Possession, Power, and Identity, in a traditionalist pagan (notoriously un-Islamic) town of Niger [the Mawri sept of the Hausa tribe in the Adewa region]

pp. 194-195 Doguwa-spirit of the market




"In Arewa each market has its Doguwa. And each time a market is transferred to a new site, the spirit of that market must be propitiated by an offering of blood so that commerce will thrive. ... Local chiefs thus kept slaves whom they would regularly sacrifice to appease the spirit.


... There was a concomitant assumption that on the first market day, the Doguwa would kill a young man and a young woman, or a budurwa (unmarried girl) and a samari (unmarried boy) ... . ... If the spirit did not kill two such persons, the market would not "take" (become a place of prosperity)."

p. 209-213 arziki of the market; spirit-animals as women in the marketplace; other spirits in the marketplace




"the future of a market" : "a market’s success essentially depends upon the arziki ..., this arziki is contingent upon the power and goodwill of the spirits ... . [arziki ‘good fortune’ (p. xvii)] ...

A divinatory rite should be held in order to determine the most auspicious location for a market. For should the site chosen for a new market be on the customary path of a spirit or too close to the stone or tree in which an iska [iska ‘spirit’ (p. xviii)] dwells, the kasuwa [kasuwa ‘market’ (p. xviii)] will never become a successful enterprise".


"Spirits are thought to enjoy attending people’s markets. Although they have their own markets, where they can buy and sell goods, they never miss an opportunity to mingle among a crowd of humans for ... smelling the fragrant aroma ... . Spirits are attracted by fragrant smells and beauty, and they are said to be curious ..., just like humans." ["This is why one should never take one’s spirit to a gidan kallo ("house of seeing," or museum) for fear that he will want to remain there, forever gazing at beautiful objects and rich artifacts." (p. 310, n. 6:11)]


"There are evil as well as benevolent spirits who stroll in the kasuwa in search of human company. These iskoki may take on the appearance of a harmless animal, such as a donkey, a horse, or a goat, to trick humans. ... More often than not, they look like pretty Fulani women, pacing the market alone or walking in pairs. ... The only way to find out whether or not they are real women is to take a look at their feet : these female spirits have a camel’s, a donkey’s, or a horse’s hooves in place of feet." {cf., at Ephesos, the "very beautiful maiden, Onoskelis (the girl with ass's legs)" (Aristokles : Strange Events, cited in Ploutarkhos : Parallel Lives 29 – E&L)}


"It is thought that those who have one or several spirits should never enter a marketplace without them."


"One way to enhance one’s chances of becoming prosperous, or course, is to obtain supernatural powers. This is achieved by spending one or several nights within the deserted marketplace in order to meet the spirits and become infused with their potency".

E&L = http://www.theoi.com/Phasma/Empousai.html

pp. 218-220 circles of stones & other houses built by humans for spirits


houses built for spirits


"A recent practice of bori adepts involves building houses for spirits who are allegedly Zarma. ...

In the past, this ... was done by erecting one or two stones in a place chosen by the spirit himself. These altars sometimes took the shape of a hango (circle of stones), with one opening to the west through which <yan bori entered the "house" of the spirit. They were modeled


after the old funerary sites that the Gubawa used to erect in their community. ... The spirit’s devotee periodically held a possession ceremony at the stone site ... . ... seven days after a <dan bori died, the stone would be dug up and replanted in the ground upside down to the warn the spirit that one cycle had been brought to an end and that another was about to begin".


"The new houses constructed for the Zarma spirits look just like, and are the same size as, the thatch-roofed huts in which many people themselves are living ... . One of the most significant aspects of the ritual marking the hut as the bori’s home involves filling a minuscule earthenware cooking pot with a long series of ingredients before burying it on the right-hand side of


the hut entrance. ... What bori specialists use to fill the little cooking pot ... usually includes tufts of cotton, ... which are supposed to elicit gifts of cloth from those who come to the house of the spirit in search of help. There is also grain, which represents the food the spirit’s medium will receive from those who are thankful to his bori. A handful of sand from an anthill, referred to as uwa yawa ("the mother of many"), is often included. ... Each time an ingredient is placed in the cooking pot, the bori specialist supervising the ritual whispers the words that will define the purpose of this performance while imbuing the object with the necessary potency." {These whispered words constitute, of course, exhortatory prayers to the bori-spirit becoming enhoused (houseled).}

pp. 227-228 to induce Maria (Mangu) to engage in spirit-possessing of an amarya (initiate), by means of insulting Maria’s spirit-pimp

p. 227

The griotte (female griot) "has decided to address Zahoho, Maria’s husband :

"Black dog, he with the black anus, ...

Lazy one, husband of Mangu [Maria]

He who does not work, good-for-nothing ..." ...

p. 228

When Maria cannot be quickly cajoled into taking hold of her devotee’s body, bori singers may strategically opt to insult her husband for whom she has much affection. ... when she hears Zahoho being called a "good-for-nothing," she can no longer pretend she does not care."

pp. 233, 312 special foods for a new mother




"it is even beneficial for the new mother to consume ... special gruel of millet ... made by the woman’s co-wife or a neighbor. ... Several plants are steeped in the cooking water with which the gruel is made" :-

312, n. 7:5

"Among the plants that are added ... are :

damaji (Chrozophora senegalensis); ...

tserafako (Tribulus terrestris);

anza (Boscia senegalensis) ... .

... these plants have in common ... their ability to sweeten".

pp. 242, 312-313 foods of Harakwai & of his progeny


Harakwai & his progeny


"Harakwai is fura ...;

the black spirits are tuwo ... . ...

Spirits constitute a meal".

312, n. 7:10

"Harakwai is a powerful and revered spirit of Zarma origin who wears a white robe. {as likewise the Yoruba god Oba-tala} His children are the spirits who are generally referred to as babba>ku (the "black ones"), though ... Kirai, for instance wears a red hat and a red robe tied around his waist with a red sash, but some of his brothers, such as Souleymane, wear a black outfit."

313, n. 7:10

"the two main Mawri meals, fura and tuwo : ...

cooked millet ... porridge (tuwo), which constitutes the midday meal, ... stands for the white spirit.

Tuwo, a thick paste ..., ... is ... made from ... okra, sorrel, squash, pumpkin, and/or eggplant ... . Tuwo is the evening meal".

pp. 233-234 supplying with heating a postpartum mother




"Heat is necessary to the making of an embryo, a process that the Mawri metaphorically equate to the ... practice of smelting iron ore.

... every precaution must be taken to ensure that the new mother regains an adequate measure of heat. Having spent her own heat on the firing of the child during pregnancy, ... she remains thereafter very vulnerable to ... cold."


[quoted from BK, p. 126 :] In Karo, "A new mother ... lies on the bed ... so that the heat of the fire under the bed shall get into her body. After seven days it is warmed thoroughly, ... the washing with hot water and the warmth from the fire under the bed and hot spiced food make this happen properly. She is washed morning and evening with hot water, ... and it is poured into her inside {of her vagina} so that it shall heal."

BK = Mary F. Smith : Baba of Karo. London : Faber & Faber, 1955.

pp. 237, 244-246, 312 Maria (Mangu) spirits of prostitution



312, n. 7:9

Maria : "Maria ... bears a Muslim-sounding name ... . {[in Hellenic,] the whore Mariam Magdalene; or else, Mariam the Aiguptian, who at Alexandria "lived for seventeen years in prostitution." (ME)} ... (Devotees also – but more rarely – refer to the spirit as Mangu.)"


"among women, membership in the bori is itself often tantamount to becoming a karuwa (prostitute) in the eyes of ... spirit followers ... . ... it is common knowledge that many of the young women who attend wasani are karuwai (prostitutes) looking for male customers."


"The Maria spirits ... possess only women – mostly young women with a history of ... prostitution ... . Donning sparkling white dresses and brandishing mirrors in which they endlessly admire their own reflections, the Maria spirits turn their ceremonies into cosmetology sessions."


"Known to wanton teasers, whose favorite game is to seduce both married and unmarried men, they ... engage in sexual activities that are consuming".


"a large number of Maria devotees ... are themselves prostitutes who recruit most of their clients through the medium of bori."

ME = http://www.dacb.org/stories/egypt/mary_egyptian.html

pp. 246-247, 314-315 ghosts of women who had died during praegnancy




"women who had died in pregnancy were buried separately from the other dead ... . These women’s belongings (their clothes, cooking pots, or mats) had to be buried with them. Otherwise, they would forever haunt their families to claim their possessions. ... Only the women possessed by Gurmunya, a spirit of alleged Zarma origin who is lame, were entrusted with the dangerous task of washing the corpse and bringing the deceased and her belongings to the cemetery. ["Gurmunya (the feminine form or gurmu) means "lame." Gurmunya is often believed to be Maria’s mother." (p. 314, n. 7:14)] And only the devotees or Gurmunya and her numerous brothers, such as Kirai


and Souleymane, could carry the body and bury it ... . A he-goat was sacrificed and the meat presented to the soul of the dead woman, to assuage it and convince it not to go back to the village in search of food. Some gumba (raw milled paste) mixed with sugar would then be spread thinly on the tomb. ... While she was being buried, all the pregnant women of the village would be safely kept inside their compound".

314-5, n. 7:20

While a young woman was unknowingly walking along a path taken by others only when "they have to go and bury a pregnant woman who has died", she "had a faint headache, and when she reached home, she felt as if her eyes were going to fall out."

pp. 251-252 aversion from their own children by women-devotees of Maria (Mangu)

p. 251

"Maria ... denies women their nurturing role to ensure that her [devotees] will not care for their own or anyone else’s children, regardless of their own inclinations. ... Once a woman has been [possessed]

p. 252

by Maria, she doesn’t like her children any more. Sometimes, she will even refuse to hold her own baby and the grandmother has to force her to feed it."

pp. 252, 315 apparitions of Maria (Mangu); danger to men from her




Maria’s "feet are those of a donkey, but she is very well dressed. At first, nobody notices her hooves. Men don’t look at her feet". ["Male informants often pointed out to me that because feet are the last thing men will look at in a woman – they will first glance at her buttocks and the way she moves them ... – they easily fall prey to" apparitions of Maria. (p. 315, n. 7:24)] "Maria ... was a teenage girl, with very long hair held by a barrette. ... That she was described as wearing a barrette is significant : Mawri girls and women wear braids and tie them with thread."

315, n. 7:22

told by an informant : "My father, one evening, stopped in front of the woman and she got into his car. As he was driving home, he turned to her, but there was nobody on the passenger seat anymore. He got scared and drove home to tell his younger brother about what had happened. His body was shaking like a leaf. He went straight to bed and in a matter of minutes, he was dead."

pp. 252-257 dreams of Maria (Mangu) by her women-devotees; wardrobe and cosmetics of Maria (Mangu) the whore




"One of her devotees told ... that the spirit came to visit her at night in her sleep. She would see a pretty woman dressed in pure white sitting by her side."


"Maria ... had regularly appeared in dreams to a woman who had been her host for nearly twenty-five years, asking her for cosmetics. This faithful devotee, like others, spent a great deal of her earnings buying perfume, sugar, and kola for the pretentious spirit."


Another woman-devotee of Maria "had a trunk full of heavy white brocade dresses, bright scarves, and sheer veils ..., and she also owned two heavy silver bracelets and a pair of silver earrings".


"Maria is a prostitute who loathes maternity and ... has no home ... . ... To ritually mark their devotion to Maria, her devotees keep an enameled filled with all the sweet things that Maria loves so much : candies, caramel ... . ... Maria’s perfume bottles and eyeliners are usually kept in the same bowl ... . To appease her carnal appetites, Maria must prove irresistible to the men whom she intends to seduce. ... Hence the perfumes, eyeliners,


and lipsticks she avidly collects ... become weapons of seduction ... – after all, the spirit wants to experience her sexuality outside ... a "normal" marriage."


"Maria is a prostitute who sells her body to any male spirit who can afford her."

pp. 257-258 somnolescent pimp-husband of Maria




Maria "is also married to Zahoho, a "lazy bum" who does little but wait for his wife to come home. ... While Zahoho stays home and sleeps, ... Maria takes on the role of ... going into the "public" world and making a living by "selling her sex," eating everything ... . With the proceeds she earns from her trade, she provides for her incompetent and lazy husband. ... As a karuwa (prostitute), Maria ... is always on the lookout for new "affairs," should any handsome spirit come her way. Maria also seduces human males."


"Zahoho is known as a spirit who is too lazy even to harm anyone."

pp. 265-266 lightning-fiends; ritual protection from them

p. 265

"a host of mayu (sorcerers) ... would appear in Arewa every rainy season. Traveling with and in the rain, they flew over the houses ... . Armed with a rake, a club, or a pestle, the sorcerers would hit the roof of the house with their weapons. This would set the house on fire ... .

p. 266

... before lightning ever struck a house, the dangerous heat emanating from sorcerers radiated over the house and could be felt by the occupants. The heat these sorcerers radiated was produced ... by the potent medicines they had ingested so as to be able to fly.

To protect themselves from "the evil in the rain," villagers in Arewa held a particular ritual prior to the beginning of the rainy season. ... After millet had been collected from every household in the village, it would be cooked with special medicines and later redistributed; each person was to eat a portion of it."

pp. 269-271, 274, 279 non-Arewa spirits of lightning and of thunder; soul-eaters

p. 269

"In the Zarma-Songhay region of Niger, ... they constitute a family of noble spirits, the Tooru, who govern the winds, clouds, lightning, and rain".

p. 270

"In the neighboring region of Ader, "those of the West" {cf. ‘Westerners’ as Kemian term of deities (led by god I,MN ‘West’) ruling the dead} ... started throwing lightning".

p. 279

"In the neighboring region of Ader, they may take on the appearance of a large snake spitting fire".

p. 271

[quoted from D, p. 151 :] "Xevioso, a Dahomean spirit of thunder. Xevioso, also known as Agbolesu, is "the possessor of the sky. ... sends the rain."

p. 274

Among the Hausa of the Maradi valley, "the seeds or stones (referred to as kankara {cf. Latin /CANCeR/}, just like the lightning stones) that live and reproduce in a soul eater’s stomach {cf. cancer of the stomach?} and that in the past could only be inherited, can now be purchased with money."

D = Melville Herskovits : Dahomey. NY : J. J. Augustin, 1938.

pp. 271-273, 317-318 Zarma rites; thunderstones; beasts stricken by levin




"Held on the {which?} Thursday ["Thursday is the day that is associated with Zarma spirits." (371, n. 8:5)] of the seventh month of every year, the watam bakwai (seventh month) ceremony involves a test to determine if, where, and in what quantity rain will fall in the current year. ... After the bori chief has determined the fate of the community for the year to come, the Zarma spirits are given fresh milk. Instead of swallowing it, they spit it out on the onlookers assembled around them." {A Taoist priest blesseth the faithful by spraying holy water upon them with his mouth. The substitution of milk is comparable to the Abyssinian Coptic foot-washing of bishops in butter.} ["Faskare {cf. Latin /FASCes/ ‘bundle of wooden rods’} (split firewood) is added to the milk offered to the spirits. Pounded into powder before it is poured in the calabash filled with milk, the wood is said to come from the remains of a tree that has been hit by lightning." (p. 317, n. 8:7)]


"Zarma spirits" : "At their head is Harakway, their father ... . His oldest son, Kirai ["(Kirai, "the mad one")" (p. 279)], does not throw lightning ... . [ "Dongo is the name given to the spirit Kirai in Zarma country." (p. 317, n. 8:8)] ...


His younger brothers are the ones who actually throw lightning :

Moussa, nickamed sarkin gauawa ("the king of haste") because "he is the fastest of them all," is the first to throw lightning. ...

His brother, Bela, ... controls fire. ...

Bela’s brother, Hausakwai, who makes decisions as to what or who[m] will be hit or burned ..., is also called Dodo because he has four eyes and can see behind him. ...

Yandu, another son of Harakwai, is the blacksmith who is said to kill by hitting ... the brain (he cracks open the skulls of his victims).


The kankara (thunderstones) that these fearful spirits are said to throw ... are actually neolithic axes ... forged by the blacksmith Yandu." {If he be a blacksmith, then his "thunderstones" ought to be composed of iron, viz. meteorites.}

317, n. 8:9

"In Songhayland, where the Zarma spirits come from, the stones are believed to be made from the saliva of Dongo ... . This spirit ..., ... when he screams, ... spits stones".


"When people are the intended target, the spirits’ weapons look like needles." ["in the Zarma song performed for the spirit whom the Mawri name Kirai, the spirit is described as killing people with a needle." (p. 317, n. 8:10)]


If lightning-spirits have stricken an animal and thus killed it, then "they [the lightning-spirits?] put a dead lizard on the animal’s back."


"milk and medicines are brought to the site where lightning struck. The milk and medicines are poured on the ground. ... The milk enables the <yan bori to find the stone that, once thrown from above, disappears into the ground "as far as water."’

318, n. 8:12

In the case of animals having been stricken by lightning but surviving, "A ceremony was held in the field, and devotees became possessed by the Zarma spirits who spoke. ... milk, mixed with medicines, was poured on ... the wounded animals".

p. 319, n. 8:19 punishment divinely inflicted on a malam (Muslim religious leader) who forbade performance of a wasa

A few days later, "He was afflicted with rashes that itched terribly. A month later he was dead. His friend ... started to scream night and day ... and died there a few months later."

pp. 285, 287 souls & the dead


the dead


"Human beings have a jiki (body) and a kurwa (soul). Though it has the same shape as the body ..., the kurwa is fluid and invisible ... . ... At death it escapes from the body, making a feeble noise. ... As soon as the body of the deceased had crossed the threshold of the house, a daughter of the deceased’s brother would walk behind it holding a calabash filled with water. She would sprinkle the water over the ground and say : " You belong to the dead – leave the living in peace"".


"Only the devotees of Malo, Jatau, and Dounaba, the slaves of the Zarma spirits, may touch the corpses of the victims [of a lightning-strike]. ... A sum of money must be paid to the devotees of the slave spirits by the relatives of the deceased to enable them to accomplish their work. Milk and medicines are used to cool off the bodies so that they can be removed without harmful consequences. After a wasa has been held for the spirits"

p. 286 "Like the bori spirits, the jinn form an invisible society that parallels human society."

p. xiv "This book is a revised and shortened version of my doctoral dissertation submitted to the University of Chicago in 1993."

Adeline Masquelier : Prayer Has Spoiled Everything : Possession, Power, and Identity, in an Islamic Town of Niger. Duke U Pr, Durham (NC), 2001.