Of Marriage, Violence and Sorcery : The Quest for Power in Northern Queensland book cover
1st Edition

Of Marriage, Violence and Sorcery
The Quest for Power in Northern Queensland

ISBN 9780815346876
Published December 18, 2017 by Routledge
296 Pages

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Book Description

This is a fascinating exploration of the relationship between marriage, violence and sorcery in an Australian Aboriginal Community, drawing on David McKnight’s extensive research on Mornington Island. The case studies, which occurred both before and after a Presbyterian Mission was established on the island, allow McKnight to show how the complexities of kin ties and increased sexual competition help to explain incidences of violence and sorcery, without resorting to psychiatric justifications. He demonstrates that kin ties both stimulated conflict and helped to mitigate it. Following on from McKnight’s previous book, Going the Whiteman’s Way (Ashgate 2004), Of Marriage, Violence and Sorcery offers an archive of valuable primary materials, drawing on the author’s forty-year knowledge of the community on Mornington Island.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; History of the Wellesley Islands; Marriage: Lardil and Yangkaal: endogamy and exogamy; Kaiadilt endogamy and exogamy; Violence: Early time fights; Baya! Baya! Fight! Fight!; Violence in the 1970s; Reasons for violence; Sorcery: Sorcerers and clever men; Spearing in the Bush; Recent sorcery cases; Some general observations about sorcery; All the Puripuri men are dead; Appendix: sorcery cases; Bibliography; Index.

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David McKnight held academic posts at the University of Edinburgh, the London School of Economics and the University of Western Ontario, before retiring on the Emeritus staff of the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics. He was well known for his work on kinship and marriage, beginning his research amongst Australian Aborigines in 1966, and living with the people of Mornington Island in Northern Queensland for over five years and the Wik people of Aurukun in Cape York Peninsula for a year in addition to making brief visits to other Australian Aboriginal communities.


’The author shows himself to be what we all wish and try to be, a subtle, sensitive, and generous guest of people who in the past had little reason to welcome strangers. Not many ethnographers can bring their hosts to life: a trite phrase, perhaps, but McKnight has done so. This is a deeply scholarly and sophisticated work in the central tradition of Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, Forde, and Fortes. The aim of good ethnography is to understand how people behave and think at the grassroots. David McKnight (known by the elders as the man who asks why) has done this, without pretension, without jargon, and with humour. This book will become a classic ethnography.’ John Middleton, Yale University, USA ’Few scholars have entered as deeply into the world of Australian Aborigines as has David McKnight. He introduces the reader into the everyday world of sorcery and violence with an unmatched mastery. McKnight’s vivid accounts effortlessly intertwine a brilliant analytical understanding. This will surely rank as among the best ethnographies of Aborigines, a classic that will enthral scholar and lay person alike.’ Professor Bruce Kapferer, University of Bergen, Norway and National Humanities Center, Research Triangle, USA ’There is no doubt that this book...provides a rich and valuable ethnographic archive on the Islanders...I read every word of the book with building interest...’ Anthropological Forum ’[The] use of detailed case studies spanning decades (and generations) to elucidate the dynamics, and contradictions, of social and cultural change is the great strength of this fourth volume...the considerable contribution that this volume...makes to the anthropology of Australian Aboriginal people lies in its extraordinarily detailed and historically situated ethnography, which will in my view stand the test of time and provide a fruitful source for re-analysis for future social scientists.’ Australian Journal of Anthropology