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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 8 (March 1995)

Joseph Kufulu Mandunu, Das "Kindoki" im Licht der Sündenbocktheologie: Versuch einer christlichen Be wältigung des Hexenglaubens in Schwarz-Afrika ["'Kindoki' in the Light of Scapegoat Theology: Towards a Christian Solution to the Problem of Witchcraft Beliefs in Black Africa"], Frankfurt am Main, etc.: Peter Lang, 1992. (Studies in the Intercultural History of Christianity, vol. 85). ISBN 3- 631-45508-9. 247 pp.

Joseph Kufulu Mandunu is a Zairian theologian who studied at the University of Innsbruck. This book is his doctoral thesis written under the supervision of Professor Raymund Schwager. On the basis of the mimetic theory he advocates the adoption by the African churches of a new approach to witchcraft. Kufulu Mandunu uses two terms from his mother-tongue Kikongo (spoken in Congo, western Zaire and northern Angola); "kindoki", and "ndoki " in referring to witchcraft and to its agents respectively.

In many African societies illnesses that cannot be treated by herbalists or western doctors, complaints of a psychosocial character, misfortunes of all sorts (accidents, barrenness, social failure) are ascribed to the work of 'evil-doers'. They are cured by religious healers (called nganga in many Bantu languages; medicine-man, witch-doctor) who employ divination and spiritpossession to determine the cause of the disorder. In its most elementary form the healing process involves the elimination or neutralization of a person, usually a relative or a member of the same community. The designation of this evil-doer, the ndoki, is usually put before an oracle administered by the nganga, for confirmation. Healing rites target the community more than they do the individual. In general the nganga is believed to make use of the same dangerous powers as the ndoki. However the nganga is expected to only use them for the well-being of the community.

While the old mission churches have, without much success, tried to suppress these healing practices, the many independent African Churches have taken a more accommodating attitude -- to the extent of making witch- finding an integral part of their socio-therapeutic practices (p. 100). Kufulu Mandunu rejects the approach of the old churches as futile and that of the Independent African Churches as contrary to the Christian commandment of neighborly love. He wants to lay the theoretical foundation for a third option. Since to most Africans the practices involving kindoki have real effects the church should formulate its message of salvation in an idiom that acknowledges their reality while keeping clear of their practical implications. The tool for translating the gospel into the idiom of African beliefs is Girardian theory. Kindoki is the African perception of the human reality of deadly mimetic rivalry. The ndoki and the drive of the community to eliminate the ndoki correspond to the scapegoat-mechanism. The Christian message reveals that the selection of the ndoki is arbitrary, and that, in fact, in the drive for the victim, all are ndoki. A Christian practice of divination should therefore reverse the arrow of victimage and confront the scapegoaters with their ndoki-ness.

Kufulu Mandunu's book is divided in 5 sections. After a presentation of the problem of kindoki as a malignant cancerous growth ("das Krebsübel") in African Christianity (ch.l), an overview of leading interpretations of healing and witchcraft by contemporary theologians of the African mission churches is given (ch.2). A number of sociological interpretations of witchcraft are examined but are shown to fall short of giving an explanation of the parapsychological, occult, dimension of the phenomenon (ch.3). After a discussion of Girard's fundamental anthropology (ch.4), Mandunu, in a concluding chapter, presents his idea of an African Christian healing praxis as the inversion of the witch-hunt. The argument is well- documented. The book has not less than 1216 footnotes, some containing extensive quotations in French and German.

As a social scientist I wish Kufulu Mandunu had provided his readers with more empirical detail: case- histories of kindoki-sociotherapy, and, if there are any, of its Christian reversal. Though I would like to agree with him that the fundamental structure of witchcraft practices is the same throughout Africa (as well as in many other parts of the world) I don't think the immense variety of types of practitioners and of methods used is irrelevant. In Africa here is considerable variation in the social importance of witchcraft. During my research in southern Sudan I was struck by the relative unimportance of witchcraft among the stateless pastoralists who had remained comparatively unaffected by colonial and post- colonial pacification, and the important role it played among some of the agricultural peoples whose warrior- culture had been dismantled. This seems to suggest an inverse correlation between the role of warfare -- confronting the enemy outside -- and witchcraft -- the preoccupation with the enemy within. This observation leads to the suggestion that the current importance of kindoki on the continent may be related to the limitations on the possibility for honorable warfare in Africa.

Speaking of honorable warfare, I need to make another point. In Kufulu Mandunu's view all cultural practices that betray elements of mimetic rivalry and of the scapegoat mechanism are to be condemned and redeemed in their entirety. This messianic attitude of "great refusal" leaves no room for an anthropological interest in the concrete diversity of human life. I don't share this polarized vision. Cultural diversity, in my view, is of great interest because it is witness of the many ways in which we humans have coped, and are coping, with the problem of violence. Cultural institutions are not one-dimensional emanations of mimetic dynamics and the scapegoat mechanism. They play a twofold role: they facilitate their operation and, simultaneously, keep their potential violence within certain bounds. Witchcraft as a socially accepted set of beliefs has a regulating function with regards to scapegoating. Divination often functions as a check on the arbitrary selection of witches, and on the outbreak of witch-hunts. The same twofold dynamic of allowing and constraining violence is operative in the institutionalized forms of warfare and economic competition (the latter strongly condemned by Mandunu, p. 224). This openness to the ambiguity of cultural institutions creates a space in which the different cultural experiences, including the African one, can be compared and evaluated.

The central message of Kindoki in the Light of Scapegoat Theology is very timely. Post cold-war Africa experiences an increase in the killing of different types of scapegoats. In the country where this review is written hundreds of thousands of people were killed many with the open complicity of the church. It is to be hoped that a summary of Mandunu's argument will soon be available in languages more easily accessible on the continent.

Simon Simonse (Kigali, January 1995)