Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Among the Miskitu people in Eastern Nicaragua, witchcraft is a real threat and witchcraft allegations are common. This paper explores a pragmatic effort to deal with witchcraft accusations and occult-related violence in customary courts in Miskitu communities. In this approach, indigenous notions of justice and cosmology as well as the laws of the state are taken into account. An elected community judge, supported by a council of elders, watchmen known as ‘voluntary police’, and a ‘judicial facilitator’, all play an intermediary role as disputes are settled through negotiations involving divination, healing and by signing a legally binding ‘peace’ contract. The focus is on settling disputes, conciliation and re-creating harmony instead of retribution. Thereby, the risk of vigilante justice is reduced. Through this use of customary law, the state can play a more peripheral role in witchcraft cases. It ascertains a certain influence in the process but does not has to become directly involved.