smell, verb

Origin:
Translation of the Nguni word nuka; cf. isanusi.
a. transitive. Usually in the phrase to smell out. In traditional African medicine: To detect or discover (an evil-doer or source of misfortune) by supernatural means. See also umhlahlo, witchdoctor.
1836 C.L. Stretch Journal. 254After some time spent in smelling the invalid, the articles in the hut, &c. the Doctor declares such a one is the witch.
1847 Natal Witness 1 Jan. 1This murder was committed under the influence of a superstition..that persons possess the power of injuring others by means of Witchcrafts; and that such persons may be ‘smelt out’, or discovered, by certain pretenders to such skill, called ‘Witch Doctors’.
1855 N.J. Merriman Cape Jrnls (1957) 215They were then assembled..to determine who it was that in their language should be ‘smelt out’ and ‘eaten up’ for this supposed offence.
1867 S. Turner in D. Child Portrait of Pioneer (1980) 70I found that old Machingela..had been ‘smelt out’ as cattle had died at the kraals near him.
1875 J.J. Bisset Sport & War 41This she-devil or witch doctor, first commenced to smell out the bewitching matter.
1891 T.R. Beattie Pambaniso 14In the language of the Kaffirs he was ‘smelt out’ for his evil practices, and punishment must follow.
1907 W.C. Scully By Veldt & Kopje 21We came here to look upon the killing of Gungubele, who was ‘smelt out’ for having bewitched his elder brother.
1925 D. Kidd Essential Kafir 22Nothing is easier than to get a witch doctor to ‘smell out’ an old hag who makes herself objectionable.
1939 N.J. Van Warmelo in A.M. Duggan-Cronin Bantu Tribes III. 33If the diviner ‘smelt out’ someone as having caused illness,..this person would have to be removed by some means, possibly with torture, and frequently by being thrown over a cliff.
1943 I. Frack S. Afr. Doctor 126Primed previously by his assistant, he intimated that he ‘smelled’ some evil spirits, who were directly responsible for his host’s eye-ache, back-ache, or stomach-ache.
1976 D.M.B. Preston Story of Frontier Town 40The Chief’s witchdoctor would ‘smell out’ an evildoer, whereupon the wretched man, guilty or not, would be killed and all his cattle went to the Chief — a very profitable arrangement!
1980 A.G.T.K. Malikongwa in Staffrider Vol.3 No.1, 35Doctors don’t betray. They use bones to smell witches. Some see them through water contained in small, round, charmed calabashes.
1991 Settler Vol.65 No.1, 3The shield is used for dancing and the tail switch of a cow for smelling out spirits.
b. intransitive. rare. To perform the ritual by which an evil influence is identified.
1959 L. Longmore Dispossessed 176Africans have lost confidence in all European doctors who ask for histories of illnesses and the painful areas of the body. They want the doctor to ‘smell out’.
To detect or discover (an evil-doer or source of misfortune) by supernatural means.
To perform the ritual by which an evil influence is identified.
Derivatives:
Hence smeller out noun phrase, isanusi.
1837 F. Owen Diary (1926) 58They are not even afraid of the ‘smellers out’.
1885 H. Rider Haggard King Solomon’s Mines 122So says Gagool, the wise woman, the smeller out of witches.
1905 Native Tribes of Tvl 126The professional ‘smeller-out’ (i.e., discoverer of persons who by a power obtained from demons are supposed to bewitch others, thereby causing sickness, death or disaster) naturally enjoys great power in a tribe.
1954 G. Magwaza in Drum Jan. 49The smellers out were ‘D- boys’ who wanted everybody to follow the ‘D- line’.
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