Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Defecation rites among the Azande

A woman postgrad tells me she chose defecation rites among the Azande as the theme for her dissertation. I ask why. She says she wanted to study the same theme among a different tribe, but more had been published on that one. There was a hole in Azande studies she intended to fill.
    I am surprised that the prolific Evans-Pritchard left room for anyone else in coverage of the Azande. I am even more surprised by her focus. Defecation rites?

Feelings after waking with this dream fragment in the early hours: Amusement.

Reality check: I wrote an article once, titled “Excremental Issues” on defecation in contemporary dreams. Many years ago, I read books and articles by Sir Edward “E.E.” Evans-Pritchard, a famous Oxford anthropologist. Regarded as the founder of social anthropology, he did a great deal of fieldwork among the Azande of southern Sudan and became a world authority on witchcraft and sorcery among the peoples of Central Africa. Having immersed himself in the lives of people among whom sorcery is the explanation for many everyday events, he converted later in life to Roman Catholicism. Some suggested that he did this in an effort to close the lid on experiences for which he had no rational explanation.

Action: Yes again, a dream has set me a research assignment, quite a curious one. I pulled out Evans-Pritchard’s book Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande. I will check whether anything has been published on “defecation rites” among this people. I am curious to see whether scatomancy (divination by excrement) is among their practices. It is often part of folk medicine, and there is an account of this in Augusten Burrough's hilarious memoir Running with Scissors, which I read a few years ago on a plane.

The snapper (or is it the crapper?) is irresistible: “Are you sh-tting me?”

Photo: Evans-Pritchard among the Azande.

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