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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ngangas: Who Are They and What Are They Capable Of?

Upon reading "Eyes of the Ngangas: Ethnomedicine and Power in Central African Republic", I was posed to very important questions. If you've never heard of this article, and I'm sure many of you have not, I'll clue you in to the author's background.

Dr. Arthur C Lehman has extensively researched the ngangas, who are traditional healers, acting as the source for Aka Pygmy hunters and their horticultural neighbors, the Ngando of Central African Republic. Lehman traces the mystical powers of the nganga and their ability to reduce tensions in villages, thereby punishing Ngando who have caused the hunters harm.

What is the relationship between the Aka Pygmy hunter-gatherers & the Ngando farmers, as reported by Lehmann?

The Aka Pygmy hunters and Ngando farmers “have a mutual dependence”, in which each group benefits in some form or another. The Ngando farmers pay Aka with weapons and tools such as axes and knives, on occasion money, cigarettes, salt, clothing, and plantation foods. In return, the Aka provide the Ngando with forest materials, meat, and labor. Healthcare services are also rendered on occasion. Ngando patrons will take seriously ill Aka to the dispensary for treatment. Of course, the Aka are aware this sort of perk can be revoked at any time by the villagers. Consequently, the Aka diagnose and treat Ngando illness.

In what ways do Aka ngangas affect the interaction/relationship of the hunters with the villagers?

Outside the realm of healthcare, the Aka rely on the nganga of their camp for a form of supernatural protection when they enter a village. They may wear cords around their neck and wrists adorned with charms, protecting them against village witches. Consequently, the Aka have hidden powers, such as commanding the respect of the farmers, albeit the villagers assume the hunter’s power is least strong outside of the village in the forests. Poisons, such as sepi, used sometimes to punish farmers, are also used on occasion in the villages. So what affect do these forms of protection actually have?

These forms of hidden and openly exhibited power reduce tensions of the Aka while in the village, however they also control the behaviors of the villagers towards the hunters. Lehmann describes an act of thievery where a family in the village was accused of stealing from the camp of an Aka hunter. A shirt was found at the scene of the crime, however the family refused to make retribution. A few days later the family was found dead. Villagers assumed this was the result of mystical powers or poisoning of the hunter. Theft was becoming an everyday occurrence and the villagers knew death would always result if retribution wasn’t made. Guilty or not.

Summing up:

Although the nganga’s power to heal is impressive , their ability to punish is seen as a real threat to villagers. The power Aka nganga’s possess still creates a balance between the hunters and villagers, although the nganga power was never the prime ingredient of the symbiotic relationship already present between villagers and hunters.

Picture Source  © planetvoodoo

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