Table of Contents: African

Where Humans and Spirits Meet, 5-6 [Unguja, i.e. Zanzibar]

pp. 82-84, 93 getting a spirit

p. 82

"Humans are not in a position to choose whether to be inhabited by a spirit. People ... do not and cannot know if or when they will become inhabited by a spirit, nor to which kabila the spirit will belong. ... there are different ways of ‘getting’ (pata) a spirit. Both

p. 83

beaches and huge trees are seen as places favoured by spirits and where humans are most likely to get a spirit, especially at certain times of the day. If ... a person goes to the beach or rests under a huge tree the same day as the spirit happens to be there, she or he might quite haphazardly attach herself or himself to the person. But from then on, it may take several years until the spirit eventually ‘climbs to the person’s head’ (panda kichwani).

A spirit may also choose a person out of sheer attraction ... during a ritual where there are many spirits present at one time. In such cases the spirit might climb into the person’s head immediately, or, again, it might take many years before the spirit climbs to the person’s head.

Another way of getting a spirit is ... by inheritance. When a person dies, their spirit might cho[o]se to attach herself or himself to the deceased person’s grandchild."

p. 84

"the character of a particular spirit is unknown until the spirit has revealed her or his personal identity. When Zanzabari women and men arrange a ritual for a spirit, they expect the spirit to reveal the full name. ... People say that the ‘gives out’ the name (toa jina). The verb kutoa means to give, show or display ... . On the basis of the spirit’s personal name, family name and place of origin, a spirit’s full social identity is established".

p. 93, n. 5:4

"When presenting themselves during rituals spirits will always give their full name, that is, title, personal name, the name of their father and grandfather and in many situations, the family’s place of origin."

pp. 93-94, n. 5:4 terms of address praefixed to personal names















Elder Sister



Elder Brother

p. 84 causes of suffering

The "reason why people experience suffering ... is an evil eye (kijicho), bad luck (nuksi) or covetousness (choyo)."

pp. 84-85 communications between humans and spirits; dreaming

p. 84

"A person is never able to communicate with the spirit while inhabited by that spirit. ... When spirits inhabit human beings, their messages are listened to and interpreted not only by a ritual leader or mwalimu, but also by other people present at the ritual. Afterwards, when the spirit has left,

p. 85

Various people will convey the spirit’s concerns to the person who was inhabited by the spirit. ...

Nevertheless, spirits can communicate with the people they have attached themselves to through dreams ... . ... Certain dreams indicate whether a person has a spirit, and which kabila this spirit belongs to. For instance,"


if a person dreameth about __

this person probably hath a __


snakes, graves & corpses; or "that she or he is locked in a room"

s`e^t.ani ya ki-buki


the ocean, "swimming or relaxing on the beach"; or "making love to a woman or man whose face could not be seen"

s`e^t.ani ya ruh.ani

pp. 85-86 semi-sleep socializing with a spirit; deferrment of a ritual

p. 85

"Zanzabaris differentiate between dreaming (ota) and talking with or socializing with spirits while" reposing in semi-sleep : "spirits come to you and make themselves visible to you while you are almost sleeping, which means that you have closed your eyes and are asleep although not completely, and you are not dreaming. Then, you can socialize with your spirit."

p. 86

"The ritual lasts from one afternoon and evening up to three or even five days. How long a ritual lasts depends ... on the claims of the spirit ... . If a person experiences problems ... to arrange a ritual for the spirit, a ritual leader can ... reach the spirit to convince the spirit to wait ... . This is called kushika sikio or ‘to hold on to the ear’. If a woman or man has to postpone the performance of a ritual because of the holy month of Ramadan, a ritual leader will ‘hold on to the woman’s or man’s ear’ and explain to the spirit that the ritual has to wait. Moreover, if a ritual has to be postponed ... the person in question may perform a simple preparatory ritual called kupiga nyungu. During this brief ritual, the spirit is promised that a complete ritual will be held after a certain time. ...

Rituals are also arranged so that people may ask their spirits for help and to thank them for the help they have provided. This ritual are talked about as celebrations (sherehe) ..., and last for only one day."

p. 86 hours for holding a ritual


hours for ritual on those days




10:30 A.M. – 12:30 noontime; "after a pause it continues"

4:30 P.M. – 6:30 P.M.


"at night (kesha)"


4:00 P.M. – 6:30 P.M.

pp. 87-88 ritual initiation into membership; forgetfulness caused by spirits; participation by young children; vacation during Ramadan

p. 87

"The ritual performed in order to prepared for the spirit also makes the person a member of the given ritual group. The members of the ritual group are those who have had their spirits prepared for by the ritual leader in question. The ritual leader allows only members of the chosen ritual group to prepared ... the person and spirit for whom the ritual is arranged, ... to lead the person whose spirit is arranged for into the room where the public part of the ritual is performed, and back into her or his special room again. ...

Those women and men who do not get a spirit ‘in their head’ participate in clapping and chanting while observing those who have a spirit ‘in their head’. The participants ... interact with the spirits, sing the spirits’ songs, play the instruments, and dance with the spirits.


Outside of ritual contexts, people tend to forget the exact names of the various spirits as well as their songs and prayers. ... The spirits do something so that we do not remember. {Is this a matter of conveying the water of the Pool of Lethe (‘Forgetfulness’, mentioned in the Pythagorean golden scroll of instructions for souls of the dead) to the living?} The spirits do not want humans to say their names and sing their songs without good reasons. ... But at the rituals we do remember".


"Women bring their children to ngoma ya sheitani so that they can be blessed (fanya heri) by the spirits and be given protective medicine. As the children become older, that is, from the age of six and up, they gradually start to participate in the

p. 88

singing, playing of instruments, clapping and dancing during the different rituals. the spirits cherish the participation of children and express signs of happiness when the children perform the correct dance movements. Spirits express happiness with laughter and by giving children gifts ... . ... When children reach the age of thirteen to fourteen years, they may even get a spirit in their head during rituals. Because at this age they are perceived as still being too young to prepare for their spirit, the ritual leader gets contact with the spirit and asks her or him to be careful because the person whom she or he has inhabited is only a child."


"Except for the holy month of Ramadan the rituals of ngoma ya sheitani are performed throughout the year. When Ramadan is approaching all ritual leaders perform a celebration called kufunga mkoba (lit. to close the basket, i.e. not to activate the ritual paraphernalia {cf. the ritual baskets activated by being peeped into by Herse, Pandrosos, and their mother Agraulos (GM 25.d)}), in order to remind the spirits about Ramadan and ask them not to inhabit people during this month. When Ramadan has come to an end, a celebration called kufungua mkoba (lit. to open the basket) is arranged in order to welcome the spirits and to inform them that Ramadan has ended and thus, that rituals can again be performed in the human world." {The name of Herse, ‘Dew’ (GM 25.4), may imply a resuscitation of the spirits by means of the "dew of the Resurrection" ("D") referred to in Ys^a<yah 26:19.}

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

"D" =

pp. 89-91 a particular ritual performance of noma ya s`e^t.ani

p. 89

"As we approached the ritual room, we took off our shoes. At this ritual – as at all other kinds of ngoma ya sheitani – people and spirits are barefoot. This is because all spirits dislike shoes. As we arrived, we sat down to wait on the mats laid out on the floor. ... As they arrived, women sat in one part of the room and men in the other end of the room. ... Then the women from the ritual group led ... the woman on behalf of whose spirit the ritual was arranged, into the room. ... [That woman] was told to sit on a stool. In front of her they put a big pot with an herbal mixture – the remedy special to masheitani ya ruhani. ... [The woman] was given a steam bath. She was also ... given rosewater to drink. ...

p. 90

All members of the ritual group were dressed in white or in another light colour, ... according to the demands of their spirit. ... women as well as men covered their heads. ... The ritual leader lit the incense jar and sent it around so that all of us could be censed. ... When begged to reveal himself, [the woman’s] spirit was addressed as Shaibu, the Arabic term for a very old man. ... Then all present started to sing in order to call for masheitani ya ruhani. ... While singing they moved their bodies in the dhikiri rhythm particular to masheitani ya ruhani. The ritual leader censed himself, and immediately his spirit rose to his head. The spirit of the ritual leader ... introduced himself with his full name and place of origin ... . ... He held the censer in his hand, and as he put it close to people’s faces many became inhabited by their spirits. The spirit, Shehe Said, ... danced with people, holding their hands or carrying them on his back so that also their spirits would reveal themselves out of joy and happiness. As the spirits rose to the heads of the women, the spirits used the voice of the women to scream loudly and started to dance around; when they rose to

p. 91

the heads of men, the spirits sat shivering ... on the ground. ... Then suddenly [an old woman]’s spirit said he wanted a stool to sit on and his turban. This was immediately brought ... . When the spirit sat on the stool he ... introduced himself. ... Those spirits who had not yet a ritual performed on their behalf by their seats could only scream out ... when they recognized their relatives by their names, but they themselves were not able to tell their names and make themselves known to their relatives ... . [The old woman]’s spirit was a Bedouin."

pp. 95, 100-103 how it may feel for a spirit of a category to arrive for spirit-possession : possible variations

p. 95

"Women and men say that they can feel (hizi) when their spirit is about to inhabit them. ... It says boom when my sheitani ya kibuki arrives, not swing as when my sheitani ya ruhani arrives."

p. 100

"She explains that when her spirit approaches her, she feels like she is swinging from side to side."


"When a spirit has climbed to your head you will sometimes know what you are doing, but you are not capable of controlling it.

Other times it becomes absolutely dark; you see nothing, but you can hear what is going on.

Sometimes you are all gone (hupo kabisa). When the spirit departs you cannot remember anything of what happened".

p. 101

"when the spirit was in my head ad talked, I felt as if it were I who was talking – not the spirit. ... Afterwards, when the spirit had left, I could not remember anything of what I had said and answered."

p. 102

[statement by a woman :] "It is as if everything that is happening around me is happening far away. Then I feel a kind of distress ..., and I want to cry. ... Sometimes I feel very, very sad ... . {cf. personal experience by authoress (on p. 12) : "sadness, as if everything that was going on around me was happening far away."} Then the spirit climbs to my head. After this, I am either not conscious (sina fahama) anymore, or I remain conscious but I am not able to control my actions."

p. 103

"A feeling of sadness is one sign of being inhabited by a spirit -- ... where sadness on the part of the person in question is seen as a sign of a spirit entering that person’s body."


[statement by a man :] "When a spirit is climbing on me (wakati sheitani ananipanda), ... I feel distress; ... I feel like I am about to die ... . I feel confused, like mixed together."

pp. 98-99, 108 jazba (‘trance’)




"when a person recites religious texts (soma dini) quite intensely she or he might get into jazba. When the reciting becomes very intense, the person’s Muslim ... spirit (sheitani ya ruhami) is drawn closer and eventually participates in the reciting."


"During jazba the sheitani ya ruhani is coming nearer. You are mixed together (unachanganika) with your spirit. The sheitani ya ruhani will recite until she or he has outdone the person."

108, n. 6:3

"Women and men who are members of either Qadiriyya ... or" S`adiliyya S.ufi "orders ... in Zanzibar Town would explain that they experience jazba during dhikiri [dikri^] rituals."

{Is the <arabi^ word /JAZBa/ the source of the word /GAZeBo/ (a ‘shelter whence to gaze afar’)? For the ma-s`e^t.ani ya ruh.ani, when women "first became inhabited by their spirits, they initially ... looked as if they were gazing at something far away." (p. 91) The word /GAZe/, which is lacking an antient European etymology, may be derived from the Kongolese word /JAZZ/.)}

SOCIAL IDENTITIES, Vol. 5 = Kjersti Larsen : Where Humans and Spirits Meet : ... Identified Spirits in Zanzibar. Berghan Books, Oxford, 2008.