Sorcerers of Dobu


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is a warning that a spell for causing elephantiasis, gangosa, tertiary yaws, or the like, has been placed upon the tree trunk. A thief will touch it at his peril. The question naturally arises, how then can the rightful owner of the tree father the fruit of it? The answer to this legitimate question lies in a local census of the ownership of spells for causing disease. It will then be found that different susu of the same locality own the spells for different diseases. This ownership is hereditary within a susu line of descent, and one susu will never sell its peculiar different powers to another. Magibweli, the old rain-making once cannibalistic woman, of the next-door village owns elephantiasis of the scrotum and pubes, Sati, the unmarried widow with the two children who has recently been involved in a scandal with Kisi, someone else’s husband, owns incontinence of urine and incontinence of semen. Togo, the village wastrel of the village next door, owns cerebral malaria and meningitis. Yogalu, the most honest old character in the village, and appreciated for it by none, but rather depreciated, owns intestinal mortification. The most influential family in the village owns gangosa, limb paralysis, and tertiary yaws. So the list goes over a wide gamut of different diseases. By a dogma of magic only he or she who knows the spell which will inflict the disease, knows also the exorcism which will banish it. Hence Magibweli puts elephantiasis of the scrotum and pubes on her private property in trees. When she goes to pluck the fruit she exorcises the disease. Sati does the same with her spells for incontinences for her private property in trees, and so on. Magibweli is afraid to go near Sati’s trees, and Sati near Magibweli’s; so for the locality. Persons belonging to other localities do not trespass, and if perchance they do, they will not be well informed of the situation regarding property in trees and spells in a strange locality.

If anyone in the locality contracts elephantiasis of the scrotum, the kin of the patient repair to old Magibweli, bearing water vessels. Magibweli breathes the spell of the exorcism into a water vessel containing water, stops up the vessel to keep the spell within it, and takes a fee. The kin of the patient hurry with the charmed water to the patient and bathe the affected organ carefully with it. Then, if the patient has thieved from Magibweli’s private trees, she at best has had her revenge, and received a fee for exerting her art of exorcism. Naturally, in such a case there will be general certainty either that the afflicted person has been thieving, or else that he had offended Magibweli in a more personal matter, and that she had succeeded in breathing the spell on to a bush creeper twined across the patient’s path. No one knows which case is true, whether the disease is a legal sanction or the less legal sanction incurred in a more personal feud. Only the patient will know. He may tell himself that he once walked too near Magibweli’s trees, even if he is not guilty of theft. I have known such an acceptance of the situation. Or he may secretly vow revenge on Magibweli if he has not thieved and if he does not recover. In any event, a complete avoidance is certain to spring up between himself and that old woman. She was liable to die at any time from the enfeeblement due to aging years, when I knew her. But death from old age is not accepted as such by the natives. If someone in the locality contracted elephantiasis not more than several years before the old woman died there would be natural suspicion of foul play leading to her death. If not, there are other witchcraft scrapes into which the old woman had inevitably been plunged. Everyone is in, or only half out of, such troubles continuously. . . .

A man in default of a good monopoly in a disease may protect a tree more precariously by naming it after a family catastrophe in his own family. Thus a man whose brother fell from a siwabu tree and was killed, calls his palms siwabu, and his private ownership in them is respected. He has inherited a big overseas canoe; he calls it siwabu and he alone has direction over it. If he is eating his food and does not wish to share it, he says "this food is siwabu" and none will ask for it or expect a share in it.1

1Fortune, R.F.n/an/an/an/a, , 79–82 (London: George Routledge and Sons; New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc. By permission).


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Chicago: "Sorcerers of Dobu," Sorcerers of Dobu in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed July 17, 2019,

MLA: . "Sorcerers of Dobu." Sorcerers of Dobu, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 17 Jul. 2019.

Harvard: , 'Sorcerers of Dobu' in Sorcerers of Dobu. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 July 2019, from