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“The Spirit of Competition”: A Conduit to the Modernity of Witchcraft Among Some Igbo Educated Elite

“The Spirit of Competition”: A Conduit to the Modernity of Witchcraft Among Some Igbo Educated Elite

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insightful commentary on modernity and Igbo cosmology by OBY ONYIOHA- PEARCE
insightful commentary on modernity and Igbo cosmology by OBY ONYIOHA- PEARCE

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Kwame Zulu Shabazz ☥☥☥ on Dec 07, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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“The Spirit of Competition”A Conduit to the Modernity of Witchcraft AmongSome Igbo Educated Elite
Page 1 of 44
The notion that conversion to orthodox Christianity would dispel the belief inwitchcraft would now prove erroneous, as the study of African witchcraft hasrecently experienced a decisive revival, albeit with a new theoretical twist.‘African witchcraft, Sanders hails, ‘is no longer traditional but rather operatesas part and parcel of modernity itself’ (Sanders 2000; p127).As witchcraft ascends from traditional into discourse on ‘modernity’, theconundrum posed is whether its conventions had ever been static, synchronicor had in fact been diachronic, evolving to posit and run parallel with thefurious face of modernity in post-colonial Africa, moulting from theethnographic present into ‘ethnography of the present’ (Sanjek 1991; p609).I would proffer that ‘modernity’ has always been with us, a ubiquitousphenomenon. It is a human universal. ‘Modernity’ does not start when itbecomes a paradigm on the anthropological agenda. As each generationevolves, something of the old is jettisoned. That generation becomes modernboth in themselves and in their practices. In that respect, African witchcrafthas always been ‘part and parcel’ of modernity. If it appeared wedged fast intradition, it was because, hitherto, it had not been a ‘major player’ in theanthropological agenda, relegated as it had been to discourses of traditionaland neo-traditional cults, overtaken and eclipsed by other events to make itirrelevant, or at best left percolating on a ‘slow-burner’, only to be re-visitednow and hey presto! A ‘new’ theoretical twist is born!This ‘theoretical twist’ emerged from the discourse on syncretic religionswhere there is an assumed interaction, combination of two different historicaltraditions or the ‘coalescence of differing religious forms’, (Fernandez, 1964;p542) resulting in the distortion of the dominant religion labelled ‘orthodox’ (inAfrica mostly Christianity and Islam) in which the true message is lost. Giventhat the state of being ‘orthodox’ is to be conformist and ‘not heretical or independent – minded or original’ (Ed. Sykes, 1987; p721), the claims tooriginality by the dominant religions become non-sequitur.As both Christianity and Islam come mixed with pagan survivals, for examplethe birth of Christ being posited on the Roman Festival of the Saturnalia, and
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Islam tainted by proxy, as it borrowed from some Christian teachings-Abraham, Mary etc -, one could argue that paganism was the dominantreligion with Christianity, Islam and other ‘orthodox’ religions syncretic, madeso through spiritual diffusionism. Arguably, paganism goes even further to theinception of man’s spiritual belief systems.None the less, discourse on African syncretism carried out by missiologists,largely focus on distortions of the ‘true’ orthodox (meaning not original asdefined above) Christian message. The prevailing patterns of scholarship onsyncretism in Africa by missiologists, according to Stewart and Shaw, adoptsa vocabulary dripped in pathos, from ‘hazard’, ‘decline’ and ‘loss’: ominousreferences to “the problem” or “the dangers of syncretism”, to “syncretistictendencies” and to “forfeiting the essence of Christianity” recur’ (Stewart andShaw, 1994: p14). Prominent scholars have weighed in, with much shakingof their sage leads, prophesying doom as independent churches,characterised as “post Christianity” ‘”form easy bridges back to nativism”’ (p14[Oosthuizen 1968: xi]) and another wailing ‘The syncretistic sect becomes thebridge over which Africans are brought back to heathenism’ (pg14 [Sundkler;1961, p29]). These ‘alarming’ observations were expressed as the realisationdawned that the Missionary churches had failed woefully to contextualiseChristian doctrine within African life and thought patterns. The Spiritual,Pentecostal and Charismatic movements seized on this oversight, riding andrising on cultural relevancy, by conflating traditional religious symbols andexpressionism to the existing orthodoxy. For members of these movements,therefore, conversion to Christianity did not result in a decline of demonology,nor were imaginations of the latter dismissed as expressions of ‘false-consciousness’ but rather were as Meyer noted, along with other anthropologists ‘people’s attempts to understand and grapple with changingconditions’. (Meyer 1995; p237).In a bid to ‘cast out’ these demons and witches that arguably plaguedpeople’s lives, these movements, after years of Christian extortions that thesebeliefs were imaginations, inadvertently sanctioned them back into ‘re-existence’ by creating a platform for the exorcism of the demon and hiscohorts. This acknowledgement of the powers of the occult fuelled an ever 
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