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Azande, also known as “Zande” Pitek, Emily


The Azande are a people who have historically inhabited Central Africa, covering parts of what is now South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic. The Azande are composed of distinct ethnic groups united by language, culture, and political systems (Gilles, 1999). Sociopolitical organization historically centered around various kingdoms, each led by members of the noble (Avongara) clan. This entry focuses on the Yambio chiefdom (located in Yambio, South Sudan) around the time of 1905. This entry primarily utilizes information documented by Edward Evans EvansPritchard (the principal ethnographic authority), who conducted fieldwork in Sudan from 1926-1930. Although the Azande had come under colonial rule at this time, Evans-Pritchard (1937) documented traditional Azande customs and beliefs that had not been subject to significant English and Arabic influences. Each household held a shrine to ancestral spirits, which received offerings and prayers. Ancestor worship was largely a household matter with no associated formal priesthood. After death, human spirits would travel to caverns at the source of streams to reside with Mbori, the omnipotent but remote supreme high god. Mbori was not associated with a specific priesthood, shrines/temples, or set of rituals, but would be invoked occasionally. Mbori did not communicate directly with humans, but would instead communicate through ghosts. A belief in witchcraft played a prominent role in many aspects of life. Evans-Pritchard (1937:9) described witchcraft as a “psychic [non-physical] emanation from witchcraftsubstance which is believed to cause injury to health and property.” Witch-doctors are those who possess the specialized knowledge and supernatural ability to diagnose and counteract witchcraft. Various types of oracles were also present and played an important role in Azande life. Oracles were consulted for a variety of matters, which they addressed through specialized knowledge, techniques, and supernatural ability. Azande magico-religious beliefs and practices permeate almost all aspects of life; consequently, this entry considers the religious group to be coterminous with society itself.

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Attribution 4.0 International