readjustments of authority and status. God’s support through the oracle is very weighty.

Here, then, with similar processes at work to those described for the Zulu, we have elders competing for the right to be named as responsible for sickness. It may seem strange that people should wish to be declared responsible for the ills of those in their care, but they should do this only to maintain lineage authority and its moral code. And the anthropologist was told by one Lugbara, who was divined to have been afflicted by his mother’s people, ‘Yes, it is right that sickness has come from [them]. . . . Do they not love me as their child? They watch over me. They are my people there. . . .’ (p. 191).

Sickness of this sort should punish only breaches against the moral code. Here a difficult dilemma arises for elders. As a lineage approaches the point where it will divide, competing elders try to be declared responsible as often as possible to validate their authority. Yet if an elder is held to be responsible too often, he becomes unpopular, and his juniors may allege that he is practising witchcraft. Witches are believed to attack only their agnates, and if one is acting illegitimately one uses witchcraft instead of invoking the ghosts. Middleton writes that ‘there is a very slight difference only between . . . being regarded as an ideal elder, exercising his authority for the well-being of his lineage, and . . . being accused of being a witch, abusing his mystical powers for his own selfish ends’ (pp. 200–1). A man should claim to be responsible for illness sent by ghosts only if he is insulted in his position as elder; it is witchcraft if he reacts to an insult against him as an individual. Even the same word describes moving the ghosts to action and using witchcraft. Again, the line between rightful and wrongful use of one’s talent and authority is difficult to draw, and it may be drawn differently by various parties involved in the situation.

The setting of this dilemma is the same conflict of values. It is proper for men to be ambitious and to want authority. Not to be ambitious is to be ‘immature.’ And on the other hand, ‘some men try to acquire authority which they should not possess and . . . others abuse it when they have acquired it.’ As the Lugbara (in Middleton’s words) ‘usually . . . see the total structure of their society . . . as something static’ (p. 216), competition for authority involving breach of the highly valued duty of unity is immoral, even though a man is entitled also to independence. And since division in the lineage often happens after the funerals of key elders, it is significant that men at dances staged at these funerals may have ‘incestuous’ relationships with their clanswomen and are liable to fight with their agnates (pp. 203–4), thus breaking the two most stringent rules in the moral code of the agnatic lineage—those rules that mark its unity.

One may well ask why, if the Lugbara have agnatic lineages like the south-eastern African tribes, they do not similarly relate the occult causes of their misfortune to the witchcraft of their wives married into these lineages. And the Azande also have groups of patrilineally related kinsmen, who are indeed required to avenge all deaths: they too do not blame their wives for witchcraft, but unrelated neighbours. This may have been a new pattern of accusations, since when Evans-Pritchard studied the Azande their old pattern of settlement had been disrupted. The Sudan government, in trying to move the Azande out of sleeping-sickness areas, had settled them in lines of homesteads along the roads running on the watersheds. We do not yet know how to explain fully these varied patterns of belief. But the explanation may lie in patterns of inheritance of property and position. As I have described, in south-eastern African tribes, including the Zulu, each wife becomes the centre of a separate estate within the total of her husband’s estate. She is allotted cattle and land to which her own sons are heirs as against their half-brothers by their father’s other wives. Among the Lugbara and the Azande, and other tribes dwelling in the same cultural region, instead of each wife being the focus of a separate estate, it seems that the whole of a man’s estate passes first to his brothers and even cousins before dropping a generation. The heir then administers the property for all the agnates. In a comparative analysis of Witchcraft and Sorcery in East Africa (1963, at pp. 15–16) Middleton and Winter conclude that, in tribes who ascribe misfortunes to witchcraft, it is where each wife is the centre of a separate estate within her husband’s property that women are accused of this inherent evil. It seems indeed plausible that, where one man is responsible for administering a whole estate in his and all his kinsmen’s interests, occult fears are more likely to focus directly on relationships between the males rather than indirectly via wives and mothers onto those relationships between men. Occult fears focus on women where property interests centre on women.

Middleton’s study of the Lugbara culminates in an analysis of the thirty-three occasions of divination during a period of fifteen months in the history of a single lineage nearing segmentation. At the end of this period, which was full of struggle between leaders competing to be divined as responsible for illness, the accredited senior leader died and the lineage split into segments. Earlier studies of these types of situation had set out general principles, and illustrated those principles by examples which were apt at any point in the analysis. This method tended to focus attention only upon the relationship between two apparently isolated persons, the pair of accuser and alleged witch/sorcerer, or between the pair of offended senior, who was supported by the ghosts, and the offending junior. A new generation of anthropologists has analysed divinations and accusations in their full context of social relationships, as Middleton did. They have seen that the divination of a particular occult agent as the cause of misfortune cannot always be handled in isolation. Each divination may have to be related to earlier divinations; and all have to be set in the total context of a group’s development. This method enabled them to penetrate more deeply both into divinations and into the complexity of social relationships. The new method was first applied by Mitchell to the Yao of Malawi.27

Conflicts of value in matrilineal systems

Among the Yao social position and authority are obtained and inherited in the matrilineal, and not the agnatic, line. In agnatic systems, growth of the group leads to difficulties which focus on wives, who are the source of increase in numbers and the points at which divisions occur. In matrilineally organized societies, women are also the points of growth and of incipient division, but here it is women in their role as sisters, and not in their role as wives. For under matriliny a woman’s children are attached for purposes of group organization to her brothers and her mother’s brothers, and not to her husband who is their father. Uterine brothers and sisters by one mother form a closely mutually identified group, with the eldest brother entitled to be in charge of all. But the brothers also compete with one another to secure the support of their sisters, for it is largely through this support that each brother can obtain the following which will enable him to win prestige. The elder brother prevents his younger brother from doing this, unless the younger brother can persuade his sisters that the elder is incapable of looking after them, including protecting them and their children from sorcery, or is himself a sorcerer attacking the sisters and their children. ‘Hence,’ says Mitchell, ‘ . . . accusations of sorcery are frequent among brothers: it is a rationalization of a hostility arising from the structural position of uterine brothers, which, in view of the commonly accepted strong sentiments uniting brothers, may not be otherwise expressed.’ In short, here again there is a conflict between the legitimate aspiration for authority, which drives men to independence, and the high value set on unity of kinsfolk and the unity of a big village.

The competition is even more acute between a man and his sister’s sons as the latter strive to win their sisters from their common uncle’s care. And accusations of sorcery are frequently made by nephews against uncles, though not by uncles against nephews (see below). Mitchell states that ‘conflicts between sister’s sons and mother’s brothers are frequent’ as ‘a facet of the general political process in which groups are for ever [sic] trying at once to demonstrate their autonomy by setting up new villages, and their unity by remaining in large integrated villages’ (p. 179). The nephew aims to demonstrate that the mother’s brother is himself a sorcerer or neglects to protect the younger man’s sisters and their children against sorcery. And the sisters may in this process accuse one another, or a brother, or mother’s brother, of sorcery. Accusations of sorcery are also made between the men of segments within a larger matrilineage, residing in a single village.

Mitchell traced the variety of accusations that arose from seemingly chance quarrels and illnesses in a single village through seven years (the earlier ones were told him by informants and he observed the later processes). People aligned themselves in varied ways, but constant throughout was the opposition of two younger men, each of whom represented the interests of two segments descended from women who shared a common grandmother. Mitchell summarized the history of quarrelling thus:

Consistently in the accounts of the divinations each reject[ed] the diviner’s finding if it accuse[d] a member of his lineage segment . . . the divination seance itself [became] a field in which the opposition of the segments [was] expressed. [One man] continued consulting diviners until finally he got the answer he wanted. His opponents rejected these findings and eventually even discounted [the most important,] the chicken ordeal. The diviners’ findings, and the results of the poison ordeals, therefore, [were] bandied about between the opposed groups, and though the whole procedure of divination and accusations of sorcery [was] directed towards the extirpation of discordant elements in the community, in fact, it [was] only a facet of the underlying cause of the tension-the opposition of segments in an ever-segmenting lineage. [p. 174]

In a study of the nearby Chewa, who have an organization similar to that of the Yao, Marwick28 analysed how all the quarrels and misfortunes he recorded in his field work were handled. He found that accusations of sorcery are most frequent within matrilineal groups:

[T]he issue, either between sorcerer and victim or between accuser and sorcerer, seems to be an outcome of their competing for a strongly desired object in a situation in which there is an irreconcilable conflict in the rights, principles and claims that apply. [Further,] there is some form of impediment—usually because of the irreconcilable nature of the conflict—to the settlement of the dispute by judicial or other rational forms of arbitration.

Hatred continues to smoulder. Finally, either sorcerer or victim has committed a recent breach of moral rules (p. 151; see also p. 212). Chewa themselves point out that the matrilineal lineage is ‘the natural arena for quarrels about succession to office and the ownership of property.’ Here are present, says Marwick,

the strong motives [that are] often found as ingredients in tensions expressed in terms of sorcery. . . . [T]hese motives are given relatively free play . . . [because] of conflict between the principles governing competitive interaction.

In the matrilineal lineage, relationships are highly personal and charged with emotion, and cannot ‘be quietly dismantled’ (as conjugal relationships can be, in a society with easy divorce and a high rate of divorce) (p. 294). Though the people said co-wives and spouses frequently bewitched each other, Marwick collected no cases between co-wives and only two between spouses. Between different matrilineages judicial proceedings can operate. Marwick states, therefore, that while there is a chance of a lineage remaining united, the struggle in terms of accusations of sorcery is to control it: but when its break-up is apparent, accusations of sorcery accelerate and justify the incipient division (p. 147; also p. 220).

In a review of Marwick’s book Douglas29 criticized Marwick for following too closely, in his study of the Chewa, Mitchell’s analysis of the role of accusations of witchcraft in the processes of lineage segmentation among the Yao. In a most stimulating, if compressed, analysis she argues that when Mitchell observed the Yao they had an unstable system of lineages in small villages, as the fruits of their long contact with the Arabs and commerce, and later of the imposition of British rule, which cut their trade at the source and liberated their slaves. She points out that among the Yao accusations are in fact made by junior men against their seniors and that this is compatible with a rapidly segmenting system. On the other hand, in practice most accusations within Chewa matrilineages are made by seniors against juniors. This seems to be compatible with the fact that Chewa villages are larger than Yao villages, and this in turn suggests that lineages do not segment so rapidly; charges of witchcraft thus buttress and protect the positions of seniors among the Chewa. She suggests that they have been less influenced by forces which have affected the Yao. Douglas’s essay was published well after I had worked out my argument, which it does not touch in itself. One must note, however, that Mitchell described two types of Yao village—large, persisting villages, hiving off sections, and smaller, segmenting villages. But since Douglas proceeds to argue in a wider comparative study that accusations of this kind occur in ‘the range of small-scale, ambiguously defined, strictly local relations,’ and not within major large-scale political relationships, I feel that the tenor of her comparative analysis stresses the main point from which I start.

The analysis of divinations through a series of moral crises and ruptures in the history of single groups thus enables us to compare the kinds of situation where different types of solution, magical and secular, can be applied. Turner (who followed Mitchell and influenced Middleton), in a study of the Ndembu of Zambia,30 traced the course of a whole series of disputes in one village for a period of twenty years, partly as described to him, partly as he observed them. He found that where the parties are disputing about their rights in terms of a single legal rule, or under rules that can be arranged in a hierarchy, judicial arbitration can be applied. But judicial action cannot be employed when disputes arise as a result of appeals by the parties to different social rules which are discrepant or even in conflict. The rules cannot be affirmed clearly to constrain both parties. In such a situation one party, suffering a misfortune, will accuse the other of sorcery or witchcraft, or allege that ancestral spirits have been offended by the other. Divination—an ostensibly external, unbiased mechanism—selects the occult cause, and appropriate steps can be taken. Often ritual is performed. Ritual may even be employed after a judicial decision appears to have settled rights and wrongs, when in fact the cause of dispute is beyond settlement. And finally, when all attempts to preserve existing relationships have failed, final breaches, often provoked by witchcraft charges, are confirmed by rituals which restate the norms as consistent and enduring, even though new relationships have been established. ‘Those who disputed bitterly for headmanship within a village may become helpful relatives when they reside in two different villages when each appears to conform to the Ndembu ideal’ (pp. 1231). In addition, judicial remedies can apply when the living quarrel. But if it is natural misfortune, such as death or sickness, that is the breach of regularity to be redressed, and misfortune is ascribed to occult agents, only detection through divination of the one responsible can clarify issues for adjustment (p. 127). And there is dispute and struggle to control the divinatory apparatus, within the limits set by its mechanism.

All these studies stress that a natural misfortune, like a quarrel, inside one of these intimately involved groups, where men and women seek to satisfy manifold interests, provokes a severe moral crisis. The crisis is not always created by individuals or sections nakedly pursuing their selfish interests. It arises from the very process of development of the group, a development which results in conflict between values as well as quarrels between people. The conflict of values seems to give rise to occult fears, and divination focuses these fears onto a specific occult agent. Redress is sought either in ritual or by the breaking of highly valued ties.

The golden mean of morality

I stressed earlier that (in these relatively stationary societies) a man or woman has to conform to a golden mean in behaviour. Failure to attain the mean is a moral fault and is despised; it inspires envy, which leads to witchcraft or sorcery. Excess, in performance or ambition or exercise of authority, is believed also to be a moral fault, and it may be ascribed to evil occult power. I must now return to this point in order to make a further step in my analysis.

The situation is manifest in the beliefs of the Tiv of Nigeria, as reported on by Professor and Mrs. Bohannan.31 A Tiv elder, skilled in handling social affairs and in settling disputes, ‘must have’ what the Tiv call ‘tsav, that is talent, ability, and a certain witchcraft potential. The possession of tsav,’ say the Bohannans, ‘grants power to bewitch and to prevent bewitching; in both aspects it is the most powerful means of discipline in the hands of the elders and, in practice, the force by which their decisions are upheld.’ There could not, surely, be a belief which states more clearly the ambivalent potential of men’s talents in society. I quote further from the Bohannans: ‘Tsav can be either good or bad.’ ‘Tsav . . . gives power over other people, and, in a furiously egalitarian society . . . such power sets a man apart; it is distrusted, for Tiv believe firmly that no one can rise above his fellows except at their expense.’ But a man must will to use his tsav against others, and these victims can only be members of his agnatic lineage. On the other hand, elders with tsav need human lives to obtain prosperity for their social group—the fertility of farms, crops, and women, success in hunting, good health. These human lives, sacrificed so to speak in the group’s interests, the elders without their own knowledge take from among their agnatic kin. It is very significant that kin who may compete can be killed for good or for evil.

Tsav grows on the hearts of human beings and varies in shape and colour as it is good or bad. This can be seen on autopsy. And tsav develops slowly, as a ‘man’s personality develops,’ though its growth may be accelerated by a diet of human flesh— consumed in occult form. The Bohannans read this belief at one level as referring ‘to people of small talent who get ahead by misuse of the substance of others. . . . ’

During certain crises the Tiv agnatic group holds divinatory seances. Bohannan, in his book Justice and Judgment among the Tiv (1957), gives a number of graphic accounts of the solemn and ritually controlled jockeying which occurs at these Tiv seances. They are always concerned with disturbances among relatively closely related persons. In a severe crisis each party, including the dead, is represented by either his local age-mates or his maternal kin, who are related to him as an individual but who are not members of the disturbed agnatic group. And each party or his representatives consults a diviner in advance and brings to the seance the diviner’s selection of possible causes of occult disturbance, as possibly associated with misfortunes and quarrels in the group. Death and illnesses provoke seances; or brothers may be quarrelling over their rights to control the marriages of women, or to inherit wives of dead members.

As the elders investigate these problems they may light on the omission of a ritual to a fetish, or witchcraft, as the cause of difficulty, or perhaps as the future outcome of some dispute among the close kin. In the course of the proceedings they endeavour to set aright secular disorder, but the proceedings always end with a ritual. The characteristic of these proceedings, says Bohannan, is that they

settle disputes between persons in relationships that can never be broken or ignored. The function of a [seance] is only incidentally the settlement of particular grievances; its main function is to make it possible for people who must live together to do so harmoniously. Marriage ties can be broken; marriage disputes can be heard in court. But ties of agnationare unchangeable, and are the basis of all citizenship rights of adult males. One must either get along with one’s agnates or become an expatriate. . . . Tiv recognize that [seances] do settle disputes. But they also insist that the real purpose of the [seance] is not to settle the dispute itself but to allay the mystical factors which are behind it, which caused it, or which it caused.

Hence every seance ends with a ritual, either to allay or to be prophylactic against these occult factors.

The elders who control the discussion are themselves interested in the internal politics of the group. They have also been involved in quarrels and alliances with the protagonists and with dead men and women who belonged to the group. They may have claims on the property and women discussed. Hence there is struggle for position, and not only ‘judicial’ assessment of facts in the light of law though this is present. In an impasse nothing may be done; and in the end, divination decides the issue.

The decisive role of occult factors emerges clearly in a seance which followed on a certain man’s death. The deceased’s full sister had died three or four months earlier, and the divination said she had been killed by tsav (either witchcraft or the elders’ power used for community ends). Nobody asked the divining apparatus whose ‘witchcraft power’ it was. When an autopsy was performed on her she had no tsav (black substance) on her heart. It was clear that she did not die because she had tsav of witchcraft and had been punished, and therefore she must have died either because an evil witch in the group had killed her or because the elders needed a life for the community’s fertility and prosperity. Loud and bitter accusations were made by her close male kinsmen, and a special pot ‘of ashes and [magical substances], which is the symbol of right and justice’ was used to seek out the unnamed wrongdoer. He or she was ‘cursed’ upon the pot. When the woman’s death was followed by her brother’s illness and death, it was necessary to determine whether he was killed by the righteous medicine punishing his own evil witchcraft, or as a sacrifice by his agnatic kin, or by the witchcraft of one of them. Only autopsy on his corpse could settle the matter. His kinsmen opposed the autopsy. They protested that they knew he was innocent, and it was unnecessary. His age-set, composed of age-mates from outside the village, insisted on the autopsy. They protested that they knew he was innocent and demanded that his innocence be proved.

The autopsy was performed by the leader of the dead man’s age-set. It disclosed two ‘sacks’ of blood on the heart, one dull blue, the other bright red. The leader of the age-set pointed these out to the anthropologist as bewitching tsav, and added, ‘But tsav need not be evil. But this tsav is evil. It is large and of two colours.’ Slowly it was agreed that the man had been killed by the righteous medicines of justice which punished his witchcraft. The deceased’s age-set, after argument with the agnates, took under its protection his younger brother and widows. The ‘justiceseeking’ medicine was then again invoked against anyone who had ‘done evil deeds in this matter.’

Bohannan brings out the process of dispute arising from self-interest and from assertion of various rights in terms of complex relationships between the parties reaching back into the past. These are seen in terms of moral rules. He discusses the full duality of tsav, whose potential power for good and evil is itself symbolic of the ambivalence inherent in social life—in which it may kill kinsfolk for the good or the ill of the group. But he does not, in my opinion, sufficiently stress the profound moral crisis which faces an agnatic group with these beliefs whenever misfortune occurs. Nor does he draw attention to the manner in which those most deeply involved insist that confidence in the innocence of their brother makes an autopsy unnecessary. In a way they may have feared that he would be found innocent, for that would have left the rankling problem that another of them was guilty. The related outsiders,32 starting from the same premise that the dead man was innocent, force action and temporary resolution of the moral crisis. The outsiders seem to act to clarify moral relationships within the group. Where the divination is observation of an organic condition, it is not the apparatus which is external, unbiased and compelling, but compulsion comes from persons not involved in the crisis. Something complex may lie behind Evans-Pritchard’s statement that among the Zande in the past a blood brother used to carry out the autopsy on an alleged witch.33

In the first part of this essay I tried to relate the forms of a belief in occult causes of evil to conflicts of social values in some African tribes; in the latter part I have examined how divinations of ancestral indignation or of witchcraft, as against judicial arbitration, are set in struggles within proliferating groups, both agnatic and matrilineal. There are African societies where the relation of ritual practice to this kind of process is not so evident, particularly those where the beliefs focus on spiritual beings which can be better described as gods or, to use Lienhardt’s term, divinities.34 In his essay in this book Baxter considers these cultural situations.

Situations of moral crisis in Britain

Moral decisions arising from conflicting principles are clearly involved in dealing with events and developments within the smaller groups of our society. In discussing Bohannan’s account of a Tiv seance to determine the occult causes of deaths within an agnatic lineage I stressed the incapacity of the lineage itself to tackle its moral crisis, and how related outsiders forced the autopsy which decided whether the most recently deceased member was or was not the killing witch in its ranks. In most societies, even when occult fears are not aroused, persons who are outside the group involved but related to at least some of its members are called in to deal with certain moral disturbances. This process may be operated consciously or unconsciously. The witch-detective, or witch-doctor, is a professional outsider. In Britain we have many professional outsiders whom we can consult in moral crises: priests, lawyers and other consultants or conciliators, or arbitrators, doctors, marriage guidance counsellors and other social welfare workers, and the like. I can look only at the role of one kind of such person, the industrial consultant, who advises on problems of reorganizing a social subsystem. I have selected this in order to make my comparison with the situation in Africa of the extended family unit running a productive enterprise.

When a family owning a firm expands in numbers, unless the firm’s business increases very rapidly a situation is likely to arise when it becomes difficult to fit in the members of new generations, and competition between the members of the family for the limited number of leading positions in the organization may become acute. Here, as in Africa, a group’s sentiments of kinship emphasizing unity and the rights of all members of the family come into conflict with the limitations of resources and the principles of efficient running of the business.

We have practically no scientific accounts of how a crisis of this sort is handled, though there are plenty of novels on the theme. Fortunately Dr Cyril Sofer, then a sociological consultant with the Tavistock Institute, has published a study of one family firm.35 His organization was called in to advise the firm on how to deal with a crisis which had arisen over the accountant, who had married a great-granddaughter of the firm’s founder. The firm was proposing to introduce mechanized accounting, which this relative-in-law of the rest of the senior managers could not operate. They offered to give him training but still felt that, since 6o per cent of the firm’s shares were held by the general public, they should really look for an unrelated man already skilled. The accountant had asked as an alternative that he be sent as assistant manager to the firm’s branch in Australia, but had been turned down for this job; later it turned out that one of his brothers-in-law was interested in the position. The accountant was bitter because he said his father-in-law had promised he would eventually become a member of the board of directors, while his present relatives-in-law said the board was not committed to this—these relatives-in-law being, as far as I can work out, an uncle, two cousins and two brothers of his wife. The consultant discussed these problems with the directors and contestants separately and in a group, and brought out fears that had long been suppressed, such as the fear of younger members of the family that they were getting on in the firm because they were of the family, and not on merit—and for some decades now our civilization has laid stress on merit. Eventually he got the matter temporarily adjusted: the accountant was interviewed in open competition for the job of mechanical accounting and for the Australian post, and given the latter. A new post was created for his wife’s brother. And the firm agreed that the consulting organization provide a vocational counselling service for the fourth generation of the family, to see if there were not professions and posts outside the firm for which they were better suited, training for which would be financed by the whole family. In short, the consultant made clear to the family that they lived in modern times where opportunities are relatively unrestricted as compared with the more limited opportunities of even Victorian society.

All this advice was eminently sensible; but the consultant’s account does not seem to me to weigh sufficiently that the firm’s crisis was a crisis of moral choices. He does not give a genealogy; but the pseudonyms he has given to the directors indicate that in the first or second generation from the founder, sons of daughters as well as sons of sons were well provided for. Maybe daughters’ husbands had previously been taken into the firm. In the next generation the critical problem was a choice between the men related by blood into the family and the men related by marriage. It is not easy to sack your kinswoman’s husband, even when he is competing with you, the blood kinsmen, and it seems to me that the introduction of mechanical accounting may have been used unconsciously, to force the relativein-law out of the firm. We are not told whether it was an economic necessity. And looming over all was the problem of the next generation. In these circumstances only an outsider—and here it was a highly skilled outsider—was able to clarify the issues, and to disentangle technical from sentimental problems, so that at least the technical problems could be dealt with. The firm became less dominated by family interests. The rationale of a scientific civilization was brought into a moral crisis, for an apparently objective secular solution; and this was possible because there are opportunities in our society for achievement which is not at the cost of one’s near kin.

I believe that some of the same issues arise even in firms which do not belong to one family. Someone has said that ‘a critical survey has now established that the clients who approach a business consultant do so with one of two motives. On the one hand they may want scapegoats for the reorganization upon which they have already decided. On the other they may want to prevent reorganization taking place.’ I consider this statement to be too cynical. In practice the problem may be to put over a solution which seems objectively sensible but which if proposed by an insider would be judged by others as an attempt to advance his own interests. And even where the proposal seems against his interests the others may suspect some deeply concealed plot. But (as it is put in the north of England) ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk,’ and the queerest thing about folk is that they are not moved entirely by self-interest but are influenced also by moral considerations. Every firm is a closely linked network of personal and sectional interests, but these are affected by the moral principles of our whole civilization and of the overall purposes of the firm itself. They are also influenced by loyalties to other individuals as well as by personal animosities. Not all men easily engage in naked power politics with those who have worked with them in the moral comity of common purpose. Hence even apparently straightforward technical adjustments in a firm may cause a moral crisis, insoluble perhaps because of the conflict between the value of loyalty to colleagues and the value of efficiency.

Those involved cannot solve the crisis. They call in, if they are wise, a trained outsider; besides using technical skills, he can act as a moral catalyst to help produce an at least temporarily satisfactory solution. The industrial consultant is not a witch-detective: he achieves a secular solution which, in the opposite manner to the occult solution, focuses attention onto structural difficulties. He studies jobs and roles, brings conflicts centred on a role into the open, tries to get the firm to reorganize itself so that one person does not fill conflicting roles. He points out that it is the firm’s arrangements, not the shortcomings of individuals, that are causing difficulties. He can do this, I argue, not only because of developments in social science but also because there are other opportunities in our society available to those adversely affected by reorganization in the firm. In short, the industrial consultant tries to distract the attention of people away from the alleged shortcomings, weaknesses and wrongdoing of their associates.

We may well say that our increasing understanding of the working of the natural world, with the development of the sciences investigating it, has expanded the area within which we can use theories of empirical causation to explain the occurrence of good and ill fortune. But Evans-Pritchard’s analysis of beliefs in witchcraft brought out that Africans have similar insight into empirical causation; what the belief in witchcraft explains is why a particular individual suffers a misfortune or enjoys good fortune. Increase in technical knowledge alone does not deal with this problem. This is graphically brought out in a story reported by Wilson from Mpondoland. A Mpondo teacher told her that his child, who had died of typhus, had been bewitched. When Wilson protested that the child died of typhus because an infected louse had bitten it, the teacher replied that he knew that that was why his child got typhus, but why had the louse gone to his child, and not to one of the other children with whom he was playing? We too suffer ill-fortune which cannot be accounted for wholly by theories of empirical causation: the standard scientific explanation why some people suffer car accidents is to say that it is to some extent statistical chance—which does not really explain the particularity of the misfortune. And there are major disasters, such as economic recessions, whose causes are little understood, or which result from the concatenation of variables that are too complex for us to measure (as, for example, is shown in my citation from Devons in the Introduction to this book). Yet we do not ascribe these individual or community disasters to witchcraft, or to some other occult agent. Even a so-called ‘witch hunt’ for Communists, or capitalists, or the like, in some society or the other, as responsible for social ills, is phrased in secular terms. Hence I believe that it is not sufficient to explain changes in attitudes about the responsibility we bear for what happens to our fellow citizens, or the responsibility of individuals for breakdowns or wrongdoing in the tenor of life, only by ascribing these changes to the expanding growth of our technical knowledge, including that in the social and behavioural sciences.

I suggest that we may at least partly ascribe these attitudes which reduce mutual responsibility to the steadily increasing extent to which we no longer depend, in order to make our living, on those with whom we are intimately and sentimentally connected by kinship or in-lawship. This removes an intensifying element in the ambivalence in key relationships, since we do not have to compete as well as collaborate in those relationships. Instead, our dealings, including competition, are increasingly with unrelated persons in differentiated social ties, even when we also cooperate with some of those with whom we compete.

The ambivalence in the close personal relationships which dominate in a tribal society leads to an exaggerated emphasis on the importance of others, as part of their responsibility to their fellows, feeling towards these fellows the correct sentiments. Since any defection in duty between close relatives may affect not only their personal relationships but also the working of productive and political units, and so forth, a premium is set on all such people feeling correctly, as well as acting correctly, towards one another. Conversely, feelings of anger and envy and hatred are believed to set in train by occult means disasters which may strike the object of the animus. In practice, when there is a disaster, some misfortune, it is interpreted to be the result of such animus. As I have repeatedly stressed, in fact these alleged harmful feelings are often ascribed to struggles which arise out of conflicts between highly approved social principles whose clash precipitates moral crises. It is here, far more than in simple clashes of interest under single principles, that occult beliefs operate. Hence, I argue, as the individual becomes increasingly less dependent on his close relatives, so it is possible to envisage his taking advantage of the opportunities to move freely in the greater society, away from his relatives. He becomes isolable as a moral person from his relatives.36 This line or argument fits in with Durkheim’s (and others’) general thesis that there is a reduction in ritualization as the division of labour increases, but it fills in details in a sphere with which he did not deal.

I would argue further that it is this general situation, and not only developments in biology, psychology and social science, that has led some members of our own society to focus more and more on the criminal as an individual whose capacity for responsibility for his wrongdoing is severely restricted by the organic, emotional and social circumstances that have shaped him. In an essay in this book Professor S. F. Moore states that it is incorrect to contrast too sharply, as I tended to do in an earlier publication,37 the ideas of strict liability which I took to be implicit in the law of feuding societies, and generally in the occult beliefs of tribal societies, with the ideas on liability and responsibility which I took to be characteristic of the law of a modern Western industrial society. Her comments and those of other colleagues convince me that I then went too far. I perhaps understated the extent to which, in many tribal situations (including some I reported from Barotse trials), enquiry is made into the alleged actual state of mind of a party before the court, where motives are inferred as the only reasonable interpretation of the evidence. I should too have taken account of what I have cited above from Evans-Pritchard: viz. that a Zande cannot plead that witchcraft made him commit adultery, theft or treason. Let me say that, in my argument about a movement from strict liability to increasing enquiry into individual motivation, I did not assert that either system of law had the one without the other. I stated that there was a movement, not a complete achievement. And for that statement I quoted authorities in jurisprudence who had seen a general movement away from strict liability as marking the development of law. I have not space, even were I competent, to set out here all the complications involved. Yet I venture to assert that those authorities’ opinions still stand, though there are a number of offences in modern Anglo-American law where strict liability, even without culpability, prevails. And H. L. A. Hart in his recent collection of essays on Punishment and Responsibility (1968) still emphasizes such a development. He says that strict liability has ‘ . . . acquired such odium among Anglo-American lawyers’ (p. 136), and that it ‘ . . . appears as a sacrifice of a valued principle. . . .’ (p. 152; see also passim). The principle was little questioned in early European, or in tribal, law. Hence I consider I am justified in continuing to regard concentration on the circumstances of the individual criminal as a strengthening trend in legal philosophy, and criminology, and perhaps even in the law.

This trend has culminated in a paradoxical form, propagated by some of the most liberal of criminologists, such as Professor Lady Wootton. They argue that strict liability should be determined for all offences as a first stage in trial, where a man may be found to have committed some wrongful action, but that the fixing of responsibility or culpability should be eliminated at this stage. If it be found that the accused has committed the action complained of, then there should follow an enquiry into him as an individual and into the specific circumstances of his case, to lead to a determination of whether and how he should be punished or treated. This doctrine seems to me to present an extreme view, a view in which the social concomitants of a crime are radically separated from the individual found to have committed the crime (here one cannot speak of him as being found ‘guilty’ of the crime).

But I am here dealing with trends in disputation about the nature of criminal responsibility, and about the form and function of retributive and deterrent punishment as against remedial treatment. As Hart says, ours ‘is morally a plural society’ (p. 171): different people hold different views on these problems. I can only suggest, as a problem for research, that it might be fruitful to try to work out how far the holders of the so-called more liberal views are the most socially mobile members of society and hence those least enmeshed in networks of close relationships with a limited number of others (the opposite situation from that of members of tribal society). I have not been able to trace work on this point, though we know that where people are involved in close-knit networks they tend to have similar views on offences, as against those whose networks are less closely knit.

At least I may say, in raising this problem, that theories which argue towards a ‘diminished responsibility’ for the criminal, and regard him as a sick product of society and of his own personal and social circumstances, stand sharply distinct from the kind of beliefs about the responsibility of people towards their fellows which are implicit in beliefs of witchcraft and ancestral indignation. Under these beliefs, ill-feeling alone is endowed with power to do harm. These new theories may be one potential logical end—which will never be attained—of a separation of the individual from complete dependence on his kin, a dependence which produces high moral evaluation of all his actions and all his feelings. The modern tendency contrasts sharply with the situation in Africa from which I started. In Africa you break with your own kin only with difficulty and at high cost. There restriction of opportunities keeps you in competition as well as co-operation with your kin; and hence, I suggest, a high ambivalence in all social relationships invests these relationships with occult fears as well as hopes.

I suggest too that the Greek concept of moira, a man’s fate, may be understood in this light. In his Frazer lecture on Oedipus and Job in West African Religion (1959), Professor Fortes considered West African beliefs in the Prenatal Destiny which an individual is held to select before birth and which determines his fate. Among the Tallensi of Ghana this Prenatal Destiny may be evil, preventing a woman from having children and a man from becoming a true man. Fortes says the belief is used to explain why an individual fails ‘to fulfil the roles and achieve the performance regarded as normal for his status in the social structure.’ The failure is irremediable if ritual redressive action has failed to alter his or her circumstances, and hence destiny. Fortes argues that a Prenatal Destiny ‘could best be described as an innate disposition that can be realized for good or ill.’ The victim of an evil Destiny is held to have rejected society itself: ‘this is not a conscious or deliberate rejection, since the sufferer is not aware of his predisposition until he learns it through divination. . . . The fault lies in his inescapable, inborn wishes’ (pp. 68–9), expressed when he selected his Destiny before he was born. Fortes compares this belief with the fate or lot of Oedipus, a moral man condemned from birth to two heinous crimes. Under such beliefs an individual is morally responsible for the occult determination of his own fate, and its moral crisis, even if he does his best to evade that fate. This occult exaggeration of moral responsibility stands at the opposite extreme from arguments to exculpate the individual by diminishing his moral responsibility for the crisis he has caused, and instead focusing blame on personal circumstance and conflicts within society.


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Max GLUCKMAN (1911–1975) was a British social anthropologist and founder of the Manchester Department of Anthropology where he held the position of Professor of Social Anthropology. Between 1941 and 1947, Gluckman directed the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, the first anthropological research institute in Africa. A political activist and resolute anti-colonialist, Gluckman’s work inspired a tradition of anthropologists—sometimes referred to as the “Manchester School”—who moved away from the structural-functionalism of Radcliffe-Brown and Evans-Pritchard and toward Marxist and conflict-centric theories of social change. He is author of Order and rebellion in tribal Africa (Cohen and West, 1963) and Politics, law and ritual in tribal society (Basil Blackwell, 1965), and the editor of The allocation of responsibility (Manchester University Press, 1975).


Publisher’s note: This is a reprint of Gluckman, Max. 1972. “Moral crises: Magical and secular solutions. The Marett lectures, 1964 and 1965.” In The allocation of responsibility, edited by Max Gluckman, 1–50. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Hau is grateful to Peter and Timothy Gluckman for permission to reprint this article. We remind the reader that we retain the style of the original publication.

1. Delivered at Exeter College, Oxford, on 18 and 25 February, 1965. The text has been left in lecture form.

2. I use ‘occult’ following Turner and Fortes, rather than ‘mystical’ as I did in earlier work, following Evans-Pritchard, because ‘mystical’ has other meanings. ‘Occult’ emphasizes that hidden forces are at work.

3. The judicial process among the Barotse (1955, 1967).

4. Epstein, ‘Injury and liability in African customary law in Zambia’ (1969), and Introduction to [the] book in which that essay was published.

5. The context of belief (1957).

6. It seems to me that this point is overlooked by Horton (‘Ritual man in Africa,’ 1964) in his approach to theories which take this into account, but taken up in his later ‘African traditional thought and Western science’ (1967).

7. In his general study of Kinship and the social order (1969), at p. 238n, Fortes cites, from my Judicial process among the Barotse (1955, p. 154), this song in reference to the deep conflicts within kinship amity, and their connections with suspicions and accusations of witchcraft and sorcery.

8. Durkheim’s contention in De la division du travail social (1893) is examined in Moore’s essay in this book.

9. The organization from within (1961), pp. 3–40.

10. For material on the Zulu I depend partly on my own field research in 1936–8, partly on a working through of a mass of literary records in my doctoral thesis on ‘The realm of the supernatural among the Southeastern Bantu’(Oxford, 1936). There I also covered literature on Mpondo, Xhosa and Tsonga (Thonga): see especially Junod, The life of a South African tribe (1927), on Tsonga; for later work on Mpondo, Hunter, Reaction to conquest (1936), and on the Xhosa, Wilson et al., Keiskammahoek rural survey (1952). On Swazi, Kuper has written a most illuminating play, A witch in my heart (1970), with the background of her An African aristocracy (1947).

11. I have written this account of the Zulu in the analytic present; but by ‘nowadays’ in the above sentence I referred to the period when I worked in Zululand (1936–8). This kind of reaction by the extended family to the conditions of labour migration was widely reported from many tribes of South and Central, and indeed other parts of, Africa. Sansom discusses the situation in a South African tribe where the extended family has lost this role (see his essay in this book). I continue my analysis of the indigenous system in the analytic present.

12. In 1950 I named this well known system ‘the house-property complex’ in my ‘Kinship and marriage among the Zulu of Natal and the Lozi of Northern Rhodesia.’ There is a fine account in Kuper, An African aristocracy (1947).

13. Lineage organization in South-eastern China (1958), pp. 134–35.

14. Cf. Leach, Rethinking anthropology (1961), chapter I, on the complex variations in beliefs about maternal and paternal contributions to the child.

15. Junod, Life of a South African tribe (1927), ii, pp. 541f.

16. See Peters’ essay in this book, and his ‘No time for the supernatural’ (1963).

17. See discussion of the work of Mitchell, Turner and Middleton below, and also Van Velsen, The politics of kinship (1964).

18. See Gluckman, ‘Les rites de passage’ (1962) and, for other elaborations and background, Custom and conflict in Africa (1955) and Law, politics and ritual in tribal society (1965).

19. The situation of the members of this triad is well discussed in Marwick, Sorcery in its social setting (1965), passim. Any one of them may have broken a rule.

20. I have discussed the way in which customs ‘exaggerate’ biological and other differences among men and women, and between them, in the works cited in note 18.

21. Nadel, Nupe religion (1954), pp. 180–1. Nadel also refers the beliefs to psycho-sexual processes, in a manner discussed by Devons and Gluckman in the Conclusion to Closed systems and open minds (1964), pp. 251f.

22. ‘Witch beliefs and social structure’ (1951). For background see her Reaction to conquest (1936) and Good company (1951).

23. Kuper’s play A witch in my heart (1970) deals with the plight of a barren woman among the Swazi.

24. Well described in Richards, Land, labour and diet in Northern Rhodesia (1940).

25. ‘Oral sorcery among the natives of Bechuanaland’ (1934).

26. Lugbara religion (1960); page references in parentheses in the text are to this work. For a more general account see his The Lugbara of Uganda (1965).

27. The Yao village (1956); subsequent page references in parentheses in the text are to this work. The development of the new mode of analysis is discussed in my ‘Ethnographic data in British social anthropology’ (1961) and in Epstein (ed.), The craft of social anthropology (1967).

28. Sorcery in its social setting (1965): subsequent page references in parentheses in the text are to this work.

29. ‘Witch beliefs in Central Africa’ (1967).

30. Schism and continuity in an African society (1957).

31. The case material below is cited from P. J. Bohannan, Justice and judgment among the Tiv (1951), and most of the accounts of tsav from P. J. and L. Bohannan, The Tiv of Central Nigeria (1953), pp. 34, 82, 84–6.

32. On this general point see Frankenberg’s essay in this book and his Village on the border (1957).

33. Witchcraft, oracles and magic . . . (1937), at p. 43: Dr Elaine Baldwin drew my attention to this point, which I had overlooked, like most commentators on the book.

34. Divinity and experience (1961).

35. The organization from within (1961). The other studies of non-family organizations in the book also illustrate the argument I make.

36. Bott, Family and social network (1957), discusses the coincidence of moral norms held by, and normal judgments made by, persons with what she termed a ‘close-knit’ network,’ i.e. with kin closely resident together. I have considered the illumination which her analysis throws on to the beliefs of tribal society in my Preface to the second edition of her book (1967).

37. The ideas in Barotse jurisprudence (1967), chapter VII.