Spirit Possession among the Kel Ewey Tuareg [Ai:r mts., north-eastern Niger]


spirit-possession etc.


musical instruments : "a drum constructed from this mortar by stretching a goat hide across the top; ...

the asakalabo (a calabash floating in a basin of water, beaten with a cloth-covered wooden stick)"


"Only women learn the possession-song texts. ... Many possessed women are or have been professional singers.


"Throughout the rite, the patient remains seated, facing ... the chorus on one side and the audience on the other. In her hand she grips a manís sword, holding it perpendicular throughout the dance. A female friend or close kinswoman covers her entire head and face with a black cloth ... . ... Occasionally, she indicates through non-verbal gestures that the spirit "prefers" one particular song to another. ... Kel Ewey interpret her dancing as the spirit dancing, and her exhaustion as the spirits leaving her body."


"the cure requires jokes and play. Rather than approaching the rite with reverence or solemnity, ... the Tuareg joke about the rite ... . They also flirt ... during the ritual, ... laughing among themselves."


"there exist two types of spirit : black or blue ones (cured by the drum ...), and red {cf. red H^ariji flag} ones (cured by marabouts). The former are like the "black monkeys on top of Mount Bagzan," who ... remain on the fringes of the wild."


"the women in trance performed the head dance (asul), seated all the while ... . ... It is customary for men to look for women after festivals of all kinds, including the possession rite, at night, after everyone has retired."


"Possession songs begin only after sunset ... . After sundown, the usual roles and relationships in Tuareg society are overturned : ... men and women, regardless of marital status, may flirt; and old women may dance. It is a time of courtship ..., a time when spirits and the devil are believed to be walking about."


women liked by males :-


like __ women

at __

immature men





In Gall


Camels of 2-tone color are likened to ostriches.


status of clans :-


in __ region

of __status

Kel Eghaser



Kel Nagarou

Auderas & Tewar



"the possessed are described as "mounts of the gods." The Kel Ewey say that spirits mount the possessed, using the Tamacheq term ewaren, which denotes


mounting a camel or horse. ... Throughout the joking and laughter, ... the possessed person displays behavior normally ... prohibited, for women. ... She also hold a manís sword perpendicular to the ground, upon which she leans as she dances, in order to "cut and separate spirits" Ė it is the metal ... that scares off spirits. ... Also in contrast to usual practice, female patients wear the black veil which is similar ... to the face-veil typically worn by men in everyday life."


"Courtship is highly formalized and ... usually takes place at night, and its central events ... are music. poetry, and conversation. The same term (eljimat) is used to refer to conversation both at the curing ceremony and during courtship. Eljimat consists of jokes and games, with emphasis on verbal wit ... . ... courtship often takes place immediately after the curing rite, in the privacy of a womanís tent. The suitor is expected to enter by surprise and awaken the woman".

158, n. 2:2

"In the courting situation, however, the suitor must be gone from the compound of the girlís mother by sunrise the next day, for if he is seen by her mother his act is defined as rape."


"the couple is allowed to use the nuptial tent only at night, and the groom disappears from his in-lawsí camp or household during the day." {cf. the Mo-suo " "walking marriages" (or "zou hun" in Chinese), so called because the men will walk to the house of their "partner" at night, but return to their own home in the morning." (DMM)}


"During possession, the woman wears ... a face-veil, made of ... iridescent indigo-dyed cloth. ... the womanís veil is termed ijewaren, and the menís tagelmust."


"a modern manís face-veil seen in towns (but never in the countryside) consists of transparent gauze setting. ... Before being veiled, the young man is called amawad; after the veiling, he is called amangad. ... As amangad, men can ... attend meetings, visit young women at night in their tents, and carry the sword. From the age of about forty onward, men shave their heads as a step in attaining a more respected status." "A young girl takes up the headscarf when she begins to be available to suitors."


"Men are supposed to cover their faces, cross their arms, and can neither eat nor drink when women are present after they have received the face-veil."


"The stomach (tedis) ... is ... where the spirits enter.

The liver (tessa) is where sentiments are located, and where spirits rest temporarily.

The head (eghef), the seat of intelligence, is also believed to be the eventual destination of spirits, who affect memory."


"Small boys of noble status sometimes wear a hairstyle called alegin, a tuft high on the back of the otherwise shaven head, which is said to enable the Prophet to lift the child up into heaven if he dies." {"a little tuft of hair that is allowed to grow from the top of the head of a child when all the rest of the scalp is shaven. This is a commendable precaution, and is almost universally taken in the interest of children, the scalp lock being necessary to snatch the child away from the devil and other evil spirits when it is in danger from those sources." (MI7)}


"Marabouts wind a white cloth around the head when diagnosing for spirit possession".


"The mouth (imi) is the major source of ... evil (as in awal, which means ... gossip, ... as "evil mouth"). The eye (shet) is also associated with evil (as in tehot, which means ... "evil eye")."


"A young woman ... was pregnant out of wedlock. Kel Ewey defined this instance as spirit affliction, ... and [she] was married by her relatives, against her will, to a man other than her lover. ... having a secret love was the usual cause of female possession".


"goumaten spirits" : "Tuareg do not believe that these spirits are in the music itself. Rather, people who harbor the spirits fall into trance when they hear music".


"the bowed lute ... used in spirit possession rituals" : "The music of the bowed lute or anzad ... is said to come from heaven ... . ... The anzad is constructed with a string of hair and a sounding box made of one-half of a gourd covered with a thin membrane of skin. Traditionally, it is the instrument of the nobility, and even today it is usually played by noble women. While playing the anzad, the musician rubs the string from time to time with the bow. The skins of these bowed lutes ... are covered with Tifinagh inscriptions signifying the name of the owner, or verses written by admirers."


"Today, the anzad is the principal instrument at evening gatherings called ahal. ... A traditional ahal will include unmarried young men and women, and divorced or widowed women".


"Many spirits are subterranean ...; for example, some spirits inhabit regions beneath sand dunes and are identified with smiths, working on tiny forges and playing tiny drums. The good and bad spirits are associated with temperature : the good with coolness and water, and the bad with heat and fire."


"types of songs" :

"(1) menís vocal music, sung solo a cappella or in duet ...;

(2) womenís vocal music, with a response chorus".


"Examples of titles ... of ... possession songs" :

"Bilawanin binna (Unripe dates ...); ...

Tessani (My liver);

Taraye tetrama (Route that leads west);

Ninechema imanin (Sentiments of my soul ...); ...

Atchalab tchalab and Dile dile (menís dance in which pairs of men approach a chorus of women, and another menís dance characterized by swaying to and fro of the legs).

The most popular and recurrent songs named for dance patterns were :

Tan daman (Something in my soul ...);

Talawankan (... branches of a tree, ... swaying ...);

Damisa (... leopard or tiger ...);

Idoudougan (... very rapid ...); and

Idoukal (Plains of in Gall, described metaphorically ... as the palm of a hand, alluding to a lover ...)."


"literate Kel Ewey transcribers ... viewed current possession music as incomplete or "degenerate," explaining that in the past, possession rituals were accompanied by the anzad."

DMM = http://www.hiddenchina.net/web/eng/beschreibung_mosuo_description.html

MI7 = Modern India, by William Eleroy Curtis, Part 7 out of 8 http://www.fullbooks.com/Modern-India7.html

pp. 102-103 tale




a man encountered successively :

"a stream of flowing oil"

"buttocks that were fighting"

"eyes that were fighting"


"The female spirit ... followed him. She was very tall, and


stretched from sky to earth. She walked like a sand devil."


that female spirit successively devoured the manís :





"She looked up into the tree, where the man had climbed up into its top. ... Then she tore off his penis, and changed it into an axe. ... And when the chameleon began to cut the tree, he said to it, "Return to what you were before." So the tree became as it was before. ... The tree had to be shortened in order for him to descend."

CAMBRIDGE STUDIES IN SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, 94 = Susan J. Rasmussen : Spirit Possession and Personhood among the Kel Ewey Tuareg. 1995.