Spirit-Mediumship in Africa – East Africa, 1-2


III.1. (pp. 159-70) John Beattie : "Spirit-Mediumship in Bu-nyoro". [western Uganda]

pp. 159-60 Cwezi deities

p. 159

"Nyoro traditional religion ... is concerned with the worship of a pantheon of hero-gods called the Cwezi. In Nyoro traditional history these were a wonderful race of people who came to Bunyoro many generations ago, ruled the country for a few years, and then mysteriously vanished, some say into Lake Albert. They are said to have been fair-skinned ... and to have possessed marvellous wisdom and miraculous powers. It is said that when they

p. 160

vanished from the country they left behind them the spirit mediumship (mbanwa) cult, of which they themselves are the objects, through which the Nyoro people still retain access to the magical power and wisdom with they represented.


There are said to be nineteen of these Cwezi spirits (nineteen is an auspicious number for the Banyoro)."

{The # 19 is likewise an auspicious number for the Baha>i.}

{"The nineteen white mbandwa bear the names of Cwezi, either those who were rulers or their wives" (I, p. 60).}

I = Jean Sybil LaFontaine : Initiation. Manchester U Pr, 1985. http://books.google.com/books?id=xz3pAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA60&lpg=PA60&dq=cwezi+names&source=bl&ots=E-ESZBJYAD&sig=E4xXyPVrSiew-O9c1mOu7KwIJ20&hl=en&ei=s9NbTaDoOsiftgfmyu3aCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=cwezi%20names&f=false

p. 160 names of specific Cwezi deities


associated trait








sun (izoba)


night (ekiro)

That "Cwezi deities all had their own Nilotic mpako (pet) names, which were used by the initiated in their supplications, supports the argument that the incoming Nilotic Babito attempted to domesticate a pre-existing religious system (Beattie 1961 a: 13)." AFRICA, Autumn 2007. Shane Doyle : "The Cwezi-kubandwa debate". http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3103/is_4_77/ai_n29395850/pg_4/ p. 4

p. 161 ‘black’ mbandwa

"there is in addition a large aand increasing number of ‘black’ mbandwa (embandwa eziragura) ... . ... All of these ‘black’ spirits are said to be of foreign origin.

Some of the older ones, like Irungu, the spirit of wild animals and the bush, are believed to have come from regions north of the Nile;

others, like Kapumpuli ..., the spirit of plague, from neighbouring Buganda."

"The ‘black’ or dangerous mbandwa are of two main types, traditional and recent. Many of the traditional ones were associated with foreign origins, particularly with neighbouring peoples. The new black mbandwa show ... the new experiences. Thus there are two mbandwa of white people : one is generic, and one the mbandwa of white women in particular." (I, p. 61)

p. 161 instances of "modern spirits" [p. 169 : the ‘white’ Cwezi spirits have no part in sorcery; only such new and dangerous spirits as Kifaru can be used in this way."]


of __

Kifaru (‘Rhinoceros’)

military tanks







"for a fuller list see Beattie, 1961"

Beattie 1961 = J. H. M. Beattie : "Group Aspects of the Nyoro Spirit Mediumship Cult". RHODES-LIVINGSTONE J, 30.

pp. 161-2 mbandwa as collective-abstractives

p. 161

"It is worth stressing that the words Mpolandi and Njungu denote abstract concepts (‘Polishness’, ‘Europeanness’) and not actual Poles or Europeans, the terms for whom are Mupolandi and Mujungu.

p. 162

Mediums possessed by these mbandwa are not thought to be possessed by actual individuals; mbandwa spirits are not people, though they are imbued with quasi-human attributes. What they are possessed by is the generalized force or power by which Poles, or other Europeans, are thought to be as they are."

pp. 164-5 acquiescence to becoming a regular spirit-medium; or, in the alternative, undergoing exorcism




"if the activity of either a mbandwa spirit or a ghost is diagnosed, it can only be dealt with through the possession cult. ... Only when the spirit has been persuaded or otherwise induced to manifest itself through possession can it be properly dealt with ... .


This ‘cure’ can be achieved in either of two ways.

Either the attacking spirit can be induced to leave its victim’s head ..., or

it can be persuaded to say what it wants through its medium, who thereby enters into a more or less permanent relationship with it. ... .

major mbandwa spirits, including most modern ones, are ... indestructible; the only course open to their victims is to enter into an enduring relationship with them as their mediums. ...

Like the major mbandwa, the ghosts of close relatives or spouses can only be dealt with by entering into a lasting mediumistic relationship with them."


"Doctor-diviners (abafumu, sing. mufumu) practice various techniques to induce a ‘destructible’ {exorcizable} ghost to leave its victim, which it often does under considerable protest,uttered, through its victim as medium, in a falsetto voice and a special ‘ghost’ vocabulary. Once extracted, it


may be deftly imprisoned in a pot or other receptacle ... . ... (for detailed accounts of such ghost-disposal activities, see Beattie, 1964a)."

Beattie 1964a = J. H. M. Beattie : "Divination in Bunyoro". SOCIOLOGUS 14, 1.


III.2. (pp. 171-87) Robert F. Gray : "The S`et.ani Cult among the Segeju in Tanganyika".

pp. 171-2 Segeju

p. 171

"The East African coast as it extends along most of Kenya and Tanzania is occupied by ... tribal groups which are often spoken of collectively as Swahili ... . On eof these is the Segeju of Tanzania. ...

p. 172

The Segeju live in ... villages strung along the coast between the port of Tanga and the Kenya border."

pp. 174-5 jnun & pepo

p. 174

"Jini ..., also known as Ruhani {Ruh.ani}, inhabit the sea and are quite different in character from all other shetani {s`ayt.ani}. ... Jini do not enter the bodies of their victims and possess them in the manner of other shetani ... .

p. 175

Ordinary land shetani are also referred to as pepo, which is a common Bantu word for ‘spirit’ or ‘wind’."

pp. 175-7 praeliminary ministrations by mganga




"The only person whose intimacy with a shetani is socially approved in the medicine man or mganga. His powers ... depends largely upon the co-operation of his tutelary spirit."


"Most likely the victim of spirit-possession will take his prescription to a mganga who ... plays an essentially pagan role ... . ... . ... a mganga effects a cure by establishing communication with the spirit ... .


A mganga acts, in a strict sense, as a spirit medium. {or rather, as an invoker summoning the spirit to activity in the actual medium} ... every mganga has a tutelary spirit through which he makes contact with other spirits. His own shetani is associated with his principal medicine calabash, the stopper of which is carved crudely in the form of a head; this figure {idol} is anointed {Muslim-fashion} with blood from time to time as an offering to the spirit, and thus is covered with a gummy patina.

The simplest method ..., and usually the first to be tried, is called kusemea (literally, ‘to talk to’). The mganga conducts a private seance with the patient, summons the spirit in question, attempts to establish rapport and then persuades the spirit ... . ... The cure is ... obtained ... easily and cheaply; the shetani will come to ... repossess its victim. When that happens the patient will probably return to ... another seance".

pp. 177–8 kupunga

p. 177

"The idea of kupunga is to entertain the shetani with a ritual dance (ngoma) and feast ... . ... The mganga, assisted by an apprentice, directs the ritual and presides over the dance. The principal dancers are women who have principally been exorcised {inducted} in a shetani dance. These women are lay experts on the ritual of kupunga, and having themselves once played the role of principal character, they are thought to understand the mystical experiences which the patient goes through. Drummers are hired for the whole week. ... Blood ... is fed to the patient and the women participating in the ritual; at this time some of the women are temporarily possessed by their former shetani and may

p. 178

behave in an unrestrained ... manner. ... The climax occurs on the sixth day when the shetani publicly reveals its name."

pp. 178-82 the case of a particular woman possessed by a s`et.ani


the case


At a divination, "it was disclosed that she had been possessed by a shetani of the local Nyari tribe ... . She was then taken to a mganga ... who conducted a seance and established contact with the shetani. ... Then suddenly one day, while returning from the beach where she had gone to relieve herself, she was thrown down by some invisible force, and afterwards she was mentally abnormal. [She] took to wandering through the bush in a state of trance, and there was danger that she might get lost ... . So she was confined at home ... . The diviner confirmed ... that she was possessed by the same shetani ... . ...


A shetani dance was decided upon and ... the mganga ... was engaged to conduct it. ... The dancing schedule called for two sessions a day – from two to four in the afternoon and from eight to ten at night. ... During the whole course of the dance and for several days afterwards [she] lived at the mganga’s house attended by her mother and another kinswoman. She was enjoined to strict silence for the entire period. The society of past shetani victims also spent a good deal of time at the house. When the time came for a session to start, the dancers gathered inside the house ... while the mganga chanted an invocation. This was the signal for the drummers to tune up their drums by warming the heads with handfuls of blazing grass.

There were three drums, so that the four drummers were able to take turns resting during the dance. Two of the drums were played by being struck with the open hand – a sort, squat, upright drum with a single head, and a long narrow lap drum closed at both ends. The third drum consisted of an upright cylinder of wood covered with a loose brass plate. This was played with two pieces of heavy plaited rope bound on both ends to form knobs. It was capable of creating a terrific din and would not join in until a dance was reaching its climax. The drummers also sang songs from time to time with themes of praise for the shetani. The chanting of the mganga and some of the singing was in an esoteric tongue not understood by ordinary people.

The dance took place in an open-sided shelter attached to the mganga’s house and in the open space in front of that. From ten to


fifteen women were usually dancing at any one time. ... The mganga himself would lead the group in starting each new dance; then ... his assistant took over – an apprentice medicine man, fully as old as his master. [The sponsored woman] danced constantly. The mganga gave her various insignia to carry – first a spear, then ... an ebony staff. She wore bells on both ankles ... . A dance ... would start with small shuffling steps, which became more energetic as the drums quickened; it ... ended with frenzied stamping and posturing of the body. [The sponsored woman] carried a stick in her mouth as a symbol and reminder of her muteness. ...

The high point of the dance came on the sixth day with the rite of kutoa jina – inducing the shetani to reveal its name. That day, before the afternoon session started, the participants danced through the village. At the head of the procession marched the mganga ... . The drummers followed, and then [the sponsored woman] and a double file of dancing women. ... The dancers entered the house, and there [the sponsored woman] submitted to having her head shaved. Incense was wafted ..., and she was given a new costume to wear – a wide pleated skirt made of many folded coloured cloths tied round her waist and a wide–topped and turban-like headdress. After the mganga’s invocation ..., ... two offering tables were set in the open space before the shelter. These were made by placing wide brass trays on pedestals


which were overturned grain-pounding mortars. A ritual feast was laid out on each table, consisting of ... coconuts, ... bananas, a large rice cake, and a bottle of honey. ... [The sponsored woman] was placed on a stool; the women dancers surrounded her and held cloths over and around her so that she was completely tented. The mganga recited and imprecation ... . Then a squeaky voice began speaking from inside the tent. This was the voice of the shetani for which everyone had been waiting. ... It was completely satisfied, so it stated ... . Then it told its name and genealogy, which was extremely long, going back many generations.

The cloths were whisked away and the drums started again. [The sponsored woman] was hoisted on the mganga’s back ... with her pickaback for a couple of minutes while the whole company broke into a frenzied dance. ... The mganga brought a bowl of blood {the eucharist in its holy grail} ..., which mixed with honey and fed to the dancers. {While the Kouretes "offered sacrifices" (Porphurios : On Abstinence 2:56 – GM 7.1), "bees feed" (Diodoros Sikoulos 5:70 & Kallimakhos : Hymn to Zeus 49 – GM 7.3).} On tasting the blood several of the women ... danced ... about, whirling ... . These women had been temporarily possessed by their old shetani, who were unseen attendants at the dance. They spoke with ‘tongues’ and ... made ... gestures. ...

The seventh and final day of the dance ... people offered [to the sponsored woman] tidbits and also small coins. This rite was called kutunza (to ‘pamper’) shetani, i.e., to give it presents ... . ...


The next day [the sponsored woman] was still not allowed to talk and carried a stick in her mouth. ... [The same sponsored woman] got excited and started stamping her feet in the dance rhythm. It seemed obvious that the shetani was still with her".

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

pp. 186-7 spirit-possession cults in other East-African tribes

p. 186

"The basic pattern of the Segeju cult, but without the Islamic traits, appears in a number of societies of eastern Africa, for example,

the Taita (Harris 1957),

the Kamba (Lindblom 1920),

the Giriama (Noble 1961), and in

northern Ethiopia (Messing 1958). ...


In the societies mentioned above the spirits connected with the possession cult are distinct from ancestral spirits. Usually they are divided into several types of ‘tribes’ as among the Segeju. However, the Ndembu of Zambia have a spirit-possession cult with most of the

p. 187

features of the Segeju pattern, but in this instance the spirits are those of dead ancestors (Turner 1957, 192 ff.)."

Harris 1957 = Grace Harris : "Possession ‘Hysteria’ in a Kenya Tribe". AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, 59.

Lindblom 1920 = G. Lindblom : The Akamba. Uppsala.

Noble 1961 = D. A. Noble : : "Demoniacal Possession among the Giryama". MAN, 61.

Messing 1958 = S. Messing : "... Social Status in the Zar Cult of Ethiopia". AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, 60.

Turner 1957 = V. W. Turner : Schism and Continuity in an African Society. Manchester U Pr.


John Beattie & John Middleton (edd.) : Spirit-Mediumship and Society in Africa. London : Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.