Witchcraft Beliefs as a Cultural Legacy of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Evidence from Two Continents

67 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2018 Last revised: 20 Feb 2020

See all articles by Boris Gershman

Boris Gershman

American University - Department of Economics

Date Written: December 16, 2019

Abstract

This paper argues that the historical slave trade contributed to the propagation of persistent witchcraft beliefs on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and establishes two key empirical patterns. First, it shows that in Sub-Saharan Africa, representatives of ethnic groups which were more heavily exposed to the Atlantic slave trade in the past are more likely to believe in witchcraft today, thus establishing a link between historical trauma and contemporary culture. Second, exploring the role of the slave trade in cultural transmission across continents, this paper finds that Afro-descendants in modern Latin America are substantially more likely to believe in witchcraft relative to other ancestral groups. Moreover, accounting for ancestry and other relevant factors, people residing in regions historically more reliant on African slave labor are also more likely to be witchcraft believers. These findings support ethnographic narratives on the connection between slave trade, slavery, and the entrenchment of witchcraft beliefs and shed light on the nature of these beliefs and related practices as a cultural framework for interpreting misfortune and a mechanism of enslavement in local communities.

Keywords: Culture, Persistence, Slave trade, Slavery, Superstition, Witchcraft

JEL Classification: J15, N56, N57, O10, Z10, Z12, Z13

Suggested Citation

Gershman, Boris, Witchcraft Beliefs as a Cultural Legacy of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Evidence from Two Continents (December 16, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3094478 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3094478

Boris Gershman (Contact Author)

American University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016-8029
United States

HOME PAGE: http://nw08.american.edu/~gershman/

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