Spirit-Mediumship in Africa – East Africa, 5-7


III.5. (pp. 232-72) Aidan Southall : "Spirit-Possession among the Alur". [western Uganda & eastern Kivu]

p. 232 geographical location

"The Alur are a Nilotic people, ... living west of Lake Albert and the Albert Nile ... .

The Nilotic Acholi are their close neighbors and relatives to the east,

the Bantu Nyoro to the southeast, across Lake Albert.

The Madi to the north and the Lendu (Bale) and Okebo (Ndo) to the west, are all Moru-Madi speaking Sudanic peoples".

pp. 232-3 account of religious rites of other tribes in East Africa

"Cory’s (1955) combination ... gives a ... picture of the elaboration, coherence and consistency of rites." {"The Buswezi is a secret society with branches widespread throughout ... Tanganyika ..., in areas inhabited by the Ha and Sumbwa tribes." (AA1955)}

Cory 1955 = H. Cory : "The Buswezi". AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST 57:923-52.

AA1955 = American Anthropologist 1955. http://www.publicanthropology.org/Archive/Aa1955.htm

pp. 234-5 spirit-possession dancing by women




"One woman began to be very violently taken, jumping about on the floor on her knees and approaching the fire, her whole torso shaking, her shoulders flexed forward and shuddering, her head lolling madly round and round and side to side ... . ... This continued for some hours through the night. When any of the women was taken ..., ... she would go and kneel between the legs of one of the diviners, with her back to him, and he would blow water over her, pressing her body behind the shoulders with his fingers. Also, either one of the diviners or the dancer of the moment, might be handed the calabash of water and spray water out of their mouths ver the company in general. (Spraying water, beer, or other liquid out of the mouth over other persons is a standard mode of blessing.) {It is a standard Taoist mode of blessing.} ...


They sprayed water over him ... . This was welcoming the Jok spirit which had come ..., ... properly received in this manner". Spirit-possession "really seems to break out as it were from inside them, head drooping, eyes closing, and general quivering increasing to the fierce climax in which the devotee is leaping up and down on her knees without apparent effort of the legs, breasts wildly flying up and down, clapping and slapping against the chest, head rolling madly. Sometimes the arms are raised in contortions above the head.

The other form of dancing is on the feet, with strings of iron bells tied round the ankles. This characterized the later phase of the seance ... . Those dancing with bells do not sing ... . Those dancing on their knees sing until they become possessed with violence".

pp. 237-42 particular spirit-possession se’ances for curing




rite for curing mother’s baby : "Suddenly the young mother was shaking convulsively and the baby had to be taken from her. ... Then she leaped up and rushed at the door, ... seizing the goat’s rope and so outside. There was a crush at the door as the others rushed after, trying to loose the sheep also on the way. The drum was still beating inside."


se’ance for a woman : "The songs of several different Jok spirits were sung, to discover which one was responsible for the illness ... . When the songs of Jok Adranga were sung, the green creeper Bombo ... was brought and tied round the head and legs of the patient. ...


A special mark was made on the patient’s chest between her breasts with a powder of various leaves and roots. ... A three-foot stick encrusted with at one end with cowrie shells was pressed by the diviner against the patient’s body, behind the shoulders near the armpits, then the woman assistant circled it around the patient’s head ... and placed it in front of her resting on her left shoulder. ... the diviner knelt beside her with the palm of his hand flat on his head {a gesture used in Christian exorcisms} while he shook his rattle over it and sang the songs of Jok, with a great light and joy of exhilaration in his eyes. Several of the ‘acolytes’ became possessed, shaking violently and ‘dancing’ on their knees."


"the rhythms, the drumming, the dancing and the songs of Jok must appear to the European observer as the most impressive manifestations of their kind in Alur culture. ... In this case four drums were used and eight rattles :

two single skin cylindrical drums (thimbo) of Nyoro type, which are used only in rituals of Jok ..., and

two conical kettle drums or ‘Uganda drums’ (akili)".


se’ance for a woman, in an Alur village of the Jupiyo chiefdom in Kivu : "They were drumming and singing the songs of Jok Memba and the patient herself and another woman ... were on their knees shaking violently. ... When Jok Aligu was drummed and sung the dancing woman called for a stick, which she brandished with both hands, supposedly representing a spear, for Aligu is a hunter’s spirit.

Bands of ubiya (thatching) grass are tied round the upper and fore-arms of the possessed dancers, as ... the Jok will never leave them ... . ...


It was said that the patient of this seance ... could become strongly possessed and speak with other tongues ... . Thus, she is said to have spoken in Luganda, although she had never learned it or been to Buganda, and Lenda which no Alur round about knew."

p. 242 A "Muganda .. , who was ... with the Alur, at once equated the spirit possession and ‘dancing’ of Jok with that of Mukasa, Kibuka and the other great deities of the ... Buganda pantheon".

pp. 243, 245, 263 qualifications of diviners




"They had all reached the status of diviner (ajoga) or won jok (master of jok) mainly through having been possessed by many spirits of Jok themselves. On the other hand, a majority of the acolytes or congregation were usually women. These are the mon abende or nyithi jogi. Most of them have been possessed, initiated and cured, perhaps of a number of spirits, and now they enjoy the opportunity of going through the motions again."


"Diviners have to be well entertained, or the spirits will be less instead of more well disposed toward the client."


"But in practice a diviner of standing is competent with respect to a number of different spirits of Jok ... . However, a person who has been possessed by many spirits is likely himself to be a diviner qualified to deal with many spirits. The line of distinction is a fine one, but rests on whether or not he has paid the necessary fees to a master diviner (won Jok) and acquired the medicines and other secret apparatus."

pp. 243-4 climbing jok

p. 243

"the Alur do not use the term myel (dance) of the rhythmic movements of spirit possession, just as they refuse to call a ‘funeral dance’ myel.

p. 244

... ‘dancing jok’ is idho jok. Idho is the ordinary word for ‘climb’ and refers particularly to the shaking of the body when the medium is in a sitting posture. Hence the derivation of the word ja<idho (medium)." {The "angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" (Euangelion of Ioannes 1:51) went via climbing (B-Re>s^it 28:12).}

pp. 246-8 medium of dead chief




Alur chiefdom of Ukuru : "During the last four generations at least, and perhaps for much longer, ... the spirit of the previous chief has taken possession of a person who has thereby become his medium. {similarly likewise with the dead chiefs of the Sakalava tribe in northwestern Madagascar}


shrine dedicated to a dead chief of Ukuru : "On the wall by the door was chalked ... house of the Jok who is great indeed over all the land".


how the medium of the dead chief was elected : The dead chief’s "tipu (shadow, spirit), began to speak to him and he sent word to the reigning chief. Then ‘all sorts of things which had been lost were revealed’, -- especially odd belongings of" that dead chief."

pp. 249-50 woman medium of Jok Muswa


Jok Muswa


in Pacego (to the east of Ukuru) : "Jok Muswa, the special Jok of their chiefdom, continued to possess the principal wife of the chief in every generation. She is called ‘the wife of Jok’, and after Jok falls upon her, sexual relations between her and her husband must cease, nor can she ever leave him, or be divorced ... .

Jok Muswa has twin children. {But these must have originally been triplets instead of mere twins, for} Pots with two necks are usually prominent in the rituals of twins, but actually it is a pot with three necks which Jok Muswa has in his shrine. He has many other children too, some of whom


possess only women, but others men. Jok Muswa has leopard skins ..., which his medium (the chief’s wife) wears when she attends a Jok seance. He also had a twin-bladed spear."

pp. 250-1 medium of Jok Riba


Jok Riba


"On a high cliff above Lake Albert on the Congo side is the shrine of Jok Riba. ... Riba is dedicated to the force which is said to produce large shoals of dead fish, which float to surface towards the end of each year and make a rich haul for fishermen. {Fishes of many species die immediately after spawning, doing so in large shoals.} ... On the shore there is a slowly flowing spring of mineral oil. ... Before the coming of the Alur it was venerated by the Lendu. ... Chief Keno came from Ukuru and established himself among the Lendu at Riba. ... Keno took over the service of the spirit and the shrine, making the offerings of first fruits in eleusine ... and termites. ... Keno was eventually killed by the Lendu and according to tradition eaten by them. {eucharist} His son Ukelo remained in charge of Riba as Jalambila (priest). ...


The spirit of Riba first fell upon Ukelo’s brother Mukama, who thus became the first medium (ja<idho) of Riba ... . ... They even claim that Kiyabambi, the king of Bunyoro in Ukelo’s time, sent Riba a ritual billhook {cf. the sickle wielded by Kronos} and a cow with two tails as an offering. ...

As in the case of the state Jok of Pacego, Riba only catches the Ja<idho (medium) ... . But Riba has ‘children’ some of whom catch only men, some only women. ... Min Riba (the mother


of Riba) once possessed the wife of a Ja<idho. Won Riba (the father of Riba) ... is far away in Nyakole (i.e. Ankole). Min Riba’s village in Kaveta in Pongo, a part of Panyikoang<o behind Mahagi Port on Lake Albert. Riba himself gave all these names and information when he spoke through his medium, praising himself in the Alur style of giving the name and origin of his mother and father."

pp. 256-7 migration-myth

p. 256

"while the ancestors of Ukuru chiefs were migrating, ... carried with them is said to have been a pot with two necks, such as is used in the rituals of twins. ... Some would even believe that the umbilical cords of the twins were also in the pot. The rain stones of Ukuru chiefs are sometimes said to be derived from the bones of Ucak, the father of the twins."

p. 257

"While they were still at a place now called Kalowang>, the Jok went into an ant-hill in the hut of one of the chief’s wives ... . So the lineages of Pathedi and Paleu, who had taken turns to carry the Jok, were left behind to look after him at Kalowang>. ...

A little further up into the highlands the same thing happened again at a place now called Rateng.

But again the Ukuru Alur travelled on, till they reached their present country."

pp. 257, 260 Rabanga & Rubanga




"Among the Madi, Rabanga is the name both of their principal divinity and of the earth (Williams, 1949, 203).


"Miss Davis’ Dictionary (1938 ..., 147 ...) gives Rubanga as ‘The omucwezi of twins’. ... Beattie (1962, 2) ... refers to ‘the mbandwa spirit Rubanga, ... especially concerned with twin birth’."

{"in his native country of Bunyoro, Rubanga is a spirit responsible for the birth of twins. When he crosses the border into Acholi, he takes over hunchbacks and tuberculosis of the spine." ("IHG")}


"Rubanga ... began to walk everywhere, crossed the water (Lake Albert and the Albert Nile) and caught people {by spirit-possession} ... and when the diviners inquired into it they found that it was Rubanga, and also Udude, the wife of Rubanga."

Williams 1949= F. R. J. Williams : :The Pagan Religion of the Madi". UGANDA J 12(2):202.

Davis 1938 = M. B. Davis : A Lunyoro-Lunyakole ... Dictionary.

"IHG" = F.B. Welbourn : "The Idea of a High God in Three East African Societies". Institute of African Studies, University of Ife, 1964. http://people.ucalgary.ca/~nurelweb/papers/fred/highgod.html


p. 257 [in the same (Davis’s) dictionary :] /Ruhanga/ ‘God; skull’, name of a valley in Runyankore

{the myth of the living skull (i.e., skull-god) is known to (ID, p. 136) : the Yoruba, Efik, and Nupe (of Nigeria); the Tem (of Togo); the Swahili (of Tanganyika); the Yao (of Malawi); and the Lamba (of Zambia)}

ID = William Russell Bascom : Ifa divination: communication between gods and men in West Africa. IN U Pr, 1969. http://books.google.com/books?id=CS0h4Ye9puUC&pg=PA136&lpg=PA136&dq=skull+NUPE&source=bl&ots=c8GbaJ1NbE&sig=9vYJOIX_JT0-ogEipqd2gXBh428&hl=en&ei=6c5fTcrHKoKBlAfd-KCsDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CDgQ6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=skull%20NUPE&f=false

p. 264 sexual orgies

"Some diviners in charge of seances for Jok Rubanga are said to pair off the males and females who attend. {This is likewise the feature of a certain Eskimo caerimony.} This would be likely to add to the attraction for many ... . The existence of similar practices in the mbandwa cult of Bunyoro, Buha (Scherer, 1959, 890-2) and the Buswezi cult of Sukuma-Nyamwezi strengthens the link ... . Older Alur definitely regard the possession cults of Jok Memba and Jok Rubanga as a deviation ... from Bunyoro and Palwo".

Scherer 1959 = J. H. Scherer : "The Ha of Tanganyika". ANTHROPOS 54:841-904.

pp. 264-5 water-spirits

p. 264

"Alur sometimes refer to ... spirits of the streams as Jok Adraga. For ... Jok Adraga, a goat may be ... ‘Adraga with thick hair, Adraga of the river ... .’ Crazzolara (1960, 181) describes the Lugbara river spirit as ‘Having a large head and long hair’ ... . ...

p. 265

Middleton (1963, 97) gives Adro and Adrogua as Lugbara names of the water spirit. ... Adro is the very spirit which catches Lugbara adolescent girls ..., turning them into diviners through the process".

Crazzolara 1960 = J. P. Crazzolara : A Study of the Logbara (Ma>di) Language. Oxford U Pr.

Middleton 1963 = J. Middleton : "The Yakan or Allah Water Cult among the Lugbara". J OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE 93(1):80.


III.6. (pp. 273-89) R. E. S. Tanner : "The Theory and Practice of Sukuma Spirit-Mediumship". [south of Lake Victoria]

pp. 279-81 se’ance-consultations

p. 279

"The magician sits on a stool in the circle ..., wearing also a mass of stone and shell necklaces and bangles and a head-dress of coloured beads and holding in his hands rattles and a ceremonial fly-whisk. ...

p. 280

The rattles consist of gourds filled with small stones and sand and are shaken close to the head. ... Soon the magician hiccoughs a little and mutters to himself in a rising crescendo ... . ... Suddenly the magician ... starts to pronounce as his diagnosis what he had been told by the ancestor spirit while he was in his trance. ... Informants state that the language of this ... is Kinaturu, which is regarded as the tongue of the ancestors of all magicians, since they are all thought to have descended from the Naturu tribe. ...

p. 281

If the patient is possessed, the medium will question him ... in order to find out which ancestor is the cause of the trouble and why".

pp. 281-2 a consultation by a woman-patient

p. 281

"an old woman ... sat on a sheep-skin on the ground, sideways to the magician who was seated on a small stool; first of all he drew a line of chalk across her chest and back ... . He then whistled irregularly a few times to call up the spirits and then, having tapped the handles of his rattles together as another sign, started to rattle slowly, with an increasing tempo, holding the rattles on either side of her

p. 282

head. ... the magician repeatedly shouted at her, ‘Who are you, who are you?’ until at last she spoke in a restrained and inexpressive voice and ... said that she was an old woman who had been chased away from her home because of suspected witchcraft and had died of starvation in the forest. Another spate of rattling followed until the woman started to speak again and said that she wanted her great-grand-daughter to sleep in a round house (i.e. not one of modern design) and to wear a necklace of ostrich-shell beads."

p. 282 whistling & laughter

"The distinctive whistling used to call up the spirits is alleged to be answered ... by whistling, if the troublesome spirit is a man, and by laughter if it is a woman".

pp. 287-8 cult & ritual

p. 287

"Buchwezi ... cult ... in Usukuma ... is connected with Lake Victoria ..., and initiation involves walking backward into water. The rituals included the burying of protective medicines at crossroads ... .

Buchwezi ... rituals were long and complicated, as in the

p. 288

Buyeye snake charmers’ society (Cory, 1946)".

Cory 1946 = H. Cory : "The Buyeye, a Secret Society of Snake Charmers in Sukumaland". AFRICA, 16.


III.7. (pp. 290-306) F. B. Welbourn : "Spirit-Initiation in Ankole". [western Kenya]

p. 290 affinities if the cult

" ‘Emandwa Initiation in Ankole’ ... (Welbourn, 1965 ...). ... . ... the cult is sufficiently close to those described by Beattie ... and Cory (1955) to fall into the general class of spirit mediumship."

Welbourn, 1965 = F. B. Welbourn & Y. K. Bambunoba : "Emandwa Initiation in Ankole". UGANDA J, 29:13-25.

Cory 1955 = H. Cory : "The Buswezi". AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, 57:923-52.

p. 290 Ankole

"Ankole is an amalgamation ... of a number of Hima chiefdoms ..., each of which was divided into the ruling pastoral Hima and agricultural Iru. Material in this essay comes from an Iru community in the central chiefdom of Nkore ... . But, ... the two ethnic groups ... speak the same language and are ... organized in patrilineal ... clans. These observe the same totems, but use different eponymous names ... (cf. Taylor, 1962, 101 ff.)."

Taylor 1962 = B. K. Taylor : The Western Lacustrine Bantu. London : International African Institute.

p. 291 god Mungu

Mungu : "Unlike other spirits, he insists on being the sole possessor of his mediums. In origin his name is the Swahili form for the God of ... Muslims ... in his ‘jealous’ aspect".

pp. 290-2 Ruhanga & the Cwezi

p. 290

"Ruhanga (the Creator) is associated with the sun ... . Although ... his attention is called before a ritual for lower spirits, he is generally thought to be inactive. The king is said to be descended

p. 291

from a legendary Cwezi dynasty, common in one form or another to all the Hima chiefdoms, and themselves descend ultimately from Ruhanga. ... . ... the most important cult ... was the cult of the

p. 292

Cwezi spirits, of whom six are named (Kagoro, Kyomya, Mugasha, Murindwa, Ndahura and Wamara).

{The name /WAMARa/ is etymologically identical with the Irish name of the mythic people /FOMOR/.}


The legendary Cwezi dynasty was fair-skinned. It ruled for a short time and then mysteriously disappeared."

{The element /-EZI/ may be cognate with /-IGE/ in the Irish name of the god /rudraIGE/.}

{"In the Iru account, Ruhanga created a Woman and a Beast. To the former he gave gourds con­taining the seeds of all natural objects. When the two fell out, the Woman threw down one gourd after another to hinder the Beast. She thus brought into being mountains, sand, water, forests, food, beasts and finally men who fought the beast. The Woman became the cirrus and stratus clouds, while the Beast disappeared into the ground and became the author of death to crops, cattle and men." According to the emandwa, Ruhanga "inhabits the sun. ... He preserves peace" ("IHG").} {with the name of /RUhaNGa/, possibly cf. the name of /RONGo/, the Maori god of peace.}

secret society

p. 294 "Every initiate was entrust with "three spirits. ... As the spirits are called emandwa, so all initiates are themselves emandwa".

{"the ‘mediums’ -- people possessed by the ‘gods’ (balubale), through whom they give their oracles – are called in Luganda emandwa, which is ... the name for the superior class of spirits in Ruanda." (M&LB, p. 92)}

M&LB = Alice Werner : Myths and Legends of the Bantu. http://books.google.com/books?id=iB_KCcYyYPcC&pg=PA92&lpg=PA92&dq=

"Luc de Heusch (1966: 249, 298, 362) concluded that the Nyoro musegu, the Rundi ikishegu, the Rwandese, Ha and Ankole imandwa, the Luba mbudye, as well as the Nyamwezi and Sumbwa swezi are mediums of spirit cults that have their common root in the legendary Kitara empire of the fifteenth century." ("ChISP", p. 787)

"In a Sukuma-Nyamwezi version of the myth, the last Chwezi king transferred his cattle to his brother Ryangombe, who, after the invasion, founded a spirit cult within which rebels would regularly gather around the Erythrine tree, symbolizing both royalty and immortality (Bösch 1930: 202). Vansina (2004: 39, 220) describes ‘the cult of Ryangombe’ as consisting of territorial congregations that cross-cut the lineages and whose Chwezi ‘demi-gods’ could defeat the evil spirits of the lineage. The congregations were voluntary, egalitarian, with women playing a leading role. ... There were rumours of public coitus during initiation, a large dose of secrecy, obscene language, strong black magic, and stories of robbers who succumbed after finding the shishingo diadem, sign of Chwezi membership, in their loot. The cult retorts in travel songs echoing across the valley at dusk when members walk to an event. The lyrics reassure the public that the cult of Ryangombe is more benevolent than widely accepted dance groups such as Goyangi (snake-charmers) and Nunguli (porcupine-hunters) with their magical battles" ("ChISP", p. 788)

"Luc de Heusch 1966 = Heusch, L. de 1966. Le Rwanda et la civilisation interlacustre. Brussels: Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Bösch 1930 = Bösch, F. 1930. Les Banyamwezi, peuple de l’Afrique Orientale. Münster: Biblioteca Africana.

Vansina 2004 = Vansina, J. 2004. Antecedents to modern Rwanda: the Nyiginya kingdom. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

"ChISP" = Koen Stroeken : "A Chwezi Initiation into Spirit Possession". JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE (N.S.) 12 (2006):785-80. https://lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/123456789/158740/1/jrai_363.pdf [pdf]


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