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© 2018 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Types of Sorcery - Boloi

According to Setiloane*there are four types of sorcery of which the first two are not caused by sorcerers.

The first is called boloi ba pelo (sorcery of the heart). This is caused by an offence against a mozolo - an elder relative. This offence may even be a lack of courtesy - the elder simply by feeling offended in his heart is calling the attention of the Ancestors to the offender. Ancestors do not like lack of courtesy to elders thus they may punish the offender with ill-luck, sickness, misfortune, failure etc, by withdrawing their beneficient support, hence the offender becomes weak against the challenge from malevolent forces. The offender must make a sacrifice of a beast which also may involve being “washed” by the offended elder in order to be cured. A traditional doctor who may be consulted by the offender about his sickness or failures will "see" from his bones that boloi ba pelo is the cause and prescribe the necessary sacrifice.

The second type of sorcery is boloi ba molemo - sorcery of the mouth. Here an offended person may point a finger at the offender  or utter threats in his anger, for example "0 tla iponna" (You'll see for yourself) or "0 tla se pona" (You'll see it). Again the offended one is calling the attention of the Ancestors to the offence and it is the Ancestors through the withdrawal of their support who are punishing the offender.

These first two types of sorcery which appear to be the same as dikgaba, can be seen to be a functional means of ensuring and encouraging correct social behaviour. However the other two types of sorcery are believed to be caused by the malevolent actions of sorcerers.

These two types of sorceryi are called boloi bo motshagare (day sorcery) and boloi bo bosigo (night sorcery). The names correspond to the two different types of sorcerers who practise them. Although Tswana sorcerers fall into the category of sorcerers rather than witches, a distinction is made between baloi ba bosigo and baloi ba motshegare (night and day sorcerers respectively) and they cause boloi bo bosigo and motshegare, respectively. It should be noted that sorcerers can be of either sex and any age, although it would appear that the majority are older women.

Children of sorcerers are also often suspected of developing into sorcerers, and they may be believed to be "messengers" carrying sorcery from their sorcerer parents to the victims.

Baloi ba motshegare are the most feared as they are not afraid to bewitch people in front of everyone. Many of the beliefs connected with baloi ba bosigo are probably only half jokingly believed by the majority of people as many of these beliefs border on the "weird and wonderful". For example they are believed to ride through the night to their meetings with their fellow sorcerers, flying on their pet hyenas or baboons or even humans whom they have "stolen" and treated to make stupid. (Such humans used in this way are believed to have been  bewitched to appear dead and then after they have been buried they are dug up by the sorcerer, revived, and made into “servants”.) Sorcerers, amongst their many "powers" are believed to be able to open locked doors and make themselves invisible.

Methods used by Baloi to attack victims

There are four methods that sorcerers attack their victims.

1. Sejeso (pI. dijeso from go ja-to eat and go jesa - to cause to eat). By this method the victim is caused to eat poison. These may be known poisons or such substances as the tabooed meat of the victim's personal totem, or a piece of crocodile (liver of crocodile is believed to be particularly poisonous in Kanye). Such a piece of crocodile is believed to grow into a small crocodile in the victim's stomach and cause diarrhoea, pain or intestinal swellings similar to cancerous growths. These poisons given by sejeso commonly cause conditions similar to (and even may be diagnosed at the hospital) as hepatitis or T.B. "Poisoned" food may not poison all those who eat it, as sorcerers are believed to be able to "name" the victim(s), whilst others who may eat the food, remain unharmed. Poisons can even be fed to an unwitting victim whilst they are sleeping, by sorcerers who enter the house through the locked doors. A common .poison used in this case is pieces of human flesh - presumably obtained from the graves that sorcerers are reputed to exhume during their nocturnal activities.

2. Sebeela (from go beya - to put down or put away). By this method ditlhare (parts of herbs, bushes or trees) that are usually used for positive helpful purposes are used negatively to bring harm. For example plants used to cleanse can be treated in such a way that they will cause harm to the occupants of the home. Also by this method plants that are always believed to be harmful to man if they are in close proximity are deliberately hidden like the above ones, in the lolapa, roofs, entrances etc. Sebeela is believed to attract misfortune to the family and home.

3. Go neela (to set on, or go naya - to give). By this method a victim's hair, body dirt, footprints, shadow or personal possession may be stolen and treated so that he will come to harm. By this method the victim's seriti (shadow) is affected in such a way that all things, including living things and people, react negatively towards the victim. For example, a farmer's normally docile cattle may turn against him and harm him when, for example, they are being inspanned in a plough or ox wagon, a hunter may be attacked by wild animals etc. Even bicycles or cars can be caused to harm the bewitched owner, or students suffer bad headaches and temporary blindness every time they pick up a bewitched school book or pen.

4. Sending lightning and freak weather conditions. Powerful sorcerers are reputed to be able to direct lightning and certain other freak weather conditions such as whirlwinds. Lightning includes sudden unexplained fires. These conditions can either attack the victim, his family or property.

The above are all common methods by which victims are attacked. The effect of such sorcery commonly results in either illnesses (including T.B., hepatitis, cancerous types of illnesses, pains, miscarriages, giving birth to deformed children, death of children, fractures, bad "luck" and "accidents" etc., failure in exams, anti-social behaviour (e.g. alcoholism, wasting of money, confusion and madness), failure in agriculture (crop failure, livestock deaths (including Foot and Mouth etc.) failure of livestock to reproduce, accidents in the home, failure at work such as lack of promotions etc. The presence of any of these examples may cause an individual to suspect he is bewitched and thus seek help.

During my fieldwork I observed examples of the use of all four methods of sorcery with varying effects. Before giving examples of this it should be noted that sorcerers either attack their victims personally or send messengers (such as their children) to carry poison, or they may use a thokolosi. Thokolosi (pI. dithokolosi) is perhaps best explained as the familiar of a sorcerer - the servant that is kept to help the sorcerer in bewitching activities. These take various forms throughout Botswana and are widespread throughout the rest of Southern Africa. The form in Kanye is probably heavily influenced by other areas, and very powerful sorcerers are rumoured to obtain their powerful familiars - dithokolosi from other places. (Maybe the idea here is that if the thokolosi comes from a far place it is immune to the local protective magic of the intended victims.) For example some people say that the sorcerer obtains a certain plant tuber from an evil traditional doctor and plants it with special sorcery and then it grows into a thokolosi - this belief appears to be a Sotho belief originally. Other people say that thokolosi are miniature men (or women), very hairy and very ugly, rather like European goblins. During the daytime these dithokolosi are supposed to be hidden in the sorcer’s house where she feeds them together with various animals who are also kept to act as her “assistants” for example baboons. hyenas and certain highly dangerous snakes are all believed to be kept by sorcerers either for transport or as “assistants”.

There are always numerous rumours of how various sorcerers have trouble in controlling these creatures. For example one informant told me of a certain relative-in-law who was reputed to be a terrible sorcerer. She had finally been "caught". People had often wondered why she cooked large quantities of food for just herself in an enormous pot and yet never had any left overs. Then on one occasion she had been called to attend to her sister who was seriously ill in a sub-village. She did not have time to cook that day and was unable to return that night. Then neighbours began to hear a terrible "mewing" and animals rather like squirrels or large rats and cats began to come out of the house - they were terribly hungry!! The Headman refused to allow her to be reported to the Chief  fearing her powers of retaliation. For example she was reputed to have caused many women to have miscarriages, children to die or become senseless, and working sons to become useless drunkards or dagga (drug) addicts or even meet with accidents in the mines.

Another sorcerer had a disobedient thokolosi that always became jealous every time she went out and would start to follow her and refuse to remain behind. People would always hear her arguing with her thokolosi trying to persuade it to stay behind. On one occasion it is supposed to have even followed her to a wedding.

It should be mentioned that female sorcerers are believed to keep male dithokolosi and male sorcerers to keep female dithokolosi. Like the European familiars of witches, they are also believed to sleep with their dithokolosi, which are believed to be very jealous of any human husbands or wives. In 1980 when a man was nearly castrated by baboons who were stealing from his fields at the Lands this was divined to have been caused by the jealousy of his wife's (a sorcerer) thokolosi.

Houses struck by lightning that had been “sent” by the actions of sorcerers