The War of Lions: Witch-Hunts, Occult Idioms and Post-Socialism in Northern Mozambique

The year is 2002, the place Muidumbe, northerly cradle of the Mozambican Liberation Struggle. Lions devouring people, and people lynching sorcerers suspected of magically fabricating lions, unleash a crisis that soon assumes a political dimension. Widespread rumours accuse the local post-socialist elite of manipulating a group of lion-men and engaging in organ trafficking with an international alliance of vampires. Disempowered  youth lynchers stage a paradoxical uprising. This article details the unfolding of this crisisover a year, and discusses its broader implications. Are contemporary sorcery crises adeflected effect of ‘millennial capitalism’? To what extent can occult rumours be interpreted as idioms that express political agency in metaphors? What is the role of the media and of cultural brokers in propagating rumours and crystallising collective anxieties inrecognisable forms? How is one to understand the rationality, if any, of witch-hunts? Focusing on the forms and the effects of violence, a symptomatic reading of witch-hunts reveals their linkages with Frelimo’s project of ‘total politicisation’. Finally, the article discusses a contradiction inherent in sorcery scholarship, hovering between repeating the Enlightenment’s baptismal naming of witchcraft as superstition and producing populist representations of subaltern consciousness dismissive of dramatic experiences of violence

 

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