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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Beyond the blame paradigm: rethinking witchcraft gossip and stigma around HIV-positive children in southeastern Botswana
Author:Dahl, Bianca
Periodical:African historical review (ISSN 1753-2531)
Geographic term:Botswana
Abstract:In 2007, the families of several HIV-positive children in a southeastern Botswana village complained that they were suffering increased stigma in the wake of national successes at preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Alluding to the government's apparent eradication of 'natural' pathways of infection to infants, many villagers began alleging that the existing population of sick children must therefore have contracted the virus through unnatural means, such as witchcraft. This article probes the relationship between the notion of stigma and neighbours' gossip about witchcraft. According to ethnographic evidence across Africa, invoking witchcraft has been a common means for HIV-positive people to lessen the stigma of infection, deflecting blame for sickness away from their (potentially immoral) behaviour and on to malevolent agents. In contrast, the case studies in this article instead entail gossip about witchcraft that was consistently refuted by families of sick children, who felt this aetiology contributed to their child's marginalization. The article contends that neighbours' gossip was not simply concerned with jealousy or deflection of blame - the predominant foci of ethnography on the occult. Instead, these cases direct analytical attention toward people's ambivalent sentiments and anxieties about care that are also expressed through speculation about witches, in which villagers strive to morally orient themselves toward children whose sickness is more profoundly disturbing than that of adults. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]