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Research testing evolutionary models of religious morality shows that supernatural beliefs in moralizing gods positively affect prosociality. However, the effects of beliefs related to local supernatural agents have not been extensively explored. Drawing from a Mauritian Hindu sample, we investigated the effects of beliefs and practices related to two different types of local supernatural agents (spirits of the deceased unconcerned with morality) on preferential resources allocation to receivers differing in geographical and social closeness to participants. These spirits are ambiguously linked to either ancestor worship or sorcery practice. Previous studies suggested that sorcery beliefs erode social bonds and trust, but such research is often limited by social stigma and missing relevant comparison with other beliefs. To overcome these limitations, we used nuanced free-list data to discriminate between the two modes of spirit beliefs and tested how each contributes to decision-making in economic games (Random Allocation, Dictator). Expressing sorcery beliefs together with performing rituals addressed to the spirits was associated with greater probability of rule-breaking for selfish/parochial outcomes in the Random Allocation Game (compared to ancestor worship). No difference in money allocations was found in the Dictator Game.
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Religion, Brain & Behavior
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Cigarettes for the dead: effects of sorcery beliefs
on parochial prosociality in Mauritius
E. Kundtová Klocová, M. Lang, P. Maňo, R. Kundt & D. Xygalatas
To cite this article: E. Kundtová Klocová, M. Lang, P. Maňo, R. Kundt & D. Xygalatas (2022)
Cigarettes for the dead: effects of sorcery beliefs on parochial prosociality in Mauritius, Religion,
Brain & Behavior, 12:1-2, 116-131, DOI: 10.1080/2153599X.2021.2006286
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Cigarettes for the dead: eects of sorcery beliefs on parochial
prosociality in Mauritius
E. Kundtová Klocová
, M. Lang
, R. Kundt
, and D. Xygalatas
LEVYNA Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic;
of Ethnology and Social Anthropology, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia;
Department of
Anthropology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA;
Department of Psychological Sciences, University of
Connecticut, Storrs, CT, USA
Research testing evolutionary models of religious morality shows that
supernatural beliefs in moralizing gods positively aect prosociality.
However, the eects of beliefs related to local supernatural agents have
not been extensively explored. Drawing from a Mauritian Hindu sample,
we investigated the eects of beliefs and practices related to two
dierent types of local supernatural agents (spirits of the deceased
unconcerned with morality) on preferential resources allocation to
receivers diering in geographical and social closeness to participants.
These spirits are ambiguously linked to either ancestor worship or
sorcery practice. Previous studies suggested that sorcery beliefs erode
social bonds and trust, but such research is often limited by social
stigma and missing relevant comparison with other beliefs. To
overcome these limitations, we used nuanced free-list data to
discriminate between the two modes of spirit beliefs and tested how
each contributes to decision-making in economic games (Random
Allocation, Dictator). Expressing sorcery beliefs together with
performing rituals addressed to the spirits was associated with greater
probability of rule-breaking for selsh/parochial outcomes in the
Random Allocation Game (compared to ancestor worship). No
dierence in money allocations was found in the Dictator Game.
Received 10 March 2020
Accepted 23 November 2020
Sorcery; magic; ancestor
worship; parochial
prosociality; economic
1. Introduction
Supernatural beliefs are ubiquitously characteristic of humankind, with the socially and culturally
shared beliefs creating a basis for diverse religious traditions and organizations. Internal cognitive
models of supernatural agency inform and inuence peoples attitudes and behaviors (Purzycki,
2016; Purzycki & McNamara, 2016) and have strong eects on patterns of social interactions.
For example, previous studies that tested evolutionary models of religious morality showed that
beliefs in moralizing gods or other moralizing entities (e.g., karma) with monitoring and punitive
abilities positively aect cooperation among anonymous individuals (Botero et al., 2014; Lang et al.,
2019; Purzycki & McNamara, 2016; White et al., 2019). However, forms and contents of belief sys-
tems vary across time and space and there is less consensus about the eects of other types of
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
CONTACT E. Kundtová Klocová; M. Lang
Supplemental data for this article can be accessed
2022, VOL. 12, NOS. 12, 116131
supernatural beliefs, such as shamanism, ancestor worship, witchcraft, sorcery, and other magical
beliefs (cf. Bulbulia et al., 2013; McNamara et al., 2016; Singh et al., 2019).
Importantly, magical beliefs are among the most widespread supernatural ideas across cultures
(Behringer, 2004; Singh, 2018; Vallée, 2010; Wilson, 2000). A breadth of classical anthropological
literature has documented diverse forms of those beliefs, but also reects a plurality of understand-
ings of these phenomena. For instance, there is no unied denitional distinction between the
beliefs and practices that are considered religious and those that are labeled magical. In the classical
view of Emile Durkheim (1912), magic is a label for individualistic practices compared to commu-
nal religion; Bronislaw Malinowski (1948), on the other hand, emphasized the functional practical-
ity of magic that deals with specic everyday problems rather than universal abstract truths of
religion; and in Evans-Pritchards(1937) description of the Azande, magic is considered deeply
intertwined with any and all social interactions, sometimes with discernable positive eects on
social cooperation and cohesion (cf. Otto & Stausberg, 2014; Tambiah, 1990). This terminological
and functional confusion obfuscates the eort to contrast the impact of magical versus religious
beliefs and practices on social interactions, and more specically on cooperative behavior.
A possible solution of this denitional confusion is to focus just on witchcraft and sorcery beliefs,
which are easier to delineate. Following the denitions by Evans-Pritchard (1937) and Glick (1973),
witches are believed to command innate, sometimes unconscious, often hereditary powers or qual-
ities. Those intrinsic powers allow witches to aect the lives of others with the use of the superna-
tural. Sorcery, in comparison, can be learned and does not require a special substance or organ to be
present within the performer of superhuman acts, although special anity or sensitivity can
enhance the ecacy of their powers.
In the Mauritian context, which is directly relevant for the
current paper, the concept of learned expertise of supernatural manipulations and power seems
to be prevalent, thus we henceforth use exclusively the term sorcery.
Sorcery is specically associated with human agency and utilizes supernatural means to achieve
personal gains (e.g., good luck, health, fecundity) or inict harm to others. Importantly, the associ-
ation of sorcery with harmful intentions and selshness suggests that such beliefs and practices may
be associated with disruptions in societiescooperative eorts by endorsing self-favoritism. On a
population scale, widespread sorcery beliefs and practices have been shown to damage interperso-
nal cooperation and trust (Gershman, 2016). Furthermore, the research on the psychological under-
pinnings of sorcery beliefs shows association of these beliefs with enhanced threat perception,
coalitional psychology, and jealousy-motivated stigmatization, which may cause inhibition of
cooperation (Parren, 2017). Rumors and gossip serve often as catalysts for accusations of sorcery;
by enhancing the underlying social conicts, those beliefs may also contribute to an escalation of
social tension and inter- and intra-group conict and violence (Stewart & Strathern, 2004; White-
head & Wright, 2004). Beyond hampering cooperation due to mistrust, suspicion, and conict,
widespread sorcery beliefs and the fear of accusation and retribution are also suggested to have
broad inhibiting eects on individual initiative, innovation, and striving for excellence, which in
turn leads to slower economic development (Leistner, 2014).
Strong sorcery beliefs have been found to inuence the internal stratication and interaction of a
societys members. Accusations often target people outside of the core societal structures or those
who are not well connected. For instance, among the Amba, sorcery accusations furthered the
oppression of already marginalized groups (Winter, 1963), while among the Paiute, such accusa-
tions often led to scapegoating (Whiting, 1950). Furthermore, an enduring practice of sorcery accu-
sations may lead to the emergence of alternate social networks where the population targeted by
accusation forms supportive and reproductive connections (Mace et al., 2018).
Interestingly, sorcery beliefs may themselves be results of already disrupted social cohesion
under dicult and uncertain conditions. The onset of sorcery accusations has been linked to var-
ious predictors of social, economic, or ecological peril such as weakening of legal security (Johnson
& Koyama, 2014), rainfall volatility (Miguel, 2005), crop failure (Oster, 2004), or slave trade (Gersh-
man, 2020). Examples from South African antimigrant violence further show how sorcery
accusations intensify in real or perceived threatening situations (Ashforth, 2005; Hickel, 2014).
While uctuations in economic and social stability predict sudden bursts of sorcery charges and
trials, the belief system itself seems to be fundamentally intertwined with forms and types of social
structure. Observations from Africa, for example, nd stronger negative sorcery beliefs and accusa-
tions in societies characterized by small groups (Douglas, 1970). Further, these types of beliefs are
more prevalent in agrarian cultures, compared to hunter-gatherer, industrial, or urban societies
(Koning, 2013).
However, while the reviewed research oers valuable insights into the eects of sorcery beliefs
and practices on inter-personal relations, it is not clear whether the increased selshness and par-
ochiality associated with sorcery beliefs is due to the belief itself or, rather, due to the eects of
uncertain, chaotic, and poorly regulated social environments in which sorcery beliefs and practices
thrive. Furthermore, in many societies, sorcery beliefs and practices are stigmatized and tabooed,
undermining the credibility of self-reported data on the frequency of such beliefs and practices.
Finally, previous research rarely compared sorcery beliefs with beliefs in other locally salient deities
that are not concerned with human moral conduct. While moralizing gods such as Shiva or the
Christian god directly attend to and regulate human inter-personal relations, local deities are
described as caring mostly about norms connected to their sphere of inuence (e.g., place or natural
resource, kinship group of their descendants), often licensing self- and kinship-favoring behavior
(Boyer & Baumard, 2016; Coe & Begley, 2016; Norenzayan, 2013; Purzycki, 2011; Purzycki,
2016; see also Soler, Purzycki, & Lang in this issue). Thus, comparing sorcery beliefs with beliefs
in moralizing deities may have substantially inated the estimated negative eects of sorcery on
inter-personal cooperation.
To address these concerns, the current study draws from a Hindu sample in Mauritius, which is a
relatively stable society with rm religious and secular institutions that regulate inter-personal con-
duct. However, despite this stability, our ethnographic observations revealed prevalent (but dis-
guised) beliefs in spirits known as nam that may be associated with sorcery practices. Depending
on the circumstances and the intentions of the worshipper, the nam are evoked either in practices
related to ancestor worship, which are public and sanctioned by religious institutions, or in rites
associated with sorcery, which are disguised and illegal in Mauritius. This subtle, yet important
dierence of the nam concept allowed us to contrast the two mental models associated with these
spirits and the concomitantways of relating with them: a non-moralistic locally- and family-oriented
ancestor worship on the one hand, and a set of self-centered sorcery beliefs and practices on the
other. As sorcery practices are often considered taboo and/or illegal (both are true in the case of
Mauritius) and locals are reluctant to directly speak about their sorcery beliefs, we used nuanced
free-list data to discern between participants who understood the nam as predominantly malevolent
spirits and those who primarily saw them as ancestor spirits. Together with a survey on the Mauri-
tian religious landscape, we used these free-list data to investigate the eects of disguised sorcery
beliefs on inter-personal cooperation in a relatively stable environment and compared these
eects with the eects of belief in a similar local deity not interested in human moral conduct.
Specically, we focused on the association of these two dierent conceptualizations of the nam
with rule-following in the Random Allocation Game (RAG) and with resource-sharing in the Dic-
tator Game (DG). In line with the view that sorcery beliefs and practices harm inter-personal
cooperation, we predicted that (1) participants who view the nam as primarily malevolent entities
that can be evoked by sorcery will be more likely to behave in ways that promote their parochial
interests compared to those who think of spirits as benevolent ancestors. Furthermore, since sorcery
practices are forbidden and stigmatized in Mauritius, we predicted that (2) the purported negative
eects of sorcery beliefs on cooperation will be stronger for participants who actively engage in sor-
cery activities directed at the spirits. Finally, since sorcery and ancestral beliefs co-exist with beliefs
in moralizing gods in the studied population, we compared the eects of sorcery and ancestral
beliefs to the belief in a moralizing god (Shiva) to present the scale of these eects in a broader con-
text of diverse supernatural beliefs.
2. Ethnographic background
Our study was conducted in Mauritius, an island nation that lies in the Mascarene archipelago,
some 500 miles east of Madagascar. Mauritius was one of the worlds last sovereign states to be
inhabited by humans, with the rst permanent settlement being established in the eighteenth cen-
tury by the French navy, who took control of a temporary naval base abandoned by the Dutch.
Mauritius soon became a prosperous colony thanks to the cultivation of sugar cane. The production
of sugar cane started to transform the islands geography as well as its social makeup. The indigen-
ous forests were slashed to make way for sugarcane elds, which to this day take up about half of all
the land on the island (Nigel et al., 2015). Slaves from Madagascar, Mozambique, and other parts of
sub-Saharan Africa were brought to be used as free labor in the sugar plantations (Vaughan, 2005).
During the Napoleonic Wars (18031815), Mauritiusstrategic location and the competition for
control over Indian Ocean territories made the position of the French rulers precarious. In 1810,
after a brief series of conicts, the British succeeded in gaining control of the island, which became
part of the Crown. Under British rule, the sugar industry boomed, and after the abolition of slavery
in 1835 the planters brought an enormous number of indentured laborers, mostly from India, to
work in the plantations. The population quadrupled within 50 years. By the mid-nineteenth cen-
tury, the Mauritian sugar industry accounted for almost a tenth of the global sugarcane production
and 7% of all the sugar in the world (Allen, 1999).
The Mauritian economy remained reliant on sugarcane until the island gained independence
from the British in 1968. Successful government policies were implemented to diversify the econ-
omy and reduce the dependence on sugarcane monoculture. This transition, which has been
referred to as the Mauritian miracle,led to rapid growth and had a major impact on the local
economy and quality of life (Subramanian & Roy, 2001). However, the sugar trade left an indelible
mark on all aspects of Mauritian life and played a pivotal role in shaping the nations current ethnic,
linguistic, and religious landscape.
Contemporary Mauritius is a mosaic of cultures and traditions. About two thirds of the popu-
lation are descendants of Indian indentured laborers who came to work on the sugarcane elds
during the last century and a half. This group is very heterogeneous and further sub-divided
into numerous smaller ethno-linguistic groups. The majority of those immigrants were Hindi-
speaking Hindus from Bihar and other Northern Indian states. Most of their descendants are Shai-
vites, that is, people who primarily worship the Hindu god Lord Shiva. Other Hindu groups include:
the Tamils, who originate from the Southern state of Tamil Nadu and predominantly worship Mur-
ugan; the Telegus, who come from the Southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh and are generally fol-
lowers of Vishnu; and the Marathis, whose ancestors came from the state of Maharastra and whose
preferred god is Ganesha (The Pluralism Project, 2005). In addition, approximately 17% of the
population are Muslims, predominantly Sunni, who originate from Bihar or present-day Pakistan.
Over a quarter of Mauritians derive their ancestry from those African slaves brought during the
early years of colonization. They, as well as people of mixed origin, are often referred to as Creoles.
Afro-Mauritians are mostly Catholic, as are Franco-Mauritians, who are descendants of colonial
settlers and landowners, and make up some 2% of the population. Another 3% are of Chinese origin
(Sino-Mauritians), most of whom are Buddhists or Christian converts (Statistics Mauritius, 2012).
The most commonly used language in everyday contexts is the Mauritian Creole, although
schooling is done in English and French and both of those languages are widely used, especially
in the media and formal settings. In addition, numerous ancestral languages are used at home
and in worship, including Bhojpuri, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Urdu, Arabic, Mandarin,
Hakka, and more (Eisenlohr, 2006).
This exceptional diversity, combined with a high population density and historically increased
contact between groups, has led to various forms of syncretism manifested across virtually all
domains of Mauritian culture, from music and architecture to the local cuisine, as well as the
local religious beliefs and practices. It is not uncommon for Mauritians to be actively practicing
more than one religion, or to borrow aspects of worship from another tradition. One can some-
times, for instance, observe people removing their shoes before entering a Catholic church, or
sacricing a banana to a statue of Mary (Eriksen, 1998; Xygalatas et al., 2018). And some of the
major religious festivals on the island, such as the Hindu pilgrimage of Maha Shivaratri, the Chris-
tian pilgrimage to the shrine of Père Laval, and the Tamil festivals of Thimidi and Thaipusam, are
frequently attended by members of other religious groups (Xygalatas, 2019).
In addition, a set of beliefs and practices related to ancestral spirits are widely shared by Mauri-
tians of all religious aliations. At the core of those beliefs, which are a syncretic mix of African,
Christian, and Hindu traditions, is the concept of the soulthe word nam, commonly used in
Mauritius to describe spirits, comes from the French word for soul (lâme). According to those
beliefs, upon a persons death the nam leaves the body and moves on to the world of spirits. The
living honor those spirits by remembering them in their thoughts and prayers, building and main-
taining shrines for them, performing rituals, and making oerings to them. Oerings to those
ancestral spirits (often also called grand dimounegreat persons) consist usually of basic items:
candles, bread (sometimes stued with sardines, dipain sardine), rum, and cigarettes. In turn,
the spirits guide and protect the living.
However, things can go wrong. For example, if the proper funerary rites are not performed, the
spirit cannot get closure and becomes trapped between the two worldsa state similar to the Chris-
tian concept of limbo. A similar fate might befall those who lived troubled livesor died an untimely or
gruesome death, such as victims of murder, suicide, or deadly accidents. Although the family of the
deceased may try to prevent this by taking extra care to perform the proper funerary rites in a timely
manner, those spirits are particularly likely to break bad or be hijacked by some ill-meaning sorcerer.
When that happens, the spirit becomes a mal mor (evil dead), also commonly called a jab. In turn, evil
spirits can try to recruit humans to do their bidding by pushing them to the dark arts of sorcery.
The jab are powerful entities to be feared and revered. They are vicious and temperamental and
cause various misfortunes. They can haunt people, make them possessed, drive them crazy, and
bring bad luck, illness, and even death upon them (Colwell-Chanthaphonh & de Salle-Essoo,
2014). Numerous purication and apotropaic rites are used to keep them at bay. In desperate
times, one might even try to create alliances with them by using sorcery. But because of their special
powers and volatility, contact with the jab is dangerous and must be handled with the utmost cau-
tion, typically by a specialist. The only socially and theologically acceptable handling of those spirits
are exorcisms performed by clergy, and only within the protective connes of a religious temple.
However, members of all religious communities in Mauritius routinely turn to unsanctioned
specialists, sorcerers (longanis) who can call upon those evil spirits to do their bidding in exchange
for blood (animal sacrice) or some other oering. Such practices are very widespread in Mauritius.
However, as sorcery is publicly frowned upon and is illegal under Mauritian law, those rituals are
surrounded by secrecy and their practitioners would rarely admit to holding them. Nonetheless,
evidence of those rituals is frequently found in graveyards, crossroads, forests, and near temples
of Kali (Kalimai) in the form of red candles, coconuts, lime fruit, bones, and various other ingre-
dients oered to the spirits.
3. Methods
3.1. Participants
We collected the current data as part of a large-scale cross-cultural project investigating the evol-
ution of religion and morality (see Lang et al., 2019; Purzycki et al., 2016). In the original study,
we recruited 247 participants from Pointe aux Piments, a rural village on the northwest coast of
Mauritius. Local research assistants randomly recruited participants on the streets, inferring their
Hindu religious aliation from physical appearance and dress code. We conrmed this aliation
in demographic questionnaires that preceded the experiment. From the original number of 247
participants, 168 participants provided responses to a free-list task on what the nam like and dislike.
Those 168 individuals (98 males; Mage = 35.7, SD = 15.3) then comprised the sample for the cur-
rent study, as their responses allowed us to distinguish between ancestral and sorcery beliefs. The
study was approved by the Ethical Review Board of the Czech Association for the Study of Reli-
gions, and every participant provided written consent. All materials for interviews and games
were translated into Mauritian Creole by local research assistants. English back-translations were
used to check for inconsistencies, which were subsequently edited.
3.2. Materials and procedure
The Mauritian dataset from the original study (Lang et al., 2019) includes demographic, religious,
and market economy surveys, plus two types of economic games, RAG and DG. Participants came
individually to our eld lab, where they were informed about the study procedures, were given a
comprehension test, and played either the RAG or DG.
After the game, participants lled out
the surveys in privacy and were reminded that everything they said would remain condential.
Upon completing the study, they received a monetary reward for participation as well as their earn-
ings from the game.
The original project hypothesized that belief in omniscient and punitive moralizing gods would
be associated with impartial allocations to co-religionists, eectively extending the cooperative
ingroup to also include distant co-religionists. To test that hypothesis, we collected data on belief
in the commonly worshipped moralizing god in the area (Shiva) and, for comparison, on belief
in local spirits (nam) that are relatively less interested in human moral conduct. Those data
included both Likert-scale questions on the moral interests of gods and spirits (see below) and
open-ended free-list questions on what these gods and spirits like and dislike. Here, we utilize
mainly the free-list data to dierentiate between two dierent mental models of the spirits. Our pre-
vious ethnographic interviews revealed that the two dierent nam concepts are associated with
dierent interests in human behavior (e.g., the ancestral spirits like prayer and oerings while
the sorcery-related spirits like bad deeds and harming people), as well as with dierent ritual prac-
tices directed at them. Since each participant was asked to provide up to ve answers about what the
nam like and dislike, three independent coders with good ethnographic knowledge and experience
with the particular eld site (EKK, PM, and DX) coded these answers to detect whether participants
were responding in regards to either the sorcery or the ancestral concept of nam.
As a rst step in the coding procedure, the items listed by participants were cleaned up for any
typographical and other errors andwhen necessaryrecoded into superordinate categories
approved by all coders (e.g., Goddess Kalirecoded as deity). Next, each item was assigned a
binary value representing sorcery(1) or ancestral worship(1). Items labeled as neitheror
bothwere removed from the analysis. Coding of the data was compared and discrepancies
among coders were resolved through discussion and in some cases by reaching out to local special-
ists to arrive at a nal consensus among all coders. Based on the prevalence of one of the binary
concepts in an individuals list, each participant was assigned either a sorceryor an ancestral
label. With only 22 exceptions where the items were mixed, the majority of participants showed
a clear preference within their listed items and thus a coherent mental model of belief in one of
the two concepts. This nal step allowed us to connect specic mental models of the nam with
behavior in the economic games.
To illustrate the coding scheme, we analyzed the free-list data using the AnthroTools package
(Purzycki & Jamieson-Lane, 2017) in R (version 3.4.1; R Core Team, 2016). This package provides
calculations of salience of unique free-list items and tabulates their mean salience score (Smiths S).
Smiths S increases as a function of placement in lists and ubiquity in a given sample (Smith et al.,
1995; Smith & Borgatti, 1997). We conducted the salience analysis on free-list questions of what the
nam like and dislike, divided into the ancestral worship and sorcery mental models. Figure 1 dis-
plays the most salient items for each category.
There is a clear division concerning morality and worship. Ancestral spirits appreciate prayers
and oerings (mostly in form of food, owers, and cigarettes), and dislike sorcery and bad
deeds. The spirits connected to sorcery despise prayer, good things, good people, and god, and
enjoy bad deeds and harming people. The antithetical orientation of the two conceptualizations
of nam suggests their divergent impact. The ancestral spirits protect and reward those who tend
to them and can punish those involved in disturbance, malice, or sorcery, even if only by the with-
drawal of protection. In comparison, spirits used in the practice of sorcery provide support to
immoral, selsh deeds and promote harming other people for personal gain. The malevolent spirits
also like people whose bodies they can possess and abuse, but at the same time dislike them for dis-
turbances, rejection, and resistance to their powers. Note that the small Smiths S values in the case
of the ancestral spirits may be due to the small overall number of listed items and the highly idio-
syncratic nature of those spirits in peoples minds.
Figure 1. Models of what the nam like/dislike in ancestor worship (top) and sorcery practice (bottom) contexts.
Note: The most salient items in each domain are on top with item connection weights (Smiths S values) descending clockwise.
In addition to the free list data, we also utilized data that assessed beliefs about specic charac-
teristics of Shiva (the most salient moralizing god in the studied community) and the nam, and
ritual practices aimed at those supernatural agents. Specically, we asked participants four binary
(yes/no) questions regarding their punishment and monitoring abilities, which we averaged to cre-
ate a punishment-monitoring index. The individual items of the punishment-monitoring index
assessed whether Shiva or the nam punish humans for their behavior and can inuence what hap-
pens to people after they die (two punishment questions); and whether they can see what people are
doing when they are far away, as well as whether they are privy to peoples thoughts and feelings
(two monitoring questions). While these variables served in the original study as the main predic-
tors of game behavior (Lang et al., 2019), in the present study, belief in Shivas punishment and
monitoring abilities served as an important control of the studied eect of nam beliefs on game
behavior. Apart from these binary questions, we used a four-point Likert scale (never-some-
times-frequently-all the time) to ask how often Shiva or the nam punish people for lying, theft,
and murder. Averaging across these three questions yielded a moralizing index variable. The
same scale was used to assess how often these supernatural agents reward people for their behavior
(see Table 1 for means and SD of these variables for the two nam types). Finally, we also asked
whether participants performed activities or practices to communicate with or appease Shiva or
the nam (yes/no). Directing rituals at the nam served as a mediator of the hypothesized eect in
our analyses (see Section 2 for an ethnographic context).
Following the religiosity survey, we collected data on participantsage, sex, household size, years
of formal education, and material insecurity. Material insecurity was assessed by asking participants
whether they worried that they would not have enough food in the following month/six months/one
year/ve years (yes/no) and averaged across those four time periods. All these demographic variables
were found to predict behavior in the economic games (see Lang et al., 2019, SM) and served to adjust
the studied eect of nam beliefs on game behavior in our statistical models. Finally, to control for the
variance in emotional attachment to the communities receiving game allocations, we asked partici-
pants how emotionally close they felt to local and distant co-religionists (using a ve-point Inclusion
of Other in the Self scale; Aron et al., 1992). While not of interest to the current study, we also
adjusted the nam eects for the eects of contextual and visual primes used in the original study
(Lang et al., 2019). See section 3.4 on the specic employment of these variables in our statistical
models and the OSF repository for all questions and materials:
3.3. Economic games
Participants played either a Random Allocation Game (RAG; n= 65) or a Dictator Game (DG; n=
103). The RAG game involved rolling a two-colored, six-sided die (half black and half white) 30
times with two possible outcomes and subsequently allocating a 5-rupee coin to one of the two
possible recipients after each die-roll. Before rolling the die, players had to secretly pick the recipient
they wished to allocate the coins to if the die landed black side up, without revealing their decision
to anyone. If the die landed black side up, money would go to the chosen recipient; if not, it would
Table 1. Descriptives of two groups of nam beliefs; SD in parentheses.
Sorcery practice Ancestral worship
N(females) 103 (38) 65 (29)
Age 34.6 (15.7) 37.4 (14.5)
Nam Punitive [01] 0.45 (0.50) 0.62 (0.49)
Nam Monitoring [01] 0.43 (0.43) 0.64 (0.44)
Nam Rewarding [03] 0.47 (0.84) 1.43 (1.19)
Nam Moralizing [04] 0.78 (1.02) 1.32 (1.16)
RAG Allocations [030] 13.70 (3.24) 13.60 (3.48)
DG Allocations [010] 4.21 (2.37) 4.06 (2.78)
go to the other recipient. Each player engaged in four consecutive rounds, counterbalanced in
order, thus allocating 600 MUR (approximately three dayswages of an unskilled laborer). Since
there was no control over playersintentions regarding the money allocations, they could cheat
by breaking the rules of money allocation without anyone knowing. Hence, while individual cheat-
ing couldnt be detected, impartial (fair) behavior was measured at the group level by comparing the
statistical distribution of all allocations to that of the binomial distribution expected to arise by ran-
dom chance (a 50% probability of landing on either the white or black side). In the DG, participants
were given 50 rupees in ve-rupee coins for each round, which they had to allocate to one of two
possible recipients according to their preferences. That is, participants played the role of a dictator
who decides how to distribute the endowment. Since these allocations were made in private, the DG
aimed to assess pure sharing preferences, as opposed to the RAG where participants could bend the
rules of the game to preferentially allocate their endowment. Each player engaged in four consecu-
tive DGs, counterbalanced in order, thus allocating a total of 200 MUR.
Since the original projects aim was to examine the extent of religious impartiality (Lang
et al., 2019;Purzyckietal.,2016), participants in each game allocated money between two
cups that diered by the religious aliation and geographical location of money receivers.
Each RAG and DG included four rounds, and in each round the identity of the groups receiving
money from the game varied: In round 1, participants allocated coins between two cups labeled
as a Local co-religionist or a Distant co-religionist. In round 2, the options were onesSelfora
Distant Co-religionist. In round 3, allocations were distributed to either a Distant Co-religionist
or a Distant Outgroup. Finally, in round 4, the options were either onesSelforaDistantOut-
group. (Note that despite labeling the rounds 14, the order of the rounds was randomized). In
Mauritius, the local co-religionist was an anonymous Hindu from the same village where the
study took place; the distant co-religionist was an anonymous Hindu from the other side of
the island; and the distant outgroup was an anonymous Muslim from the other side of the
island. Note that the original design did not involve cups labeled as fellow nam worshippers.
This is partly due to the goals of the original study but also because nam worshippers do not
form identiable communities as, for instance, Shiva worshippers do. Thus, in the present ana-
lyses, we align money allocations in each round such that we always predict allocations to the
less parochial cup (i.e., to distant co-religionists in rounds 1 and 2, and to outgroups in rounds
3 and 4), comparing selshness and parochiality between individuals who share the sorcery and
ancestral mental models.
3.4. Analyses
The analyses of the game allocations comprised four modeling steps, yielding two sets of models: a
generalized linear mixed model (GLMM) with the binomial distribution for the RAG; and a GLMM
with the negative binomial distribution for the DG. The dierential specication of residual error
corresponds to the assumed distributions, originating from 30 Bernoulli trials for the RAG and dis-
crete count data in the DG (increments of one coin with 0 being the minimum allocation). How-
ever, since the negative binomial model did not t our data well, we also performed a linear mixed-
model (LMM) regression on the DG data, which revealed a better t but qualitatively similar results
(we report the results from the LMM model in the supplementary R script).
In the rst modeling step, we included the type of nam-related belief (sorcery vs. ancestral), test-
ing Prediction 1 (sorcery type associated with more parochial behavior). In these models, we hold
the treatment variables used for the original study constant (participants played either in religious
or secular context) and an average allocation in each round of the game. To account for the fact that
each participant played four rounds of each game, we included participant ID as the hierarchical
nesting factor. In the second step, we added the interaction between nam type and ritual perform-
ance, testing Prediction 2 (sorcery eects on parochiality would be stronger for ritual performers).
In the third step, we held constant belief in punitive and monitoring Shiva as well as the frequency
of ritual practice directed at Shiva. Finally, in the fourth step, we added demographic variables and
variables related to emotional closeness to the various target groups (local and distant co-religio-
nists). That is, we controlled for the set of variables that previous research showed to be important
in predicting resource allocations (age, sex, household size, years of education, material insecur-
ity) and for the degree of parochialism expected from positive relationship with the co-religionists
targeted in RAG and DG. All data were analyzed in R, version 3.4.1. (R Core Team, 2016). Plots
were created using the package ggplot2 (Wickham, 2009); binomial GLMM were run using the
command glmer from the lme4 package (Bates, Mächler, Bolker, & Walker, 2015); negative bino-
mial GLMM were run using the glmmTMB command from the glmmTMB package (Brooks et al.,
2017), and predicted values were computed using the allEects command from the eects package
(Fox, 2003).
4. Results
As a check of our coding scheme that aimed to distinguish between conceptualizing the nam in
relation to either sorcery or ancestral worship, we rst compared the two groups in their under-
standing of the nams punishment, monitoring, and rewarding powers as well as the spiritsinterest
in human moral conduct. Table 1 shows that sorcery beliefs were more prevalent in our sample
compared to ancestor worship. While the means and standard deviations for nams punitive and
monitoring abilities have similar values, Table 1 reveals that, on average, those favoring the ances-
tral nam type rated the spirits as more rewarding and interested in moral issues. However, the
alternative (sorcery) nam understanding did not seem to impact RAG and DG allocations.
To investigate these data in more depth, we regressed the RAG and DG allocations on the two
types of nam beliefs, ritual performance directed to the nam, as well as their interaction, while con-
trolling for a host of theoretically important variables (see 3.4 Analyses). Focusing on the RAGs,
we found that participants on average skewed money allocation toward parochial interests: the
intercept (SELF vs. DISTANT game) suggested that there was about 44% probability of allocating
a coin to the less parochial cup, which substantially deviated from the predicted binomial distri-
bution of die rolls. Similar bias was observed also for other permutations of the RAG (see Table 2).
However, this parochial preference was not predicted by the dierent views of the nam. There was
about 46% probability that participants favoring the sorcery nam type would allocate a coin to the
less parochial cup across the four RAG permutations, and this probability was only slightly lower
(45%) for those favoring the ancestral nam type (see Table 2). In the second modeling step,
we added an interaction between nam type and ritual performance directed to the spirits.The
interaction supported Prediction 2, revealing that sorcery practices were associated with lower
allocations to the less parochial cups: among those who associated the nam with sorcery, while
those reporting no ritual practice had about 47% probability of allocating a coin to less parochial
cups, this probability dropped to 38% for those who reported engaging in ritual practice. This drop
was much smaller for those who associated the nam with ancestral worship (47% vs. 44%). While
the lower bound of the 95% CI for the dierence in slopes of ritual practice between the sorcery
and ancestral types included zero, adding important predictors in the next modeling steps helped
clearly distinguish between the slopes of the sorcery and ancestral rituals. See Table 2 for full
models and Figure 2 for estimates plotted over raw data. In terms of the variables serving to adjust
the estimates of interest, belief in Shivas punitive and monitoring abilities had a variable eect on
overall allocations; however, this eect was expected to vary in direction based on the dierent
RAG permutations, so we did not expect to detect any eect (see Lang et al., 2019 for specicpre-
dictions on eects of belief in moralizing gods on RAG allocations). There was a small but uncer-
tain positive eect of rituals on allocations to the less parochial cups. None of the other control
variables showed stable eects.
Using the same modeling steps as for the RAGs, we analyzed the DGs with negative binomial
regression. We observed similar levels of parochiality in allocations with the mean allocation to
the less parochial cup estimated at 4 coins for the SELF vs. DISTANT round (the intercept), in the
other rounds were as low as 3.4 in the LOCAL vs. DISTANT round. Similar to the RAG results, we
did not observe any dierence in allocations between the sorcery and ancestral nam types: the esti-
mated average allocation to the less parochial cups across the four DG permutations was 3.7 coins
for those who associated the nam with sorcery and 3.6 for those who favored the ancestral nam (see
Table 2 for 95% CI). Adding the interaction between nam type and ritual performance in the second
model did not reveal a signicant dierence, contrary to Prediction 2 (and the RAG result). While
performing sorcery practices was associated with a 0.7 decrease in coins allocated to the less paro-
chial cups, there was also a 0.5 decrease in these allocations for practices related to the ancestral
model of the nam. This small dierence remained poorly estimated even when adjusting the esti-
mate for other control variables in modeling steps 3 and 4. See Table 2 and Figure 2. Similar to the
RAG results, belief in Shiva showed variable eects, as did the control variables (with the sole excep-
tion of emotional closeness to distant co-religionists, which predicted positive allocations to the less
parochial cups).
Table 2. Untransformed coecients with 95% CI for allocations to less parochial cups in the RAGs and DGs.
Random Allocation Games
(binomial regression with logit link)
Dictator Games
(negative binomial regression with log link)
(1) (2) (3) (1) (2) (3)
Intercept 0.26 0.20 0.01 1.43 1.45 1.22
(0.39, 0.13) (0.33, 0.07) (0.45, 0.47) (1.20, 1.66) (1.22, 1.67) (0.50, 1.94)
Treatment: Control 0.14 0.14 0.09 0.10 0.06 0.08
(0.01, 0.28) (0.01, 0.28) (0.05, 0.23) (0.38, 0.17) (0.34, 0.21) (0.24, 0.38)
Treatment: Secular –––0.04 0.05 0.12
–––(0.23, 0.32) (0.23, 0.32) (0.17, 0.41)
LOCAL vs. DISTANT 0.12 0.12 0.10 0.17 0.17 0.17
(0.01, 0.25) (0.01, 0.25) (0.03, 0.23) (0.30, 0.03) (0.31, 0.03) (0.31, 0.04)
SELF vs. OUTGROUP 0.09 0.11 0.09 0.14 0.14 0.14
(0.23, 0.05) (0.25, 0.03) (0.23, 0.05) (0.28, 0.005) (0.28, 0.01) (0.28, 0.01)
DIST vs. OUTGROUP 0.07 0.07 0.04 0.07 0.07 0.07
(0.07, 0.21) (0.07, 0.21) (0.10, 0.18) (0.21, 0.07) (0.21, 0.06) (0.21, 0.06)
Nam Type 0.03 0.02 0.07 0.03 0.01 0.01
(0.18, 0.12) (0.24, 0.19) (0.28, 0.13) (0.27, 0.20) (0.28, 0.27) (0.26, 0.29)
Nam Ritual 0.37 0.46 0.22 0.22
(0.62, 0.13) (0.69, 0.22) (0.78, 0.33) (0.81, 0.36)
Nam Type * Ritual 0.26 0.38 0.08 0.02
(0.08, 0.61) (0.02, 0.73) (0.58, 0.75) (0.70, 0.67)
Shiva belief 0.08 0.003
(0.46, 0.29) (0.54, 0.53)
Shiva ritual 0.13 0.06
(0.06, 0.31) (0.20, 0.31)
Age 0.02 0.07
(0.06, 0.11) (0.07, 0.21)
Sex [Female/Male] 0.06 0.02
(0.21, 0.09) (0.26, 0.22)
Household 0.01 0.001
(0.02, 0.04) (0.07, 0.07)
Education 0.002 0.02
(0.03, 0.03) (0.01, 0.05)
Material insecurity 0.17 0.19
(0.05, 0.39) (0.12, 0.49)
Local close 0.04 0.02
(0.11, 0.03) (0.11, 0.07)
Distant close 0.01 0.11
(0.07, 0.05) (0.01, 0.21)
Distant similar 0.02 0.11
(0.06, 0.10) (0.23, 0.02)
Observations 226 222 214 400 396 396
Notes: For brevity, we omitted modelling step 3 from the table. The reference category for treatment is the Shiva prime, and for
games is the Self vs. Distant co-religionist game. Nam Type is a categorical variable distinguishing between the sorcery and
ancestral conceptualizations of the name.
5. Discussion
Aiming to test the eects of sorcery beliefs and practices on large-scale cooperation, we used free-
list data on what the nam like and dislike to dierentiate between the sorcery and ancestral concep-
tualizations of those spirits. We assessed the eects of these dierent conceptualizations on coop-
erative tendencies using economic games that tap into dierent aspects of cooperation, namely rule-
following (RAG) and resource-sharing (DG). The results showed that while there were no dier-
ences between sorcery and ancestral beliefs on money allocations in the economic games, the inter-
action of sorcery beliefs and practices predicted bending the rules of the RAG toward more
parochial interests (benetting either oneself or the local community). Among those who associated
the nam with sorcery, reporting no ritual practice was associated with 47% probability of allocating
a coin to less parochial cups but this probability dropped to 38% for those who reported engaging in
ritual practice. On the other hand, we did not observe such an interaction in the DG allocations.
The fact that the dierent mental models of the nam aected allocations in the RAG only after
accounting for ritual performance (Prediction 2) indicates that the additional eort of engaging in
the practices might attest to holding the beliefs more strongly, regardless of the specic content of
the belief. In surveys, the unchecked inexpensiveness of verbal communication could potentially
lead to conating the participants explicit cultural knowledge about certain beliefs or concepts
(i.e., nam) with the participants true commitment to certain beliefs (e.g., the survey question
might confuse participants who report on the belief that is widespread in their cultural milieu rather
than on what they personally believe). Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the practitioners of both
sorcery and ancestral worship hold their beliefs more strongly than non-practitioners.
Furthermore, while verbally communicating belief in superhuman agents makes it easy to hold
multiple beliefs, demanding ritual practices constrain the number of beliefs that one can truly hold
and commit to (see also Baimel et al., this issue). As sorcery practices are illegal in Mauritius (and as
such hold more costs for those who engage in them), it is plausible to assume that practitioners of
sorcery truly hold those beliefs and, therefore, that these beliefs aected the game cooperative out-
comes (whereas this was not the case for beliefs about the ancestral nam). Such an interpretation is
compatible with the idea that ritual practice serves to bolster belief by self-signaling commitment to
specic ideas through investing resources and time on ritual practice, even when no one is watching
(Rappaport, 1979; Sosis, 2003). Since sorcery practices are illegal in Mauritius, their performance
likely signals true commitment to the belief in the malevolent nam. This general assumption is
Figure 2. Dierential eects of ritual performance on money allocation to less parochial cups between sorcery practitioners and
ancestral worshippers (estimated means with 95% CI).
Note: In the RAG, sorcery practitioners bent the rules in the direction of parochial interests, while we do not see such eect on decreased resource
sharing in the DG.
also supported by previous ndings from Mauritius (Lang et al., 2016; Xygalatas et al., 2013,2018),
which showed that frequent participation in costly rituals inuenced behavioral cooperative
The fact that we did not observe the same dierence (that is, the greater tendency of practitioners
of sorcery towards self and parochial community enrichment) in the DG may be due to one of two
reasons: rst, compared to the RAG, where the average allocation of non-practitioners was close to
an impartial 50/50 split, in the DG, the average allocations of non-practitioners were lower and
close to a 60/40 split (see Figure 2). Thus, while there was greater potential to skew allocations
toward more parochial interests for ritual practitioners in the RAG, further decreasing allocations
in the DG would be akin to outright exclusion of the other player. Second, compared to the RAG,
there was higher inter-personal variability in DG allocations. This might be partially due to the fact
that allocations in the RAG were to some extent constrained by the rules of the game; hence, par-
ticipants in general deviated only slightly from the binomial distribution imposed by chance and
larger deviations were therefore easier to detect. In the DG, however, participants could allocate
money without any external constraints (within the endowment interval), yielding a spectrum of
allocations from extremely selsh to purely altruistic. In such a variety of allocations, detecting pat-
terns related specically to sorcery beliefs and practices would require a much larger sample size,
especially for sorcery practitioners whose numbers were proportionally lower than in the RAG
(see Figure 2).
An important limitation of the current study relates to the fact that the ancestral and sorcery
beliefs co-exist with beliefs in moralizing gods, as most people believe in both Shiva and the
nam. Given that the data were originally collected for a dierent purposeassessing the eects
of belief in Shivas monitoring and punitive abilities on allocations to distant co-believers in
Shivathe cups were labeled according to dierent communities of Shiva rather than nam wor-
shippers. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that belief in Shivas monitoring and punitive abilities
exerted a much larger eect on money allocation in the games compared to beliefs about the
nam. To circumvent this limitation, we held belief in Shiva and ritual practices directed at Shiva
constant in our models; however, a cleaner design might look specically at allocations to local
and distant worshippers of the two dierent types of nam (see Soler, Purzycki, & Lang, this
issue). Another limitation relates to the categorization of nam-related mental models into two
rigid categories (sorcery vs. ancestral). While we excluded participants for whom our coding
scheme did not allow clear dierentiation between the two models, we do not know how strongly
participants would identify with one or the other category. Finally, the present results are correla-
tional. Future studies might manipulate the salience of belief in the particular type of nam to test the
conclusions of the current paper.
Despite these limitations, we believe that the current study makes an important contribution to
the study of sorcery beliefs and practices. Our innovative approach to studying sorcery beliefs
helped us circumvent serious problems with extracting information on a taboo topic. Using rule-
breaking and resource-sharing as dierent ways of accessing the impact of those beliefs on collective
action provides additional support for the importance of recognizing the role of conscious acti-
vation involved in sorcery as well as the need for various behavioral measurements aecting
1. There is also some uncertainty regarding the distinction between witchcraft and sorcery. Although these two
categories manifest as clearly separate emic terms among diverse cultural groups in Africa, Melanesia, Poly-
nesia and Central America, elsewhere the distinction is either confounded or missing completely (Eves, 2013;
Hutton, 2004; Turner, 1964).
2. As the RAG data were collected in two waves, some participants played two RAGs in the rst wave and were
later invited to play the second two RAGs during the second wave data collection, where also DG data were
We would like to thank our research assistants from Mauritius and Ben Purzycki and Caitlyn Placek for providing
helpful comments to an earlier version of this draft. Funding received from John Templeton Foundation, The Emer-
gence of Prosocial Religions, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Cultural Evolution
of Religion Research Consortium. EKK is grateful for support provided by research infrastructure HUME Lab Exper-
imental Humanities Laboratory, Masaryk University.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
This work was supported by John Templeton Foundation [The Emergence of Prosocial Religions]; Social Sciences
and Humanities Research Council of Canada [Cultural Evolution of Religion Research Consortium].
Data availability statement
Data and R code are publicly available at an OSF repository
E. Kundtová Klocová
M. Lang
P. Maňo
R. Kundt
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... Nam spirits, the local gods of the Mauritius sample, are similar to the Western concept of the soul (Kundtóva Klocová et al., 2022;Xygalatas et al., 2018). When a person dies, the nam leaves the body of the deceased. ...
... In these cases, rituals, prayer, and offerings toward these spirits is critical lest they transform into jab, evil spirits that retaliate ritual neglect with misfortune, illness, or death (Colwell-Chanthaphonh and de Salle-Essoo, 2014;Sussman, 1981). Therefore, nam spirits, in the form of jab, are sometimes associated with black magic and sorcery (Kundtóva Klocová et al., 2022;Xygalatas et al., 2018). The ambivalent nature of these entities may explain why nam are free-listed as pleased with predominantly immoral things, such as "bad behavior", "fear", and "revenge". ...
... The ambivalent nature of these entities may explain why nam are free-listed as pleased with predominantly immoral things, such as "bad behavior", "fear", and "revenge". Similar to the case of Yasawan ancestor spirits, nam are displeased with such things as "prayer", "good people" and "God", which might reflect cultural antagonism between local religious systems, since sorcery is illegal under Mauritian law (Kundtóva Klocová et al., 2022;Xygalatas et al., 2018). However, nam spirits like "bad behavior" but also (the act of) "loving". ...
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Practitioners reflections on the purpose and meaning of ritual actions are often assumed to be limited, absent, or irrelevant. As a result, many anthropological analyses overlook or brush away native explanations. While it is true that ritual exegesis can often be scarce, the current paper rather focuses on some of the conditions that favor its presence and on exploring the diversity in its forms across different types of rituals. Specifically, we used cultural domain analysis to examine cultural models of exegesis for six rituals practiced by Mauritian Hindus. We show that ritual structure affects exegetical reflection, such that costlier rituals tend to elicit a greater volume and thematic range of exegesis. Moreover, different types of rituals are associated with different functions, with costlier rituals being linked to more pressing concerns. We discuss the relevance of our data for the Mauritian context, as well as for broader anthropological theories of ritual.
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We introduce the term dark shaman in this volume to reflect both the distinct features of Amazonian assault sorcery and of malicious witchcraft, as well as to capture the ambiguity inherent in shamanic practice, one that shades into the darkness of assault sorcery but also implies a broader knowledge and power than that of the witch or sorcerer who has often been pictured as a figure marginal to the central spiritual or religious notions of the society from which they come.
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This paper argues that the historical slave trade contributed to the propagation of persistent witchcraft beliefs on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and establishes two key empirical patterns. First, it shows that in Sub-Saharan Africa, representatives of ethnic groups which were more heavily exposed to the Atlantic slave trade in the past are more likely to believe in witchcraft today, thus establishing a link between historical trauma and contemporary culture. Second, exploring the role of the slave trade in cultural transmission across continents, this paper finds that Afro-descendants in modern Latin America are substantially more likely to believe in witchcraft relative to other ancestral groups. Moreover, accounting for ancestry and other relevant factors, people residing in regions historically more reliant on African slave labor are also more likely to be witchcraft believers. These findings support ethnographic narratives on the connection between slave trade, slavery, and the entrenchment of witchcraft beliefs and shed light on the nature of these beliefs and related practices as a cultural framework for interpreting misfortune and a mechanism of enslavement in local communities.
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