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Globalization and the Power of Indeterminate Meaning: Witchcraft and Spirit Cults in Africa and East Asia



The obsession with witchcraft in many parts of present-day Africa is not to be viewed as some sort of traditional residue. On the contrary, it is especially present in the more modern spheres of society. In a comparative, global perspective, this linking of modernity and witchcraft is not particular to Africa: in other parts of our globalized world, modern developments coincide with a proliferation of what the Comaroffs (forthcoming) call ‘the economies of the occult’. In this article, representations in South and West Cameroon about ekong, supposedly a novel form of witchcraft explicitly associated with modern forms of wealth, are compared to Weller's study of the upsurge of spirit cults in Taiwan, during the recent economic boom of this ‘Asian tiger’. The power of such discourses on occult forces is that they relate people's fascination with the open-endedness of global flows to the search for fixed orientation points and identities. Both witchcraft and spirit cults exhibit a surprising capacity for combining the local and the global. Both also have specific implications for the ways in which people try to deal with modernity's challenge.