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Johan Wedel

This article focuses on efforts to overcome the divide between state legality and local practices. It explores a pragmatic effort to deal with witchcraft accusations and occult-related violence in customary courts among the Miskitu people in Eastern Nicaragua, taking into account both indigenous notions of justice and cosmology, and the laws of the state. In this model, a community court (elected by the community inhabitants and supported by a council of elders), watchmen known as ‘voluntary police’ and a ‘judicial facilitator’ play intermediary roles. Witchcraft is understood and addressed in relation to Miskitu cultural perceptions and notions of illness afflictions, and disputes are settled through negotiations involving divination, healing, signing a legally binding ‘peace’ contract, a fine, and giving protection to alleged witches. This decreases tensions and the risk of vigilante justice is reduced. The focus is on settling disputes, conciliation and recreating harmony instead of retribution.