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Student Researcher Clayton Hibbard
Travels to Africa to Study Witchcraft

RELEASED: March 2, 2007

EAU CLAIRE — Clayton Hibbard, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student from Eau Claire, traveled to East Africa to do anthropological fieldwork on the subject of witchcraft.

Hibbard studied the conflict between traditional believers and mission-school graduates among Kenya's Kamba, who live in the hills north of the Nairobi-Mombasa road.

"I wanted to understand why there is a conflict and how the conflict has evolved since the introduction of Christianity to Kamba peoples," said Hibbard. "I found a possible link between witchcraft and otherwise simple hospitality in the rural Kamba population I was engaged with when doing research."

Hibbard, a senior biology major and anthropology minor who received funding for the trip from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, said he wanted to experience anthropological field work to see if it interested him enough to pursue as a career.

He was trained in fieldwork methods last spring by Dr. Daniel Strouthes, associate professor of anthropology.

"It's a bit unusual for a student here to do anthropological fieldwork because we don't have an anthropology major," Strouthes said. "But fieldwork is exceedingly valuable as a part of a major or minor in anthropology. It's sort of a capstone project."

When he arrived in Kenya, he found a tribe to study, Hibbard said. He lived and worked with the tribe, and learned their culture and language, he said, noting that each tribe has its own take on religion and witchcraft.

"I gained confidence and an understanding for what professional anthropologists face when they live in another culture," Hibbard said. "I also gained a tremendous appreciation for what we have in our society, like electricity and plenty of food."

In a paper detailing his findings, Hibbard stated religious conflicts in modern Kamba culture pervade all levels of society. Elders have lost much power in the transition to a Christian belief system, he said. Kamba's youth face challenges under a new belief system that hasn't fully integrated itself with the past system, he said. Elders can't advise them on current Kamba social issues because they can't fully understand the change that's occurred in their lifetimes, he said.

"Beliefs in witchcraft and sorcery especially are kept behind closed doors, and in the face of an overwhelming majority of Catholics, it is no surprise," Hibbard stated. "Nevertheless, most Kamba acknowledge witchcraft and sorcery to be a real force present in the world today."

Hibbard said he hopes to eventually move to Africa.

"I came back to America with a partially separated shoulder, and endured constant hardships and difficulties during the research, but it was still the trek of a lifetime across a place that does get into your blood and compels you to return in the future," Hibbard said.

-30-

JW/JB

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