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3 Against the Occult

Harri Englund Indiana University Press ePub

A story broadcast on Nkhani Zam’maboma in 2003 told of a woman who had been found alone in a rural graveyard at midday, lying on top of a tomb.1 On closer inspection, villagers discovered a bag next to her. It contained a razor blade, a needle, and a bottle of blood. The woman had sought to dispel suspicions that anything sinister was at issue by claiming that she did not know what she was doing because she was drunk. The story went on to report that the woman had good employment in the commercial capital Blantyre and that the villagers who had found her suspected that she had wanted to protect her job against possible dismissal. They also thought that the visit to the graveyard had been occasioned by her desire to find a charm (chizimba) for making bricks used in building a modern house (nyumba yamakono). Her first husband was reported to have left her because of her witchcraft (ufiti), while she had bewitched her second husband to stay at home with the couple’s children.

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8 Christian Critics

Harri Englund Indiana University Press ePub

As one facet of the liberalization that gathered momentum at the turn of the millennium, Nkhani Zam’maboma invites consideration of whether liberal values and procedures have any purchase on the moral imagination in a country like Malaŵi. Questioning the extent to which politicians and human rights activists were the most consequential participants in new public arenas, this book has sought to demonstrate that African-language claims mediated by the radio can yield insights into the broader issues of rights and obligations under the conditions of poverty and inequality. By thus including in the purview both the broadcasters and listeners of a popular radio program, this book shares an intellectual affinity with various attempts to go beyond Habermas’s notion of the public sphere (see chapter 2). Concepts such as counter-publics (Hirschkind 2006) and the parallel public sphere (S. Dewey 2009), in particular, might seem congenial to the project here to show that much else has been taking place in public than the endless bickering between politicians and activists over freedoms and responsibilities in the governance of Malaŵi. However, although much of this recent ethnographic and conceptual work is wary of imputing models of resistance to the alternatives it has discerned, the tendency to assume a measure of duality between the dominant and subordinate public arenas has not been repeated in this book. It was difficult to identify any emancipatory agenda in Nkhani Zam’maboma, because both its editors and listeners appeared to take for granted the institutions whose incumbents the program described. The idea of resistance has also been undermined by the editors’ commitment to serving the government.

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7 Cries and Whispers

Harri Englund Indiana University Press ePub

When I discussed Nkhani Zam’maboma with people I had known for over a decade in Dedza District, many would add to their reflections a sober comment on the area’s invisibility in the program.1 The villages in their chiefdom did not seem to feature in the stories broadcast on Nkhani Zam’maboma, an observation corroborated by the absence of incidents in this area from my sample of stories. No one who made such a comment thought it warranted complacency. Rather than indicating the area’s exceptional record in avoiding scandals, the lack of its stories on the radio, I was told, arose from villagers’ problematic tendency to “keep secrets” (kusunga zinsinsi). Stories about misconduct and abuse did circulate locally, but their failure to reach the national radio bespoke a widely shared fear (mantha) of publicizing unsavory incidents. I heard stories and witnessed events that could have provided material for Nkhani Zam’maboma, and villagers were able to give further examples of similarities between their experiences and those reported on the program. Not only were witches’ aircraft seen to crash-land here as elsewhere, many less spectacular incidents could also have appeared on Nkhani Zam’maboma. For instance, some villagers told me, in hushed voices, about the widespread sexual abuse of female children, often by their own kinsmen.

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6 Stories Become Persons

Harri Englund Indiana University Press ePub

From semi-literates to academics, Malaŵians were generally familiar with Nkhani Zam’maboma. Although the regularity with which they followed the program varied greatly, virtually everyone I knew was able to discuss it with me. While many could cite its stories about witchcraft and errant authorities, some were unaware that the sources of those stories lay in letters, telephone calls, faxes, and e-mails from listeners.1 One university lecturer, for example, explained to me that from time to time some areas would emerge as what he called “hot spots,” locations where several incidents took place within a short span of time. Others assumed that the MBC’s network of reporters across the country supplied stories. What was remarkable about these perceptions was not so much their lack of accuracy as their expectation that the MBC could alone provide national coverage of localized stories. The expectation bespoke a residual faith in the broadcaster’s remit to represent the nation, whatever frustrations these listeners felt over its biased and didactic approach to other programs. In actual fact, in spite of having offices and studios in the three regions of the country, the MBC had no means of gathering stories from villages and townships on a daily basis.2 The frequent appearance of certain localities was a result of the frequent supply of stories from them.

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Appendix 2. Graveyard Visit

Harri Englund Indiana University Press ePub

A story broadcast on Nkhani Zam’maboma on July 25, 2003, followed by translation.

Mayi ŵina wa m’mudzi mwa [location omitted] akuti anapezeka ali kumanda masanasana dzuwa likuswa mtengo. Mayiwo amene wangoyamba kumene ntchito pa kampani in a kumzinda wa Blantyre akuti anapezeka atagona pa mitumbira iŵiri ya manda. Anthu atayang’anitsitsa pafupi ndi mayiwo, anapeza kuti panali kathumba momwe munapezeka zinthu monga malezala, singano ndi kabotolo momwe munali magazi. Atamufunsa chomwe amachita kumandako, iye anayankha kuti samadziŵa chomwe amachita ponamizira kuti ataledzera. Anthu ambiri akukhulupirira kuti mayiwo akufuna kukhwimira ntchito imene anayipeza kumene kuti asamuchotse ndiponso akuti akufuna chizimba choti atenthere uvuni ya njerwa zake zomwe akuti akufuna kumangira nyumba ya makono. Mwamuna woyamba wa mayiwo akuti anathawa zochita za ufiti za mayiwo zokhangati zomwezi. Mwamuna amene anakwatiŵa naye mayiwo panopa akuti akumukhwi-mira kuti asamachoke pa khomopo kuti azingosamalira ŵana cholinga choti iye azipanga zofuna zake.

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