WITCHCRAFT AND PSYCHOTHERAPY
When I was in Sri Lanka in November, I was very interested to learn the extent to which traditional medicine has been recognised for its contribution to society. There is a Minister of Indigenous Medicine in the Government and there are hospitals and clinics devoted to it. During the Parliamentary debate on the Minister’s budget in an otherwise deeply divided land, there seemed to be unanimity about the great value of indigenous medicine. Meanwhile in Tanzania, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare bas been underscoring the need to integrate traditional medicine into the national health care service. He was speaking at a seminar on traditional medicine in Arusha in October.
On my return to the UK my attention was drawn by my doctor brother to the following note in the British Medical Journal’s issue of 18th December 1986:
A patient brought up in a society in which medical care is provided by witchdoctors is likely to have a poor opinion of a Western physician who takes a long history. The witchdoctor “understands” and has no need to inquire – so to maintain plausibility his Western trained competitor must be intuitive and use his clinical experience to guess more than he bas been told. This and other insights come from a fascinating review from Tanzania (British Journal of Psychiatry), which emphasises that the psychiatrist must strive for empathy not just with the patient but also with his culture.
I asked Dr Marion Way if she could locate the article and review it for us. This is her review – Editor
J.S.Neki, B.Joinet, N.Ndosi, G.Kilonzo, G.J.Hauli, and G.Duvinage, “Witchcraft and Psychotherapy”, BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY, August 1986 vol 149, pp 145-155.
This excellent review article describes the way in which witchcraft ideation serves a variety of social functions and is used in personal defence mechanisms. It is written by a multinational team of three Tanzanians and three expatriates (Indian, German, and French).
Witchcraft (ulozi) is defined as “mystical and innate power which is used by its possessor to harm people” and distinguished from sorcery (uchawi), defined as “evil magic against others employing herbs, medicines, charms etc.” (p. 145), although the two terms are frequently interchanged. The widely held belief in witchcraft by people of all educational backgrounds is explained as follows: ‘Witchcraft is a theory of causation: it does not deny natural or empirical causes, but seeks supernatural ones behind them. Two questions can be asked in the context of every misfortune: “how” did it happen?, and “why” did it occur at all? The ‘how’ is answered by empirical observation; the ‘why’, inter alia, by witchcraft. Even if our scientific understanding of the ‘how’ increases, it will still not be able to dispose of the ‘why’ of a misfortune. Hence the two beliefs may easily co-exist.”
Witchcraft thrives in a closed system of relationships and group values. It explains evil as coming through the malign influence of deviant or alien persons who my or my not be exercising their power voluntarily and who may not even be aware of it, as for instance if it is exercised in sleep. Witchdoctors are considered to be those with similar powers who use them to divine the source of evil and suggest remedies. Divination is used at times of disaster. Witchcraft has many sociodynamic uses: it prevents members of its community from transgressing the moral code; feigned or imputed witchcraft is used as a means of distancing unwanted social contacts: the witch is used as a scapegoat, and an outlet for repressed aggression; the witch acts as a buffer against social sanction.
Psychodynamic “uses” of witchcraft are mentioned: for example, as an explanation of weakness or failure, taking away responsibility so that feelings of guilt are unnecessary. Distrust and jealousy may be institutionalised through witchcraft, particularly where there is malice within the family. Probably the most controversial statement of the paper is that the super-ego or conscience is externalised into witchcraft so that guilt and sin are not inherently African concepts; shame occurs only after discovery, and witchcraft explains happenings, excusing all.
As witchcraft is a universally accepted idea in Africa, it inevitably becomes a significant factor in psychotherapy, and the therapist is liable to be categorised as a witchdoctor. All misfortunes may be attributed to witchcraft, but it is particularly likely in emotional problems with a sexual or sensory component. If witchcraft is presumed, there will be intense anxiety and foreboding. This fear may become so malignant as to lead to death.
In Psychiatry, witchcraft as part of a delusional system in psychotic illness has to be distinguished from the beliefs inherent in the prevailing culture. Delusions are less frightening, not shared by the family, not altered by traditional divination or corrective measures. They are accompanied by withdrawal and loss of contact with reality. In psychosis, witchcraft can be likened to a delusional belief in the power of electricity or radio waves.
Much of the advice given in the paper is common to all psychotherapy, e.g. a special strategy so as not to impose too close a proximity too quickly, advice on how to avoid confrontation with different traditions and belief; exercises to build up the patient’s confidence that he has some control over his own destiny; mirroring back thoughts and making a patient feel needed and useful; family therapy, relaxation therapy, role playing, modelling and dream interpretation: loss of face must be avoided at all costs and the patient’s autonomy has to be balanced with the group’s solidarity.
A short review cannot do justice to such an interesting paper which is relevant to all those in a counselling role. It stresses the need for understanding without which a therapist’s skills would be useless. Cultural empathy can only be gained by sharing life experiences on informal as well as formal occasions. It has been well researched and has 38 references from a wide range of disciplines, including Anthropology, Psychology and Psychiatry.
Dr. Marion Way
Saitoti , Tepilit Ole. THE WORLDS OF A MAASAI WARRIOR: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. 1986. London: Andre Deutsch.
This work is a moving account of a Maasai whose life has been shaped by three chance events: his father’s decision to select him from among his large family to attend school; his appointment as park guide in Serengeti, giving him the opportunity of making friends among a variety of tourists; and his selection for the title role in the television film “Man of the Serengeti”, leading him to America and further education, which had eluded him in Tanzania. The narrative is shaped, however, by the author’s determination to pursue his opportunities at each stage. It is his ability to adapt himself to western culture that marks him out from most other Maasai who have attended school. They tend to be drawn back to their families and herds, whereas he utilised the responsibility and discipline instilled as a herdboy to apply himself towards an American degree in creative writing, having leapfrogged secondary schooling. His experiences have enabled him to translate an endearing aspect of Maasai culture for non- Maasai audiences. This is their panache for portraying encounters with the world and their inner feelings in evocative terms.
It is a brief but powerful story. The author has the facility of projecting his close identification with his family and culture by constant comparison and simile. He conveys his spontaneous wonder at the world as it opens up to him, in his childhood during the first stage of the book, and then on the path to success. His impressions of western society as a Maasai voyeur constantly recreates childhood images of the herds, the game, and the colour of Serengeti that seems to accompany him wherever he goes.
The author parades his growing worldliness and his catalogue of sexual conquests as might any Maasai. It is as though writing this work is for him what creating songs are for those who remain as warriors among the Maasai, and to this extent the title of the work is a pt. Yet the emotional highlights – the warm hugs and embraces – are not with any of his girlfriends, but with his brothers and sister sat each homecoming. The Maasai idiom keeps reflecting a homesickness that wells to the surface from time to time. The theme that threads through this narrative is not an account of warriorhood or age systems so often described for the Maasai, or even of the predicamnt faced by the Maasai in modern times. The compelling narrative is not really an account of the two worlds of a Maasai warrior, but of a developing relationship between a close family of brothers and sisters dominated by their father, who becomes increasingly difficult as he ages and yet retains a striking degree of affection among his children mixed with their fear. He is the central character who looms over the work, raining blows on his younger sons for any lapse in herding, and suspected of cursing an adult son to death for his attempt to assert some independence.
It is in this setting that the death of the author’s mother early in the work and of the older brother towards the end draw the family together and draw the author back from America and from his doubts concerning his identity as a cultural half breed. At intervals throughout the book one sees the development of the family as it grows and as rivalries develop between huts, and between generations. Apart from the father, it is the character sketch of the family as a whole rather than of individuals that provides the thread of continuity. Their slender mortality as individuals is offset by their loyalty to the persistence of the family itself. It is a family familiar to those who have seen “Man of the Serengeti” or Carol Beckwith’s collection of photographs in “Maasai” (1980) with which the author collaborated, and some of these photographs are reproduced here.
The author returns home and the narrative ends where perhaps the world of new experience ends. He has encountered six years among the most powerful nation on Earth, riven with racial disharmony. What else is there to wonder at? Has he exhausted his repertoire for further works? or how will he develop this facility Re has for bridging his own culture?
Maasai warriorhood is impelled with ideals that are corrupted in middle age as family responsibilities and possessions grow. The final scene is of a quarrel with a surviving brother over the management of their branch of the family. It suggests the onset of life after warriorhood. The telling portrait will be one of the author in middle age (perhaps by one of his sons). It is such a work that will demonstrate finally whether he has remained a man of Serengeti and become a patriarch in his turn, or has fallen between two cultures after all.
COMMERCIALISATION OF MAASAI CATTLE
The Dally News recently published an item on the commercialisation of Maasai cattle. It wrote that at the 13th Scientific Conference of the Tanzania Society of Animal Production held in Arusha in November 1986 Mr George G. Hadjivayanis, an agricultural extension expert, had revealed fhe results of a study he had done in Morogoro region. “Commercialisation of cattle raised by the Maasai herdsmen is a serious threat to the tribe’s livestock economy and stability” he said. “The growth of the beef market in Tanzania is rapidly expanding and has the capacity to consume the whole Maasai flock in a brief period.” He said he found the problem of the Maasai livestock economy to be its lack of integration with the beef market and its simple herding “which has become obsolete”. Nowadays be said the Maasai herdsmen preferred to live in illusion and not to accept the reality of the fate converging on their nomadism. “Liquor has become the opium that gives the Maasai herdsmen the false confidence of their miseries” he added. Explaining the consumption patterns of the Maasai, he said the cultural aloofness of the Maasai nomads was a thing of the past and that they had developed a taste for western consumer items. “The Maasai consume the most fashionable items (such as) sunglasses, electronic watches, radios, bicycles, American caps, latest fashion shoes and all the paraphernalia of western decadence”, he added. – Editor
C. E. Barker, M. R. Bhagavan, P. V. Mitschke-Collende and B. V. Wield, AFRICAN INDUSTRIALISATIOB: TECHNOLOGY AND CHANGE IN TABZANIA. Gower, 1986,
Very little high quality analytical work has been published in recent years on sub-Saharan economic development in general and industrialisation in particular. Sub-Saharan Africa is the least industrialised of the less developed regions of the world and only a handful of countries have the beginnings of a modern manufacturing sector – Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Cameroon. The authors of this study of Tanzanian industrialisation have differing disciplinary backgrounds and attempt jointly to develop a marxist political economy of the industrialisation process, arguing that “the particular form which industrial development takes in any country – and its dynamic role within the political economy of that country – is determined by a complex set of variables. These variables and their interrelationship, can only be understood within a historical framework of class formation in the country in question and the relationship of class to the means of production at any point in time. (p.xi)
The authors reject the once fashionable underdevelopment/ dependency perspectives and present a fair and balanced critique of the work of the late Bill Warren. They nevertheless reject Warren’s notion of the widespread development of independent domestic capitalisms in the Third World (the only exception in their opinion being India) and instead argue, although on the basis of very limited evidence, that industrial growth and diversification are occurring within the framework of capitalist relations and forces of production which “are being consolidated under the overall control of foreign capital” (p. 23). Domestic bourgeoises, backed by massive state support, are however emerging and consolidating their position in a number of countries.
In Tanzania, the authors identify a ruling class still in the making which is weak both in terms of its economic base and its management and technical capabilities in production, but stronger in its administrative abilities and control over the state apparatus. The future of this class is uncertain, however, and the authors do not speculate as to its longer-term development.
Individual chapters discuss the historical evolution of Tanzanian industrialisation, the structure of industry, the process of capital accumulation and surplus appropriation and the transfer of technology and industrial skills. There is an excellent discussion of the “class character” of consumption and much evidence is presented on the indirect transfer abroad of surplus by foreign capital in the post 1967 period. The authors accuse the Tanzanian Government of implementing an industrialisation strategy that has concentrated on export-orientated industries, and intermediate goods production with a high import content supplying mainly luxury and export production. No attempt has been made to establish a capital goods sector and few inter-industry linkages have been developed The choice of technology since 1967 has been left to the multilateral corporations with a consequent neglect of indigenous technological development The state has deliberately counteracted the practice of workers’ control of industry.
This is an excellent study that will hopefully provoke much discussion. Inevitably there are criticisms that can be made of it – it would have been useful to locate the analysis of industrialisation within a wider discussion of the overall development record of the Tanzanian economy; the bibliography is perhaps too selective; there are a number of infelicities of style – but it repays careful reading and it is to be hoped that it marks the beginnings of a new era in the study of Third World Industrialisation in general and Sub-Saharan African industrialisation in particular.
Dr Frederick Nixson