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Adam Ashforth’s Ethnography – Madumo, a Man Bewitched

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Adam Ashforth’s ethnography, Madumo, A man Bewitched, follows the struggle of Madumo, a close friend of Ashforth’s, through his quest to rid himself of the witchcraft he believes has cursed him ever since the death of his mother. Throughout the ethnography, Ashforth discusses with Madumo, Mr. Zondi and many other people who live in Soweto how witchcraft has become so prevalent and whether it is real. Ashforth’s ethnography takes place soon after Apartheid’s end and the entailing growth of witchcraft accusations throughout much of South Africa’s former homelands.

Following Madumo’s Mothers death, he was separated from his family entirely as they and other members of his community believed him to be one of the causes of her death. In Ashforth’s ethnography, he discusses the growth of witchcraft accusations throughout South Africa. Accusations of witchcraft have increased drastically following the end of Apartheid in the early 1990s. Ashforth begins by asking Madumo why he believes he’s cursed, where he immediately begins discussing how he hasn’t seen his ancestors and explains how important it is to see your ancestors as they will bring you fortune or in his case misfortune because Madumo has “forgotten them”. Because of this, Madumo believes his ancestors have forgotten him and aren’t protecting him from the misfortune that has been brought upon him recently.

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After Madumo explains what has happened to him since Ashforth left, he goes to find a healer who can help him with the misfortune and the curse he believes has been put on him. There are two types of healers found in Soweto, Christian profits such as those in the Zion Christian Church and traditional healers otherwise known as inyangas in Zulu. Inyangas such as the one Madumo found and truly believed would help him through this tough time in his life, Mr. Zondi, use methods for calling on their ancestral spirits when healing people. They often use herbs such as Muthi, and other similar substances to assist them in gaining information and during their healing process. Mr. Zondi has three stages to his process of ridding Madumo of his curse first he uses herbs to wash him, second, he uses he will cut him which will be used as a protection, and third he will be discharged by a feast for his ancestors.

Many people in Soweto believe witchcraft to be a real threat. They actively accuse even their family members of being witches, causing them to be abandoned from their families and pushed out of their communities, in some parts of South Africa they could even be killed. In Madumo’s situation, his brother accuses him after he was told by the priest of the Zion Christian Church that his brother may be actively practicing witchcraft, “declaring it an inside job,” after the sudden and unexpected death of their mother. As for MaMfete, or Ashforth’s Mother in Africa, she says repeatedly that she does not believe in witchcraft completely and is very skeptical throughout the ethnography of its validity, such as with traditional healers or, inyangas. She frequently consults with Ashforth throughout the ethnography, following along with what Madumo and Ashforth were accomplishing with Mr. Zondi in their healing process to rid Madumo of his curse.

Following the end of Madumo’s quest with Ashforth and Mr. Zondi he could please the elders with his final feast that he had with them. He believes the curse is no longer affecting him because of the work he had completed to rid him of the curse he has had to live with for months. After the feast he had with his elders Madumo showed sign of success in that the treatment had worked. Following the feast Ashforth would return home and write a book about the experiences Madumo and him had during his quest to defeat the curse in which He successfully helps Madumo reunite with his ancestors and guide him back to a better path to a more successful future.

After Apartheid ended in the early 1990s, many Sowetans were looking for another way to blame their problems, as they could no longer just blindly blame the white man for their problems. In early 1995, following the year in which the African National Congress came in to power after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, many people began blaming people amongst their communities and within their own families for their problems. The question, “why are we suffering,” no longer had a good answer as they couldn’t say Apartheid. Blaming the white man began to make less since and so blaming the black man within their communities started to become the norm. The proliferation of witches and witchcraft soon followed as the blame shifted in South Africa. Even though South Africa is modernizing following apartheid the increase in witches throughout the country shows, parallels to how in the late 1600s in the colonial America we had similar witch hunts in Salem, Massachusetts were we also prosecuted people we accused of being witches. Many of which were accused because of the hardship we were having during that time as they were struggling too with food shortages and other similar hardships as in South Africa.

Ashforth says towards the end of the ethnography, “Madumo and I differ fundamentally over the degree of meaningfulness there is to be found in the world”. In saying this Ashforth is stating the difference between him and Madumo is that he is not searching for meaning or answers for all the problems. Madumo is concerned with the reason for everything that is happening to him. Madumo has a need to search for evidence of the supernatural or finding truth to speaking with his elders. Ashforth simply does not search for meaning or reasons for everything that is happening. He does not want to deal with the interactions Madumo goes through he believes it isn’t necessary to live a meaningful life. Ashforth says, “I look to the heavens, I see only the sky,” in which he doesn’t believe in much of the supernatural ideals that much of Soweto and Madumo strongly believe and practice throughout their lives.

Throughout the ethnography, Madumo, A man Bewitched, Ashforth explains well through his experiences he had with one of his old friends Madumo, and the profit he later would meet, Mr. Zondi. They both find answers to many of the questions and answers they had throughout, such as, Ashforth learns of the issue of witchcraft throughout South Africa that has sprung rapidly throughout the country following the end to apartheid. He explains in his ethnography the reason for the proliferation, being the need for many Africans to shift the blame for their hardships to a new focus, the Black South African people in their communities and families. This would later be backed up through first hand experiences from Madumo, MaMfete, Mpho, and later Mr. Zondi. Throughout the ethnography he gives good examples and follows a good story line chronicling the path Madumo and Ashforth went on to help Madumo remove the curse that has since been put on him. His ethnography was very helpful in explaining an issue I never knew existed in South Africa and gave good factual evidence to back up his arguments throughout the book.


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