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In witchcraft a person has an intrinsic power to harm others unintentionally and unconsciously. It is difficult to differentiate between a sahhar (witch), and a non-sahhar, except by looking for special signs and by applying certain tests. For example, all members of the Rubatab tribe are under suspicion of witchcraft unless proved otherwise. They are famous for their use of eloquent metaphoric phrases that are so descriptive that the target object, man or property, is invariably harmed. This, what Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim called assaulting with words, we will discuss shortly..
In 1918, Brock reported on witchcraft and witchdoctors among the Azande. He said that no matter what a person dies of, he or she is supposed to have been bewitched. Certain people are supposed to be afflicted with mangu, which is described as being like a mouth with large sharp teeth. People thus afflicted—they are called Borromangu—are said to be the cause of everyone’s death, not maliciously but involuntarily. He also reported that when a person dies, a portion of one finger nail and one toe nail and some hair are always removed before burial. These are used to find out who has bewitched the deceased.
Edward Evans-Pritchard dealt elaborately with the system of witchcraft among the Azande tribes of southern Sudan. His findings were published in his classic Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande and in various other articles., , Evans-Pritchard says:
“Azande believe that some people are witches and can injure them in virtue of an inherent quality. A witch performs no rite, utters no spell, and possesses no medicines. An act of witchcraft is a psychic act. They believe also that sorcerers may do them ill by performing magic rites with bad medicines. Azande distinguish clearly between witches and sorcerers.”
“Witches have witchcraft substances in their bodies which is inherited according to them by uni-linear descent from parent to child. The substance is said to be the shape of a bent elbow and is located in the belly just below the xiphoid cartilage and it grows as the person grows. It can be identified by autopsy or by oracular consultation in the living. However, the witchcraft substance may remain dormant throughout the witch’s life time and he is thus not classified as a witch. The witch sends his soul, mbisimo mangu, the soul of witchcraft, on errands to remove the psychical part of his victim’s organs, his mbissimo pasio, the soul of his flesh, which he and his fellow witches will devour. Witchcraft does not strike a man at a great distance, but only injures people in the vicinity. Witchcraft leads to a slow wasting disease and causes death by slow stages. Witches also shoot objects, called ahu mangu, things of witchcraft, into the bodies of those whom they wish to injure. This leads to pain in the place where the missile is lodged, and a witch-doctor, in his role of leech, will be summoned to extract the offending objects, which may be material objects or worms or grubs.”
The Evil Eye
In the Sudan the average Muslim is believed to possess only a slightly harmful eye. On the other hand, the glance of the one-eyed, the cross-eyed, Nigerians, unbelievers, and repulsive-looking old males and females is thought to be extremely potent. The possessor of such an eye is called sahhar (witch or evil one) for a male and sahhara for a female in northern Sudan, and massas in Darfur in western Sudan. The Evil Eye is also known as the ‘jealous’ or ‘envious eye’ and the ‘hot eye’. The last name gave rise to the common formula, ‘this is the coolness of my eye,’ which indicates that one’s desires are satisfied and feelings gratified. The eye is believed to emanate radiance that hits like a curse and causes harm to the unprotected. Not only human beings, but any animals, crops and property which may be looked at, are harmed to a greater or a lesser degree. This concept may be analogous to the early theories of vision, when light rays were thought to be emitted by the eye, to travel to the object and to be reflected back again as a visible image.
When people are in front of other people’s properties or possessions which are supposed to arouse envy, or when they are visiting a nafasa (a woman who has recently given birth) certain formulas should be uttered so that their ‘eye’ is rendered harmless. A variety of formulas such as: salat al-nabi (the blessing of the Prophet) ma sha Allah (blessed be the will of God) are uttered, whilst a person in danger of being bewitched should add ‘ain al-hasud fiha ‘ud (let a poker be driven in the eye of the jealous one). Sometimes the evil-doer is distracted by words like harshak or by some camouflaging procedures.
It is difficult to differentiate between a sahhar and a non-sahhar. The former, however, is said to be evil-looking and reclusive, keeping his eyes cast down and deliberately neglecting to look one in the face. Whilst in conversation he omits to make pious reference to the name of God. To identify a sahhar, a piece of shebb (alum) salt, some acacia pods, and cumin are placed together in an incense burner and the suspect is fumigated with it. Then water is sprinkled on the incense and it clots into a mass, the shape of which decides the issue. Once identified, he or she will be offered milk to drink. If this is rejected, the suspicion is confirmed and he or she will be chased to abolish the harm done. Many methods are employed to undo the damage. They may wash the eyes of the sahhar whilst asleep. This is employed if the harm is done unintentionally.
In other malevolent cases the ‘scapegoat’ method of evil transference is used. Hair from the suspect or a few pinches of earth from his track, or anything that can be retrieved of his substance or belongings are obtained. These are then burnt with alum, herbs, and incense and the afflicted is fumigated with it. Afterwards the mass in the incense burner, which has now absorbed the harm, is destroyed. They may go to the street or to the river and throw it behind their backs, taking care not to see where it goes. The harm is then considered undone.
The Otoro of the Nuba mountains adopted a similar method for detecting and penalizing a culprit. One scratches sand from his footprints and throws it into the fire; if he is guilty (but not otherwise) his feet will swell and he will die a painful death, often years later.
‘Irq al-’alali both treats the damage the evil eye causes and protects against its assault. This is a surface root resembling ginger in appearance and having a fragrant smell. When it is worn upon the arm, it keeps off the evil eye. When it is dug, a person should scatter dura in its place and put back the soil. Otherwise the ground would drag back the power of the root because it has nothing given to it in exchange. Slatin Pasha in his book Fire and Sword described Khalifa ‘Abd Allah’s dread of the ‘eye’. A one-eyed Syrian who unintentionally cast his blind eye in his direction was instructed never to come near him again. He remarked to Slatin, ‘nothing can resist the human eye. Illness and misfortune are generally caused by the evil eye. Rev. D.S. Oyler reports on the Shilluk that when the evil eye has been cast on a man and ‘his spirit has left limo’, the medicine man undertakes to restore his spirit. One way to do that is to take a certain kind of grass, and rub it on the chest of the patient. He then spits on his hands, and rolls the grass in his hands. The grass is then dipped in water, and the water is sprinkled on the patient. The ashes from the dung of a medicine man’s cow may also be rubbed on his chest.
Human beings are believed to transform into were-animals as a witchcraft deed, and cause damage or destruction to people and their possessions. Belief in the existence of were-animals is prevalent in the Sudan, especially among the tribes of Darfur. The Masalit were said to appear as hyenas, cats, and dogs, and the Tamourka as lions. The Tamourka, in addition, are believed to metamorphose after death. In their were-animal form or in metamorphosis, they bewitch and cause injury of varying types. Trimingham reported on this subject in Islam in the Sudan. He says:
“Certain sahirs (in this case called sahharin) are credited with the ability to transform themselves at night into crocodiles and hippopotami in Riverain districts, or hyenas in Dar Funj and among the Masalit, or lions in Darfur. These metamorphosed human-beasts roam about seeking to destroy, and are reputed to hold cannibal feasts.”
Whether were-animals have any deleterious psychosocial or physical effects on health remain to be found out by further research.
 Brock, Major R. G. C. Some Notes on the Azande Tribe as Found in the Meridi District (Bahr El Ghazal Province). Sudan Notes and Records. 1918; 1: 249-262.
 Evans-Pritchard, E.E (1937). Op. Cit.
 Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. The Zande Corporation of Witch-Doctors. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute; 1932; 62: 291-336.
 Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. Witchcraft. Africa; 1935; 8: 411--22.
 Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. Witchcraft (Mangu) Among the Azande. Sudan Notes and Records; 1929; 12(2): 163-?.
 Evans-Pritchard, E.E (1937). Op. Cit. Page 1.
 Evans-Pritchard, E.E. Op. Cit. Page 14.
 Nadel, S.F (1947). Op. Cit. Page 156.
 The first successor of the Mahdi
 Quoted by Trimingham, p. 170.
 Oyler, Rev. D.S. The Shilluk’s Beliefs in the Good Medicine Men. Sudan Notes and Records; 1920; 3: 110-116.
 Trimingham, J.S (1949). Op. Cit. Page 177.
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