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In Sorcery's Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger Paperback – Feb 15 1989


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (Feb. 15 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226775437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226775432
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 363 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #113,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Format: Paperback
In this book, Paul Stoller, an ambitious graduate student, tries to make sense of social life of Songhay-speaking people in the eastern Niger. The Songhay have once possessed the largest empire in African history; their formidable magician-king Sunni Ali created an elaborate and effective administrative system extending all the way up to Timbuktu and even Morrocco and, as Stoller shows in this book, Sunni Ali's memory is still very much alive in contemporary Niger.
The book follows Stoller as he wanders around Songhay villages trying to document social mores. He quickly finds what M. Mead never did - that polling and questionnaire techniques he was taught in the US do not work with the Songhay. In Niger, a direct question typically elicits an outright lie; effective field work consists of listening and participating whereas direct interrogation is counter-productive. Stoller then falls into the hands of a local "sorko", or magician-healer, who offers to teach him the secrets of the trade. At this point, the author is faced with the question: should one maintain, in bona fide anthropological work, classical aims of "objectivity" and "impartiality" or should one immerse oneself totally and completely into indigenous life, risking drowning into it and being forever lost to science? Stoller does neither: he is awed by the power and mystery of the secrets that he is witnessing yet at the same time he seems to be unable to comprehend the most elementary laws of indigenous shamanic practices. Thus, like the proverbial deer facing headlights of a car, Stoller is is constantly paralyzed by incomprehension and fear.
For me, the book provides more evidence for the hypothesis that the "Western paradigm" is just one of many, and not that empowering at that.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
neither anthropology nor shamanism Sept. 18 2003
By kaioatey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this book, Paul Stoller, an ambitious graduate student, tries to make sense of social life of Songhay-speaking people in the eastern Niger. The Songhay have once possessed the largest empire in African history; their formidable magician-king Sunni Ali created an elaborate and effective administrative system extending all the way up to Timbuktu and even Morrocco and, as Stoller shows in this book, Sunni Ali's memory is still very much alive in contemporary Niger.
The book follows Stoller as he wanders around Songhay villages trying to document social mores. He quickly finds what M. Mead never did - that polling and questionnaire techniques he was taught in the US do not work with the Songhay. In Niger, a direct question typically elicits an outright lie; effective field work consists of listening and participating whereas direct interrogation is counter-productive. Stoller then falls into the hands of a local "sorko", or magician-healer, who offers to teach him the secrets of the trade. At this point, the author is faced with the question: should one maintain, in bona fide anthropological work, classical aims of "objectivity" and "impartiality" or should one immerse oneself totally and completely into indigenous life, risking drowning into it and being forever lost to science? Stoller does neither: he is awed by the power and mystery of the secrets that he is witnessing yet at the same time he seems to be unable to comprehend the most elementary laws of indigenous shamanic practices. Thus, like the proverbial deer facing headlights of a car, Stoller is is constantly paralyzed by incomprehension and fear.
For me, the book provides more evidence for the hypothesis that the "Western paradigm" is just one of many, and not that empowering at that. If we start to tinker with our paradigm by "apprenticing" to cultures based on hard, merciless and pragmatic obsession with spiritual power (such as the Songhay) we are in for a tough ride. Stoller was; he ran away and I do not blame him.
On the other hand, the dialogues in this book are great and often funny and the book is a must read for anyone contemplating visiting Niger, Mali or Burkina Faso.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
interesting. Oct. 14 2013
By Isabel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It was a very interesting book. Although I read it initially as a requirement for my class, I found it very interesting to read.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Interesting Book April 7 2013
By Danyelle Mulin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good book, gives you a (somewhat) insider experiences of Songhay culture and Sorcery. I enjoyed it. I guess he also has another book that is like a prequel to this one and I guess reading this one is good after that one, I don't know what it's called though.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great anthropology book Nov. 24 2012
By RK - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Needed for anthropology class. Was great reading even though it was required reading. It was well-written and kept up my interest.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
a wonderful travelogue, for what it covers Nov. 3 2010
By David - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really liked this book. Whitefella culture isn't the only model, and books like this help us realize that. Like Michael Harner, he quit being objective, and dove in. There are a whole range of books on this subject, of various levels and quality. I do so love Anthropology. Other people say what they say. I like reviews that mention similar books, at least books on the same path, so I do that.If you want to further understand this area, Urban Shaman, The Future Is Yours: Do Something About It!, Lost Secrets of Ancient Hawaiian Huna, Volume 1, ThetaHealing can be helpful, especially in getting a model of how this non-Western world view functions. The Vision: The Dramatic True Story of One Man's Search for Enlightenment (Religion and Spirituality) is an intro to a different kind of world, as isWhispers of the Ancients: Native Tales for Teaching and Healing in Our Time, and House of Shattering Light: Life as an American Indian Mystic, or Journey to the Ancestral Self: The Native Lifeway Guide to Living in Harmony With Earth Mother, Book 1 (Bk.1). Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives is a very superficial discussion of what indigenous spiritual apprenticeship could be. Wong Kiew Kit's books show some unusual survivals of nonwestern ideas in Chinese culture. My Tai Chi teacher was trained by Cheng Man-Ching, and he was really, really good. Joseph Murphy The Power of Your Subconscious Mind gives a Western slant to this.

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