At first glance, Florence Bernault's Colonial Transactions might appear to be a book about witchcraft. That, at least, is the impression given by its ominous opening sentence: “One day in Brazzaville (Congo), witchcraft filled my heart with anger.” In this instance, Bernault's frustration was directed not so much at witchcraft, but at the continued belief in its efficacy by otherwise devout Roman Catholics. Embarrassed by what she calls her “brash, idiotic reaction,” Bernault sets out to understand not only witchcraft, but a whole constellation of ideas and practices linked to knowledge, power, and agency in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Gabon. In the process, she revisits some of the classic topoi of Africanist historiography (commodification, clan politics, the multiple valences of “eating”), concluding that each is best understood not as a precolonial holdover, nor as the product of postcolonial disorder, but as a colonial creation shared by Africans and Europeans alike. In...

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