The tale of Paul Stoller's sojourn among sorcerors in the Republic of Niger is a story of growth and change, of mutual respect and understanding that will challenge all who read it to plunge deeply into an alien world.
Compelling if somewhat unsettling account of a white American anthropologist's personal experiences with the techniques and effects of a form of present-day African sorcery. Husband-and-wife team Stoller (West Chester U.) and Olkes tell a fast-moving tale of times spent among Songhay peoples in the northwestern comer of Niger, a land replete with vast stretches of sand dunes in skin-blistering heat, mud-brick compounds, drought-stricken agriculture, pythons, egrets, and small towns in which hospitality centers around gifts of goats and chickens. In a series of extended anthropological field trips between 1976 and 1984, Stoller found himself ever more deeply enmeshed not only in learning about but also in participating in older magical power systems that lie beneath the Islamic surface. Practitioners of sorcery in the towns of Mehanna, Tillaberi, and Wanzerbe appeared with perfect timing to instruct him on names and uses of a vast number of magical powders, sacred incantations, animal sacrifices, possession dances, divination by cowry shells, and knowledge of the family of Tooru spirit deities. Portraits of individuals and community lifestyles are deftly drawn, revealing Stoller's deep respect for Songhay culture and the people within it, creating a believable, sometimes humorous, engaging blend of exotic travel and hidden mysteries - with a comforting dose of pragmatic skepticism. Unlike so many contemporary writings, this is not a book about discovering an ancient wisdom of love and compassion; despite some reports of healings and protective spells, it is primarily about the fiercely competitive and spiteful uses of powers that created an attitude of defensive, even paranoid, social interactions so intense that they eventually frightened Stoller enough to call a halt to his participation. A well-written glimpse into a generally unfamiliar world that may shed light on some of the sources of Voodoo and Condomblein the Americas. (Kirkus Reviews)