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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Motive rather than means: legal genealogies of witch-killing cases in Kenya
Author:Luongo, Katherine AngelaISNI
Year:2008
Periodical:Cahiers d'études africaines
Volume:48
Issue:189-190
Pages:35-57
Language:English
Geographic term:Kenya
Subjects:witchcraft
jurisprudence
homicide
colonial period
Abstract:This article traces the legal genealogies of witchcraft claims and counter-claims within the legal arena of colonial Kenya. Based on cases contained in the files of Kenya's Ministry of Legal Affairs and in the digests of the Supreme Court of Kenya and of the High Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa, the article argues that the witchcraft claims and counter-claims made in East Africa's highest courts contributed to the refinement of the legal meanings of witchcraft and to the elaboration of legal concepts central to the prosecution of capital crimes. The article treats murder cases in which witchcraft is posed not as the means but instead as the motive for the murder at hand as a central space in which notions of 'customs' and 'crimes' collide. In such cases, the alleged 'witch' is not on trial for witchcraft or for another crime committed through witchcraft per se, but is instead the decedent in the murder being tried. The defendant, in turn, is on trial not for a murder committed through witchcraft but rather for a murder motivated by the witchcraft turned against him or her by the decedent. Witchcraft thus operates variously as a claims-making strategy on the part of the defence and as a means for the courts to consider further standards of 'reasonableness' in local contexts. Yet at the same time, defence claims and the courts' counter-claims about the witchcraft of the decedent each operate on a broader epistemological level, calling into question not only essential categories like 'victim' and even 'murder', but also key legal concepts such as 'provocation' and 'malice aforethought'. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French. [Journal abstract]
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