Reconsidering Witchcraft: Postcolonial Africa and Analytic (Un)Certainties



African notions of witchcraft are neither archaic nor static but are highly flexible and deeply attuned to the conundrums of our contemporary world. Many anthropologists have recently argued that notions of the African witch provide commentaries on the meaning and merit of modernity as experienced in different historical and cultural settings. By exploring one particular type of witchcraft —that involving rain—amongst the lhanzu of Tanzania, this article suggests instead that some forms of witchcraft may be more pertinent to understanding local notions of "tradition" than "modernity." It is argued that the process of identifying rain witches provides lhanzu men and women with a way to circumscribe, contemplate, and, ultimately, reassert the veracity and significance of a conceptual category they call "tradition." The article concludes by critiquing the homogenizing effects of terms like the African witch and African witchcraft, compelling us to think in terms of pluralities rather than singulars. [Keywords: witchcraft, modernity, tradition, rainmaking, anthropological theory]