Spirit-Possession ... in Africa







The ‘European’ Bori Spirits

Matthias Krings



The Nya Cult in Mali

Jean-Paul Colleyn



Possession among Bijago`s Islanders

Alexandra de Sousa



C^amba Cult among the Mina

Tobias Wendl



Spirit-Possession in Gwembe

Ute Luig



4. (pp. 53-67) Matthias Krings : On History & Language of the ‘European’ Bori Spirits of Kano. [the Hausa in northern Nigeria]

p. 54 satirical mockery of European soldiers in spirit-possession ritual

"The Turawa spirits (sg. Bature) are also frequently referred to as >yan Babule ... or >yan Mushe ... . Babule ... is usually translated as ‘spirit of the fire’. ... >Yan Mushe could be merely translated as ‘followers (lit. children) of Mushe’, where Mushe could stand for ‘Europeanness’. [p. 65, n. 3 : J. Broustra-Monfouga writing on bori in Birnin Konni/Niger mentions a ‘European’ spirit named Jan mouche the name of whom is translated as ‘Monsieur rouge’ [‘Mr. red’] (1973:204)."] ... At publicly held bori dances

Komanda mugu (the wicked commander),

Kafaran Salma,

Kafaran gadi (corporal),

Mai yak>i (lit. owner of war), ...

under the leadership of Gwamnan bataliya (governor of the batallion {battalion}) transform the dance ground into a military drill ground. ... Most of the Turawa spirits wear military-style uniforms red in colour {Redcoats} ... . ... The paraphernalia of the Turawa consists of sunglasses, thunderer whistles, whips, toy guns ... . At public bori dances the performance of a ‘European’ spirit usually ended with ... invulnerability to fire. Thus the spirit would ... wash ... his body ... with kerosene, in order to strike his body with a burning torch."

Broustra-Monfouga 1973 = Jacqueline Broustra-Monfouga : "Le bori de Konni (Niger)". J DE LA SOCIE’TE’ DES AFRICANISTES 43:197-220.

p. 55 idioms of the Turawa spirits

"The Hausa spoken by Buzaye spirits (Tuareg serfs) resembles in intonation and phonology some of the northern dialects of Hausa, which are spoken in areas where the Tuareg live. Furthermore, it contains some phrases, which bori adepts identify as Tamashaq, the language spoken by Tuareg.

Fulani spirit speak Hausa with a large amount of Fulfulde vocabulary. Their pronunciation of Hausa is similar to that of Fulfuldemother-tongue speakers who speak Hausa as a second language.

Hausa used by Gwarawa spirits, ‘pagan’ spirits who are said to come from the Middle-Belt region of Nigeria, is characterized by the alteration of certain consonantal phonemes".

pp. 57-8 evocations in oaths




"when Turawa spirits make an oath, they evoke their mother, the sun or a certain mythical rock :


... I swear by my mother; ... I swear by the rock of Takwarkwashi.


By using such oaths, Turawa spirits emphasize the fact that they are not of the Islamic faith."

p. 59 Hauka spirits

"new spirits emerged ... : ...

Kafaran Salma – possessing the name of the first district commissioner of Niamey, ...

Kafaran kot – Corporal of the coast, and

Lokotoro the doctor".

pp. 60-1 Turawa spirits




"with Hausa peaking Maguzawa (‘pagans’) of Katsina province ... the Turawa spirits ...


Mai yak>i, Soja and Gwabna (who are reported to speak English) are also to be found. Altogether seven of these spirits are ... popular in the Kano bori" (Reuke 1969:123).

Reuke 1969 = Ludger Reuke : Die Maguzawa in Nordnigeria. Bielefeld : Berterlsmann.

p. 62 bori-spirits at Jangare; bori blacksmith-spirit; intermarriage of Turawa spirits with Gwarawa spirits

The bori "spirits are said to live in the mythical city called Jangare. ... Head of the house of the blacksmiths is the spirit Batoyi (‘The one who sets fire on purpose’), who ... became the classificatory father of the ‘European’ spirits and is therefore also called uban Turawa (father of the Europeans). His daughter Ladi mayya (Ladi the witch) is frequently referred to by the Turawa spirits as their classificatory mother. Turawa spirits are ... arna ... (‘pagans’ ...). ... Gwarawa spirits who are also called arna ... are characterized by their eating of dog meat and their breaking of the incest taboo. ...

Five sisters of Sarkin Gwari (head of the Gwarawa spirits) married ‘European’ spirits and are living in the house of the Turawa spirits."

pp. 62-3 Halima & her affines




Through the female spirit Halima the Turawa spirits are related to the house of the Buzaye spirits (Tuareg serfs) from whom Halima descends. The marriage of Halima ... obliges the Turawa to pat respect to their classificatory parents in law : the group of the Buzaye spirits."

"Halima is characterized in her praise song as follows : ...


they gave her donkey meat and said it was goat meat."

" ‘She is reported to entertain men (for a price) when her husband is away fighting and has organized this into a business of which she is the "Madam".’ (Besmer 1983:108)."

Besmer 1983 = Fremont E. Besmer : Horses, Musicians and Gods. South Hadley (MA) : Bergin & Garvey.

p. 63 myth of Sarkin-Rafi

"In their search for Halima the ‘European’ spirits

{an army of monkey-folk sought the heroine Sita}

met Sarkin rafi, who told them that his brother >Dan galadima had abducted Halima.

{they were told that Ravana had abducted Sita.}

Because Sarkin rafi knew the place where his brother had brought Halima he agreed to help them.

{Ravana’s brother Vibhis.ana assisted to recover Sita.}

When they finally found her, she was standing on the opposite bank of a river. Sarkin rafi crossed the river and brought back to the Turawa who were waiting for them at the bank of the river. Since that time Sarkin rafi ... escorts the Turawa spirits ... and assists them in crossing the water." [p. 66, n. 31 : "Sarkin rafi (chief of the stream) is related to ... farming on irrigated plots, also called ‘rafi’."]

p. 63 myth of Bak>ar-Doguwa

"Halima’s youngest son Small boy is the youngest among the ... spirits. ... One day the female Fulani spirit Bak>ar doguwa kidnapped Small boy because she liked him. Kafaran and Komanda mugu searched for him, and when they found Small boy together with Bak>ar doguwa, Kafaran started to wrestle with her while Komanda mugu took the child. {Peleus started to wrestle with the heroine Atalante (A:L 3:9:2).} While they were wrestling Bak>ar doguwa broke the lower right leg of Kafaran. {Atalante defeated (loc. cit.) Peleus in that wrestling-match at the funebrial games for Pelias; though according to another account (GM 155.i) Peleus won.} {Cf. the stretch-straining, by the angel, of the thigh-muscle (B-Re>s^it 32:25) of Ya<qob nigh the Yabboq -- which river Yabboq is comparable with water-spring released (GM 80.c) for Atalante at Kyphante by Artemis. (Apparently, Pelias = <es`aw of B-Re>s^it 32:3-19, 33:1-16.)} That is why Kafaran has to balance his weight on his left leg, whenever he takes possession of one of his mediums."

Apollodoros : Bibliotheke (‘Library’). Transl. by Robin Hard (Oxford U Pr, 1997), p. 116. http://books.google.com/books?id=gZ6uuHEBE2wC&pg=PA116&lpg=PA116&dq=Atalante+wrestled&source=bl&ots=Z2ZLqEWRRQ&sig=FGqgyWMOEDMrnG9xBRqjqSjrtK0&hl=en&ei=a6ttTbLpHomCtgeUl9TcBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=Atalante%20wrestled&f=false

{The name /yaBBOQ/ is cognate with Strong’s 1228 /BAQBUQ/ ‘bottle’ : perhaps indicating the opportunity for catching a jinn into a bottle while wresting one. [/Jinn/ is ‘gardener’, Strong’s 1594 /ginnah/ ‘garden’ : cf. the irrigated field (rafi).] Imprisoning a jinn in a bottle is very Taoist.}

pp. 63-4 myths of >Dan-Mama & of Mai-Gizo

p. 63

">Dan mama started to work as a cook in the barracks of the Turawa spirits. The Turawa gave him biscuits and eggs and he became used to the ‘European’ way of living to such an extent that he adopted it."

p. 64

"Mai gizo who is of Fulani descent is said to have adopted the way of living of his friend Sarkin arna (chief of the ‘pagans’) in such a way that he is now ... womanizing and has moved from the house of the Fulani spirits to that of the Maguzawa (‘pagan’) spirits."


5. (pp. 68-78) Jean-Paul Colleyn : The Possessed Men of the Nya Cult in Mali.

pp. 68-71 mi-Nya-nka spirit-possession cult




"the Nya cult ... in Mali, amongst people classified in colonial literature as ‘Minyanka’, but who now called themselves ‘Myanka’ ". {/MYANKA/ is an abbreviated form of /MinYANKA/.}

These M[in]yanka are situated "in an area corresponding roughly to the Segu administrative region in the couth of the Bani


river and in the Sikasso region in the north of the Banifing. ... Two main languages are spoken in this area,

a Mande language, bamana (noted as b) and

a northern Senufo one, myanka-mamara (noted as m)."


"Among ... deities, one distinguishes [between, on the one hand]

those who express themselves verbally [and thus need not be interpreted;] and

[on the other hand,] those who have to be interpreted by mechanical divination." {This distinction is somewhat artificial, since even the "mechanical divination" would be believed to be a process assisted by the deities, who would be thought of as imparting the meaning into the mind of the diviner who is piously holding or manipulating the divining-instruments, as a passive receptor. A better (not quite tautologous) distinction might be between, on the one hand, the audience’s independence in interpreting the oracle’s (usually quite aenigmatic) pronouncements; and, on the other hand, the audience’s more direct dependency on the diviner’s (rather more usually compraehensible) declarations.} The first are said to ‘take a mouth’ (b : da mine`, m : nyu co) through incarnation into a masked dancer or a possessed person. {With such "mask" cf., e.g., the veil briefly donned by the Vietnamese female spirit-medium on each occasion wherein she is possessed by a different spirit (such spirits arriving incarnationally in rapid succession).} In consequence, among tens of deities, only a few ‘take’ human beings into trance and possession. The most well known are Nya (or Wara) and Nankon ... . Possession is thus a particular form, among others, of communication with the divine world. In possession cults, accredited men are invaded by a deity and speak in her or his name. ... People congregate at the shrine to consult Nya (through its human mount) for advice on matters of domestic life and diagnoses after repeated misfortunes."


"Twice a year, a ceremony stages a raid of Nya into the bush, from where all kinds of knowledge come. In the turmoil ... of a band of musicians, a procession takes form around the two or three accredited possessed men. Once of them opens the sanctuary and carries the three bags containing the sacred altars, in


order to ‘go into the bush’. The destination is actually a special permanent enclosure called Nya’s wood (Nya-tu) ... . ... At Nya’s wood, while the possessed persons are ‘set free’ by Nya, the altars are taken from the bags and placed in large pots. ... In the evening, the musicians go back to their instruments and start to sing Nya’s praises while the deity mounts his or her ‘horses’ again ‘to go home and take a rest’. {Are the souls of the possessed media what ‘go home and take a rest’ whilst the deities are working in the same media’s bodies?} In the weak light of a straw fire, at the door of the sanctuary, with his hands resting on the altar bags, the specially accreditated possessed man called Nya’s mouth (Nya da) or messenger (m : tutumo), pronounces the oracles, foretells, gives advice, ... answers the supplications and mediates in the conflicts between villagers. ...

‘The ways of Nya are threefold’ ... :

one is the owner of the altars,

another is the possessed person and

the third is the smith, who is often the witness (sere) of the possessed man.

Of great importance are also the singers (ce`le`) without whom Nya would never receive enough ‘heat to warm up’ the possessed man. ...

The owner of the altars is the chief of the cult (b : Nya-tigi, m. : Nya-folo),

the medium incarnates periodically the deity,

the smith, as witness repeats his words, mediates in case of conflict ... .


Elsewhere in Africa, possession cults belong very often to rituals of rebellion {rebellion against the Christian oppressor} :

the possessed transgresses {transgresseth Christian customs},

blasphemes {against Christianity},

mocks {mocking Christians clergy},

adopts obscene behaviour {in order to shame hypocritical Christians}.

Here, this function is not performed by the possessed man, but by ritual buffoons (kordubala) {ritual clowns being also known in Polynesia, etc.} who have a ... joking relationship with everybody. ...

The seances


perform a ritual communication act between the world of living people and those who have departed to the ‘village of the dead’."

p. 72 other pagan religious cults, elsewhere in Mali

"The vast majority of possession cults ... concern women ... who exert mystical pressures on men by means of peripheral cults ... . This scheme is also true in Western Mali for the Jine-don studied by Gibbal or

{"In Western Mali Jine don is a possession cult with therapeutic aims. The jinetigi recruit as new members people exhibiting the ‘sign of the genii’, that is psychosomatic troubles due to a supposed aggression of the cult genii." (CEA 94, XXIV-2, 1984, pp. 267-8)}

the cults curing jine-bana (the sickness of the spirit) in Beledugu."

{"the mysterious malady ... jine`-bana, genie-sickness, or kungo-bana, bush-sickness."

Kungo-bana is associated with the god Ko`nto`ro`n, "the archetypal hunter" who has "conquered all types of will animals" while he "remained chaste" ("EOSWA", p. 280) (cf. Sumerian Enkidu); and with "a kind of wood called kolokolo which is a mild psychic stimulant." ("EOSWA", p. 283)}

CEA = CAHIERS D’ E’TUDES AFRICAINES http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/cea_0008-0055_1984_num_24_94_2222

"EOSWA" = : "Tord Olsson". "Experiences of Orature in Sahelian West Africa". In : - Anders Pettersson (ed.) : Notions of Literature across Times and Cultures = LITERARY HISTORY: TOWARDS A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE, Vol. 1. Walter de Gruyter, 2006. pp. http://books.google.com/books?id=2muIgoqGR1kC&pg=PA280&lpg=PA280&dq=%22jine+bana%22&source=bl&ots=oF_nSCGYMV&sig=5GfB5WnhLIBX2m_3e9YN-jwrHMI&hl=en&ei=voduTeuMOJC6tgfP9-TtDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22jine%20bana%22&f=false

pp. 72-3 dreamer-chiefs & caerimonies honoring them (performed by spirit-media)




"The chief is in relation with Nya by way of dreams ... . ...


After their death, Nya chiefs are reputed to remain powerful ..., keeping close contact with Nya. ... A parcel of their bodies in incorporated in the altars and ... incantations are supposed to ‘wake up’, to ‘excite’, or to ‘warm Nya up’. During the ceremony, when the possessed men go through the first gate of the village, they walk backwards, because they are in the world of the dead where all is reversed and where they are in contact with the ancestors. ... If Nya rises at midnight – that is to say, possesses someone – he or she will go to the cemetery in order ‘to listen to the ancestors ...’."

pp. 69, 73 boliw

p. 69

"The supreme and unforgotten creator, called ... Ngala or Kle` by the animists, is responsible for good and evil. ... These matters are ... for a multitude of intermediary mystical powers without hierarchical structure, ... ‘deities’ ..., because people ask them for life, health, ... and wealth. {"life, health, wealth" is a conventional Kemetic blessing} ... The cults dedicated to them are focused on sacred objects called boliw (b) or yaperle (m), each of which corresponds to a secret knowledge."

p. 73

"Possession cults as well as mask cults (like Komo, Kono, Namakoro and Tyi-wara) always require taking care of sacred boliw. These objects, fabricated in utmost secrecy by bringing together parts of mineral, animal and vegetal worlds {much like wanga-bags in Zaire, etc.} are said to be charged with formidable specialized powers that they keep only if they are ‘nourished’ " {much as charms must be ‘dressed’ with holy oils in Hudu/Vodun}] {with /BOLIW/ cf. the name of the /BOLEWa/ tribe in ("LP") Tchad & Nigeria – northeastern Nigeria ("SVNN") – speakers of the C^adic Bole language ("E:N"; "BL")}

"LP" = http://societies.africamuseum.be/en/tp_ethnie?key=xhlxyqxc&letter=B

"SVNN" = http://www.soundsoftheuniverse.com/releases/?id=14822

"E:N" = http://www.christusrex.org/www3/ethno/Nigr.html

"BL" = http://ll03.nla.gov.au/ss/show/Bole%20language

pp. 74-5 music & drug in spirit-possession cult

p. 74

"A spirit possession crisis lasts about two hours ... . Generally, the possessed person goes into a trance when hearing the music, the songs, or the praise of Nya. To refer to Nya in front of an entitled possessed man is otherwise considered improper. ...

A band is composed of

two harp-lutes (ngoni),

one big gong (kenke),

one pressure drum (tanga) and

one iron scraper (kara).

Three singers shake rattles.

The ngoni contain a secret object, belonging to the category of boliw, which is reputed to induce possession."

p. 75

"an hallucinogenic plant (datura) – contributes to induce the trance ... for young possessed men."

p. 75 vocation into mediumhood as a wild steed’s becoming ‘broken-in’

"A possessed man can never pretend to control the deity : he is captured and dominated. ... Nya, when incarnated in its human host, is said ‘to ride its horse’. A horse which has to be broken in : to become a ‘saddle horse’ ... . Particularly for young possessed men, trance is often an ordeal : Nya is said to torture its horse."

p. 77 double-vision by hunting-spirit

" ‘As the turtledove on the wall of the courtyard that looks inside and outside’, Nya sees at the same time the world of the living creatures and that of the dead ... . When the possessed carries the three bags containing the altars, he sees ... . ... Suddenly, he runs quickly after a malevolent altar ... . Sometimes he even finds one in a tree or under leaves on the ground."


Heike Behrend & Ute Luig (edd.) : Spirit Possession, Modernity, & Power in Africa. U of WI Pr, Madison, 1999.