For years, self-identified witches have demanded the public acknowledgement of witchcraft as “religion” in Nigeria. These political debates are reflected in a long-ongoing scholarly discussion about whether “witchcraft” in Africa should be regarded as religion or not. At its core, this discussion concerns the quest for African meanings. I argue that we should focus on the translingual practice as the reason for today’s perception of “African” and “European” differences as incommensurable. Tracing back today’s understanding of witchcraft among the Yoruba (àjé), the Alatinga anti-witchcraft movement of the early 1950s becomes the nodal point of Yoruba witchcraft history. Discussing the Alatinga as translingual practice, I understand Yoruba witchcraft concepts as products of a global religious history. Only in the aftermath of the Alatinga, a hybrid movement, did the need arise to demarcate “African” and “European” meanings. Thus, Yoruba translingual practice has also affected European understandings of religion and witchcraft today.
The debate over repatriation has only recently come to European attention. Arguments against it still prevail and rely on the interpretation of the things involved as universally appreciated pieces of art or craft, which have to be stored accordingly. However, at least from the Nigerian context, many intellectuals see these objects as proof of their history before colonization. Thus, the objects represent the desire to be free of the ongoing negative impacts of colonization. The article argues that these debates cannot be properly understood if the materiality and weight that these objects acquired over time and in global exchanges is not considered. In light of material religion, new materialist and global religious history approaches, the article turns to an example, which has been forgotten in repatriation discussions: the findings at Ile-Ife from the late 19th century to the 1960s. Materialization, in this context, is an intra-active, politically charged, and comparative process.
In Africa, witchcraft as both a practice and concept is characterized by diversity. A number of places such as Nigeria hold a general suspicion that women are more likely to be witches. This gendered social practice has been studied in anthropology. However, African women’s reactions and interests regarding practices associated with witchcraft (identification, deliverance, healing etc.) have not been studied sufficiently. And in particular, women’s multi-religious backgrounds have often been ignored. This article argues that research on witchcraft in Africa carries a burden of epistemic violence. It has often left the ascription of witchcraft to women unquestioned and at the same time, overlooked women’s own diverse religious perspectives and the interplay of this with witchcraft belief. Based on fieldwork among the Yoruba in Nigeria, the article analyses how witchcraft is ascribed as female, how women are impacted by this and how they position themselves within this social practice. It discusses these gender dynamics as related to the effects of epistemic violence and agency. Results show that women participate in the production of witchcraft as an imagined exclusive female practice, yet their dealings with witchcraft also implicate agency and the possibility of socio-religious change.