Who believes in witches? Institutional flux in Sierra Leone

H. Van de Grijspaarde, M.J. Voors, E.H. Bulte, P. Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Witchcraft has been documented across the globe. The widespread occurrence of such beliefs in modern Africa affects politics, economic development, and poverty alleviation. Anthropologists have analysed the semiotics of African witchcraft, but there is less information on distributional issues. An important question is which communities are most affected, and why? Using data from a survey of 182 villages and 2,443 household heads in the Gola Forest region of eastern Sierra Leone, we examine three manifestations of witchcraft – concerns, conflicts, and detection. We find that where patrimonial relations of agrarian production remain strong, and in settings where market forces are now well established, witchcraft is less of a concern. By contrast, witchcraft manifestations are higher in communities experiencing the competing pull of patrimonial and market norms. Witchcraft, we conclude, is a product of normative ambiguity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-47
JournalAfrican Affairs
Issue number446
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • witchcraft
  • accusations
  • poverty
  • village
  • sorcery
  • africa


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