Article Summary: Going Bush’: Black Magic, White Ambivalence And Boundaries Of Belief In Postcolonial Kenya

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Black magic is mainly used for evil purposes, witchcraft, and sorcery, it is also referred to as the supernatural powers or magic for evil and selfish purposes together with jealousy (Johnson, H. Johnson, H.W. and Graham, M. 2003). The cultural and political conditions of former colony in Kenya is concerned with accounting for the economic, historical, and social impacts of European colonial rules around the world during that occurred during the 18th through the 20th century. The essay will summarize the articles primary arguments and argue on the ‘gap’ in the research or the intervention into a larger conversation. Moreover, the major ideas addressed in the article, the methods an author used to collect the information and the ethnography support and develop of the author’s argument will be discussed. At the end there will be an evaluation if are there are any gaps in the evidence or in the article’s logic that one feel weakens the argument.

In an article ‘GOING BUSH’: BLACK MAGIC, WHITE AMBIVALENCE AND BOUNDARIES OF BELIEF IN POSTCOLONIAL KENYA the author argues that after colonialism of African countries the Europeans has lost their power, he specifically refers to the white Kenyans. The loss of power lead them in practicing, acting, living and doing more of what is done by black people in Kenya. McKintosh, (2006:256) argues that “so too does it inform white Kenyans’ notions of who they are and what they ought to be even as they have lost most of their authority to be in Kenya at all, and find themselves increasingly influenced by ideas and practices from the African surround”. The author proceeded by saying, “in the colonial era, anyway, Europeans did indeed have more complex experiences with local supernatural ontologies than official colonial discourse let on” McKintosh, (2006:256), which basically means that white Kenyans shown interest and anxiety on magic and witchcraft and responded to it either by practicing or using it against each other, or it might be that black magic was use towards them or affected them in one way or the other.

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The author conducted an investigation in Kenya directed to white Kenyans only asking them about what they believe in, trying not to be as direct and straight forward as possible. “I attempted to ask most questions in as neutral and open-ended a fashion as possible, but there can be no doubt that my informants’ narratives were performances textured by my presence” (McKintosh, 2006:262). Upon his findings the imperfections and the delicacy of ethnographic epistemology was discovered among the Kenyans. The author found that some white Kenyans do not feel at home in Kenya meaning they lack the sense of belonging. “We don’t know who we are or where we belong,’ she says; ‘we don’t really have security here because sentiment could turn against us at a moment’s notice. “the direct quotes of words said by Said Naomi who was being investigated by the author (McKintosh, 2006:265). Another one of his findings that were conducted shows that some of the white Kenyans do feel the sense of belonging in Kenya, for example one of the authors informant named Fredrick. “Frederick initially refuses to define himself in categorical terms, but by the end of his statement his boundaries come into focus with the Kiswahili term for white person, mzungu, commonly heard among blacks and whites alike”, meaning he doesn’t see himself as an outsider but instead he feels like Kenya is part of him and its home.

Moreover, the author investigated about the power of believes among the white Kenyans and discovered that when he asked about knowledge of witchcraft or magic many Kenyans came up with local superstitions which basically means that the possibilities of them being bewitched are high. McKintosh (2006:274) argues, “I found that when I asked about their own knowledge of witchcraft or magic, many white Kenyans initially produced narratives that underscored the damaging strength of local ‘superstition’. Most had plenty of tales of staff members who believed themselves to be bewitched;” (McKintosh, 2006:288). The author also emphasized the point that witchcraft is practiced to and against white Kenyans by both black and white Kenyans for example the Lucy scenario who fired a servant and immediately developed spots on her body and died. Whites too towards each other practice witchcraft and magic. “Whites would express fear that witchery could be used against them in a context of competition over business” this is seen as jealousy.

Most white Kenyans are vulnerable or in danger because of witchery occurring in Kenya, “A number of whites mentioned to me that the sites of famous Mijikenda or Swahili shrines are suspected to be bewitched,” said McKintosh (2006:287). In contrast the white Kenyans argue that they are not involved in the supernatural ideologies thought they know it exists, “White Kenyans, on the other hand, report they are not enveloped by local beliefs and practices because they keep their distance” (McKintosh, 2006:288). Moreover, if they need help from a ritual (mnganya) they send their servant to save their reputation therefore one might say they a reluctant to say they believe in it. So they sat “If you believe in it, then it works” (McKintosh, 2006:278). All in all the practice of witchcraft in Kenya is currently not only subjected to blacks but whites too, McKintosh (2006:278) argues that “As the generations turn over in Kenya, will we see a revolution in thinking, such that ‘black magic’ is no longer overtly marked as black, or at least no longer so strictly counterpoised against white identity?”.

The author McKintosh, (2006) says his informants which are mainly white Kenyans find themselves sometimes subscribing to the existence and potency of ‘magic’ and ‘witchcraft’; many also experience a complex mental landscape in which ‘belief’ is treated not merely as a commitment to truth value, but also as a state of vulnerability that can lay one open to mysterious ontological forces of which is an oppression issue because by them being involved in the “magic” or “witchcraft” despite the color of their skin or historical origin they end up being the part of it. So my attribution would be that when one talks about black magic in Kenya also white Kenyans are included.

The first major idea is the power of belief. So they say, believing is seeing and after seeing one definitely takes action by getting involved, same goes to white Kenyans who believes in the existence of black magic end up being involved in it too. Another major idea addressed in the article is the sense of belonging regarding white Kenyans in this post-colonial era. After Kenya gained independence some whites went back home, and some remained behind, also some were born in Kenya and they had to adapt the way Kenyans live which make others not o feel at home. The last idea is the dangers of utilizing or practicing witchcraft, there is a scenario in the article where one Kenyan died because of witchcraft that was used towards her.

The methods used by the author to collect data includes Observations and Audit where an author observed the physical environment and the behaviors of people in Kenya. The author McKintosh also recorded the informants while he was collecting information in Kenya about black magic associated with white Kenyans. Another method used are Interviews which were conducted by the author to support his theory or arguments he made about white ambivalence towards the practice of witchcrafts or magic. The last approach an author used in collecting information is Existing Data Source. McKintosh also used existing data from different sources like scholarly articles, books, journals and academic online sources in supporting his claims in an article similar to the other academic writings.

The ethnography supports the authors arguments mainly on the viewpoint that the author talks about present events that occurs in Kenya, by present events that includes postcolonial era. There are no gaps in the evidence. To add on the critiques the author gathered his findings by investigating only the white Kenyans so that he can stick to the theme of the article and the topic by only focusing on the European decedents which are known as the third generation (white Kenyans) and does not expand his findings by interviewing the black Kenyans too.

Reference List

  1. Johnson, H., Johnson, H.W. and Graham, M., 2003. High-speed signal propagation: advanced black magic. Prentice Hall Professional.
  2. McKintosh, Janet C. 2006. ‘Going Bush’: Black Magic, White Ambivalence and Boundaries of Belief in Postcolonial Kenya. Journal of Religion in Africa. 36 (3-4): 254-295.


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