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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:'European Courts Protect Women and Witches': Colonial Law Courts as Redistributors of Power in Swaziland, 1920-1950
Author:Booth, Alan R.
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies
Geographic terms:Swaziland - Eswatini
Great Britain
colonial law
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Law, Human Rights and Violence
History and Exploration
Law, Legal Issues, and Human Rights
Cultural Roles
Abstract:The imposition of colonial law on Swaziland by the British administration in 1907 led to a reallocation of power among vaious elements and groupings of traditional Swazi citizenry. The main beneficiaries were young, educated women who resorted to the colonial courts for protection against the discriminatory justice of traditional chiefs' courts in matters of physical and sexual abuse, and of forced marriage. Among the greatest losers were those individuals practising forms of ritual specialization, principally healers and diviners, both of whom were looked upon indiscriminately by the colonial authorities as practitioners of 'witchcraft' and as consequent threats to civilised practises and to their own jurisdiction. To the degree that many of these practitioners were female, the access of Swazi women to this means of independence and upward mobility in a markedly sexually exploitative society, was blocked. Likewise, to the degree that chiefs, whose overall powers had been severely truncated by the imposition of the colonial court system, derived power from their symbiotic associations with ritual specialists, they too suffered a further diminution of power. Chiefs' opposition to legal suppression of ritual practitioners was however couched mainly in terms of the dangers posed by evildoers loose in the land unchecked by diviners whose powers had been shorn by colonial proclamation, an argument to which the administration remained unsympathetic. Notes, ref.