The Spirits and Their Cousins [a Hausa village (pseudonym supplied, on p. 48, n. 1) in Niger]






Spirit Belief



Rituals of Divination and Healing



Rituals of Spirit-Possession



An Analysis of Rituals and Beliefs


p. 49, n. 4 terminology for practitioners of indigenous religion




elsewhere in Hausaland



in this particular village



p. 49, n. 5 superiority of indigenous goddess over Muslim god : cosmogonic tale

"The old woman (Tsofuwa) told him to sweep here and there, and Allah did it. This had the effect of clearing away the smoke and differentiating land from water and earth from sky. And gradually Allah kept sweeping higher and higher into the sky. He’s never been close since." {Perhaps the earlier form of this myth had (in place of >al-lah) an indigenous god.}


II. (pp. 10-23)

p. 11 literature on spirit-possession in the Sahel

"Tremearne’s early study (1914) is encyclopedic in the detail it provides on Hausa spirits ... in Hausaphone areas of Nigeria and Tunisia."

"More recently Jacqueline Nicolas (1967) analyzed ... spirit belief and spirit possession in Madari, Re’publique du Niger. She found that virtually all the members of the spirit possession "cult" were women and most were prostitutes."

"Michael Onwuejeogwu in his review essay (1969) of the bori (spirit) cults examines ... the ethnographic literature for the Nigerian Hausa and ... speculates that they represent vestiges of the Habe religion ... . Like Nicolas, Onwuejeogwu finds that the bori cult members are predominantly female : either prostitutes or divorce’es."

Tremearne 1914 = A. J. N. Tremearne : The Ban of the Bori. London : Cass.

Nicolas 1967 = Jacqueline Nicolas : Les Juments des Dieux : Rites de possession ... en pays Hausa. ETUDES NIGERIENNES, No. 21. Niamey.

Onwuejeogwu 1969 = Michael Onwuejeogwu : "The Cult of the Bori Spirits among the Hausa". In :- Mary Douglas & Phyllis Kaberry (editrices) : Man in Africa. London : Tavistock. pp. 279-305.

p. 14 the 4 categories of spirits (deities) [ p. 14 :"iskoki (s[ing]. : iska)"]

"directional spirits,

specifically evil spirits,

mushe` (from monsieur ...) spirits, and

"inheritable" or bori spirits."

p. 15, Table 6 : directional spirits & areas of rule




Yamma = western


Hausa = southern


Adar = northern

Babako (Saggo)

Gabas = eastern


Sama = "sky"


Kasa = "below the earth"


"lives with his wife Kwagwa at the earth’s ... wall and "repairs the world" (ka gyara duniya)"

p. 15 the nature of directional spirits

"The directional spirits ... have ... supervisory powers over spirits in the six directions ... . All are male except Kwagwa. Each lives at the designated edge of the universe which is conceptualized as shaped like a cube. This box-like universe has four vertical walls ... . Thus each of the spirits (except Ihiritu) has its own mutually exclusive interior facet or zone of rule. ... Ihiritu is ... identified as the chief of all the "inheritable" spirits".

pp. 15-6 evil spirits







"on the road between Birni N’Konni and Tahoua"

"causes accidents."


mai Tukwa

[p. 15] "in all navigable waters"

[pp. 15-6] "occasionally tips over ships and boats, drowning the occupants."



"in the bush"

attacks hunters with pains in the neck;"




"has sexual intercourse with virgins and thereby makes them sterile;"


Dan Galadima

"in large trees;

he forces people to sit down and to desire never to get up again;"


Sarkin Ruwafi

"in well cared-for huts"

"causes severe abdominal pains."

p. 16, Table 7 : Mus^e` spirits (Musawa)










Kabran Banya


Kabran Sakitar


Kommandan {‘Commandant’}




mai Yaki




Bakin Bature`


Dan Mama




Haima "(the only female spirit)"

p. 16 the nature of mus^e` spirits

"These mushe` spirits are reckoned to me soldiers ... . ... The sign of the inception of this relationship is severe headache, nausea, and recurring convulsions. When a diviner determines that these symptoms are evidence of an entreaty by one of the 13 mushe` spirits[,] to obtain a familiar to dance for it, he will recommend that the individual be inducted into the association of mushe` devotees, the >yam mushe`. This ... satisfies the spirit, and the symptoms are relieved."

p. 17, Table 8 : inheritable spirits, their signs (afflictions caused by them), and their animal-victims





severe headaches

black male goat

>yar Zanzanna

eye difficulties

red male goat


scrotum pains

white goat


"helps school children do well in their studies and helps people in their arithmetic calculations"

white ram

pp. 17-8 the nature of inheritable spirits

p. 17

"This group of 47 spirit beings have ... attributes : each has a particular sign of activity among people, e.g.

Sarauniya gives people pains in the lower back so that they have great difficulty standing up.

For all but one spirit – Malam ... – the activity is some similar form of misfortune ... . Further, each non-Muslim ... has obligations to provide sacrifices for as few as two to as many as 14 spirits. These duties may be acquired from one’s father, or from one’s mother, although most obligations are agnatically inherited."

p. 18

"Each has its appropriate home (for example, ... Fara lives in chew-stick trees); yet a spirit is omnipresent. The spirits are understood to be capable of assuming human form ..., although in their non-human form they possess

one eye,

one ear,

one arm,

one leg, and


p. 20 to become a sorcerer

A person "has become a sorcerer by making a private agreement with Aljana {‘the Jinn’} [Fara], this being the most fearsome of the "inheritable" spirits. ...

If, for the individual, Aljana is an "inherited" spirit, such contact takes place when the person secret sacrifices a rooster of entreaty to Aljana in a corner of his household.

If a person does not "inherit" an obligation to propitiate Aljana, then contact is established by secretly taking a calabash of cow’s milk to the bush and leaving it there for a few days. If, when he returns, there is no milk remaining, Aljanna is reckoned to have drunk the milk and thereby ... his bill falls due; he can pay Aljana with a rooster".

p. 21 remedy for sorcery

"If a diviner determined that his client were the object of a sorcerer’s attack, he would have the client drink an intoxicating herbal brew – the one the >yam mushe` drink before their dances – and then he would take him to a prominent path intersection in the village. ... Then, supposedly thoroughly intoxicated, the client was addressed by the diviner as Aljana and implored to reveal the name of the person who invoked her. Several names were given, and each person mentioned was summoned and asked by the diviner to jump over his client’s body three times. In this way ..., Aljana would depart from the client’s body".

This method "was revealed to [a diviner] by the mushe` spirits in a dream".


II. (pp. 24-27)

pp. 24-5 the diviner’s skills

p. 24

"on the average, a man consults a diviner about once a month ... .

The diviner’s skills involve

the prediction of lucky days (aruwa) and

the diagnosis of the cause of such misfortunes as poor harvests, illnesses, deaths, and even bad luck.

All the diviners claim to have guidance ultimately from the ... spirits – indeed their legitimacy and ...

p. 25

of the divination process depend upon this claim. ... the diviners are viewed as very special craftsmen who have learns how to extract knowledge from the spirits." [p. 49, n. 7 "there are just three primary craftsmen : blacksmiths ...; barbers ...; and divinerswho with their experience and knowledge opened the way to harmony with the spirits."]

p. 26, Table 9 miscellaneous maladies caused by spirits


malady caused by that spirit


back pains


chest pains


thigh pains


shoulder pains


V. (pp. 35-44)

pp. 35-7, 39, 41 non-marginality of >yam bori and of >yam mus^e` members

p. 35

"Cohen ... and Barkow ... argue that Hausa women are not, in fact, without considerable economic and political power. ...

Specifically, the membership of the >yam bori ... does not appear meet any criterion ... of marginality."

p. 36

"The membership of the >yam bori is overwhelmingly female ... . ...

p. 37

None of the >yam bori ... is an object of social ostracism, discrimination, or opprobium. ...

p. 39

Further, there is no notion among the people ... that members of the >yam bori are in any way marginal; in fact, some girls told me they hoped they could join the >yam bori when they become adults."

p. 41

As for "members of the >yam mushe`": "As with the >yam bori, there is little evidence that the group’s members are marginal, either in the social or psychological sense."

pp. 35-6, 39 >yam bori (‘children of bori’) and their dance

p. 35

"First, most if not all members are women who are either divorced or prostitutes.

Second, the group is led by a female with the title "Magajiya" who operates a women’s household [" "Magajiya" – a term denoting the female head of a courtesan’s household." (p. 36)], and

third, the members are devotees of the spirits (bori) who ... periodically possess them, producing characteristic dance steps".

p. 36

"to become a member of the >yam bori ... a person is plagued by a persistent headache or prolonged nausea; ... she then visits a diviner to determine the source of the malady. Generally, diviners diagnose these symptoms as a sign from a particular mother’s spirit that it desires ... perpetual devotion from its victim. The symptoms are ... relieved only when the victim is inducted as a member of the >yam bori. In the induction itself, the novice is taught the praise dances of each of the spirits ... inherited, and the plaguing spirits is implored to cease its meddlesomeness and to go "find work to do elsewhere.""


"In the dances themselves – always a public ... event – the musicians play in turn the tune associated with each of the spirits that the >yam bori have inherited. Any of the members may enter the circle and dance the appropriate steps for that spirit. ...


Occasionally, an adept may enter the circle and dance rapidly until ... she appears to become frenzied. ... Here the chief of the >yam bori implores the spirit to stop "rubbing" {"rubbing" = masturbating?} the victim ... . I was told that this frenzy signifies that a particular spirit has mounted the adept".

{Assuredly, the "frenzied" behavior on the part of the possessing bori-spirit is due to dissatisfaction with lack of costume and of emblems. In more traditional parts of West Africa, a particular costume and emblems are ready for the use of each possessing-spirit, who will typically become muchly agitated if these are not available.}

p. 39

"The bori dance rituals themselves generally occur at least once monthly ... ... Once a millet stalk fire has been lit and the musicians have begun their playing – usually just after dusk – an audience gathers. The overwhelming majority of the bystanders are the young men and women, who when they are not watching are bantering and flirting."

pp. 40-3 >yam mus^e` (‘children of mus^e`’) and their drilling; their leader & his heir-apparent

p. 40

"the >yam mushe` dances ..., held both during times of misfortune ... and when members of the association want to call in biki debts, ... please the mushe` spirits. particularly through


the quasi-drilling that the dance is initially composed of. Having seen the exhibition of soldierly vigor, the mushe` spirits are said to be reinforced in their vigilant watch over the "inheritable" spirits."

{Shaking Quakers (who on other occasions were sometimes actuated by possessing-spirits) likewise featured military-drill-like marches in their public performances in the United States.}


The leader of the >yam mus^e` "most frequently announces that a >yam mushe` dance will be held on a particular day, based on suggestions he reports he has received in dreams from one of the mushe` spirits. His frequent reports of spirit communications in dreams – an unusual event ... – engenders ... the respect, admiration, and – in some cases – fear that ... the villagers have for him."

p. 41

"the heir apparent ... spends a good deal of the time with his master learning the interpretation of spirit dreams."

pp. 41-3 instance of a particular >yam mus^e` performance, involving spirit-possession of the leader

p. 41

"Four musicians (two gourd shakers and two fiddlers) were playing ... . ... [The leader of the >yam mus^e`] was sitting on his folding chair – the only chair there -- ... with a horse whip in his hands. ... .

... one of the >yam mushe`, entered the circle and began walking rather stiff-legged around the circle, which was about 40 feet in diameter. Then he stopped in front of the musicians and started dancing in place. While he danced, [he] emphatically spewed a whole mouthful of water straight ahead into the circle. ... As the music continued, [he] continued dancing ... . ...

[The leader of the >yam mus^e`] rolled his wide-open

p. 42

eyes and began to convulse. His head started nodding up and down; then he rotated it. ... [He] shook his head violently, then his whole body; then he rolled his eyes again. ... he waddled ..., sticking out his tongue, his eyes wide open all the while. ... [Thereupon, the leader] put on a shirt and red cap which [his assistant] had just brought. ... [The assistant] brought an amulet belt which [the leader] fastened about his waist; then he donned his blue file coat. He then picked up his horse whip and barked commands in ... French. ... [The leader] then obtained a mortar, turned it over, and vaulted over it, back and forth two times. ... .

p. 43

... he barked commands to his troops in French ... . ... When they reacted slowly, [he] shouted, "I am Kabran Sakitar; do as I say!" ...


Suddenly, ... the >yan mushe` began playing "leap frog" ... about the circle. The Spectators roared in laughter".


VI. (pp. 45-48)

p. 45 conversion of persecuting spirit into helpful tutelary

"For the diviner, it appears that he must experience the throes of suffering before he can guide others through it.

For the mushe` devotee who will go on to become a "soldier" to guard the overall spiritual well-being of the community, again a severe illness is a sine qua non criterion for admission to the >yam mushe`.

Finally, the bori "child," to obtain personal relief of suffering must join the association of bori devotees.

Here is a striking parallel to Ndembu notions of affliction, "... the spirit which has been persecuting him is converted into a helpful tutelary. ..."" (Turner 1968:22)

Turner 1968 = Victor W. Turner : The Drums of Affliction. Oxford U Pr.


DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY, U OF MA, RESEARCH REPORT No. 15 = Ralph H. Faulkingham : The Spirits and Their Cousins : Some Aspects of Belief, Ritual, ... in a Rural Hausa Village in Niger. Amherst, 1975.