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Spirit Possession in Africa: Analysis and Critique of Four E

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Maddie Powell

on 13 December 2013

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Transcript of Spirit Possession in Africa: Analysis and Critique of Four E

The Zar Spirit Cult of Northern Sudan
-Muslim village of Hofriyat in Northern Sudan
-Women are seen as weaker and more susceptible to possession (more orifices for entry)
-Women undergo FGC to close vagina and prevent spirits from entering the body since males fear spirits
-But women gain power and religious authority by harnessing the other-worldly power of the Zar who inhabit them
-Possessed women act out against social norms -- act wantonly, threaten men with swords, and cure illnesses
-Spirits descend upon women without warning, causing temporary illness, followed by lifelong healing benefits
Spirit Possession Defined
"refractions of social realities"
Nuer Religion
, 1956

Almost exclusively affects females
Bori Spirit Cult
-Southern Niger town of Dogondoutchi
-Islamic town of Mawri people that see the spirit cult as incompatible with Islam
-Women invite spirits into their bodies to challenge Islamic institutions
-Possessed women are either sex workers or healers, depending on the type of spirit that occupies them --> either way able to earn money in a society that otherwise forbids it
Spirits of Solitude in Central Niger
-Islamic town of Tuaregs in Bagzan region of Niger
-Islam and spirits in conflict; Islamic marabouts attempt to keep possession incidents and rituals away from mosques because it is seen as a threat to Islam
-Women are possessed because of "secret, repressed sentiments"
-Possession allows women to act out dissatisfaction with the gender divide
-Men are seen as highly religious and are actually the gender that wears a full veil, while women are less religious and have much less strict dress codes
-When women become possess they point to the fact that Islam excludes them and leaves them vulnerable to spiritual attacks
Holy Spirit Movement of Northern Uganda
-Alice Lakwena, and Acholi, named after the male spirit who possessed her, used the spirit to raise an army of 7,000 to 10,000 soldiers
-Lakwena possessed her once a week at a given time at which he gave specific orders about waging the war
-Used Christian doctrine to imbue the possession with religious rhetoric (e.g. The Ten Commandments)
-Spirit possession is a viable method for women across Africa to gain social power and religious authority
-Yet despite the consensus among the authors of the power of spirit possession, in their own ethnographic writing they objectify and de-power these very women
-Overly-sexualized descriptions of possession events that
-Tone of shock and awe throughout the books undermine the exact point they are trying to make about women being powerful
Spirit Possession in Africa: Analysis and Critique of Four Ethnographies
Spirit Possession Defined More Specifically

"[Spirit possession] refers to the hold over a human being by external forces or entities more powerful than she. These forces may be ancestors or divinities, ghosts of foreign origin, or entities both ontologically and ethnically alien...Possession, then, is a broad term referring to an integration of spirit and matter, force or power and corporeal reality, in a cosmos where the boundaries between an individual and her environment are acknowledged to be permeable, flexible drawn, or at least negotiable."
-Janice Boddy,
Spirit Possession Revisited: Beyond Instrumentality
, 1994.
Mixed local feelings about the cult
-Men publicly condemn Bori devotees as prostitutes and perceive spirits as a threat to their marriages (possession as consummation)
-But men would never question their wives or challenge their involvement because they don't want the wrath of the spirits brought down upon themselves
-Allows women to gain power and balance out otherwise asymmetrical gender relations

The Power of Lakwena
-Led a war against "Evil" (witches, impurities, and the Ugandan government)
-Alice gained power through Lakwena by pointing to "other-worldly legitimation"
-Significant because men listened to a woman for warfare tactics
-Specifically advocated for an advancement of women in Acholi society
-Though the war was lost, Alice started an important conversation about gender through the use of spirit possession
Does this man look familiar?
-Joseph Kony is Alice's successor and he is still leading the Lord's Resistance Army in a fight against the Ugandan government
-Though Alice established the Army she is no longer involved in it and Kony denies her signficance in his fight
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