Sorcery and Morality in the Andes: Illness, Healing, and Brujería in Kañaris (Lambayeque, Peru)

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Sax, Marieka




Sorcery (brujería, curanderismo) is a genre of both ritual healing and malicious witchcraft practiced throughout northern Peru. In the Andean community of Kañaris, practitioners call upon the power of place-based spirits called “enchantments” (encantos) to both cause and cure certain classes of illness. These individualized spirits are embodied in particular mountains, waterfalls, and high-altitude lakes. They are repositories for a sacred power that has the potential to both help and harm people, as manifested in a person’s body, productive activities, and social relations. Yet in Kañaris,
the encantos do not usually address lay people directly or cause illness by their own will. Instead, ritual specialists called “sorcerers” (brujos) or “masters” (maestros) direct the power of the encantos towards a person with the intention to benefit or injure them. Therefore, moral responsibility for illness attributed to sorcery lies with the sorcerer, and the client on whose behalf he acts. People in Kañaris say that malicious witchcraft is always motivated by envy, and perpetrated by a fellow community member. The people who should be most trustworthy are also the most likely to do

In Kañaris, sorcery is tied to not just illness and healing, but a wider sense of well-being articulated alongside luck and production, its inverse in personal envy and social conflict, and the local moral economy. Sorcery matters to people in Kañaris for three main reasons. First, through diagnosing and healing illness, it provides them with an account for and response to their suffering. Second, by raising a person’s luck, it enables people to improve their productive capacities and mitigate their vulnerability to future suffering. Third, by attributing responsibility for
their suffering, it tells people something about their relations to fellow community members. Ultimately, sorcery points to the hope people have of making sense of their suffering, coming to terms with the evils people do to one another, and applying this understanding to their own lives in order to live and work alongside one another again. In this sense, sorcery facilitates the reintegration of the afflicted individual back into the whole of society.


Cultural Anthropology




Carleton University

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