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Evil Eye and Witches

Two additional forms of misfortune caused by human beings are the evil eye (disti) and the activities of a certain type of witch (daini). Daini are women of whom it is said that they seek out the houses of their victims at night, especially at the new moon or full moon, and drink their blood or eat their livers.[1] [2] [3] [4] They have acquired knowledge of secret spells (montor), learned from their mothers, for example, and in any case, they inflict misfortune deliberately. They enter houses or let down strings from the roof to the bodies of the sleeping inhabitants, through which they drink their blood. Other people perceive the daini in dreams and may also see and recognize them under certain circumstances while awake, but they cannot defend themselves, since no one can move in their presence. Everyone believes that he knows about various witches, even within the village, but no one verbalizes such accusations out of fear of retribution. In order to keep daini away, ashes are mixed with salt (making a kind of murat) and sprinkled on the thresholds and on the ground at the head end of the sleeping place at night.

The consequences of daini attacks are weakness, trembling, and pains in the chest and especially in the belly. No therapeutic or prophylactic rituals are conducted against daini; instead, belly massages (pet sekidebar, suloi ro’roi*) are administered. Anyone familiar with the technique can give these massages, in which the organs that the daini twisted around (pasligola) are returned to their proper places.

Disti is often translated as the “evil eye,’e6 and the Gadaba also say that people can be struck by another person’s glance (aki paila37) delivered with destructive intent (nosto budi), most often motivated by envy. The time of eating is considered especially dangerous; disti is most often mentioned in connection with ingesting food. While someone is eating, he or his food is struck by the evil eye of an envious person. Disti attaches itself (disti lagichi) to the food and makes it indigestible; in effect, it causes digestive problems and stomach pains.38 When a European friend of mine who had spent some weeks in a neighboring village came to our house with stomach pains and diarrhea, the suspicion was expressed that he had become a victim of disti there. On the other hand, others thought that he was the victim of a duma; the symptoms are similar. When symptoms appear, consequently, someone may remember one or another individual who passed by the door of the house at mealtime, even though he or she perhaps lives in a different part of the village. As in the case of the other forms of nosto, however, the cause is not investigated, but suspicions are left to smolder.

In view of this potential danger when eating, it might be expected that food would be consumed in locations protected from the glance of others. As already described, however, this is not the case; the doors of the houses are left open, as a general rule, when the inhabitants are eating in the big room, and people occasionally also eat outside the house during the usual course of daily life, as well as doing so as a general practice during festivals. Closed doors evoke mistrust, and such behavior is criticized. Eating behind closed doors, it was explained, implies the supposition that other people would ask for food if they saw it. In view of the connection between disti and food, however, it seems likely that another implicit accusation would be made by closed doors as well: the suspicion that another casts the evil eye.

Although disti and daini attacks produce some of the same symptoms, especially stomach pains, they are treated differently. The effects of the evil eye are treated by healing rituals conducted by the dissari, although I did not observe any rituals in which it was explicitly a matter of the consequences of disti alone. The dissari often combats a bundle of possible causes at once, even though he has frequently settled on one in advance by means of his rice oracle. Within the framework of a ritual against nosto, a dissari may target rau, disti, and duma. The ailments caused by daini are alleviated only through belly massages, and unlike in all other types of illness, no dissari is called. This lack of a ritual treatment is an indication of the subordinate role played by daini attacks in the constellation of illnesses and their causes (cf. Otten 2007, 2008).

Exploitation of duma and rau

Duma peson39 is the sending of a duma by a person with destructive intentions and therefore belongs in this section, which deals with nosto caused by human beings. Whether someone possessed by a duma is the victim of duma peson, or the duma acts out of its own vengeful motives, cannot be distinguished phenom- [5]

enologically, and the ritual measures to counteract both causes are identical. The same applies to the treatment of illnesses caused by soni rau, since in this case also, the demons can either be exploited by humans or attack without motivation. In every case, those affected show symptoms of possession or the loss of consciousness as a sign of the presence of external powers and wills (mon). Since the symptoms, like the forms of therapy, are independent of the element of human intervention, I will deal with them in the following section.

  • [1] Various ideas exist about their appearance and way of moving, often reversals of normalbehavior: they walk on their hands, have long, matted hair, or are naked.
  • [2] Cf. Nayak et al. (1996, 63) and Thusu and Jha (1972, 121).
  • [3] Aki paibar literally means “to experience an eye” or “undergo an eye” (cf. Gustafsson 1989).
  • [4] The evil eye, among other things, causes the same disturbances among the Santal: “Whendirected on a man while eating or rather, on his food, the victim loses his appetite or suffers fromindigestion” (Troisi 2000, 223).
  • [5] Cf. Mahapatra (1985, 251): pes, “to send”; peson, “Verbal Noun.'
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