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Africa Today Madumo: A Man Bewitched. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Adam Ashforth has presented a fascinating study of the role of witchcraft in postapartheid South Africa. His work is an interesting combination of reflexive ethnography and analytic ethnology. The blend works exceedingly well, far better than in most "personalized" field accounts, providing a model for future blends of humanistic and scientific field studies. It is also a cracking good story, worth reading for its own sake.
Madumo , the pseudonym for Ashforth's young friend, believes that he is bewitched. Ashforth accompanies him on his trek to find a cure for witchcraft. Along the way, Ashforth discovers a great deal about the meaning of witchcraft to Madumo and its place within the changing South African scene. Madumo, while never losing his individuality in Ashforth's tale, becomes representative of the search for security, spiritual as well as material, that is part of postapartheid life in South Africa.
The plague of witchcraft that has struck Soweto, the black township of Johannesburg, is more than just superstition, and has deeper implications for Soweto and its people. Ashforth knows that there are many ways to view witchcraft and he presents each in turn.
He is skeptical; perhaps, witchcraft is another mode of discourse; perhaps, it is superstition--like belief in God; perhaps it is a response to disruption; it could be misunderstood tradition, changed by capitalism, apartheid, and modernization. Other than stating that he does not believe in witchcraft but knows that its force is real, Ashforth comes to no conclusions.
This very openness to the Other is a major strength of the work. There are no easy solutions or resolutions. What Ashforth has presented in his gender-blurring presentation is a very human story of cross-cultural [End Page ] friendship and attempts to reach understanding between two friends.
Along the way, he has managed to examine the meaning of South African history and recent changes from the perspective of some of its participants. Their dilemmas, the tug between westernization and a reconstructed tradition, are clearly present. The characters come alive. Madumo is not the everyman we anthropologists too often construct. Neither is he a "Noble Savage. Similarly, various religious practitioners, fellow townspeople, family, and others have their own virtues, weaknesses, and peculiarities.
There is, alas, the now required soul-searching of the western character, who hates to leave the field--but, of course, does. All in all, this book is a fine example of blurred genres and the way in which such an account can illuminate important cultural issues. I recommend the book highly as an enjoyable and enlightening experience. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.
Additional Information. Project MUSE Mission Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Eliot Prose.
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Madumo, a Man Bewitched
Adam Ashforth. Madumo: A Man Bewitched. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Soweto, for some, is an addiction. An administrative convenience quarantined from "white" Johannesburg by a cordon sanitaire of freeways and open veld, a population of still-uncounted millions, sorted neatly or so was the attempt by "language" and "cultural" groups, so that the surreal "racial" divisions of the world outside the township, "white" "coloured" or "Indian", were reflected inside too, in corralling Southern Sotho speakers into one area, Zulu speakers into several others, Xhosa, Tswana, all with their own "areas" within the location. But subversively mixing and sharing language and sharing culture nonetheless--inventing new language, inventing Soweto style, in fashion and music and politics, effortlessly taking on the role of arbiter for the rest of the country--the golden township where all was possible when dreamed from faraway provincial or rural locations. For Adam Ashforth, clearly, there is no place like it.
Wardrop on Ashforth, 'Madumo: A Man Bewitched'
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