The Evil Eye Belief among the Amhara of Ethiopia

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The Evil Eye Belief among the Amhara of Ethiopia
The
Evil
Eye
Among
Belief
Amhara
of
the
Ethiopia1
Ronald A Reminick
ClevelandStateUniversity
muchof the
of the beliefin the evil eye areknownthroughout
Variations
little attentionhas been given to explainingthe
world,yet surprisingly
dynamicsof this aspectof culture(cf. SpoonerI970; FosterI972; Douglas
hold to this belief.Data for this study
The Amharaof Ethio-pia
I970).
weregatheredamongthe ManzeAmharaof the centralhighlandsof Shoa
Province,Ethiopia.Theirhabitatis a rollingplateaurangingin altitude
and dryto wet
fromg,sooto I3>000 feet.The seasonsvaryfromtemperate
raisingprimarilybarley,
and cold.The Amharaare settledagriculturists
wheat,and a varietyof beansand importingteff grain cotton,and spices
from the lower and warmerregionsin the gorgesand valleysrlearby.
plow,croprotation,
is simple,involvingthe bull-drawn
Amharatechnology
soil furrowingfor drainage,and some irrigationwhere streamsare accessible.The soil is richenoughto maintainthreeharvestsannually.Other
itemsincludethe sicklenloom, and the walking
importanttechnological
and fightingstickfor the men; the spindle largeclay waterjug grindstone,and cookingutensilsfor the women.The mosthighlyprizeditem
of technologyis the ride whichsymbolizesthe proudwarriortraditions
of the Amharaanda man'sdutyto defendhis inheritedland.
The homesteadis the primarydomainof authoritywithin the larger
politicalstructure.The homesteadvariesin size from that of a nuclear
familyto a largehamletconsistingof severalrelatedfamiliesand their
servants,tenants,and formerslaves.The systemof authoritycan be charwherea groupis organized
acterizedin termsof Weberspatriarchalism,
on the basisof kinshipand economicswith authorityexercisedby a particularpersoncontrollingthe resourcesupon which the group depends
andloyaltyareowedto the personrather
(WeberI948: 346H). Obedience
this personrulesonly by the consentof
and
rule,
or
the
role
the
to
than
wealth
the grolupmemberswho standto gaina portionof theirpatriarch's
authorityis reas a legacyuponhis death.This institutionof patriarchal
oriented
inforcedby a culturalemphasison malequalitiesof aggressiveness
rearoundthe acquisitionand defenseof land.Landis the fundamental
system,for withoutit a mancannotfulfillhis
of the patriarchal
quirement
hasicrole of supportinghis dependentsand providinga legacyfor his
childrenas a rewardfor theirloyaltyand service.But landis a scarcere27g
280 ETHNOLOGY
source,and thereare often moreclaimsto land than can be supported.
Thus,closestsiblingsmayuniteagainsta moredistantrelativeto maintain
land amongthemselvesor siblingsmay competefor scarceland among
themselves,
beco-ming
bitterenemiesand dividingthe kinshipor domestic
group.
The Amharapeasant'ssupernatural
worldincludesboth Christianand
paganelements.AlthoughMonophysite
Christianity
is the legitimatere-ligionof the Amharapeople,who in factdefinetheirtribalidentitylargely
in termsof theirChristianGod,the paganor "nonlegitimate"
systemsof
beliefalsoplayan importantrolein the everydayroutineo-fthe peasant's
socialandculturallife.Thereareessentially
fourseparaterealmsof supernaturalbeliefs.First,thereis the dominantMonophysite
Christian
religion
involvingtheAlmightyGod,theDevil,andthesaintsandangelsin Heaven.
Second,thereare the zar and the adbar spirits,"protectors"
who exact
tributein returnfor physicaland emotionalsecurityand who deal out
punishments
for failureto recognizethemthroughthe practiceof the appropriaterituals.Thirdis the beliefin the buda, a classof peoplewho
possessthe evil eye,andwho exerta deadlypoweroverthe descendents
of
God's"choserI
children."
The fourthcategoryof beliefsincludesthe ciraq
and satan, ghoulsand devilsthat prowlthe countryside,
creatingdanger
to unsuspecting
personswho crosstheirpath.
THESTATUS
OFTHEEVILEYEPEOPLE
In contrastto muchof sub-Saharan
Africa,evil poweris not attributed
to a personoccupyinga statusat a pointof socialdisjunction
withinthe
structure
of socialrelations.Rather,thosepeoplewho arebelievedto have
a dangerouspowerare not a partof Amharasociety.The buda or evil
eye peopleare a completelyseparatecategoryof populationof different
ethnicorigin,with a ratherminimumamountof interactionwith the
Amharapeople.The bu!daown no landandtherefore
workin handicrafts,
makingpotsfromclay,fashioningtoolsfromiron,andweavingclothfrom
hand-spuncottonand sheep'shair.They are known generallyas tayb.
The termis derivedfromthe nounteAibwhichmeansC'craftsman."
It is
alsoassociated
withan ideawhichmeans"tobe wise"or "tohe veryclever."
The termstayb and buda are synonymous.
To be buda is to have the
evil eye.The term"evileye"is alsoknownas ayn og and sometimestifU
ayn. It designates
thepowerto curseanddestroyandreincarnate,
harnessing
the laborof the deadfor one'sown ends.
The beautifulcraftsmanship
of the buda'sworkis one signof his status.
The finelymade,well-proportioned
waterpotswith theirblackfinishare
unmatched
by any Amharapeasantwho woulddeignto makeone in the
firstp-lace.Fashioningtools fromiron takesconsiderably
moreskill and
is not practiced
by anyonebut the tayb people.Althoughweavingis associatedwith the taybpeople,manyManzepeasantshavealsotakenup the
skill,not as a tradebutto accumulate
neededcash.Yet the peasantssaythe
tayh knowa specialformof weavingthatthe Amharacannotlearn.There
is, though,a criticaldistinctionmadeby the Amharapeasantthat frees
EVILEYEBELIEF
AMONG
THEAMHAM 28I
himfromthestigmaof thecraft,uiz.,thathe didnotinheritthetradefrom
his father.
Thereare)then two majorsocialcategories.
The rega are thosepeople
whoseancestry
arenisu atint}of '<clean
bone,'}unblemished
by socialstigma
or bodilycatastrophe,
suchas leprosy.They are the "no!ble
people."Most
Amharatracetheirlineagesto a nearrelativeor ancestorwho had wealth
and statusand who was patronof manywho workedthe land of their
estates.A rega personis knownby his community;his relativesand ancestorsare known and hencehe cannotbe suspectedof being"impure."
The budaperson,on the otherhand,is one who has inheritedthroughhis
line the lowerstatus.One mayinheritstatusthrougheitherthe mother's
or the father'slineyor both.C)necannotavoidthe statusof budRa.
It is his
destinyto be borninto the tradition.
Anyonewhoseancestryor kin are unknownmay be suspect.If one is
suspectedof [}eingbuda, he maybe liableto accusation
hy a familythat
fearsthathe "attacked"
or "ate"or "stabbed"
oneof theirmembers.
Accusation mustbe carriedout on ones own withoutthe sanctionof the courts.
If one marriesa personwhosefamilyis unknown,and it is laterlearned
that the relativeswereof buda statlls,the rega spousewill be forcedto
effecta divorceand anotherspouseof "cleanbone"will thenbe foundas
a substitute.
Sometimesthe spousewho is buda will be drivenfrom the
community,
or morerarelykilled,for attempting
to tainta family'sline.
Thereis no sureway to recognizea buda, for theirphysicalqualities
may not differdiscernibly
fromotherpeople.They may be thinnerthan
usual,becausetheirbloodis believedto be thinnerthana normalAmhara
person's
blood.Theymayhavean eyedeformity
or sufferdischarge
of tears
cxrpus fromtheireyes.Theymaytendto locaksidewiseat people,or they
mayhaveverylightskin,ortheymaybe helievedto havean ashensubstance
in theirmouthsandbe unableto spitsaliva.But thesequalitiesarenot,in
themselves,
sufiicientto arousesuspicion.
Thereareothermoreconvincing
characteristics,
suchas occupation.
If a stranger
comesto townandis overly
friendly,suspicionmaybe arousedthathe is too eagerto befriendothers,
and hence,possiblyover-anxious
aboutconcealinghis true identity.The
relationsof buda peoplewith rega peoplearein status quo, beingneither
overlypeacefulnor overlycombative.
They mix with eachothereasily,as
in court,in the shops,and in marketplaceswithoutrepercussions,
as long
as theirsocialrelationsareon a superficial
basis.
THEATTACK
OFTHEEVILEYE
The realthreatof the buda peopleto the rega peopleis the ever-present
possibility
of attack.Mostpeoplearefearfulof evenmentioningthe buda,
especially
at night,becauseif theyareoverheard
by a buda he will become
angryand one of the familymay be "eaten,"
therebycausingsicknessor
death.A personis mostvulnerable
tcsbeing'Ceaten"
when the b?>dasees
fear,worry,or anxietyin his pc}tential
victim.Therefore,it helpsto maintainone'scomposure
whenin the presenceof a budaJactingnaturallyas
if thebmdadidnotmatterat all.The peasantwhois especially
goodlooking
:282 ETHNOLOGY
or whosechildis considered
beautiful,or someonewho does something
extraordinary,
may fearthe attackof the evil eye becauseof the envy b-elievedto be kindledin the bud. The attackis not limitedto human
;beings.
The evil eyecanattackanylivingobject.Whena personis "eaten"
he mayknowimmediately
thathe hasbeenattackedfor the consequences
may occurat the sametime as the strike.But the symptomscan just as
easilybe delayedfor a few hours,a day,or a week,rarelylonger.If a buda
has plannedan attackon somevictim,but this victimsuddenlyfalls ill
beforethe strikeis to be made,thenthe buda may merelywait patiently
to see the outcomeof the patient'sillness.If the personrecovers,
the buda
maythenattack.If he dies,the buda will then attendto the activitythat
involvesbuda peoplewiththe dead.It is believedthatwhenone is feeling
ill the bodyis morevulnerable
thaneverto an attackby the evil eye.
The processof attackmayoccurin one of severaldiderentmanners.Becauseof the powerof the evil eye,budapeoplecanchangeintohyenasand
roamthecountryside
at night.It is convenient
for a budato attacka victim
in this formin orderto concealhis humanidentity.The Amharaattach
greatsalienceto the hyena,partlybecausetheybelievein boththe natural
and the supernatural
formsof this animal.If the buda, in seekingout a
victim,assumesthe formof the hyenaX
the transformation
takesplaceby
his firsttakingoff the hair and then rollingin the ashesof the hearth.
Once transformed
into a hyena,he then searchesfor a victim,and on
findingone,fixesthe unfortunate
personwith an evil gaze,returnshome,
rollsin the ashesto turnbackintohumanform,and waitsfor the victim
to die. The secondmethodof attackinvolvesthe evil eye personfinding
a victim,twistingthe rootof a certainplantandforminga loopwith this
root as if one weretying a knot.The loop is then drawnsmallervery
slowly,and while this is beingdone,the victimdies.Afterthe victimis
buried,the bgda squatsby thegravesideandslowlyloosensthe knotwhile
shoutingto thecorpseto arise.The bodyis exhumedandthe graveis then
closedup again by retighteningthe knot. The third methodof attack
involvesgivingthe evil eye gaze to the victimand then waitingfor his
death.After burialthe body is exhumedby carryingtwo round,thin,
lentil-pancake
breadsto thegrave,oneIyingflatandtheotherfoldedtwice.
Unfoldingthe one breadopensthe graveandbringsout thebody.Folding
up the otherreclosesthe grave.
The peoplemostliableto attackarethosewho havea bit morewealth
thanthe averageperson,who arehandsome,
and who areproudof their
beautifulchildren.Thosewho becomeespecially
liableto attackare those
who becometoo familiarwith the buda person,which heightensone's
chancesof succumbing
to the gazeof the evileye.One comesintophysical
proximitywith buda peoplein dailyadairs,but socialdistanceis usually
maintained.
A likelydangerto therega peopleis thepresence
of a beautiful
budawomanor handsome
budaman.A rega who sleepswith a buda will
growthinnerandthinnerlecausethe eye of the buda will suckthe l}lood
out of the victim,causingthe victimto lose his or her appetiteand to
beco-me
weakandhelpless.Whena regais attracted
to a budaandthebuda
EVILEYEBELIEF
AMONG
THEAMHARA283
wishesto drawthereggnearer,the budawill waitfor a momentof privacy
andthenwill utterto therega somethingaboutseeingthe genitalsrevealed
throughthe rega'sclothes.This will fill the rega with excitement
andthen
the rega will "fallwith"the hudalover.The warmaffectionate
relationship
can be maintainedwithoutseriousdanger;but when thereis a quarrel,
the rega, alreadyweakenedby the bloodgiven up to the buda, will be
"eaten"and becomeseriouslyill.
Howeverthe attackis effectuated
andhoweverthe corpseis takenfrom
the grave,the ultimategoal of the buda is to use the victimas a slave.
Afterbeingexhumed,the corpseis takento the houseof the buda where
it is broughtbackto life in orderto servethe buda.Butthe slaveis mute,
unableto uttera singlesound.The buda cxwnstwo switches.One switch
is usedto turnthe slaveinto a pot when visitorscome;and then when
the outsidershaveleft, a rapon the pot with the otherswitchtransforms
the pot into a slaveagain.In this way outsideinterference
is prevented.
When the slave is treatedcruelly,it will shed silent tears,desperately
tryingto weep.(It is interestingto note thatto be silentin the presence
of one'ssuperiorsand to suderindignitiesin silenceis the obligationof
childrenandthetraitsattributed
to thedespiseddog.)The slaveof the buda
doesnot go on indefinitelyin its risenstate.Aftersevenyearsthe body
beginsto disintegrate,
finallyturningintoashesandleavingthebudawithout
a "helper."
The biuda's
distinctiveactivitiesare not fully intentional.
The buda has
withinhisbodya qualityor powerknownas qalb.Qalbis a subtle,internal,
unconscious
desireto performthose activitieswhich make the buda so
notorious.In the buda's daily interactions
with the rega peopleof the
community,thereis reallylittle diflerencebetweenthe two groups,both
sharingfeelingsof love and hate,envy and covetousness,
angerand aggressionButthebludahasthisadditional
powergainedfromtheassociation
with the devilthatcreatesan illegitimateadvantageoverthoseof higher
statusand greaterlegitimateadvantage.The buda, by his very nature,
must"eat"others.He doesthis in orderto betterhis chancesfor gaining
opportunities
andachievingsuccessin his dailylife amongthe rega people.
He uses his power,then, to makehimselfequalwith otherswho have
moreland,more "helpers"
such as tenants,servants,and formerslaves,
and thus he attemptsto acquirethoseobjects,personsand, servicesthat
he covetsamongthe rega Amharapeople.Thereis a difference
of opinion
as to whetheror not the buda himselfcanbe the objectandvictimof evil
eye attack.SomeAmharasaythatjustas the rega fightamongthemselves
forthewealthof thelineage,so the hudapeopleI5ghtandattackeachother
with the evil eye for moreequalsharesof wealth.But otherAmharasay
thatthis is not true;thatthe buda peoplehavemuchmoreto gain from
the rega, and furthermore,
know how to protectthemselvesfrom each
other'sattack.
PRECAUTIONS
AGAINST
EVILEYE ATTACK
Sineeamorousrelationswith buda are not condonedby the Amhara,
284 ETHNOLOGY
againsta
by theclergy,theprieststeachthatone'sonlyprotection
especially
buda loveris to crawlto churchon one'shandsand kneesfor sevendays,
the priest'sintentbeingto frustratethe heginningsof sucha relationship.
Parentswho fear theirchild is weak and vulnerableto the influenceof
adopt
theevileyemay,on theadviceof a dabtara(lowerorderclergyman),
theirchildin the genderoppositeto the child's
the customof addressing
actualsex. The customof shavingthe headsof children,leavingonly a
of theboysanda ringof hairaround
tuftof hairovertheformerfontanelle
the headsof the girls,providesprotectionagainstminorattacksof lice,
initiatedbyanenviousbudar.If an Amharais worried
mostoftenconsidered
dangerfroman evilglance,a light,rapidspitting
imminent
child's
a
about
are
protection.Compliments
into the child'sface providesa short-term
"LetGod protect
with the invocation,
alwayssuspectif not accompanied
youfromtheevileye!"Andat feastsallmustbe servedequallylestsomeone
sick.
deprivedbecomesenviousandcursesthefood,makingtheparticipants
takenby the Amharapeasantagainstthe pLossibility
Anotherprecaution
his emotionstoo
of attackis to be silentandguarded.Whenone expresses
freelyandbecomestoo outgoingwithothers,he placeshimselfin a position
When
is fairlygeneralized.
to the evil eye.Thisdisposition
of vulnerability
close
with
usually
it
is
others
with
freely
joking
and
laughing
seen
one is
At mostothertimesthe peasantpresents
andtrustedfriendsandrelatives.
a facadeof stolidityandsilence.In thiswayonedoesnotattracttheattention
of an enviousbuda, who may resentpersonsenjoyingthemselveswhile
he is not invitedto sharein the mirth.The customof hidingone'sface
the mouthand the nose,
especially
behindthe largesoft cloak,concealing
of the evileye.
is one commonwayto avoidthe penetration
to the attackof the evil eye,the familyof the deIf a personsuccumbs
fromwrestingthe corpsefrom
ceasedmayintercedeandpreventthe b?wda
the gravefor fortydays
watch
must
family
the
of
member
its grave.A
and fortynights(somesay twelvedaysandtwelvenights)afterthe body
timeto elapseso thatthe bodywill be
allowingsuflicient
hasbeeninterred,
andtherebydeprivethe buda of a bodyto possess.
decomposed
adequately
If the graveis watchedthe buda will not come.In this way the family
savestheirrelativefromsevenyearsof slavery.
ANDCURESFORTHEEVILEYE ATTACK
DIAGNOSIS
Diagnosisof the symptomsand subsequenttreatmentmay be carried
out in one of fourways.In the firstmethod,if the familyis poorandthey
knowa dabtaraof the localchurch,theymaytakethe patientto him.For
a riteoverholywater,prayingandpronouncing
a modestfee,he performs
religiouscerewordsin the ancientlanguageof Ciz usedin the Christian
in the smoke
monies.The patientthendrinksthe holywaterandbreathes
answerin his magic
of a burningroot.The dabtaramayfindthediagnostic
starbook,whilethe holy waterand inhaledsmokemayeffecta cure.
is to bringthe patientto a wizard,one who has
A secondalternative
with the zar
powersgainedthroughagentsof the devil,to communicate
EVILEYE BELIEFAMONGTHEAMHARA285
spiritsandto effectcuresfor manykindsof illness.First,a silverbracelet
is placedon the patient'sleft wrist.The wizardthen goes into a trance,
seekingpossession
by a devilwho mayrevealthe appropriate
curefor the
illness.In seekingout the attacker,a veryhot fire is madein the hearth
and a pieceof metal a sickleor knife blade,is put into the flamesand
heateduntilglowing.The hotmetalis appliedto the patient'sface,making
a smallpatternof burns.As the woundsheal,the scarswill becometransferredonto the faceof the attackerin the sameplaceand with the same
pattern.The familymustthen seekout the guilty party.
A thirdmethoddoesnot involvethe useof specialists
outsideof an elder
memberof the familywhe knowsthe procedures
andwhoseagegiveshim
a bit Ixtterjudgment.Whena personbeginsbitinghis lip it is the first
sign that he has been attackedby the evil eye, althoughthis symptom
doesnot alwaysappear.If relativesarearourld
theywill firsttie the victim's
leftthumbwithstring.Thenthe victimwill be madeto breathethe smoke
fromthe dungfire.Aftertakingin suH;cient
dungsmoke,the victimgains
thepowerto speakin thespiritandvoiceof his attacker.
The victimJoegins
recounting
the chainof eventsof his attackerthatled to the confrontation
and the attack.Then the relativesask the possessedvictimwhatformof
compensation
shouldbe givento counteract
theattack.The victim,speaking
iIl the voiceof the attacker,
demandssomefilthymattersuchas beerdregs,
ashes,a deadrat,or humanor animalexcrement.
The victimeatsthis and
sooncries,"I'veleft him!I'veleft my victim!"or somethingof this order.
Then the familyknowsthatthe devilhas left the body,and the stricken
personmay now recover.The cureinvolvesactivevocalparticipation.
If
the victimcannotspeak,he will surelydie.
The fourthmethodcxfdiagnosisand counter-action
involvesthe evil
eye personin a moredirect,mundaneway. Whenthe victim is attacked
andhe beginsto bitehis lip andto actstrangely,
he mayappearto go into
a dazeandbeginto jumpandshout"intongues.'At this point,a relative
musttryto get the victimto utterthe nameof his attacker.
If he doesnot,
the familymaytie a ropeto the victimandthen havethe victimleadthe
relativesto thehouseof hisattacker.
If neitherof thesetacticsaresuccessful,
theymayhaveone otherindication.If the victimbeginscryingsuddenly,
it is a sign that the attackeris in closeproximityand that the relatives
mustonly scoutthe areaand seize the b-udapersonthey comeacross.If
the suspectis found,he is broughtto thebedsideof the victim,by gunpoint
if needbe. The relativestake a lock of hair and a bit of clothingfrom
the buda, preferalbly
withouthis knowledge,and then the huda is made
to spiton the victimandwalkoverhim.A Ereis builtwith the hairand
clothand the victimthen breathesin the smoke.He continuesinhaling
the smokeuntilhe cries,in the voiceof the spirit,thatthe illnesshas left
his body.
No matterwhatthe method,if the huda gives up his victimtherewill
be no reprisals
by the victim'sfamily.I£ the victimdies,the hurdamaybe
ejectedfromthe communityor killed.
286 ETHNOLOGY
OFTHEORIGINOFTHEBUDAPEOPLE
THE MYTHOLOGY
Accordingto the Amhara,the beginningsof budotstatusgo backto
It is saidthatEve had thirtychildren,and one day God asked
Creation.
Eveto show Him her children.Eve becamesuspiciousand apprehensive
andhid fifteenof themfromthe sightof God.God knewher act of disanddeclaredthe fifteenchildrenshe showedGod as His chosen
obedience
and cursedthe fifteenshe hid, declaringthat they go henceforth
children
of the earth.Now some
intothe worldas devilsand wretchedcreatures
God'smercy.Godheardthemand,
andibegged
ofthe childrencomplained
beingmerciful,madesomeof themfoxes,jackals,rabbits,etc.,so thatthey
in a dignifiedmanner.Someof the hidden
mightexistas Earth'screatures
he left human,but sentthemawaywiththe curseof beingagents
children
of the
of the devilarethe ancestors
ofthe devil.Thesehumancounterparts
hudapeople.Thereoccursa pleatin timeandthe storytakesup its theme
againwhenChristwas haptizedat age thirty.As told by an old Amhara
peasantfarmer:
The angrydevils,enviousof God'sfavoringChristwhile they sufferedGod'scurse,
triedto kill Christ.But Christran and fled his enemies.He hid in the creviceof a
greatcliff,sharingit with the giantgabalolizard.Whilehidden,manychildrenwere
killedby the devils in their searchfor "God'schild,"but they were unsuccessfulin
of Christ,but
findingChrist.All the animalswere askedto betraythe whereabouts
they refusedand they were beatenand torturedto no avail.But the lizardwavedhis
headfrom side to side showingChrist'spursuerswherehe hid. Christsaw this and
cursedthe lizardso that to this day this lizardstill swayshis head so. No one could
get Christdown out of the crevicein the cliff. They tried with ropes and ladders
budapeopIemade giant tongs of wood and plucked
to no avail. Then, the
JesusChristout of the crevice.The blacksmithsmade the nails and the carpenters
madethe crossand while Christhungon the crosshe cursedthosepeoplewhoseskills
made it possibleto crucifyhim.
cleYer
SomeAmharaclaimthatthe devilis the sole sourceof bu.daqualities
and power.Otherssay the originof budaexistenceis differentfromthe
with the devil,
sourceof theirpower.Althoughtheirexistenceis associated
relatedto the
questionably
only
source
theirpowercomesfroma different
example
following
the
myth
the
of
versions
several
are
there
devil.Although
Amharastudentis typical:
by an adolescent
narrated
He has no arms
The sourceof budapoweris an ancientman who has immortality.
and no legs. He is like a lumpof fleshand just sits at a placecalledYerimmawhich
powers.
is a caveof extremelygreatdepth.He is, indeed,endowedwith supernatural
Eachyear the budapeoplemake their annualvisit to this lump of man with their
small childrenwho are just learningto walk and to talk. This ancientman can
distinguishbetweenthe regawho may comeand the budathemselves.He rejectsthe
formerand acceptsthe latter.The ancientman then teachesthe buda childrenall
the "arts"to the budatradeand then presentsthe childwith the leaf from an is plant
(also used by devils to make themselvesinvisibleso as to avoid being eaten by the
hyena).And everyyeareach budamust makea sacrificeto this ancientman of one
humanbeing.The sacrificeis like a tax)and if the budacannotfind a suitablevictim
by the time the sacrificeis due, he mustsacrificehis own child.
THEAMHARA287
AMONG
EVILEYEBELIEF
INTERPRETATI0N
levelsof behaviorupor
separable
threeanalytically
Thereareessentially
whichto focus.First,thereis theovertandmanifestlevelof verbalbehavior
of ideas and feelingsrecognizedas the
that expressesthe configuration
evil eye beliefsystem.This levelof behavioris explicatedthroughethnothereis the analysisof valuesandpsychological
Second?
graphicdescription.
anger?and fearor
indifference,
areasof positiveattraction,
predispositions,
as expressedthrough
dread.The symbolsin the culturalconfigurations
of the Amhara,pointout theseareasof emotionalsalience
the narratives
kindsof themes
andfociof concern.Througha symbolicanalysisparticular
becomeevident.Someof thesethemesarebasedin the manifestfun-ctions
of the belief,whileotherspointto covertsymbolicand latentfunctionsof
the beliefsystem.Third,thereis the socialcontextthatthe symbolsexpress
theevileyebelief.
thatexpresses
andthesocialcontextof theactualbehavior
between
With this approachit is possibleto examine'4therelationship
explicitculturalforms (symbols)and underlyingculturalorientations"
formsprovidethe vehiclefor the
I973: 49), wherethesesymbolic
tOrtner
and
betweenunderlyingculturalorientations
analysisof the relationships
Foster(I972: I66) c>dersa
beihavior.
patternsof sociocultural
observable
when analyzingthe motivacaveatthatmustbe takeninto consideration
beliefor custom,whichis that original
of a particular
tionalsignificance
of thebeliefor custom,
withtheinstitutionalization
motivesoftendisappear
and in its place,habitbecomesthe primarysourcefor the reinforcement
of the pattern.AlsoKennedy(I+9) arguesagainstthe morefamiliarteleowhenhe
oderedby socialanthropolc)gists
logicalfunctionalinterpretations
be
beliefsandcustomsmaythemselves
thattheseinstitutionalized
proposes
that presentno
to situatio-ns
responses
the sourceof fears?or pathological
he definedin more innocuousterms.
real threatand could conceivably
belief,Kennedy(I969: I77) states:
of witchcraft
In his discussion
which
patternsof psychopathology
. . . witchcraftsystemsareformsof institutionalized
stresssystems. . .
and which createbuilt-;nself-perpetuating
tend to be pathcxgenic
(and) tendto regularlygeneratethe hateand aggressionwhichtheyallegedlyfunction
to re leve.
.
Includingthe evil eye belief within the purviewof the problemof
for,althoughtherearequitenoticeable
is notwithoutjustification,
witchcraft
the similaritiesdemandsome scrutiny.Spooner(I970: 3I I )
differences,
noteshowwellknowntheevileyebeliefis to us all,yethow littleattention
has heengivento it by ethnographers:
. . . the conceptof ie Evil Eye is reportedthroughoutEurope,the MiddleEast,and
NorthAfrica,and in so manycultureselsewherethatit maybe regardedas a universal
whichshow it to be undoubtedly
it is reportedin circumstances
FurtherX
phenomenon.
of the same orderof phenomenaas witchcraft.
Douglas,in agreementwith Spooner,identifiesthe evil eye belief as a
specialcaseof witchcraftbeliefwhichbecomesexpressedat criticalsocial
288 ETHNOLOGY
enmitytoward
generated
betweenperbnswhoholdstructurally
disjunctions
begeneralized
can
witch
a
of
XXX)
I970:
eachother.Herdefinition(Douglas
buda:
the
of
conception
Amhara's
to the
The witch is an attackerand deceiver.He uses what is impureand potentto harm
what is pure and helpless.The symbolsof what we recognizeacrossthe globe as
witchcraftall buildon the themeof vulnerableinternalgoodnessattackedby external
power.
Douglasfits the evil eye beliefinto a typologyshe developsfrom the
caseswrittenup in the volumeshe edited.She (DouglasI970: XXVii)
of witches:(a) the witchas outsider,and
proposestwo generalcategories
(b) the witch as internalenemy.Eachof thesecategorieshas subtypes.
The outsidertypecanbe either(I) a witchnot identifiedor punished,or
type,theprimary
In thiso-utsider
fromthecommunity.
(2) a witchexpelled
The
of socialsolidarity.
is to redefinethe boundaries
functionof accusation
witchas internalenemyappearsin the morecomplexlyorganizedsocieties,
The body
wheretwo or morefactionsareinvolvedwithinthe community.
community,
betrayed
the
of
image
the
in
symbolized
usually
is
victim
of the
wherethe internalstrengthis sappedor pollutedby one in very close
contactwith the othermembersof the community.Wherethe witch is
thewitchcanbe identified(I) as a member
as an internalenemyy
conceived
is to redefinefaction
of theaccusation
function
the
where
of a rivalfaction,
or the factionhierarchy;(2) as a dangerousdeviant,where
boundaries
is to controlthe deviantin the nameof comthe functionof the accusation
munityvalues,or (3) as an internalenemywithoutsideliaisons,wherethe
is to promotefactionalrivalry,splitthe community,
functionof accusation
Giventhis typology,Douglas(Ig70:xxx)
hierarchy.
the
redefine
and/or
for furthertesting:
thensuggestsan hypothesis
. . . when the sourceof witchcraftpoweris thoughtto come from inside the witch,
froman areabeyondconsciouscontrolthe socialsituationwill correspond
particularly
to type 3 above,where the witch is seen as an internalenemy,not as a memberof
a rivalfaction.
In theAmharacase,we canrecognizesimilarqualitiesbetweenthe witch
definedby I)ouglasand the buda as conceivedby the Amharapeasant.
thatDouglassuggestsis not borneout in the
However,the correspondence
powers
Amharacase.The budawithinternalandsomewhatuncontrollable
Amhara
The
group.
Amhara
the
to
internal
person
a
as
of
is not conceived
lives,geographically
conceiveof the bmdaas an outsiderwho nevertheless
withinthe socialnetworksof the Amharapeople.Thus,
butnot integrally,
the huda does not quite fit into any of the categoriesthat Douglashas
This exceptionto her typologysuggeststhat muchwidercomproposed.
parisonis still necessary.
The dominantthemeexpressedin the Amharaevil eye beliefsystem
is one whichis sharedby possiblyall thosesocietiesthatmaintaina belief
of certain
in the evil eye: the fearof beingenviedand the interpretation
3I4)
(I970envy.In Spooner's
of another's
as the consequences
misfortunes
AMONG
THEAMHARA289
EVILEYEBELIEE
discussion
of the evil eye beliefin the MiddleEast,thisthemeis especially
salient:
psychological
idiom
. . . the conceptof the Evil Eye appearsto be an institutionalized
of misfortune,. . . insofaras misfortune,or ie fear of
for the . . . personificaiion
it, may relateto the fear of outsidersand ieir envy.
In his carefulanalysisof the conceptof envyFoster(I972: I67) defines
uponsomeone;lookingaskanceat;
envyas the act of lookingmaliciously
and/or ill-willin relationto
castingan evil eye upcon;feelingdispleasure
of anotherperson.Foster(I972: I68) statesthatenvy,along
the superiority
feelingof jealousy,"involvesa dyad. . . whose
with the closelyassociated
by an interveningpropertyor ob;
relationship
is mediated,or structured,
ject."Thus,a jealouspersonis jealousof whathe possessesand fearshe
mightlose while an enviouspersondoes not envy the thing,but rather
to envy
enviesthe personwho has it. Fosterconsidersthe predisposition
to be mostapparentin peasantsocieties,or in what he calls"deprivation
wherepeoplehold to the "imageof limited
soscieties"
of scarceresources
andtransaction
is definedandperceived
good"andwheresocialinteraction
derivesfromthe other's
game,andwhereone'sadvantage
as a "zero-sum"
loss.Foster(I972: I69) maintainsthatin thosesocietieswherethe "zerosum"gameis the definitionof the situation,it is the relativedifferences
latentenvyinto overt
betweentwo partiesthattriggersthe omnipresently
expression.
He furthernotesthatin primitiveand peasantsocieties,food,
childrenandhealth,thosethingsmostvitalfor the survivalof the family,
rankat the top as objectsof envy.Cattleandcropshavesome but lesser,
salience.
witchcraftbelief in the contextof wellCongruentwith suNSaharan
aremitidefinedandenforcedrulesand norms,envyandits consequences
of the
becauseboththe structures
degree,primarily
gatedto a considerable
familyandof the class/castesysteminvolveculturaldefinitionsstip-ulating
betweenstatusclassesor betweenthe generations
that the relationships
Foster(I972: I7I) maintainsthatthe functionof this
arenoncompetitive.
kind of definitionis to eliminateor mitigaterivalrybetweenpersonsin
of statusor betweenpersonsin differentsocialclasses,
d;fferentcategories
Among the
transactions.
therebylubricatinginterclassand interpersonal
dominationmaintainsorderin doAmhara,the principleof patriarchal
or of a mediating
mesticandpoliticalgroups.The absenceof the patriarch
superiorauthoritygenerates,or is believedto generate,anarchywithina
grouphavingno mediatingauthorityamongequals.Althoughthis printribal
cipleholdsamongthe Amhara,the buda peopleareof non-Amhara
identity,andhencecanonlyposea threatto the Amharaby virtueof their
is symbolicof whatthe Amhara
Thisdifference,
I maintain,
beingdifferent.
detest,fear,or dread.
to the landof the Amhara.Originating
The buda peopleare"strangers"
from a diderentregion,they are landlessand make a living with their
Buda
manualskills of smithingtanning,weaving,andlpottery-making.
E290THNOLOGY
status.Both statusesare inherited
statuscontrastswith regaor "nobility"
originmythof the bada people
The
basis.
bilateral
a
on
consanguineally
expressesthe basicthemesfoundin the beliefsystemin generaland in
envyandconflictbetweensiblingswho are
certainactualsocialsitllations:
In the myth,envyandconflict
authority.
by a superior
treateddifferentially
of the motherEve.Added
sins
the
for
God
of
curse
aregeneratedby the
sonof God.The
to thisis God'sfavoringof His child,Christ,the"chosen"
storyof the envioussiblings'huntingdownof Christin orderto attain
equalityamongsiblingshas a strongparallelin real-lifesituationswhere
a fatherfavorsone childwith the lion'sshareof land creatingsibling
of theirrightsto theirfather'sland.2The
conflictover the equalization
mythandthe beliefhaveit thatthe budapeopleinherittheirqaZb,a power
driveto "eat"
gainedfromthe devilwhichgivesthemthe uncontrollable
therega people,whohappento be the Amhara,to causetheirdeathandto
a dominant
thatexpresses
bringthembackto lifeas slaves.It is a coIlception
themeof enviousstatusinferiorsusingillegitimatemeansto gain an admeansof domination.
whopossessa legitimate
vantageoverstatussuperiors
of the
The budabeliefsuggeststhatthe bu-daarethesymbolicexpression
betweenmen
equalstatusrelationships
of unmediated
latentconsequences
controlmechanisms,
andbetweena mananda woman.Withoutpyramidal
theanxietyof unstableandunpredictable
generates
thisformof relationship
egos,the ultimate
betweentwo dependentand self-oriented
consequences
of whichare symbolizedin the logicallyextendedextreme
consequences
of masterandslave.Thefunctionof theevil
therelationship
of dominationinterpreted
the socialsystemcanbe teleoilogically
eye beliefin maintaining
onto an outgroup.The
of a threatand its projection
as the displacement
threatof equal statusrivalrybetweenkin and siblingsoutsideof wellthe
ontothe budapeople,therebypreserving
is projected
definedsituations
internalsolidarity(whatthereis of it) of the Amharapeople.Buda belief
amongstatusequalsbased
appearsto be a functionof a powersuperiority
on the modelof the eldestson as the objectof envyby his lessfortunate
youngersiblings,for it is the eldestson, in M,anz,whc)normallyis the
faveredone and who inheritsthe lion'sshareof the father'sland.
Beliefin the evil eye amongthe Enze Amhara,then,has a projective
traitto culfrompersonality
functionwhich throughthe transformation
becomesmanifestas a form of dominationanxiety
tural configuration,
This projective
ideasof reference.
throughculturallylegitimated
expressed
processis by no meanscomplete,for it is knownthat the most serious
overunequal
of theAmharainvolvesiblingandotherkin conflicts
concerns
uponothers
rightsto land.The landlessbuda,whois dependent
usufructory
landless
of thethreatof becoming
reflection
is thesymbolic
forhislivelihood,
of a
ergo,withoutidentity,becauseof the ambitions
andwithoutauthority,
morepowerfulrelativeor the father'scurseof disinheritance.
NOTES
is basedwascarriedout in the centralhighlands
paper
uponwhichthis
I. The research
of ShoaProvince,EthiopiafromJulyI, I967 to MarchI, I969. I wish to acknowledge
THEAMHARA29I
AMONG
EVILEYEBELIEF
the financialsupportof the NationalInstituteof MentalHealth (GrantNo. I TOI
fundingwas also made availableto me by the
MH-II2I4-oI).Partialsupplementary
Committeeon AfricanStudies,Universityof Chicago.
2. Withinthe structureof thismytha Freudianoedipalthemeis presentwhichemploys
universaltypesof symbols.The favoredson seeksrefugeand securityin a creviceof a
largecliffwhichis the openingto a deepcave.The creviceand caveareclassicsymbols
The lizard'sphallicfunctionis obvious
of femalesexualityand maternalsuccorance.
here.Its presencein the caveand its defenseof its abodehaveverysexualconnotations.
And, the lizard'sbetrayalof Christ,becauseof its wish to rid itself of this interloper,
is alsoquitesignificantin its oedipalfunction.But the role of the enviousand hostile
siblings,and Christ'sdeathratherthan the lizard's,complicatesthe problem.It may
where
be thatwe mustlookat this themewith moregeneralizedsymb<licsignificance,
sanctuaryand domesticsecurity,and where the lizard
the cave representspatriarchal
couldrepresentthe male'sjuraland sexualrightsof domain.Christis then put in a
less favorablelight,for the messagethen becomesone of equalrightsamongsiblings,
where Christhas been given unfair advantageby the all-powerfulpatriarch.The
customof favoritismexisting within the structureof patriarchalauthorityin this
Amhararegionis, in a very subtleway, undercriticismfor its tendencyto generate
tensionand conflictamongthe sib group,sinceit is the sib groupwhich is vital for
the protectionof the extendedfamily and domesticgroup.
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