The Place of Witch-Doctors in Zande Society
As much of Zande society, the character of witch doctors is overseen by political authorities, such as the nobles and princes. Although the profession of a witch-doctor is exclusively only a commoner profession, the nobles do have some interest with the activities of the witch-doctor. Nobles seem to have a broader range of concerns, since many of the political interests are added to their everyday responsibilities. A prince that owns a large number or wives, is more vulnerable than a commoner to have strikes by women witches, since he has extra contacts with women. Nonetheless, wisdom of medicines brings the Zande witch-doctor no political power or social prestige, as one might think.
Many times when a witch-doctor performs at the court of a prince, or of a wealthy commoner, his craft allows him to become associates with the nobles, something that laymen do not achieve. Since these diviners become more obscure and discreet, they are eventually cut off from the rest of society and are somehow excluded from the commoners. Prichard speculates that perhaps scepticism is accredited from professionals to laymen, for however well witch doctors may keep their secrets, they live their lives in privacy with their uninitiated fellows, who cannot fail to be influenced by their contact.
Witch-doctors establish a proportion of social mastery, this itself has an economic side, in which they are beckoned to homes of the successful commoners or to their friends and family, therefore depriving them of the finances that they need to survive. To make up for his lost finances, the doctor must be paid in metal wealth, or food and tools. Witch-doctors are not payed a great amount for their services, and it also may be many years before a man recovers from the expenses of his admission into this field from his teacher. There is also a social separation concerning the ritual fragment, for a witch doctors perform for a large number of Zande people at a seance, that the people would otherwise have to perform themselves with oracles such as the rubbing board or the poison oracle. During these seances, the Zande people trust the witch-doctor to watch over their concerns by paying special attention to the witches, and exposing their intentions, which applies some stress to the witch-doctors. Last but not least, there is a separation on the psychological side, for Prichard remarks that “it is clear that is some aspects a witch-doctor’s mentality differs from that of a laymen.” Many of these medicine men seem to have a wider range of knowledge, identifying large number of trees and plants. Although they have a broader knowledge base, these doctors are often excluded from everyday Zande life because they do not possess the same experience as many of the commoners. All of these economic, ritual, and psychological sides seem to more negative than positive aspects, so the one might ask, why would one want to become a witch-doctor?
The answer is quite complicated and no single reply can resolve this question. Prichard believes that when one knows an Zande well, you can usually distinguish the most successful witch-doctor. He concludes that as a rule, men that show a strong desire to become a witch-doctor have a greater extent of curiosity and greater social ambition than the average Zande. Their personality is generated by methods of social behavior that they must achieve in order be prosperous, such as knowledge of human feelings, courage, and so forth. It is hard to know what mainly influences a Zande youth to choose to be a witch-doctor as a profession. Some of the more skeptical Zande commoners may say that it is mere love of gain, but it is often hard to justify this notion, mainly because little prosperity is acquired from this profession. In Prichard’s opinion, the most crucial incentive is the desire to display oneself and to obtain medicines. Many Zande would jump at the opportunity to obtain new medicines, for this gives them protection from witches and sorcerers and a feeling of power. Often seances give the witch-doctor the chance to draw attention to oneself in a role that allows him to affirm his superiority and enhance his behavior, and in return this often is a great incentive for youths to take up a career of a witch-doctor, since the seance displays itself in a socially accepted manner. Sometimes, the art of witch-doctors is passed down from generations of fathers or uncles to these youths. A father will only teach one of his sons medicine, and he chooses the son that he feels is most appropriate, and who shows the most interest.
Although no one answer will unravel the marvel of the witch-doctor to the Zande people, it is clear that the witch-doctor is an vital part of Zande life as they know it. Their presence is of tradition, and is virtually fascinating and a crucial part of Azande survival. Society seems to gain reassurance from the witch-doctors, a reenforcement that gives each individual some closure to their particular problem. Just as the poison oracle and rubbing board oracle, the witch-doctor is a part of the Zande circle, in which each piece creates a whole in the life of the Azande, primarily to develop closure to their distress at that moment. Each component of these rituals, benefit the Zande in that each process develops an explanation, or unveils “why.” Customs, such as the witch-doctor give the Azande rationalization of their belief system, just another element to justify witch craft as part of their ordinary experience. Overall, the witch-doctors place in society is an significant one in Zande culture, and will presumably remain as long as witch craft continues to exist.