Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Judith Lorber

Committee Members

Sidney Aronson

Lindsay Churchill

Subject Categories



This dissertation describes and analyzes the system of traditional medicine operating in northeastern Malawi, especially those beliefs in witchcraft and spirit possession which cause people to seek out traditional rather than Western healers. Although a wide range of illustrative material is presented, the discussion focuses on an analysis of client correspondence to traditional herbalists (nganga) and diviner-witchdoctors (nchimi). Such correspondence is apparently the first reported in the anthropological literature of central and eastern Africa, and the letters that comprise it are used to elucidate the role of traditional healers and the nature of the healer-client relationship. An examination is also made of those Western influences which affect traditional medical practice and belief–formal education, Christianity, codified law, scientific medicine. What this examination reveals is that, although a manifest purpose of all these institutions is in one way or another to suppress traditional healing, a latent effect of each is in important ways to encourage the use of traditional healers and to reinforce the claims of traditional medicine. The role of village headmen and of chiefs is considered, with particular attention to their function as agents of referral and legitimation in those cases of suspected witchcraft sent to nchimi for resolution. Emerson and Messinger's micropolitical paradigm is invoked to furnish a theoretical perspective on complaints attributed to sorcerers and spirits: how such complaints take shape; what means to remedy them are pursued; how the conflicts arising out of them are resolved. The applicability of such a theoretical approach to witchcraft-related troubles is demonstrated, as are the approach's limitations, and suggestions are made how the limitations may be remedied.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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