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The Python Killer: Stories of Nzema Life
by Vinigi L. Grottanelli
University of Chicago Press, 1988
Cloth: 978-0-226-31005-3

The Nzema of West Africa, who inhabit a land of forest and lagoons along the Atlantic, continue a heritage untapped by anthropologists and scarcely influenced by Western civilization. Vinigi L. Grottanelli first discovered the rich culture of this southern Ghanaian tribe in 1954. Over the next three decades, intermittent sojourns enabled Grottanelli to develop friendships with the Nzema and learn about their beliefs, traditions, and practices.

In twenty absorbing vignettes, The Python Killer renders a vivid portrayal of Nzema life. An unobtrusive observer, Grottanelli gives center stage to the Nzema narrators who tell their own vibrant, delightful, and mystical stories. This exotic world of coconut groves, nza (palm wine), cassava, and poisonous snakes is inhabited by a people who believe in sinister witches, oracles, jealous gods, and angry nwomenle (ghosts) to whom they offer "sheep, some rice, eggs, and drinks, including two bottles of Coca-Cola." Witches are all the more dreaded for their habit of stealing their female kin's wombs and for their faculty of turning instantly into hogs, snakes, or millipedes. Men, even if nominally Christian, may have as many wives as they can afford. Ghosts haunt the ocean beaches by night and may even sneak into villages and homes.

The Python Killer joins a growing number of recent works in anthropology that emphasize the voices of indigenous peoples. To provide a foundation for the stories, Grottanelli discusses the history, family ties, and beliefs of the Nzema in an introduction, and in an appendix he offers a theory of witchcraft as allegory. The only anthropologist to have lived among the Nzema, Grottanelli brings the realities of their lives to anthropologists, Africanists, and curious readers.

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