Spirit-Possession ... in Africa


6. (pp. 81-8) Alexandra O. de Sousa : Possession among the Bijago` Islanders. [off the coast of Guinea-Bissau]

p. 81 geographical location

"The Bijago`s live in an archipelago composed of eighty-eight small islands and islets, situated ... off the Atlantic coast of Africa ... . Only twenty islands are inhabited."

p. 82 return to the Bijago` islands by souls of inhabitants who had died abroad

"The blacks from these islands ... think that if they die far away from their land they will return to it after death".

"Death is for a Bijago` no more than a short sleep. ... he is certain that he will be instantaneously ... in his country".

p. 83 the 4 mythic progenitrices

"The Bijago`s descend by maternal path from four sisters :

Oraga, Ogubane, Orakuma and Ominka. (Duquette 1983:261)"

{"a man arrived with his wife Akapakama. They had four daughters: Orakuma, Ominka, Ogubane and Orage.

Then came the animals and plants.

Each of the daughters had several children who, in turn, received a special duty of her grandfather:

Orakuma, got the land and made the first statue of Iran in the image of God.

She was responsible for ceremonies held in the land. He also gave his sisters the right to do the ceremonies in balobas (shrines).

Ominka received the sea and their descendants have sought for fisheries.

Orage, given the nature with bolanhas and palm trees that made it rich.

Ogubane, received power from rain, wind and controlling the time of rain." ("AC")}

Duquette 1983 = Danielle Duquette : Dynamique de l’art Bidjogo. Lisboa.

"AC" = http://www.guine-bissau.fi/arte_cultura/1.html

p. 84-5 categories of females; are they self-soulful?

p. 84

"Women have only two age classes that are determined according to maternity : kampuni, before, and okanto (literally woman) after the first pregnancy." {Is every female soul considered automatically saved regardless of whether she should every achieve maternity or not?}

p. 85

"When I asked the villagers whether women had souls or not, my informants looked stupified and went into deep reflection, finally to conclude that they did not know. The question just does not make sense." {The authoress’s quaestion may have been whether the women have an innate orebok (which is defined as a male’s initiation-soul). The quaestion of whether females have (additionally to their own female soul) any innate male soul, would be a puzzling one to most non-philosophers almost anywhere; Jungian psychoanalysts could reply that everyone (whether male or female) hath both a male and a female soul (animus and anima), a Roman hypothesis of likely Etruscan provenience. What would render this quaestion particularly perplexing in Bijago` culture would be the acceptance there that women do not require their own female souls to be perfected by any process separate from their interaction with male souls. But a quaestion more readily answerable for them could be about the vicissitudes of a female’s consciousness after her own death; an answer to this could be more indicative.}

p. 85 the nature of orebok

"Orebok covers three main categories :

the women undergoing initiation, possessed by a dead uninitiated man;

the anthropomorphic statues of the village’s main god ...;

the spirit that inhabits the body and that escapes at death of join the ‘orebok’s land’ (anorebok ...)".

"Some big trees, like the kapok trees (Cebia guineensis), also have orebok." {In many African tribes (such as the Yoruba), the kapok tree is believed to be the abode of a deity.}

p. 84 redincarnation of souls of the dead

"As they initiate the young deceased men, the defunct-women ... re-integrate them into the continuous circuit between life and death."

{"Bijagó believes in reincarnation. For bijagós is possible for an individual dies and his soul or spirit (cayaio) back to life. But such returns depend on the degree of kinship with the family in which the return occurs, because the soul of the dead may rise again shortly or long after the death of a child by the same family, another tabanca (village) or a another island. How to identify who came back to life? The children themselves, before they can speak fluently, begins to narrate his origins, his mother's name, specifying among the women of the father, if he is a polygamist, and the name of the village to which he belongs." (I-RLCC, cap. II)}

I-RLCC = João José Utiron : Inter-Relações Entre Linguagem, Cognição E Cultura : Os Acordos Interpessoais Em Bijagó. U de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, 2004. http://www.letras.ufmg.br/bay/sites/territorios/utiron2.htm

pp. 84-7 salvation, by means of women, of souls of men who died during the process of initiation {similar to Chinese post-mortem marriage of unmarried dead person to a live person}


salvation of males’ soul


"The native explanation for spirit possession is that men cannot reach their ancestor’s land, an-orebok ..., before they have completed their initiation. Thus, male initiation has to be performed regardless, if not by the young man himself, as in the case of premature death, then by a young woman who will carry his spirit in her."


"In one island the defunct women are called canoes, suggesting their role as orebok’s conveyers. Here, when the beat of drums warms up, the possessed women dance like rowers and sing ..., to which the public enthusiastically answers in chorus ‘the canoe is heavy’ ... . ... the party continues through the night".


"Bijago`s possession is a posthumous male initiation. ... For each village, or group of villages, there is a place set aside for the initiation of men, and another for women. ... The women sleep at the defunct’s temple, and the men at the granaries."


"The impossibility of carrying a foetus and a defunct being at the same time, ... makes it easy to understand ... one of the reasons why ... uninitiated pregnant girls were banished from their villages".

pp. 86-8 orase-priests & their intervention on female initiation-rites




"male priests, called orase (bijago`) ... are said to have been kidnapped by the defuncts and taken to their secret initiation site. Once there, they cannot refuse the role of a defunct’s priest. ...


As members of men’s groups and defunct’s advisers, the orase priests serve as ambassadors at women’s councils."

88, n. 2

"Each woman has her own dead man to be initiated. The choice of her defunto [Portuguese] is made by the priestess (Okinka) and the defunto-priest (Orase). It happens in the forest, when the girl is possessed for the first time. The defunct man that possesses her will talk or dance in such a way that he’ll be recognized and individually identified by the priests. At his point he will receive his initiation name. ... The spirit of a dead man possesses only one woman, but if she dies before accomplishing his initiation, his spirit will stay in the forest to be taken by another girl. ...

The male death rate is not high enough to allow each woman to have one dead man’s soul. At the initiation moment, ... one way to circumvent this deficiency is to recuperate the souls released upon an adult woman’s death." {Because the number of female being initiated would greatly exceed the number of adult males who died in the process of being initiated, the same defunct males’ souls must be repeatedly redutilized, being redinitiated repeatedly in by incoming batch of females being initiated. If there is a waiting period until the death of a current woman-carrier of that man’s soul, them the same defunct male’s soul could not be redutilized until some decades (usually at least 2 generations) later – in the case of a dearth of such male souls, the same individual ones may be being recycled for centuries.}

p. 87, n. 1 mimicking of [female] animals by possessed-women and by women-initiates

"At her first public appearance as defunto, the young girl wears goat leather shorts and dances frenetically miming a crazy goat that makes everybody laugh."

{cf. goat-goddess Heidru`n’s causing the goddess Skadi to laugh, when (according to the Edda) "let himself fall backward straight into Skade's lap" ("N&GM" 3.7). (This was Loki’s atonement for having snatched Si`f bald-headed, wherefor wept the veiled Isis --"V&G".)}

{The meath flowing from the udders of Heidru`n ("HM") can be compared to the honey wherein drowned Pasiphae’s son Glaukos, in the subsequence seeking for whom was involved (under advice of the honeyed Kouretes) a tricolor cow (according to A:B 3:18 – "D&K").}

Later on, the defuntos carry over their heads a miniature of the ... cow-mask (... esene, b). They mimic wild cows ... . Finally, as they become ‘adults’, they put on ... a wooden-carved imitation."

{"Pasiphae . ... to Eupalamos' son Daidalos, most skilled of carpenters, she told her unspeakable sickness [the lust for a bull]; she made him swear a binding oath and ordered him to build a wooden cow" (Bakkhulides, Frag. 26 – "P"). Here, the secrecy under oath would parallel that of a ritual initiation.}

"N&GM" = "Norse and Germanic Mythology in The Wheel of Time" http://hem.passagen.se/kjnoren/jordan/norse.html

"V&G" = "The Vanir and the Gods/Goddesses of the Northern Tradition from a Pan-European Perspective" http://www.thorshof.org/wain5.htm

"HM" = "Honey In Mythologies" http://www.honey-health.com/honey-53.shtml

A:B = Apollodorus : Bibliotheke.

"D&K" = http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Kouretes.html

"P"= http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Pasiphae.html


8. (pp. 111-23) Tobias Wendl : Tchamba Cult among the Mina in Togo.

p. 111 instances from other tribes of slave-spirits {spirit-possession by slave-spirits is also common in Umbanda}

"spirits that represent slaves or descend directly from dead slaves" : "examples are

the Abid spirits within the zar cult of northern Sudan (Boddy 1989) or

the Gandyibi spirits within the holey cult of the Nigerois Fulbe (Vidal 1990) and Songhay (Rouch 1989)."

Boddy 1989 = Janice Boddy : Wombs and Alien Spirits. Madison : U of WI Pr.

Vidal 1990 = Laurent Vidal : Ritueles de possession dans le Sahel. Paris : L’Harmattan.

Rouch 1989 = Jean Rouch : La religion et la magie Songhay. Bru:ssel.

p. 115 categories of spirits


are the __ spirits













p. 122, n. 6 For the word /c^amba/, "The spelling varies : tchamba, tsamba, tsaba, tsemba, and tseba."

p. 115 vengeful spirits of animals

"a parallel may be drawn to the spirits of certain animals killed in the hunt. Herrmann Baumann (1950) emphasized the transafrican dimension of this religious pattern of ideas and practices, and to describe it, ... the expression ‘Nyama – the power of revenge’. Mina hunters too, build up special shrines, called adee, to protect themselves from the vengeful spirits of certain animals they have killed. In these shrines they keep and venerate the animals’ bones, in particular their lower jaws." {The Andaman islanders likewise keep and venerate mandibles.}

Baumann 1950 = Herrmann Baumann : "Nyama, die Rachemacht". PAIDEUMA 4.

pp. 116-7 shrines to C^amba-spirits




"If today someone learn – when consulting a diviner for example – that a Tchamba spirit may be with him, he will try to start honouring this spirit by erecting a shrine.

First, he will get two iron bracelets, made of twirled red- and yellow-painted iron wire, flattened at both ends. These bracelets serve as a metonymy for the slaves’ iron chains; they refer to the condition of being chained.

The next item to be added is a wooden stool, which ... refers to the fact that slaves formerly used to carry the stools for their masters; ... the stool as a symbols refers to the slave’s role as a stool carrier.

Third, cowrie shells are added, ... on strings in rows. Cowrie shells were the currency of the slave trade."

"Further items and objects referring to the slaves’ ... home in the northern savanna include : teapots, ... long clothes, fez-like and turban-like headgear".


"By offering the spirits their favourite dishes and other ... comforts related to their northern culture, ... the spirits find a home and peace."

"the peoples in the northern savanna decorate their faces with numerous small vertical and horizontal scars. ... Tchamba murals, which sometimes decorate the shrine’s exterior, often depict these marks in a very realistic style."

p. 117 spirit-possession performance by C^amba-spirits

"And if somebody is seized by Tchamba during the possession ritual, his face is usually painted by the cult assistants with similar chalk marks. ... They wear long flowing robes, fez-like headgear, Mossi and Fulbe hats ... . And they chatter in a language that is supposed to be a language of the north. Some Tchamba dancers walk as if their feet were chained. Others balance a teapot filled with water on their heads".

p. 117 "In the zar-possession rituals in northern Sudan, the slave spirits usually wear black clothes that are very old ... . ... (Boddy 1989:297f). In the holey-possession rituals among the Nigerois Fulbe on the right bank of the Niger River, the slave spirits beg the noble spirits for alms. ... (Vidal 1990:270)"

p. 121 spirit-possession by Toxosu-spirits

"The Toxosu, which represent the spirits of deformed children that used to be drowned in swamps and rivers outside the villages, ... too, sue for the right to be remembered by taking possession of people until they are honoured with shrines".


9. (pp. 124-41) Ute Luig : Spirit-Possession in the Gwembe Valley, Zambia. [Tonga]

p. 126 basangu spirit-media

"the basangu ... are accepted as the spirits’ voice when they are in trance but neither before nor after the seance are they given special respect or shown deference."

p. 127-8 abodes of basangu-spirits

p. 127

"The basangu as spirits are beings of the bush ... who ... live in big trees or in rocks outside the villages."

p. 128

"Among the Tonga, the baobab trees especially are associated with the basangu spirits who dwell in them."

p. 129 masabe-spirits in spirit-possession

"Masabe spirits afflict a person with illness in order to make their wishes known and disclose their identity either in dreams or through divination by a masabe healer. The spirits want to be recognized as partners in a relationship which changes from subjugation to mutual reciprocity".

p. 135 the one-sided god

{[Tonga] Mweendajangule}

{[Yoruba] Oko}

"exceptional ... is mweendajangule who has only one arm, one leg and one eye. He was already mentioned by Jacottet in 1899 as a mythical figure among the Subiya ... .

{"O`ri`s.a`-Oko, also known as Ajangele." (ODWR, p. 114)}

At present, mweendajangule is ... closely associated ... with the mountains, where he lures people

{Oris,a Oko "took up his residence in a cave" (YL, p. 12), whereto persons were taken to be slain (YL, p. 13).}

after sundown. ... .

{"Orisha Oko is man by day and Death by night." ("TOOO")}

His power makes him exceedingly dangerous which is acknowledged by assigning him the colour red ... .

{Orisha ko’s gourd-rattle "is painted in dark red and white longitudinal stripes." (DG 6:5, p. 90)}

... his medical knowledge of plants – symbolized in

{"Orisha Oko ... has the power to ... restore people to health using herbal medicines ... .

the hoe for planting – is eagerly sought after. ...

Blacksmiths of Irawo, forge his staff emblem from iron hoes" ("Sh").}

The role of mweendajangule ... gives him power ... over the reproduction of the community."

{"Orisha Oko" : "Sterile women turn to him for help."(DG 5:17, p. 60)}

Jacottet 1899 = E. Jacottet : E’tudes sur les langues du Haut-Zambe`ze. Paris : Textes Soubiya.

ODWR = Jacob Kẹhinde Olupona & Terry Rey : Òrìşà Devotion as World Religion. U of WI Pr, 2008. http://books.google.com/books?id=bZD-1kObnMQC&pg=PA109&lpg=PA109&dq=

YL = M. I. Ogumefu : Yoruba Legends. London, 1929. http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/yl/yl11.htm

"TOOO" = "Transition of Obatala to Orisa Oko" http://olu.spruz.com/member/?g=86F75369-348C-486F-9801-766E222B97D6&act=86F75369-348C-486F-9801-766E222B97D6-view&id=81C39BDF-4DB3-4F3C-BFDB-9025DB231C53

"Sh" = http://africa.si.edu/collections/view/objects/asitem/2884/55/title-asc;jsessionid=E54566B69672FBA2C955567E43F0FFDD?t:state:flow=48ceecc3-e486-41bd-ae66-7d5775945e9d

DG = Luis M. Nu`n~ez : Drumming The Gods. http://furius.ca/santeriadb/documents/drummingthegods-1.0.pdf


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