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Dangerous neighbours: sorcery, conspicuous exchange and proximity among urban migrants in northern Mozambique

  • Christian Laheij

Urban migrants in Nampula City, northern Mozambique, perceive themselves to be living in an environment where they are particularly vulnerable to sorcery attacks. Key to this sense of vulnerability are Makhuwa notions of matrilineal descent and relatedness, which work to locate sorcery fears in the interstices of two kinds of proximity, namely social and physical. Accordingly, people fear the translocal reach of the ill will of kin residing in the countryside, with whose well-being they remain connected regardless of the physical distance. Simultaneously, there are threats posed by urban neighbours who, due to their proximity in physical terms but separation in social terms, are considered dangerous. This article analyses practices of conspicuous exchange as one of the strategies urban migrants employ in coping with these anxieties. Specifically, it draws on the life histories of two women in one neighbourhood of Nampula City to explore the challenges they experience in meeting demands for material assistance from rural kin and urban neighbours. The analysis shows that their accounts of sorcery are structured by the difficulty of balancing such demands in a setting of poverty and socio-economic inequality. This finding has implications for anthropological theories of sorcery, misfortune and urban migration.

Dans la ville de Nampula, dans le Nord du Mozambique, les migrants urbains se perçoivent eux-mêmes comme vivant dans un environnement dans lequel ils sont particulièrement vulnérables aux attaques de sorcellerie. Au cœur de ce sentiment de vulnérabilité se trouvent les notions makhuwa de la descendance matrilinéaire et de la connexité qui contribuent à situer les peurs de la sorcellerie dans les interstices de deux types de proximité, à savoir la proximité sociale et la proximité physique. C'est pourquoi les gens craignent la translocalité de la malveillance d'un parent résidant à la campagne, avec lequel ils restent connectés quelle que soit la distance physique. Simultanément, il existe des menaces posées par des voisins urbains qui, en raison de leur proximité en termes physiques mais de leur séparation en termes sociaux, sont considérés dangereux. Cet article analyse les pratiques d’échange ostentatoire comme une des stratégies que les migrants urbains emploient pour gérer ces anxiétés. En particulier, il s'appuie sur des récits de vie de deux femmes d'un quartier de Nampula pour explorer les difficultés qu'elles rencontrent face aux demandes d'assistance matérielle de parents ruraux et de voisins urbains. L'analyse montre que leurs récits de sorcellerie sont structurés par la difficulté à concilier ces demandes dans un contexte de pauvreté et d'inégalité socioéconomique. Cette conclusion a des implications pour les théories anthropologiques sur la sorcellerie, l'infortune et la migration urbaine.

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