The pragmatism of magic in Africa

An anthropologist arrived in Africa. He was hosted by a tribe, the !Kung (Bushmen), during an extremely dry period. The pastures were thin and the group had to move continually. The elders, who have ritual power in Africa, decided to dance a magic dance the next day to ask the goddess of the sky to wet the god of the earth.

The following day, the anthropologist returned to the centre of the village equipped with ritual ornaments to attend a unique event, a true barbarian rain dance. But, to his amazement, there was no-one in the village. They were all busy doing their normal things, and a few sleepy elders were sitting in the meeting place.

The anthropologist asked an elder why the programmed ritual was not taking place. The elder looked at the others and they all laughed. Then, he pointed to the clear, sunny sky and indulgently said to the foreigner: “Does it rain in Europe when the Sun shines? The ritual will be held tomorrow, but only if the sky is cloudy enough.”

(Source: Jacopo Fo and Laura Malucelli, Schiave Ribelli, Nuovi Mondi Media edition)