2013 | 1-2(245-246) | 84-101
Article title

„Krokodyle przemienione" i kontrakty z duchami: czarownicy w kulturach Gwinei Bissau

Title variants
Contracts with Spirits and Crocodiles Magically Transformed: Witchcraft in Guinea-Bissau
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This article discusses witchcraft beliefs present among inhabitants of multiethnic settings of Guinea-Bissau, West Africa. Witchcraft, which is a prevalent feature of most African cultures, entails a form of psychic aggression performed in an invisible way by some community members against others. Drawing on my research in Guinea-Bissau, I present a range of local beliefs and imagery concerning methods by which witches act. Among them, there is a belief in the possibility of gaining the power of witchcraft through a contract with a nature spirit, which then has to be paid for with human life. The local vernacular includes imagery of cannibalistic attacks, common to much of Africa; witches are described as “eating human flesh” or the life energy of the victims. Beliefs in the ability of witches to transform themselves into animals are characteristic of the region and they set themselves apart from the majority of similar beliefs on the African continent. Here, the magical transformation ensures not only the necessary camouflage which facilitates the invisible attack, but also – in other cases – provides the external means for direct physical assault. I compare some of the local Guinean beliefs with those present in other cultures of the continent, as documented by the rich literature available on the topic. I also discuss some contemporary transformations of witchcraft beliefs that occur due to socio-cultural and economic changes taking place in African societies.
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