AFRICAN SPIRITUALITY in words, video, music & art

by Fra. Mugasha scribe bio

Published by NuScribes ( on Thu 08 Sep, 2016 |

Book Cover Art

Africa's greatest problems are never going to be solved by anyone not African. Africa's greatest problems have nothing to do with money, the lack of housing or with the lack of fancy material comforts or the failure to catch up with western materialistic dreams. The problems of Africa start with our spirit - we have sustained deep wounds to the core of Who We Are, we have lost grasp of Who We Are, we now suffer, because we fear Who We Are! It's a spiritual problem first, then intellectual, and the rest readily follows.


Africa Needs Spiritual Healing - not with the help of Christianity, Islam or any other "foreign" faith, but by the conscious application and development of our own native and derivative spiritual systems. Spirituality, used wisely and consciously, is to be the single most powerful tool for restoring the African Mind and Spirit, to its former glory and then beyond.

This isn't an ordinary book, and it might also not be for the faint of heart. But any African is very likely to readily find solace herein, and glean from it the sort of wisdom and power that would most transform their lives, empower and liberate them - in whatever way that might be.

It's not just text either. It's a collection of material collected from many places, that are meant to approach or shine light on the matter of African Spirituality, from many contexts, and using different medium; word of mouth, video, music, text, images and more. Enjoy, and be touched - right now!

Art Credits: "Witch Concept2", TobyFoxArt

Unraveling the spirits’ message: help-seeking steps and explanatory models among patients suffering from spirit possession in Uganda

This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.


As in many cultures, also in Uganda spirit possession is a common idiom of distress associated with traumatic experiences. In the DSM-IV and -5, possession trance disorders can be classified as dissociative disorders. Dissociation in Western countries is associated with complicated, time-consuming and costly therapies. Patients with spirit possession in SW Uganda, however, often report partial or full recovery after treatment by traditional healers.

The aim of this study is to explore how the development of symptoms concomitant help-seeking steps, and explanatory models (EM) eventually contributed to healing of patients with spirit possession in SW Uganda. Illness narratives of 119 patients with spirit possession referred by traditional healers were analysed using a mixed-method approach.

Treatments of two-thirds of the patients were unsuccessful when first seeking help in the medical sector. Their initially physical symptoms subsequently developed into dissociative possession symptoms. After an average of two help-seeking steps, patients reached a healing place where 99% of them found satisfactory EM and effective healing. During healing sessions, possessing agents were summoned to identify themselves and underlying problems were addressed. Often-mentioned explanations were the following: neglect of rituals and of responsibilities towards relatives and inheritance, the call to become a healer, witchcraft, grief, and land conflicts.

The results demonstrate that traditional healing processes of spirit possession can play a role in restoring connections with the supra-, inter-, intra-, and extra-human worlds. It does not always seem necessary to address individual traumatic experiences per se, which is in line with other research in this field. The study leads to additional perspectives on treatment of trauma-related dissociation in Western countries and on developing effective mental health services in low -and middle-income countries.

Keywords: Spirit possession, Uganda, Explanatory models, Help-seeking, Dissociative disorders, Traditional healing, Traumatic experiences


Attribution and treatment of dissociative disorders in Western countries

In DSM-5, possessive trance disorders are included under dissociative identity disorder (DID), owing to phenomenological similarities [1,2]. There is strong empirical support for the hypothesis that dissociation is caused by traumatic stress and that dissociation is related to a history of trauma even after controlling for fantasy proneness [3]. The trauma theory of dissociation is supported by research on dissociation as a regulatory response to fear or other extreme emotions with measurable biological correlates [4]. In the World Mental Health Survey conducted in 16 countries, dissociative symptoms (such as depersonalization and derealization) were present in 14.4% of the respondents with PTSD. This did not differ in high/middle and low-income countries. High dissociation was associated with more severe PTSD, high role impairment and suicidality, a history of early onset, and a history of multiple childhood trauma adversities [5]. Severe dissociative disorders contribute to functional impairment above and beyond the impact of non-dissociative Axis I disorders and, as such, qualify as serious mental illness [6]. Despite the relationship with trauma, standardized PTSD treatment is only partially effective for severe dissociative symptoms [7].

Attribution and treatment of dissociative disorders in African countries

In  non-Western’, low-resource settings, spirit possession as a dissociative phenomenon is a common attribution and expression of distress. Although anthropologists have provided numerous examples over the recent decades [8,9], the last few years have shown a growing attention in medical–psychiatric literature to the relationship between psychological distress, traumatic events, and spirit possession [10-17]. In an epidemiological study in a population of 941 adults in post-war Mozambique, Igreja et al. found a prevalence of 18.6% adults suffering from at least one spirit [12]. Neuner et al. found that 8% of a population of 1,113 youths and young adults in Northern Uganda suffered from severe forms of spirit possession [14].

All respondents (medical workers, counsellors, traditional healers, and religious leaders) in a qualitative study in SW Uganda confirmed the common presence of dissociative trance and possessive trance states, manifesting as possession by omuzimu (ancestral spirits), emandwa (messenger spirits) and bachwezi (demi-gods). The possessing agents were said to manifest themselves to address neglected rituals and unresolved conflicts [18]. In a subsequent case-control study in SW Uganda, patients (n = 119) with spirit possession in comparison with controls reported significantly higher levels of locally recognized dissociative symptoms, more severe psychoform dissociation and somatoform dissociation on scales developed in the West, as well as more potentially traumatizing events [13]. The correlations between traumatic events and different types of dissociation were very high. Traumatic experiences, however, were not spontaneously mentioned prior to or during the treatment by healers, nor were they specifically addressed during the healing process. This makes it interesting to look in more detail at how these patients with spirit possession, who according to Western measures suffered from severe trauma-related dissociative symptoms, evaluated the local treatment process. Which help-seeking steps did they undertake, and how were local explanatory models (EM) generated in the search for healing? How did they experience the final outcome?

Pathways to healing

Help-seeking behaviour for a health problem can be defined as problem-focused, planned behaviour, involving interpersonal interaction with a selected health care professional [19]. Explanatory models (EM) is a term introduced by Kleinman, referring to “notions about an episode of sickness and its treatment that are employed by all engaged in the clinical process” [20]. Recent studies in Africa on EM—concerning various common mental disorders such as psychosis [21-24], epilepsy [25], depression [26], or mental illness in general [27-30]—illustrate a wide range of locally used categories and explanations for Western categories of mental illness. It is also acknowledged that traditional healers play an important role in dealing with distress, especially in countries where Western psychological services are extremely limited [31,32]. In addition,  pathway to care’ studies in 11 countries [33] demonstrated that native healers often play an important role in addressing mental health problems in low-resource settings. Despite increasing attention to the role of traditional healers and cultural explanations in relation to various mental disorders, attention to dissociative disorders as a specific category of mental disorders is still limited in psychiatric research in the African context.

To compare trauma processing mechanisms across the globe, De Jong and Reis propose analysing these mechanisms with the help of a comprehensive model with five universal ontological dimensions involved in suffering and healing [15]. These dimensions are defined as (a) intra-human (mind–body); (b) inter-human (social interactions); (c) supra-human (ancestors, gods, embodied entities); (d) extra-human (ecology, nature, cosmos, animals); and (e) time (relationship between past, present and future). They applied this model to describe how a dissociative cult in Guinea Bissau, the Kiyang-yang, provided an idiom of distress in the context of political violence and enabled collective trauma processing.

The aforementioned epidemiological studies demonstrate that spirit possession in different African contexts can be associated with severe dissociative symptoms and impaired social functioning. Similar to research results in Western countries, dissociative disorders are related to severe traumatic experiences [12-14].

In the theory of trauma-related structural dissociation, dissociation is described as an integrative failure manifesting in positive and negative symptoms or personality parts [34,35]. This fits with our findings in Uganda described in a former publication on the symptoms of spirit possession compared with the DSM-IV and 5 [36]. Multiple correspondence analysis of dissociative symptoms of patients suffering from spirit possession revealed dimensions of symptoms that could be characterized as positive and negative or active and passive. We suggested that spirit possession can be an idiom of distress in a context of suppression and societal disruption and that it is comparable to the role of an “emotional part of the personality” containing conflicting and traumatic experiences that are incompatible with the expected normal behaviour in a specific traditional, political, or religious context.

Whereas the current standard in Western societies for treatment of dissociative disorders is phased trauma-focused therapy [4,35,37], it is often a long, costly process with limited effectiveness [4,38]. In African contexts, severe dissociative symptoms are often seen as an expression of spirit possession and dealt with by traditional healers. It is therefore useful to gain more insight into the process of help-seeking and the generation of explanations that lead to treatment in the African context.

The aim of this study is to explore the pathways to healing of patients with spirit possession who visit traditional healers in SW Uganda, by exploring their help-seeking behaviour, the healing methods used by the healers, the EMs that endorsed the healing process, and the perceived subjective effectiveness of the healing process.


Context of the study

The study area comprises three districts—Mbarara, Bushenyi, and Ntungamo—in SW Uganda, with a total population of approximately 1.5 million inhabitants. The majority of people live in rural areas, and the economy depends mainly on agriculture, mostly on a subsistence level.

Participants and procedure

The participants of this study consisted of the case group of 119 patients with spirit possession of the aforementioned case-control study [13]. The procedures of the case-control study have been described in former studies [13,36]; relevant steps for the current research question are summarized here. With the help of key informants, inventory lists were made of approximately 300 traditional healers. Those who reported to offer treatment for spirit possession (80 healers in 19 healing places) were approached and asked to refer patients suffering from possession by a spirit or power, or as the result of witchcraft or sorcery by another person. Referred patients (n = 120) were interviewed at the healer’s place on our next visit. It was explained to the interviewed patients that we wanted to learn more about spirit possession. A Ugandan research assistant, a student in Development Studies, conducted the interviews in the local language (Runyankore) under supervision of the first author. One patient was excluded because of incomplete information. The group of 119 patients with spirit possession consisted of 45% male and 55% female patients. The mean age in the case group was 38.4 years (SD = 12.2). Approximately 23% had no education, and around 60% had stopped schooling during or after primary school.

All participants gave verbal informed consent prior to inclusion in the study, and procedures were in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration [39]. Study and procedures were approved by the International Research Review Board of Mbarara University and the District Authorities in Uganda.


The Spirit Possession Questionnaire-Uganda (SPQ-Ug) included open-ended questions enquiring about a participant’s history of symptoms and help-seeking steps, the healing place and healing methods used, the result of treatment, and the subjective explanation of their possession. These open-ended questions resulted in mini illness narratives on the subjective experienced symptoms of patients with spirit possession, and on the above mentioned topics. The questionnaire was translated into Runyankore and administered verbally by the local research assistant because of the high illiteracy rates among the participants of the study. The narratives were recorded in English by the interviewer.

The SPQ-Ug was an interview checklist locally designed by the first author with support of the mental health team of the psychiatry department in Mbarara. The first part listed demographic items such as name, age, sex, home address, healing place, religion, education level, occupation, marital status, and number of children (living and deceased). It continued with a checklist of open questions on the history of the problem (how did it start, with which symptoms, what preceded the possessive state); how the possessive state was characterized (such as noises, body movements, words) and which treatments had been tried; how the patient and others explained the symptoms; the psychosocial events (stressful events, family conflicts, cultural conflicts such as concerning dowries, rituals); which healing methods were used, how did the patient learn about it; how did the patient experience the healing and what further expectations did they have. The interview can be characterized as semi-structured and problem-centered, with open questions to provide room for the patients’ narratives and involving their personal descriptions and explanations [40].

Data analysis

A mixed-methods research design was used to examine the following topics:

A. Symptoms, help-seeking steps, and referral

B. Healing type at the final healing place

C. Healing procedure, possessing agents, and outcome of treatment

D. Explanatory models

Data analysis was performed by the first author and supervised by the second and third authors. A combination of strategies was used for content analysis. Most categories for coding were directly guided by the open questions of the interview (e.g. type of healer, explanation, help-seeking steps, method of healing, and evaluation of treatment). These can be defined as  analytical units’, according to Flick [40]. On large overhead sheets a handwritten overview was made with paraphrased passages of the narratives covering these analytical units for all 119 patients. The next level of themes was distilled from the text and was added in the overview—for example, the types of spirits that were involved. Types of explanatory models (EMs) were based on the themes in the explanations that were applicable for the final healing step. Defining these EMs is a process of  conceptual ordering’ that requires a certain level of abstraction [41]. These were often mentioned explicitly by the patient in the narrative (e.g. neglect of rituals), but they could also be more implicit. The EMs were coded and entered in the handwritten overview. Abstraction in conceptual ordering involves the judgment of the researcher and can be biased. To crosscheck validity, types of spirits and explanatory models were discussed with traditional healers, medical students, and colleagues in the psychiatry department in Mbarara on several occasions. Results were entered into SPSS, which was used for basic statistics such as percentages and exploring relationships with cross-tables. Final results of the analysis presented in this paper were evaluated with the local interviewer.


The following sections will sequentially address the topics listed above (A–D). Typical examples in the narratives were selected to illustrate these topics.

Symptoms, help-seeking steps and referral

The history of the patients with spirit possession typically began with physical problems or other misfortunes. Common physical symptoms were fever, headaches, body pains, vomiting, a swollen stomach or ulcers. Other patients with spirit possession emphasized misfortunes such as many children that had died, infertility, or even a stolen bicycle.

Gradually, in the course of weeks or months, the patients develop dissociative and sensory-motor symptoms, described as fainting, seeing through fog, not being able to move or speak, and seizures. Often these symptoms begin or become stronger after one or more steps in the professional health care sector are unsuccessful. Subsequently, patients mention passive-influence experiences of spirit possession, such as feeling held or influenced by powers from outside, strange dreams, hearing imperative voices, or attacks of shaking movements, or they may begin to speak in another language.

The following case illustrates some of these dissociative experiences:

Id 43. Female: age 40

It was three years ago that I started having the following complaints. At first, I sort of lost sight—as if I was looking at the world through fog. Objects would seem either small or too big. I was forgetful of what I intended to do; I would just sit there without doing anything. I would hear some voices in my head directing me what to do. Some big man would also come to me almost every night in a dream, and he would threaten to kill me. My husband tried his best to take me to several health centres. They gave me some tablets and a few injections—but in vain.

During this process, spiritual causes were considered, and referral to traditional healers and occasionally church healing was suggested by the environment of the patient. Passive influence experiences of spirits were followed by the actual active state of spirit possession, in which the spirit presents itself through the patient, characterized by changes in consciousness, shaking movements, and talking in a voice attributed to spirits. In half of the cases, the active presentation of the spirits occurred before the healing ritual; in the other half, these possessing agents began to appear and speak through the patient only during the healing session.

Table  shows that 66% of the patients first sought help from  Western’ medical services such as hospitals (37.8%) and health centres (16.8%), or tried self-prescribed medicine (11.8%). Only 26% of our case group directly consulted traditional healers, and 8% tried healing through the church as a first step.

Initial choice of treatment mode

All patients with the first help-seeking step in the medical sector and a few from the traditional healers (n = 2) and churches (n = 4) did not find relief. These patients (in total, 70% of all patients) subsequently undertook a second help-seeking step: 28% of the patients in the medical sector, 37% visited traditional healers, and 5% went to a church healing location. After the third step, undertaken by a third of the patients, most of the patients had reached their final healing place. On average, patients with spirit possession tried two steps in help-seeking before reaching the healing place where they achieved positive results.

More than half (58%) of all patients with spirit possession were referred by their relatives (parents, siblings, uncle); a quarter (25%) by their neighbour; and 5% by friends. A further 12% did not answer this question.

Healing type at the final healing place

The final healing places can be categorized into three major types. The majority (54%) were conventional traditional healers called omufumu. These healers usually inherit their healing powers through their patrilineage or matrilineage and act according to traditional cultural practices. The second type were the barangi healers (30%), who use a mixed approach of traditional healing and Christian elements. They work and live together in a group that can be described as a therapeutic community and is based on  the Ten Commandments of the Bible’. Their patients often come from afar and stay in the community of these healers for some time, often weeks, and participate in the agricultural work of the community while joining in healing sessions. A relatively small group (16%) of the patients in our study was referred by the third type of healing places, i.e. church healing places using the healing force of the  Holy Spirit’. These were referred to as the Miracle Church, the Holy Spirit Church, and Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.

Healing procedure, possessing agents, and outcome of treatment

Most patients described how, at the healer’s place, the possessive agent was invited to manifest itself through praying, singing and dancing. Christian prayers and songs were used by barangi healers and in church healing sessions. Sometimes the process was supported by giving herbal medicine to the patients (orally or by rubbing herbs into cuts on the body). Before healing, a patient could involuntarily experience spirits through dreams, hearing voices, and having sensory-motor experiences; now these spirits eventually manifested themselves through the patient while he/she was in a full dissociative state, and the spirits could start to communicate. Through the communication by the spirits, underlying problems became clear.

The possessing agents were referred to as bachwezi (demi-gods) by 26% of the possessed patients, and as omuzimu (ancestral spirits) in 49% of the cases, such as the spirit of a deceased grandmother, father or brother. Of the 119 cases, 25% suffered from witchcraft and sorcery. In the last group, the possessing agents were referred to as amahembe (bad spirits or malevolent forces) or the spirits of a living jealous person (e.g. a neighbour or co-wife). Witchcraft and jealousy allegations played a more prominent role at the barangi healers (44%) than at the omufumu healers (17%) and in church healing settings (16%). Ancestral spirits were significantly less involved among patients of barangi healers (25%) than among those at omufumu healing settings (59%) and church settings (58%). The occurrence of bachwezi spirits was almost similar in these different settings.

The following is an example of the voice of a bachwezi, reminding the afflicted person of her spiritual lineage and obligations:

Id 33. Female: age 50

This healer gave me medicine to drink and then started praying for me. It started by simple nodding of my head. Then my whole body followed. The voice said: “She is our child; she has to come back.”

The following example demonstrates how an ancestral spirit (a deceased father, omuzimu) reminds his son that he has neglected his responsibilities of taking care of his mother:

Id 86. Male: age 52

… Then I was brought here just a week ago. The healer made me smell cock feathers; he even cut my body and rubbed some medicine within. Then the voice of my late father came out, saying: “I am angry with you, my son—why did you chase away your mother? Why should your wife influence you and disfavour your real mother, my wife?” This spirit of the father directed me to bring my mother back home. This healer has since then given me a drinking medicine. I am now getting healed. This healer has helped me greatly. I hope to go home soon.

Often the healer negotiated with the spirits about forgiveness of past evil deeds or negligence of ritual, and sometimes protection against the recurring possession episodes was provided by herbs administered orally or via cuts in the body. Regularly, the patients promised to change their behaviour. Some patients were called by the spirits to be initiated as a healer. Many acknowledged and revived worship of the ancestral powers in the family, which they had neglected before. Concerning the evaluation of their treatment the patients were asked how they had experienced the treatment and what they expected as a result. At the time of the interview when patients evaluated their treatment, 42% patients felt much better and relieved, and 57% reported being completely healed. An example of a patient feeling much better is a woman who said: “voices have stopped disturbing me”; and she described her expectation: “I will be alright and do my daily work without any problems”. Another patient who felt completely healed said: “It [the Amahembe, spirits that wanted to kill the patient as a punishment for her father’s behaviour over land conflicts with his neighbour] has never come back. I hope to go back to my husband and to go on with life as before”. Only two had doubts and feared their problems might return. Complete healing was reported by relatively more patients of the omufumu, the conventional traditional healers (66%), compared with church (55%) and barangi healing (30%) settings.

Explanatory models

The types of possessing agents and the types of messages they conveyed (EM) are listed in Table .

Explanatory models and types of possessing spirits

The bachwezi (demi-gods) were related to ritual neglect and the call to become a healer. Ancestral spirits were most often related to neglected responsibilities, such as looking after the inheritance of a relative who had died, his family, land, and cows. But ritual neglect, land conflicts, or death of a dear one can also be connected themes. Witchcraft is most often related to themes of jealousy and can also be associated with neglected responsibilities and land conflicts. Explanations were not dependent on sex, age, or education level.

EMs related to neglect of rituals and responsibilities, communicated by the bachwezi and ancestral spirits, were relatively more associated with omufumu traditional healers and the experience of  complete healing’; and EMs related to jealousy, grief, or spirits, and without a specific message, were slightly more present at the barangi healers and were more often related to feeling “a lot better” after treatment.

It should be noted that in the preceding process of development of symptoms and the various help-seeking steps, different and sometimes conflicting EMs can be considered by the patient and his relatives. For example: owing to initial medical symptoms, biomedical EMs may have been considered, such as malaria or HIV symptoms. Even when spiritual causes might be considered, patients might initially refrain from seeking help from traditional healers, as this might not be in accordance with their Christian or Islamic religion. In the final healing place the following groups of EM were found in rank order from most to least common:

(i) ritual neglect (ritual being a precondition for connection to the spiritual world)

(ii) neglect of responsibilities (e.g. concerning care for the inheritance or family after the death of a father/mother/brother)

(iii) jealousy (e.g. by co-wives or neighbours)

(iv) the call to become a healer

(v) grief

(vi) land conflicts

(vii) others.

The content of these EMs will be further illustrated below.

In some cases, a patient’s narrative represented a combination of interconnected EMs. For instance,  ritual neglect’ could be associated with  land conflicts’ (e.g. when land where ancestors were buried had been sold and rituals could no longer be performed there).

Specific sources of distress or specific physical symptoms could be attributed to different EMs by different individuals. For example, a common source of distress such as barrenness or infant mortality could be associated with EMs such as  the call to become a healer’,  jealousy of a co-wife’, or  unpaid bridal prices’. For example, one man (Id. 69) lost six children before they were three years old. In the healing session, the bachwezi ordered him to become a healer. Now he has four children.

(i) Ritual neglect

The most commonly perceived cause was angry and disappointed bachwezi (demi-gods) and other spirits because of ritual neglect (N = 34, 29%). These rituals were important for reinforcing the connection with the spiritual world, such as the spirits of the ancestors and the bachwezi, who guard the lineage of the clan and family. Under pressure of the church, these traditional rituals were often discontinued; and items used for these rituals, often kept in a small shrine in the homestead, were burnta. Ritual neglect is illustrated in the following example:

Id 6. Male: age 26

Possession began on a hospital bed, where late in the night I uttered words saying “We want houses” and words like “You abandoned us”. These voices were spirits of our ancestors. Actually, it was a combination of omuzimu and emandwab, who were seeking houses. They wanted to be brought back after being abandoned. They wanted a goat to be slaughtered for them, and I should take the blood of this goat to welcome the spirits back. My father, who used to practise rituals for ancestors, has died. I have ignored these rituals. The spirits then decided to manifest themselves through me.

The treatment provided by this healer has helped me, whereby some medicine was put in my body and I have some which I still take regularly. I feel relieved and am grateful. I have experienced a lot of relief and feel far better. I expect to heal completely.

(ii) Neglect of responsibilities

In 31 cases (26%), the patient experienced possession as a punishment because of neglecting responsibilities or because of misbehaviour, even to the extent of untruthfully acting as a healer.

These are usually patients suffering from the spirit of a deceased relative, who came to punish the patient for not having taken proper care of the deceased’s inheritance. After the death of a father or brother, the son or remaining brother becomes the heir and is responsible for looking after the property, land (agriculturalists) or cows (in the case of cattle herders), and the widow(s) and children of the deceased. This is illustrated in the following example:

Example of family conflicts, not managing responsibility well, church solution: Id 44. Male: age 40

After the death of my brother, I was given the responsibility of looking after his widow and children. My brother had a big farm and a vehicle, so I started using the vehicle as a taxi. I would take some little money every day to the widow, and I managed to build myself a house profiting from this vehicle. We used to sell off cows in the farm whenever we wanted school fees for the orphans. It seems the widow used to complain that I was misusing her vehicle, while giving her too little money. And indeed, that was the truth. So the spirit of my brother came to punish me. His spirit came once during the day, while we were having lunch, and he knocked me down. He started speaking out through my mouth and asking why I was making his wife and children suffer. Fortunately, it was on a Sunday and my sister rushed to this church and requested the brethren, who came, prayed for me and rescued me.

Some of the patients felt punished for not treating well their husband (e.g. after separation), sister-in-law, or (co-)wife. The spirit of a deceased husband expressed anger with his wife for seeing another man after his death. In other cases, the spirits of the deceased did not agree when land (belonging to the family) was being sold. One woman was punished because she did not marry a Muslim man.

(iii) Jealousy

Anthropological literature distinguishes between envy and jealousy [42]. Envy is characterized by feelings of inferiority, longing, resentment, and disapproval of the emotion. Jealousy is characterized by fear of loss, distrust, anxiety, and anger. Locally the term jealousy was used for both situations. Jealousy played a role in 14 cases (12%). This could be bewitchment—for example, by a neighbour, because of owning more cows or having a better roof on the house; by a co-wife, because of having more sex or privileges; or by a co-worker in the market, because of doing better in business.

Example of jealous wife: Id 25. Male: age 50

I had married two wives. They lived in separate but nearby homesteads. The young one did not feel good whenever I visited the first wife for a night. For this reason, she decided to give me some medicine which she got from a witch doctor, which was supposed to stop me from visiting the first wife. It looks like she did not follow the right directions according to the witch doctor, and the herbs made me go mad. They took me to the hospital, but the situation worsened until they brought me here.

The possessive state was characterized by noises and a lot of shaking when they prayed for me. Some voice would speak out: “What don’t I have that makes you go to another woman? I want you to stay with me alone”.

(iv) Call to become a healer

Twelve patients (10%) eventually learned that they were predestined to become a healer themselves. Some of them had dreams about a white person taking them somewhere or about herds of cattlec. Some of them had been speaking in unknown languages.

Example of becoming a healer: Id 100. Male: age 40

The possessive state started during the healing sessions.

I developed a sore as a small boy and was taken to several health centres, but the thing would not dry up. It pained me a lot and it prevented me sleeping. It was disturbing me a lot. We had a Charismatic church nearby, and its people claimed that they would pray for me and I would get healed. They tried but the sore remained. One night a voice came and told me that my healing was only in Biharwe, behind the trading centre. It even told me that Mrs. K. was the healer and she would pray for me and get me healed. When I told my parents in the morning, they decided to bring me there. This healer made me sit on the mat with other sick people and prayed aloud. The voice at once came out of me, saying: “You are now at home; your healing place is here; feel free, my son; you have to help many other suffering people like you”. Within two weeks, the sore had dried out and I got healed. That was some years back. I now have a healing centre at home.

Example of becoming a healer: Id 101. Female: age 53

My health problem developed when I was becoming a grown-up girl. I went into an MP [menstrual period] for five complete years. I had no stomach pains and looked normal. But when this unusual thing happened, my parents took me to several health centres—the doctors tried all they could but they never changed the situation. In fact, one of them told my parents that I was going to run short of blood and would collapse and die there and then. When the hospitals failed to help, I was taken to other traditional healers. They gave me drinking medicine, but all the same my MP continued. As the last resort my parents brought me here to this healing centre. The healers made me sit on the mat, prayed for me for the first day, for the second day, and then for a full week—but no voice came out. But my bleeding reduced a bit. In the second week, the voice of bachwezi came out and said: “You have at last reached your destination. You were chosen before you were born and you are going to heal so many sick people”. Since that day, bleeding has stopped and I go into MP like other women do. When the barangi feel that I am healed, I will go home and start my healing place.

(v) Grief

Eleven patients (9%) experienced the spirits of deceased persons who loved them very much; sometimes they wanted to take the patient with him/her. These experiences were often associated with grief.

Id 28. Female: age 35

The illness started after the death of my husband. Something wild came at night and held my throat so that I would even fail to breathe. My body would become so stiff. I realized it was the spirit of my dead husband. I had a lot of headache; I would long to drink cold drinks all the time. I would fall sick as if it was malaria.

The possession state was characterized by vomiting, shaking, falling down and spending up to an hour without talking/speaking or feeling anything.

My husband loved me so much. He comes often to say that to me. But the situation is very painful and unbearable.

(vi) Land conflicts

Land conflicts are a common cause of stress and possession. Sometimes this is part of the themes discussed above, such as an inheritance which has not been looked after properly, or conflicts due to jealousy of half- brothers or neighbours. Apart from these, land conflicts were mentioned in seven remaining cases.

Id 98. Female: age 37

When the healer started praying for me, I felt so excited, I started laughing, I felt so released and the headache disappeared. On the second day, the healer told me that a bad neighbour, with whom we had quarrelled over our father’s land, wanted to kill us. He had bewitched me as he had done to my sister. But she told me, so we were quick to realize it; otherwise I was going to die. I would shake whenever this healer was praying for me and sometimes I would try to speak out but the noises were not clear. I am now healed and I hope that I am about to go back home and join the rest of my family members.

(vii) Others

In some cases, spirits are mentioned without a specific cause given. These patients seemed satisfied when the spirits, who were seen as the cause of the former symptoms, were identified and subsequently disappeared after treatment. Underlying causes or conflicts did not seem to be elaborated upon in the healer’s therapy.

Id 91. Male: age 34

… Then I started falling down. Something came, it stole my mind, and it would make me fall down. Then I would shake, starting with my head and then the rest of my body, without my ability to control it. Then I was brought here to this healer, who gave me drinking medicine and some medicine to rub all around my body. I stopped falling down and shaking after some time. This healer told me it was the spirit of my late grandfather, but she assured me that it will never come back. It is now two years and, as she indeed told me, it has never come back to disturb me. I am now completely healed.


In this study we explored how patients with spirit possession, known to be suffering from trauma-related dissociative symptoms, evaluated their local treatment process. We explored the pathways to healing of these patients visiting traditional healers in SW Uganda by exploring their help-seeking behaviour, the healing methods used by the healers, and the generation of explanations that paralleled the healing process.

Symptoms, help-seeking behaviour and referral

Despite the common opinion in Uganda that patients first visit traditional healers before going to a hospital [30], in our study 62% had first tried medical interventions. They were in search of a medical explanation and solution for their problems. Medical interventions, however, left their physical symptoms  medically unexplained’. In Mozambique also, spirit possession was associated with a high number of physical symptoms [12], as in Guinea Bissau [17] and in northern Uganda [14].

Western-trained doctors and health care workers often find it difficult to engage with patients with somaticized distress referred to as medically unexplained illnesses; the result is that communication stagnates. Is this an inability of emotional distressed patients to discuss their problems [43], or an inability of doctors and health workers to relate and connect to their patients’ reality? Medical workers seem to lack the necessary codes. As Leach put it: “We must know a lot of that cultural context before we can even decode its meaning” [44,45]. Medical discourse does not easily elicit cultural EMs, and health care workers usually lack the time to explore their patients’ EMs [26].

Our study demonstrates that alternative help-seeking steps were tried when medical treatment approaches were unsuccessful. In the course of this process, the signs and symptoms were  decoded’ and given meaning as expressions of spirit possession. Referral to specific healers was usually made by family members, which is consistent with the involvement of family members in other areas in Uganda [26].

Healing type at final healing place

More than half of the healers consulted in our study were omufumu, traditional healers who practise traditional healing using divinition in a more or less conventional form. The barangi healers (30% of the consulted healers) use a mixture of traditional and Christian approaches. They have accommodated Christian beliefs and practices in their healing practices, possibly making them more acceptable to current society, which is strongly influenced by Christian morals and beliefs.

In our case group, the percentage of patients that eventually received help from religious healing at churches (17%) was relatively small. Possibly this is due to the views of the religious sector, which generally sees spirit possession as evil and as an expression of the Devil, and not as a respected spiritual messenger with relevant messages. In the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches, exorcist practices can be used to deliver one from the Devil through singing, praying, and dancing [46]. The communication attempts of possessing spirits are disposed of or suppressed, and are replaced by “the Holy Spirit”. Whereas both the church and traditional cultural approaches can be strong sources of support, conflicting approaches between the church and traditional healers can also be a strong cause of stress within families [21,26].

Healing procedure, possessing agents, and outcome of treatment

The healing rituals narrated by the respondents showed a consistent pattern. With music, singing, and dancing, the possessing agents were invited to manifest themselves. Often the process was supported by medication or herbs, provided orally or rubbed in cuts in the body. Usually family members, community members, and other patients participated in and witnessed the happening. Possessing agents manifested themselves and expressed their anger, or warned about underlying problems. The healer negotiated with the presenting possessing agent, and the patient with his family was given advice, after which they adjusted their behaviour. This enabled the relationships with the spiritual world, families, and belongings to be restored.

Igreja described the healing process of the Gamba spirits in Mozambique as a complicated treatment process. It involved the family, who witnessed experiences of spirits of the dead appearing through the possessed patients, appearances concerning which the patient later had amnesia. Putting together the story, which formerly was fragmented and unclear, led to restored health, to morality and justice, and to reparation on the societal level [10]. The stories, however, were not always derived from the war but could originate from the former history of the family or clan. Possibly a symbolic representation of themes could also fulfil the needs. Ainemugisha, in his thesis on tradition-based approaches in transitional justice for northern Uganda, describes a detailed process of negotiation, reconciliation, and reparation used in traditional rituals and approaches, which could play a role in restoring social healing after devastating trauma and social disruption [47]. Cecil Helman in Ritual and the Management of Misfortune[48] describes how, in a social setting, “rituals both express and renew certain basic values of that society, especially regarding the relationships of man to man, man to nature and man to the supernatural world” (p. 225). In our study, this was well illustrated by the various examples.

Church communities can also be experienced as an important source of support in Uganda, by playing a role in facilitating collective healing and renewing social values. For example, beginning a new life as a “born-again Christian”, with “born-again brothers and sisters”, and religious rituals such as praying can assist in forgetting the (often traumatic) past. Testimonies of one’s past, given during prayer sessions, can provide an opportunity to express traumatic experiences and feelings and to leave them behind [46]. There are signs, however, that churches have become less popular owing to incidents of misbehaviour [22,26].

The fact that 99% of the patients with spirit possession report partial or full recovery after treatment is remarkable—even when taking into account that this is a selected group referred by the healers.

Unfortunately we do not have more detailed information on the time frame of outcomes and follow-ups of patients. Most of the patients were interviewed while finalizing their treatment at the healers. A few had received treatment some time before the interview and had been requested to return for the research by the healers; these were some of the patients that were now in training to become healers. Time periods between treatment and evaluation of treatment in these cases were not explicitly mentioned, and the interviewer did not probe into further details at that time. Systematic follow-up of cases was complicated as detailed address descriptions did not exist, and the availability and coverage of mobile phone connections was still limited especially in rural areas.

 Complete healing’ was reported relatively more often by patients attending the omufumu traditional healers and was associated with EMs related to ritual neglect and responsibilities, communicated by the bachwezi and ancestral spirits. EMs related to jealousy, grief, or spirits, and without a specific message, were slightly more present at the barangi healers and were more often related to feeling “a lot better” after treatment. Hinton and Kirmayer describe how beneficial effects of healing rituals and interventions may occur by inducing positive affective states through facilitating a shift or transformation on various levels. involving bodily experiences, affect, social interactions, and a change of the image of oneself with an increased sense of self-efficacy [49]. This may also explain the overall positive evaluation of treatment of the patients with spirit possession in our study. EMs involving ritual neglect and neglect of responsibilities provide the possibility to actively ask for forgiveness, adjust one’s behaviour, and undertake a more positive role in relation to the supra-, inter-, intra-, and extra-human world. Explanations of illness involving jealousy, grief, and “spirits without a specific reason” are less easy to solve, by their nature, and can require an attitude involving resilience and acceptance. Hinton could describe these as “a cross to bear” in a Christian religious frame. “Feeling a lot better” might be a more realistic outcome after treatment.

Possessing agents and explanations

A considerable number of the patients with spirit possession mentioned bachwezi as possessing agents. The traditional healers described these as demi-gods, spirits of the highest category. Documentation on the bachwezi is scarce and often contradictory, based on oral history, myths, and legends and influenced by political views [50,51]. The discussion in internet blogs and newspaper articles shows that the debate on the origin of the bachwezi is receiving renewed attention [52]. In our study, the bachwezi spirits reminded the people of their cultural roots and lineage and urged them to revive traditional rituals and to respect connections with the past. In those patients who were called to become a healer, the bachwezi also played an important role.

Spirits can address taboos and conflicts and provide embodiment of simmering feelings of guilt, anger, or grief in a culture where these feelings are not easily expressed. The word “guilt” does not occur in the mini-narratives, while most of the stories are about having neglected certain responsibilities and obligations, varying from care for traditional powers and rituals, care for inheritance of family, land, or cows after someone died, or listening to signs that one should become a healer. Some patients agreed afterwards that they had done wrong and then asked for forgiveness.

Applying the model with five universal ontological dimensions mentioned by De Jong and Reis, the bachwezi play a strong role in restoring connections with the supra-human world and the time dimension. The ancestral spirits, the omuzimu, reminded people of their responsibilities towards dead and living relatives and thus appeared to have a strong role in the restoration of inter-human relationships. This can coincide with channelizing emotions in the intra-human dimension. Witchcraft seems to be more related to inter- and extra-human themes, such as jealousy of neighbours or others because of doing better business, having more land, or getting more attention.


More insight into local approaches to deal with severe trauma-related dissociation can assist in developing adequate mental health services in low and middle income countries (LMIC), as well as facilitate reflection on Western psychotherapeutic approaches to dealing with trauma.

This study illustrates the need for more attention to be paid to spirit possession and dissociative disorders in mental health care and to the benefits of collaboration with traditional healers in the provision of mental health care services. Patients in SW Uganda expressed their somatoform and dissociative symptoms as medically unexplained illnesses and were often unsuccessful when seeking help in the medical sector. During the help-seeking process, these symptoms were experienced and interpreted as signs of possessing spirits, and further treatment was sought at traditional healers, Christian-influenced traditional healers, and church healing places. EMs based on spirit possession eventually led to major improvement for nearly all patients. Often-mentioned explanations were the following: neglect of spiritual rituals, neglect of responsibility towards relatives and property, the call to become a healer, witchcraft, grief, and land conflicts. Understanding of these common explanations can help to make sense of initially vague medical symptoms. The study also illustrates that traditional healers can play an important role in translating these symptoms into prevailing problems and conflicts, leading the way to solutions and healing.

The suffering and healing of patients with spirit possession was addressed in different ontological dimensions. The connection with the supra-human spiritual world and time dimension was strengthened and renewed by restoring neglected rituals and acknowledging healing powers that are passed along according to family lineages. In the inter-human dimension, ancestral sprits seemed to play a regulating role in the restoration of relationships with family and communities. In the intra-human dimension, unsettling feelings related to negligence, lack of self-restraint, or grief were addressed. The most common issue addressed in the extra-human dimension in our study were tensions about land.

EMs involving spirit possession acknowledge and address disturbed connections with the spiritual world, ancestors, family, land, and neighbours, all of which are part of one’s damaged sense of historical, cultural, and social identity. This fits with the traditional role of healers, that of maintaining and restoring balance in the community and with the spiritual world. These issues are easily overlooked in Western trauma therapy. Treatment of dissociative identity disorders in Western countries, commonly attributed to severe and chronic childhood traumatization, emphasizes integrating individual traumatic experiences within a phase-oriented therapy. This often resulted in the difficulty of therapists and patients getting lost in lengthy therapies. When it was acknowledged that the focus on traumatic memories was insufficient, phase-oriented therapy was adjusted to provide more attention to attachment and social integration [35,53]. As De Jong and Reis illustrate, the emphasis of Western therapy is mostly on the intra-human dimension, with limited attention given to the inter-human and time dimensions. Supra-human and extra-human dimensions rarely play a role in Western therapy. The results of this study suggest that involving a spiritual, religious, and social perspective can perhaps make therapy for patients with trauma-related dissociation more effective.

The study can also contribute to the debate on effective mental health policies and systems for underserved populations. Our research in Uganda, as well as the other mentioned research on dissociation in African and other low-income countries, demonstrates the importance of strengthening social and spiritual resources that can lead to social cohesion and enable healing. Knowledge of cultural themes and explanations and a systemic approach can be helpful in dealing with trauma-related dissociative symptoms. There is also some evidence that uncovering and unravelling individual traumatic experiences is not always necessary to increase mental well-being. It is possible that restoration of social, cultural, and spiritual belonging provides strength to endure certain individual traumatic experiences. At the same time, cultural themes can also allow patients to process trauma on a symbolic level. Verbalizing individual stresses and traumas in psychological EM can be dangerous within certain social, cultural, or political contexts [17,54]. Sometimes, however, when individual traumatic experiences and therapeutic needs may be insufficiently addressed with a cultural–spiritual approach (which may be perceived as an anachronism), individual counselling and psychosocial support interventions can also play an important role [55,56]. When explanations—whether medical, psychological, social, political, cultural, or spiritual–religious—do not seem to lead to a solution and are experienced as  paralyzing’, a shift of EM can lead to another dimension with new perspectives and solutions and result in an increased sense of patient self-efficacy.


aThe burning of items, which had been used for traditional rituals was witnessed by the first author at a Charismatic Church gathering in Rubindi, in 2000.

bThe emandwa cults have been described as occurring in Ankole and Rwanda. The emandwa are described as benevolent guardian spirits of lineage groups (ekibunu), of which at least one member must always be initiated into the cult [50]. In meetings with traditional healers, I was told emandwa spirits are messenger spirits and in hierarchy are between the bachwezi and ancestral spirits.

cDreams about white men and a corral of cattle probably refer to the bachwezi. They were seen as demi-gods or godly powers in charge of a high civilization that later vanished. They are described as tall, light-skinned men who were pastoralists, herding long-horned cattle, and originally came from Egypt. Others are of the opinion the light skins of the bachwezi is an invention of former colonial rulers. Also, the lineage connection to these representatives of a high civilization claimed by certain clans is seen by others as being used for political gain, power, and “proof of superiority” [52].

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

MvD carried out the research in Uganda and drafted the manuscript. WK participated in the design of the study and contributed to the statistical analysis. JdJ participated in the design and coordination of the study and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


We would like to thank all the healers that gave their trust and collaborated in this research by referring their patients. We especially wish to thank all the participants who took part in this study. We are also very grateful to our research assistant Andrew Ainomugisha for his valuable assistance in the fieldwork.


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Articles from International Journal of Mental Health Systems are provided here courtesy of BioMed Central
Page 2

Explanatory models and types of possessing spirits

Explanatory model
Ritual neglect
Neglected responsibilities
Call to become a healer
Land conflict
Death of dear one
Spirits no clear reason
TOTAL type of spirit
Type of spirit n % n % n % n % n % n % n % n %
Bachwezi (demi-gods)
Omuzimu (ancestral spirits)
TOTAL expl. model 34 29% 30 25% 14 12% 12 10% 12 10% 11 9% 6 5% 119 100%

aWitchcraft, e.g. initiated by neighbour or co-wife.

Note: Chi-square (12, 119) = 120.28, p < .001.


The Procedure of Enthroning Omukama

Appendix I: The Procedure of Enthroning Omukama *

* Uganda Journal. Vol. 4. 1936

After burying the body of his father or in another way defeating his rival brothers to the throne, a quite new enclosure used to be afterwards made in preparation for the new Mukama. A day for enthronement used to be arranged and declared. On the fired day, the people used first to wash the whole body of the nominated Mukama, cut his finger nails and be given vials, and shave his head. All these used to take place at the newly appointed Mukama's uncle's house, or in like manner at another chiefs house whose clan is entitled to the procedure. At about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the group of chiefs and all the people take the Omukama in procession into the prepared enclosure. On arriving at the first main gate (Mugabante), just at the drum wound (or platform), the following people followed the Mukama:-


1. Bamuroga who at the time was Katikiro.

2. Nyakoka, the physician of the Basuli clan holding his stick called Binyonyo, and another minor physician.

3. Kasoira Nyamumara of the Batwaire clan.

4. Mubito known to be descendant from Mukama Nyarwa Omulirahaigura.

On passing through the gate called Mugabante, then the two mentioned physicians slaughter there on white bull and one white cock. At the same moment, the above mentioned Mubito prays in a loud voice saying: "Oh God of Gods Begetter of Kings, Oh, Creator of Heaven and Earth, I have brought this new Mukama to succeed to the throne of his father, but if you find him warmly and that he is not a real son and grandson of his forefathers, the Bakama, may he suddenly die, or may the drum fail to give out its sound when sounded so as to signify that he is totally null".

After hearing these words the group of persons all around there pass over the flowing blood of the slaughtered victims. The Mukama then is allowed to enter the fence accompanied first by the Owisaza Mugema who, in old times was a head of all chiefs and was the chief Justice. After that he was followed by all other chiefs and people. On entering the royal house (Karuzika), before stepping over the elephant tusk laid down just on the threshold of the gate, again the aforesaid Mubito, together with the two physicians above mentioned, pray and say the same words as those mentioned above. The Mubito afterwards asks for an axe (Nyarebe) from Mulimba of the Basita clan. After getting it, the Mubito holds it and shows it to the Mukama who also knocks it with another tool nine times. The people during this event congratulate the Mukama with much pleasure. And then they bring a metal drum (Kajumba) to him. He also strikes upon it nine times while the people rejoice. After these events the Mukama is then allowed to pass over the said elephant task and entering the room he sits down on the royal wooden stool called Nyamyaro. From this moment he really becomes Mukama, and there is no further doubt that everything is in his hands. He is not allowed to speak nor to whisper during the whole night and besides this he is obliged to lie on one side of his body until its day lime. A guardian is placed there to watch him to see that he does not break any of these obligations.


On the very Coronation Day, the Omwambukya whose duly is to prepare the royal bath awakes the Mukama very early at about 3 o'clock in the morning. After awaking him he leads him from the house Kabagarama, to another main house Karuzika in which is kept the sacred spear Ruhango, and asks him to lie there on a bed until the day breaks. During the morning lime be leads him to the bath place (Kyambukya). Whilst there the Mukama sits on a stool called Kabwizi and Omwambukya bringing the water in a pot called "Rugaju", pours it into a wooden vessel and afterwards the Mukama begins to wash his body. After having taken a bath the Mukama then proceeds from there to the former house Kabagarama and sits in a very nicely prepared place. The maid in charge of the house and who belongs to the Bakopi clan brings water in a vessel with a lid on it, then the Mukama starts washing his face. After washing the servants bring the garments of barkcloth. The Mukama then removes those he had and puts on new ones. After dressing, the same lady brings a basketfull of beads and fastens them on the Mukama's wrists and legs and on his neck. Then the Mukama returns to the Karuzika passing through several passages and appears in the front room. He finds the men who lake care of his regalia waiting to greet him there. Again in this room the Mabito of Nyarwa's stock prays (his: "Oh, God, God save our Mukama, make him live long and make him advance in years, give him wealth and many children.''

During these ceremonies, the Kondo wearers i.e those given the right to wear the colobus beard and crown stand in a position of expectation at the platform 'Mugabante' with the drum placed just on the top of it waiting to beat it in respect of the new Mukama. Very many persons in addition to Kondo-wearers also stand round the platform such as Ntimbo drummers, flute players, rake holders, torch hlolders, grain seed keepers, keepers of the axe Kararamaire and horn blowers.


During this ceremony, the Mukama is first made to swear. The Mukama is First handed a towel' then the Bamuroga, Mugema, the Mubito, the Kasoira ( a physician) other chiefs and the ladies/Iremera in charge of the bed-chamber and Nyaraki in charge of Kapanapa, and another lady of the Baibira clan who looks after the dairy, make the Mukama swear that he will never frighten his nation, he must rule his people peacefully, he must admit foreigners to settle in his county, he must equally love his subjects however poor they may be, he must look after the orphans, and he must justly settle disputes. When swearing the Mukama lets fall the towel once at the end of every clause. When these are over the Mubito then pours the consecrating oil on the Mukama's head. The oil is kept in metal vase made in shape of a horn. By anointing him with the oil the Mukama is therefore consecrated. The oil is obtained from a tree known as Ojwangi. Then they put on his wist a ring called Ziriboyo and Rwendoro on the neck.

When the lady of the bedchamber of the Bakwonga clan brings a basketful of some grains mixed with sim-sim and some sort of wild leaves and flowers (Orwihura, and Omuhabura and Kasekera) and hands them to the Mukama. The Mukama then picking them out scatters them four times by throwing some to the back and some to his front.

When these are finished, the Mubito then proclaims the Mukama by the royal name and other dignitaries (Mpako), then he puts the hereditary crown called Rwobusungu on the Mukama's head nine times. An assistant called Muhesera also brings several other crowns and puts each at a time on the Mukama's head and lastly he puts the proper crown called Kasusunkwanzi on the Mukama's head and leaves it there.

Another assistant called Mujwiga bringing sandals called Biganja puts them on the Mukama's feet and the Omuhagane man hands the Mukama the spear called Kinegena. This spear signifies this: "You have been put in possession of your country should any person despise you, kill him."

Abebirongo of the Basonde clan hands the shield called Bisegege to the Mukama which means the whole nation is in his hands and it is his duty to preserve it from war.

Omusekura of the Banywagi clan hands a dagger called Busitama to the Mukama which also means that the Mukama must protect his country and settle cases justly as well.

Omusindizi then hands the stick called Kaliruga to the Mukama. This means that though he may be the Mukama he must take care not to kill anyone who perhaps vexes him in a trifling matter, but he must punish him by beating him with a slick. The same man also hands the whip to the Mukama which also has the same meaning as a slick.

A man known as a Mutamura hands a thin long staff (Kajunju) or a cane to the Mukama which, denotes that he must punish the people for minor offences by beating them with it.

Another man called Muhamba Nyamugoya hands to the Mukama a quite new hoe called Empese which indicates that he has become father of his people and that all persons must cultivate and must see that food is grown in order to avoid famine.

The man Munuma then comes holding the bow known as Nyampogo and quiver known as Ndayampunu. This signifies that the Mukama must proceed at once against any foes in his Kingdom.

Another man Musindizi hands to the Mukama a bag made of leopard skin which is called Rutanga. This means that he must trade and become rich, and that also he must teach his subjects to trade as well.

The Muhesera man then hands to the Mukama a wooden whistle and another made of bamboo. It means that if the Mukama hears the people sounding the alarm whistle he must go to the war. On the other hand, the Kasisi (a dried plant used as a decanter or vessel in which water is put for drinking and used as a glass denotes peace.

When all these rites are performed, the Bamuroga then sends word to a man Kakahuka of the Babwitwa clan at the mound outside the fence and orders him to raise the alarm. Kakahuka raising an alarm shouts: " You enemies, you witches, you barbarians, why do you disobey this brave Mukama?"

In the meantime the man of the Basita clan immediately beats the drum whilst standing at the summit of the mound and all people make a noise in honour of the event.

The other men stretch mats along the path. They lay them from Karuzika to Omurugo stretching them through many small limbs named Mucwa, Kyakato, Kyamunuma and Komuruweyo and Komuruweyo. From Kamurweyo only papyrus grass is laid right through Kitogo to Omurugo, where the men called the Baswata have already hung up a mat Mukanaigura to make a canopy. Two calves, a heifer and a bull are found there too, with the cattleman called Lingiro who has prepared a smokefire for them.

After the ceremonies described above, the Mukama leaves the stool Nyamyaro. He meets a lady of the Bakwonga clan holding a basket full of dried coffee berries and another plant known as Rugusa, which the Mukama lakes before stepping over the tusk.

He takes out two male coffee berries and two female ones wrapped in the Rugusa and chews them. He keeps the tusks in his hands and then steps over the tusk. Then he meets a Mubitokati called Kabatongole whom he finds holding red clay. Kaolin and ordinary earth, and a wooden mould full of water drawn from a well at Mubende Hill which formerly had been used by Mukama Nduhura of the Bacwezi race.

The Mubitokati then mixes the above article into the water and smears each of the colours on the Mukama's checks near the ears. She first of all anoints him with the red clay, and then with the Kaolin, and lastly with the earth. After doing so, she then dips the gathered wild flowers and leaves already referred to in the water in the mould and then sprinkles the Mukama and the other people by way of bestowing on them a blessing. Whilst sprinkling she calls on the names of the Bakama of old and says: 'This throne belonged to your father (mentions the name) and to your father. "You have now inheited their seat called Tibamulinde, May it bring you, success." Holding the gathered wild flowers and leaves she again says that she wishes him blessing and prosperity, to have as many children as possible, to be wealthly, to save his Kingdom and people and that God may favour him. When speaking these wards she closes her eyes and she opens them when they are over. Then the Mubitokati is told to choose a part of land which she prefers to reside in, the Mukama then sends her there after finishing the ceremony. He orders the chief of that region to erect for her a dwelling with a fence round it. He also gives her many presents such as cattle, male and female servants. From that time this Mubitokati never returns to see the Mukama until his death.

Then the Mukama utters these words. "Oh Nyarwa who eats in the heavens, letting the bones drop down, I pray you to make me live long and advance in age, to give me wealth, to give me many children, to help me in defeating ther nations and to leave me in peace."

After concluding this prayer the Mukama, then proceeds to Murugo. He is led by a man entitled Nzini of Rwotomahanga (the grandson of Nyakwehuta of the Bayaga clan). Also Ntimbo drummers and flute players lead him. The group of other persons come after the Mukama praising him thus: Ha Kyaro, Nzaire ha Kyaro Lyogere, ba Kyaro mbaire, ba Kyaro Nyamunyaka etc.

On entering the hut, Mucwa, the Mukama meets there his head royal sister (known as Batebi or Kalyota) together with other Babitokati. On seeing him they all stand up in the meantime the Batebi or kalyota touches the shoulder of the Mukama. She touches it whilst he is standing on a calf's skin, called Okwemerra.

Leaving this but he goes on and passes through another but called Kato. Before entering the next hut 'Kyamanuma' he meets a man representing foreigners, who produces an elephant tusk and two copper bracelets and shows them to the Mukama. The Mukama touches them. (It denotes that the Mukama is the head of all rain-makers, and that in case the rain fails to fall he may ask for rain from God that his people may be saved from a serious famine).

After passing through the hut, Kyamunuma, the Mukama meets in the yard a man holding the sacred spear 'Kaitantahi' the bow 'Nyampogo' and two quivers Nyamyezi and Nyamirima. These mean that the Mukama is guarded from enemies by means of them.

After leaving there, he passes the hut Kamurweyo and arrives at the hut Kitoyo where he finds the Baswata. They pass their hands over his garments as if they are clothing him; and then he reaches Murugo and stands under -the canopy. Whilst there the Abeganywa bring to the Mukama some spears which they get from the hut, Rwemigo. They hold them towards him. Then another man Mukumirizi stands below the Mukama and shouts to the Kondo-wearers, Babito and to other people warning them that the Mukama is already in Murugo.

As soon as they hear this, all Kondo-wearers immediately put on their Kondo crowns on their heads and move towards the Mukama to salute him and to give him some presents.

One man goes through the form of accussing another for two debts as if they are in court. The Mukama settles the cases, quickly and symbolically. He who wins the case thanks the Mukama by kissing hands. Then every Kondo-wearer approaches; and kisses his hands, which means that they realise the distinction bestowed upon them because some of the Kondo-wearers arc chiefs, and some are caretakers of the regalia. After this ceremony the Mukama then goes back to his house. On the way he stops for a moment at the hut Kamurweyo, then a Mujaguzo man named Musita beats the drum four times; and Kakahula of the Babwijwa clan again raises an alarm repeating the same words as those described before. Then another man of the Bahisa clan holds the shield Mugidu which is believed to have belonged to the original Mukama Rukidi. He waves it as a sign of pleasure. The Mukama then goes on as far as to the royal house Karuzika returning there by the way he came. But at this time the drums and the people do not pass through the huts as before, they accompany him by passing outside them. On reaching Karuzika the Mukama, alter stepping over the tusk, meets again a lady of the Bakwonga clan awaiting him there having already spread a white calf skin upon which he must stand. He then gives to her the coffee husks which he bad got from the coffee berries he had chewed on his way to Murugo as explained above. When this is over, he then sits on the stool Nyamyarro. Omuhesera comes and takes the crown off from the Mukama's head, puts it on the Queen mother's lap, and then takes it from her and puts it away in its proper place.

The Mukama then leaves the seat and goes into another room of the same house. He finds there a lady of the Balisa clan awaiting him to give him some milk to drink. Whilst there the Mukama sits on a chair known as Kaizirokwera.

He does not drink the milk immediately, but he first sips it nine times and then at last drinks it up altogether. After drinking, the lady hands to the Mukama a towel with which he wipes his mouth. Also she gives to him another towel with which he wipes his hands. Afterwards the Mukama remains there for only a few minutes lying on a bed. He then goes and sits on Kaizirokwera. At this moment another lady of the Baitira clan producing a butter bowl called Nyamutungo elevates it nine times in the presence of the Mukama. By doing so she conveys the symbolic meaning that such a bowl was put in her charge by Bacwezi Bakama, their predecessors, and after their disappearance she guarded it for the Babito-Bakama his ancestors, and that she claims that she is still its keeper for the present Mukama. Also she produces a basket called Kaguli which she elevates to nine times and which action also has the same sense as that in the case of the butter bowl.

After this ceremony the Mukama then goes out of this room and takes his seat on Nyamyarro, in the throne room. Immediately the Mpango drum is beaten at the threshold and the Kondo-wearers are called out from the hut Mucwa to come and approach the Mukama in the Karuzika.

Then both the Mubito who is said to be a descendant of Nyarwa, and Bamuroga announce to the gethering this: "Now know that this is your new Mukama, and the same is the descendant of the first Mukama Rukidi Mpaga, everyone must obey him, but whoever shall disobey him shall be liable to be killed, or he shall be exiled."

When the announcement is over, then the Mubito proclaims to the people what new official name the Mukama has taken and his other dignities (Mpako). Then after that the multitude stand up and greet the Mukama thus: "Engundu zona Okali, Kahangirize Wamara, Kahangirize Agutamba, Kahangirize Nzaire, Kahangirize Nkyamungi etc."

When this is over, the drummers hand to the Mukama the principal drum Mpango Tibamulinde which he beats in nine different rolls. Then they give him other small drums too and he strikes them, beating each in four rolls. A man of the Bakurungo clan then brings to the Mukama two long trumpets Nyamalya by name which are said to have been possessed by Mukama I.M. Rukidi: He hands both to the Mukama four times. It is said that Mukama I.M. Rukidi was using them when hunting in Longo at the time when Nyakoka and Karongo found him there to inform him of his succession to the throne, and the Mukama after being informed that he was nominated to be Mukama, ordered these trumpets to be ornamented with beads.

Then after this event, a man Mujwiga who takes care of the bow Nyapogo and quiver Ndampunu brings them to the Mukama. The Mukama then draws out only four arrows and begins to shoot towards the comers of the world. With the first arrow he shoots Eastward (i.e towards Buganda, Busoga, and other tribes of that side), with the second- he shoots Westwards (ie. towards Bulega in the Congo); with the third he shoots southward (i.e aims at Ankole, Rwanda etc); and with the fourth he shoots Northward (i.e he aims at Bukedi, i.e Acholi and Lango etc,). He indicates that war shall be prevented from coming from any of the quarters towards which he has shot an arrow.

Then the Ntimbo drummer brings his old drum Mutengesa which formerly had been possessed by Bacwezi Bakama and hands it to the Mukama. This signifies that whenever the people hear the sound of this small drum, they at once know that the Mukama is roaming about in his enclosure.

After this, then, the Mujwiga drummer and his companions holding long durms called Tomuju or Namagaija come before the Mukama and play their drums. These drums have the same meaning as that of Ntimbo. At the same time the other drummers beat the little drums (Amahurru and Obwana bw'engoma). The Abahaimi bring the sacred spears : Mahere Kimuli, Kaizireijo, Mutasimbwa, Gotigoti and others and slope them towards the Mukama. It means that the Mukama's forebearers, the Bacwezi and the Babito, have defeated all other nations, and that in case he likes to attack other countries, they will guard and help him.

After this, another man of the Bukalari clan brings a hammer, and another one brings a stone anvil called Oruhija and they place them before the Mukama and he then hammers some iron four times. By this action it means that he is the head of all blacksmiths. This hammer is the tool with which he hammers the spears for war and hoes for his people to cultivate with. Another meaning is "May the Mukama all his days be strong and endure like this hammer which cannot be spoilt or broken by any man".

In the meantime, a man of the Batwaire clan called Katoira, the physician, comes and squats in the doorway in front of the Mukama. Then the Bamuroga on the other hand brings a pipe Kyoma and gives it to Kasoira who smokes it in the presence of the Mukama. By this pipe the Mukama commemorates the power and dignity which his ancestor Mukama Rukidi bestowed upon the physician. Because this soothsayer had explained to Rukidi the reason why the Bacwezi Bakama disappeared from the country.

After this, then the Nyakoka of the Basuli clan brings to the Mukama the Binyonyo stick and four knives, vis: Kabutika, Kyeraigongo, Nyamahunge, and Kyebagira, and he hands them all to the Mukama nine times, saying the royal salutations.

In this action, Nyakoka represents the original Nyakoka the physician who was a doctor to Mukama Rukidi and who had prophesied how Rukidi was going to become Mukama.

A moment after, Kadongolima, chief of Matiri of the Bakwonga clan, comes wearing his Kondo-head-dress made of feathers and tops slightly on the Mukama's shoulders and afterwards salutes him: 'This Kadongolima represents the old Kadongolima who at that time was a chief of Matiri and who belonged to the Bakwonga clan, and was husband of the sister of Rukidi.

Some other ceremonies are performed, but which are unnecessary to include here.

When all these are finished, the Mukama goes into the dressing room to change his garments. After wearing other clothes he goes and sits at the third gateway, Ihudiro, at the back of the enclosure where the lady Nyaraki is in charge. Then all the ladies of the royal houses bring baskets containing beads, emblems, lions, and leopard claws nicely ornamented, which are put on by the Mukama. After receiving these presents he then returns to the dressing room and re-changes his vestments, and then returns to the throne room.

At this time the Mpango and other drums are brought from Kyawairindi to the threshold. Then the chiefs, Babitokati and other persons who are not Babito approach and sit by the Mukama. Then a Mujaguzo drummer begins drumming after which he gives it to the Mukama who also strikes it as many times as the former did and gives it back to the drummer. The former again hits it in four rolls whilst Kakahuka raises the alarm and a man of the Balisa clan waves the shield Mugido about. Then the Musita drummer sounds four rolls, and on the fifth he beats the Irambi song and all the drummers and musicians proceed back to the courtyard Kyawairindi, and the Mukama retires. During this interval the people who live in the Mukama's enclosure to perform services begin to have their meals.

At 3.00 O'clock in the afternoon, the Mukama again undertakes other ceremonies. He first goes to the dressing room and puts on other clothes. He moves, again to the Murugo called Kyawairindi where he finds a seat Kabwize already arranged for him to sit on. This seat is taken care of by the Bambukya, who dress him. The drums are also rebeaten as explained in the preceding lines. The Kondowearers, the Babitokati and many other people assemble there and begin to dance accompanying the instruments. Presents to the Omukama are made. He remains there at least for one hour and then goes back to the dressing room to change his garments and then after changing he comes and sits in the throne room.

A young boy of about 12 years of age, brings some of the sacred milk cows raising all alarm in order to warn other people to get away to create passage for the cows. When this boy grows up he ceases to do this work, but another one of the same age is selected to succeed him in his office. But the former heads other Kraals. Such a boy is selected from the following clans: Balisa, Basambo, Basita, Baitira, and Bayaga. In raising an alarm the selected boy calls out: "Erakafa efe, erahendeka ehendeke, Omwenzi wabyo aliyo" which is interpreted. " If one dies let it die, if one breaks a bone let it break, provided the owner is there." Another man upon seeing the cows coming, at once spreads a mat upon which they stand when being milked. Two ladies one being of the Baitira clan and the other of the Balisa clan, after smearing their bodies with Kaolin assemble, one holding an old horn containing water, a brush for driving away flies, and a cord for fastening the lower legs, the other holds an earthenware bowl. A man of the Mugombirwa clan fastens the two back legs, the milkman, who is one of the caretakers of the sacred spears begins to milk. The bowl Nyamusika is filled, but the milkman has to take great care against dirtiness and dust in the milk. The milking man and the two ladies are all of them entirely forbidden from having any sexual intercourse during all these days. They are obliged to appear happy all the time and are strictly forbidden to cough or sneeze.

When all these are over the Mukama takes his meal called Nyakabito. A man named Nyakabango of the Bakurungo clan with his companions serve it. They wear new clothes and are smeared with Kaolin. One of them serves the food cleanly wrapped in two bark-cloths, and the other serves a wooden vessel containing food and water marere covered with nicely painted lid. Another brings a wooden bowl containing long pointed pins and knives and another a small water mug. All these things are wrapped up in bark-domes. Before serving them, a man called Nyakabango first gives to the Mukama a moistered towel which the Mukama takes and with it rubs his hands after which Nyakabango gives him four long pins and two knives placed on the towel.

The Mukama then takes one of the four pins and a knife and cuts the meat in small pieces. Before eating he first casts one piece on the right hand side, and the second one on the left hand side, and the third he casts to the back, and the forth he casts before him. After doing so he afterwards cuts nine other pieces for himself to eat. After he has finished eating the man Nyakabango again gives him a moistened towel to rub his hands with. After rubbing them he takes a glass of water to drink. Then Nyakabango knocks at the door to warn the people that the meal is now finished. The Nyakabango announces to the Mukama that his post is a hereditary one from the time of the first Mukama Rukidi up to date and at the same time swears before him that he agrees to continue to fill it during his reign. The Mukama agreeing to this promise orders him to return very early and kiss his hand (a sign of thanks giving) in the presence of all chiefs. When this is over the Mukama retires. The Accession celebrations conclude.

A crown - Rwabusungu


Royal Drums

A Royal Stool


Bunyoro-Kitara - Their Death Rituals and Beliefs


Death was almost always believed to be the work of evil magic, ghosts, or similar. Gossiping was believed to magically affect or harm people. Death was viewed as being a real being. When a person died, the oldest woman of the household would clean the body, cut the hair and beard, and close the eyes of the departed. The body was left for viewing and the women and children were allowed to cry/weep, but the men were not. In case the dead was the head of the household, a mixture of grain (called ensigosigo) was put in his hand, and his children had to take a small part of the grain and eat it - thus passing on his (magical) powers.

After one or two days, the body would be wrapped in cloth and a series of rites would be carried out. The following rites are only for heads of family:

  • The nephew must take down the central pole of the hut and throw it in the middle of the compound
  • The nephew would also take the bow and eating-bowl of the departed and throw it with the pole
  • The fireplace in the hut would be extinguished
  • A banana plant from the family plantation and a pot of water was also added to the pile
  • The family rooster had to be caught and killed
  • The main bull of the family's cattle had to be prevented from mating during the mourning by castration
  • After four days of mourning, the bull would be killed and eaten, thus ending the period of mourning
  • The house of the departed would not be used again

The burial would not be done in the middle of the day, as it was considered dangerous for the sun to shine directly into the grave. As the body was carried to the grave the women were required to moderate their weeping, and it was forbidden to weep at the grave. Also pregnant women were banned from participating in the funeral as it was believed the negative magical forces related to burial would be too strong for the unborn child to survive. After the burial the family would cut some of their hair off and put it onto the grave. After the burial, all participants washed themselves thoroughly, as it was believed that the negative magical forces could harm crops.

If the departed had a grudge or other unfinished business with another family, his mouth and anus would be stuffed with clay, to prevent the ghost from haunting.



An interesting, insightful paper on the perspectives of the Nkore, Ganda and Masai towards the concept of a "High God".



F.B. Welbourn

Copyright 1964

[Originally published by the Institute of African Studies, University of Ife]


There is a story, told by the Roman Catholic missionary scholar Crazzolara,of how the first missionaries tried to discover which of the many spirits (jok, plur. jogi) of the Acholi was regarded as creator.Unfor­tunately, the Acholi have no myth of creation ; and the question, 'Which jok created you? ' was meaningless.Ultimately they tired of it and answered, 'Rubanga'.This therefore became the official vernacular name for Yahweh.It is simply unfortunate that, in his native country of Bunyoro, Rubanga is a spirit responsible for the birth of twins.When he crosses the border into Acholi, he takes over hunchbacks and tuberculosis of the spine.All over Afica, Yahweh has been given new names; and it has to be asked whether, in receiving them, he has changed his character - or at least the character attributed to him by his worshippers - just as, in becoming theos, he took on the 'rationality of a Greek philosopher'.

In another context, it would have to be asked also how far such changes have been, theologically, advantageous.The purpose of this paper is to describe - so far as is possible from the limited sources available - the ideas of a creator god in Ankole, Buganda and Maasai.It will be necessary to examine their position relative both to the social structure and to the total mythology of the tribes concerned.Finally, some attempt will be made to sketch a psycho-analytic approach to the problems involved.

lf western preconceptions prejudice and understanding of the mythology of others, a further bias is introduced into a comparative treatment by the necessity of describing each culture in turn.There is a tendency to present them in what appears - without adequate criteria - to be their order of complexity or of chronological development.I shall not, in fact, do so.My own suggestion is that, of the three, Maasai mythology represents an early form related to a nomadic society organised around cattle.That of Ankole shows the wealth of material introduced not only by a settled agricultureal economy but by a considerable history of kingship.That of Buganda is a still further development imposed by a high degree of political centralisation.But I have chosen to present first the Nkore picture, because it seems to contain all the elements needed to contrast effectively the other two.


The modern kingdom of Ankole (which has a semi-federal relationship to the independent Government of Uganda) was formed by the integraffon in 1901 of a number of Hima chiefdoms in western Uganda.Information in this paper is drawn from the central chiefdom of Nkore, whose Omugabe became ruler of the new kingdom.Its population consists of the ruling Hinda, pastoral Hima and agricultural Iru.Hima mythology tells how Ruhanga, the Creator, made all things at once.The first man had three sons, of whom the youngest (through a not very creditable accident) became ruler, while the others became respectively a herdsman and a tiller of the soil.This perhaps does no more than legitimise the status of the Hinda.In the Iru account, Ruhanga created a Woman and a Beast.To the former he gave gourds con­taining the seeds of all natural objects.When the two fell out, the Woman threw down one gourd after another to hinder the Beast.She thus brought into being mountains, sand, water, forests, food, beasts and finally men who fought the beast.The Woman became the cirrus and stratus clouds, while the Beast disappeared into the ground and became the author of death to crops, cattle and men.Neither of these myths is in common currency today; and, apart from them, there appears to be little difference, except in detail, between the myth and ritual of the two groups.Omugabe is said to be descended from a legendary Cwezi dynasty, common in one form or another to all the Hima chiefdoms, and themselves descended ultimately from Ruhanga.He had special powers, as the mediator of blessings.But, unlike Ganda and Nyoro, for whom the tombs of the kings form an integral part of the tribal cultus, Nkore traditionally left the royal corpse to decay in the forest.The spirit eventually became a lion cub; and the new Omugabe could then be appointed as the reincarnation of the undying spirit of kingship.The Cwezi are now recognised as the guardian spirits (emandwa) of lineage groups (ekibunu), of which at least one member must always be initiated into the cult.Omugabe himself is thus initiated privately.

It seems probably that, until it was driven underground by Government and Mission alike, the emandwa cult was the most important mythological activity of the Nkore; and even members of the intensely evangelical Revival will still describe their own initiation and discuss the reality of the Cwezi.Initiation was a terrifying and painful experience, which might be demanded of either men or women and which any would escape if he could.The initiate was, in effect, the priest of his lineage group, responsible both for making the appropriate offering on behalf of his group and for partaking in the initiation of members either of his own group or of others.

Although, in theory, only one iniffate was required in each group, the emandwa not infrequently made known its requirement of others.This might be through sudden illness such as headache or fainting; yaws and ulcers; madness and fits; accidents to members of the lineage; thinness; diseases of children; family misunderstandings; failure of crops; sterility or failure of lactaffon in cows and goats; still-births and abortions among women.Its posiffve functions were to ensure co-operation between members of the lineage in such activities as sowing millet, to guard their llfe and well-being and to ward off other emandwa who might wish them harm.Stenning, who studied a EIima community, thought that emandwa represented the permissive, benevolent and optimistic aspect of Nkore religion, being responsible for the good things which happened to their devotees.Each third day (mwizuzu) was dedicated to them.Women might do pottery and weaving; but there was no work in the fields; and the men attended beer parties.Each new moon was celebrated by offerings at emandwa shrines with prayer and choral sing­ing and followed by feasting.Vows might be made to give a bull as reward for safety in battle or return from a journey.At seed-time emandwa would be invited to accompany his ward to the field.But, otherwise, he would destroy the crops; the new-moon offerings seem to have been directed pri­marily at keeping emandwa quiet; and, whatever the orthodox account of their benevolent functions and of the regularity of offerings, there is a strong impression that little attention was, in fact, paid to them until they caused trouble.At least in the particular Iru community studied by Bemunoba, emandwa must be taken as representing not so much the benevolent aspect of experience as its essenffally arbitrary character.

Much clearer is the malevolent character of the ancestral ghosts (emizimu).Stenning says that they are quick to punish bad actions but do not reward good ones; and he mentions the following as especially active: father, elder brother, fatherts brother, father's mother and father's sister.According to Bamunoba, the ghost of any member of the household (eka), who has died unattended or for whom proper funeral rites have not been completed, may cause misfortune to its living members.This includes the ghost of a stranger who died unattended within the homestead .A woman' s ghost may cause sterility in women of the household.The ghost of a child, who died through its motherts carelessness, may kill her other children or cause her sterility, still-births or abortion.Other misfortunes may follow failure to make offerings at ancestral shrines; and some ghosts may require attention for up to three generations.ln general, it would be easy enough to relate their activities to sins of omission on the part of those whom they trouble.But, in fact, they are regarded as wholly arbitrary in their inter­ference with the living; and their victims are treated not as those who get what they deserve but with the sympathy due to unpredictable misfortune.

The diagnosis of trouble is made by diviners (omuraguzi), who may use material means such as a grasshopper, seeds, cowrie shells or the guts of a chicken.Others may have been initiated, through possession', into a partic­ular type of emandwa not associated either with the Cwezi or with lineage groups.Some, like Kahumpuri (plague), are traditionally associated with specific diseases.Some, like Ryangombe (an emandwa of hunters) with particular professions.Others are more recent immigrants, such as Nyabingi and Mungu.It is probably important that, while for instance among the Nyoro and Sumbwa possession forms an integral part of the group Cwezi cults, it is only feigned in the Nkore version.But Nkore diviners, who have been initiated into their special emandwa, use dissociation as an essential part of thefr technique.

Treatment of disease will be not only through ritual directed at mytho­logical beings, but with medicines provided by omufumu.He is a sorcerer, in the accepted sense of one who provides material means, which sometimes have an empircal basis, for both good and evil ends.Curses, especially those of older kin, may be very effective but must be justified.The vio­lation of a clan totem entails inescapable death.The breaking of taboos, which attach in different forms to men, women and children, leads to sick­ness.

Totem and taboo are the direct concern of Ruhanga (-hanga, create, set in order), who is above all things.He also imposed the causes of shame (ebihemu), which are integral to all personal relationships among Nkore.He has three titles, each of which is integral to his being, though there is no suggestion that he was conceived in Trinitarian form.He is Nyamuhanga (Creator), Rugaba (-gaba, give), Kazooba (eizooba, sun - having the qual­ities of light and heat).He is above all things, invisible, omnipresent, moving like the sun across the whole earth.Some say that he inhabits the sun.He creates all things - especially life, the embryos of men and animals and the seeds of plants.He gives new life, the blessings of worldly attain­ment, the daily needs of men.He causes the sun to shine by day and the moon by night.He preserves peace; and it is customary to draw his atten­tion to all important activities.For instance, before making an offering to emandwa the officiant takes a bundle of herbs (omuhambo), dips it in beer and, waving it to all points of the compass, says:

This is Veronia: let my home be as white as it

This is Bersama: may my house be spared

This is Cardiospermum: Keep away my enemies etc. etc.

These are yours, Creator: And yours, O Giver

And yours, Lord of the sun: O give me life.

The following prayer was offered by the chief wife of the household,

early in the morning before others had risen.Hanging over the hearth was a dry spray of the herb omwetango (prevention).It was shaken so that pieces fell into the fire and gave a pleasant smell.Then the woman squeezed the leaves of omuhiire (good fortune) and, sprinkling the juice into the fire, said:

(a)Let me smile in good fortuneor(b) That is prevention

Let my children smile in good fortunePrevent, prevent

Let my home smile in good fortuneRescue, rescue

I do not eat what is not mineNow we go out

I do not steal my neighbourts goodsKeep us.

I always wish good health to others

I am never in debt

He who hates is unjust

I am always smiling in good fortune;

Others were offered by women whose husbands were at the wars:

(a)Let him be saved with them(b)Whether they capture them

Let him stand firm with themWhether they bring them

Let him struggle with themhome

Let him return with them from battle;Whether they stab each


Come and see them.

Unlike ghosts and emandwa Ruhanga is never destructive or maleficient.He is responsible neither for misfortune nor for death, although in the last resort he has created all causes.If all means fail of dealing with misfortune, it will be said, 'Leave it to Ruhanga'.He will be given credit if misfortune ceases; but the normal assumption is that the situation is hopeless.Despite the prayers which are addressed to him, he is not expected to intervene directly in human life.He neither 'possesses' men nor expects sacrifice.The order, which he has created, may be thrown out of balance - a totem may be violated.But the consequences are automatic, impersonal, like the swing of a pendulum restoring equilibrium.It is not possible to speak of offending him, or to feel guilty towards him.He is; and he is good - the principle of order.He is person; but he is person far more distant - perhaps, therefore, far more reliable - than Omugabe.

In summary, Nkore mythological structure seems to symbolise an ultimate confidence in the nature of things, represented at one end by Ruhanga, at the other by the belief that just curses are effective, while unjust will turn on those who utter them.Totems and taboos - like the tree in the midst of the garden - suggest the frontier beyond which man strays at his peril.Ebihemu are the cautions against giving away too much in personal relationships, against the knowledge of nakedness.The ever-present threat of an anti-social imagination in individuals - the immoderate success of Abel, the jealousy of Cain - is found in bad sorcery.The arbitrary nature of experi­ence - the troubles and disasters and anxieties which cannot be attributed to human agency, the expulsion from Eden - are due to the demands of ghosts and emandwa, often enough demanding, like querulous old men and women, more than is justly is difficult to find any sense of guilt, of the voice in the garden, or - outside the impersonal action of totem and taboo - recognition of suffering as in any sense deserved.Above all is Ruhanga.Ultimately nothing can happen outside the order which he has created.In some sense (which is not argued) the forces of trouble can operate only with his permission.But he is seen only as good, reliable, the sustainer of order.


The Maasai are nomadic pastoralists, with a loose structure of exogamous clans and sub-clans but organised primarily in age-grades.Boys, through circumcision, become moran - the fighting force.Moran, through a further ritual, become elders - entitled to marry the girls who have just undergone clitoridectomy.Another ritual confers on elders the right to perform domestic rites such as the naming and circumcision of children.Yet another is required before they can administer such wider rites as the blessing of women.

Integral to their lives are their cattle.A Maasia lives, and wishes to die, among his cattle.All but the bones are put to use - milk, meat, blood, hide, tail, horns, dung, urine, bone-marrow - for food, clothes, house-building, bride-wealth, rinsing, sacrifice, divination.Along with honey - as for the Jews - milk is a symbol of beautitude.A Maasai will die in defence of his cattle.Almost from birth he learns to love and be with them as with his own family.Without them he is nothing.With them, and with his children together, he is fully man.They were given by Enk Ai to Maasinda the first man; and he in turn bequeathed them to Maasai, the founder of the tribe.How could any other lay claim to them?

Indeed, they lost all claim through the attitudes of their founding fathers.In the beginning (though there is no myth of creation) Enk Ai set Maasinda on the earth, wishing him all happiness and denying none of his requests.A leather rope stretched from sky to earth; and from its lower end Maasinda communicated with Enk Ai.His constant desire was for cattle; and they were delivered down the rope.Sometimes, also, Enk Ai would speak to him words of wisdom.Maasinda became very wise; and all the proverbs of Maasai are attributed to him.Of his four sons, Maasai alone inherited his love for cattle.Torrobo became father of the Ndorobo, forest hunters; Meeki the father of all agriculturalists; Kunoni father of the smiths.

In due course the Maasai migrated southwards and came to the precipi­tous escarpment of the Kerio.After long time of waiting, and a hazardous ascent, only the strongest reached the top and lived to inhabit their new home; and Enk Ai is addressed, 'O thou who brought us up from Kerio'.In daily prayer he is addressed also, after the first groups to be initiated as moran when the ascent was done, Enk Ai of Ilkitilik and llkuarri'.From Kerio they moved southwards to Entorror (Kitale) and Kinopop (Kinangop).These were fertile pastures; and in the latter area, at Enkushuai, round a tree called Ololiondo, their major sacrifices were made, their prayers offered and blessings received.The treaty of 1911, which confined Maasai to an area further south, made specific provision for their access to Enkushuai for ritual purposes.After two or three such visits, they learned (no doubt under administrative pressure) that Enk Ai could be worshipped at other trees in their new homeland.It was an experience not unlike that of the Hews in Babylon.

Enk Ai is, in any case, actively involved in their lives at every point.He preserves order and punishes injustice.Through him a generous man becomes more wealthy, one who is mean loses his property.From him comes the blessing which parents bestow on sons who care for them.He ensures that the curse of a dying parent is fulfiled on the careless to the bitter end.Because he is just, an undeserved curse takes no effect.His chief inter­mediaries are the laibon, whose powers are hereditary.They are traced back for ten generations to the first who fell, full-grown, from the sky, married a Maasai and sent his sons to practise among other tribes.Their numbers are so few, and travelling so difficult in Maasai, that they can be consulted only on special occasions.Prayer direct to Enk Ai is available to everyone.But the laibon are in direct communication with him - through dreams, through trance or through pebbles poured from a horn.Their intercession for others may be more effective than private petition.Laibon are credited with remarkable powers of foresight, both for indi­viduals and for the tribe as a whole.They can make and unmake rain.They are consulted about the details of each initiation and may modify decisions already reached by the elders.They prescribe measures to be taken against individual or social troubles.They act against sorcerers, treat disease and probably have genuine surgical skill.Finally, they may practise sorcery against rival laibon or, in the extreme case, against indi­viduals or groups against whom they have a grudge.But this clearly anti­social activity gives them such bad repute that it is rare.

It is not, however, through the laibon that the activity of Enk Ai is seen in everyday life.Each morning, as elders leave their houses, they may pray:

O God of our fathers....continue to look after us,

to take care of our children,

and to drive away disease from men and cattle alike.

Keep evil away from us....

Each morning, as a woman milks her cows:

O God, I pray you to give me life, children and food to support life...

At the ritual naming ceremony for each child of a house:

May God give that name a foundation in this family Ee sere

May God bless this house

May he give it laughter

May he give you cattle

May he give you his blessing

May he give you more children.....

On the election of Olaiguenani, 'Chief Councillor' or a group of moran, shortly before their initiation:

May God;s wisdom be given to the clan through you

May the age-set which you lead always find God;s favour

May they follow you through the paths of good fortune

May you be granted patience and a long life

May God always give to your fellows victory

May God keep away all evil from your ways......

Finally, at the blessing of women, a ceremony of deep emotion, in which every available woman partakes to seek the increase of the whole tribe, they sing:

Solo O God of thunder and lightning

Chorus (after each line) That thy seed may commingle with God's

whose dwellings are in the springs

I will pray night and day

O listen to my constant plea

O hear that which my companions deserve

Their heads should be covered with hair

They should rest while donkeys move on errands

They deserve to move always in the coolness of the shade

O God, pay this debt

This debt which our cattle cannot pay

This debt which cannot be paid by the labour of hands

O God, regard us only in ways that are proper

That you may give to women the gift of children

That you may give children to all, forgetting none

Towards the end of the ceremony:

Solo My companions, where do you drink?

Chorus I drink from the springs of my God

Subsequently children become a joyful burden

And thus I pray to my God whom I love

O God, make us always drink thus

And finally, amid a deep silence, the officiating elder steps forward:

That you may beget children Ee sere

That your children may be a strong

That they may live to make a great clan

That through them the house of Maasai may receive strength

That God may give you his blessing

That he may guard you always

That he may strengthen your backs

That he may put seed into your wombs

That he may give you faces of joy

That he may enable you to come victorious over all trouble.....

Alongside this deep awareness of the active benevolence of Enk Ai is the knowledge that things often enough go wrong. This may be due to the direct intervention of Enk Ai, punishing the tribe as a whole for wrong-doing.The stars may portend that a ceremony should not take place at the suggested time; but this may be counteracted by sorcery supplied by a laibon.Sorcery is widely used to ensure safe return from a journey, to guard homes, to protect and increase cattle.It is also widely suspected as a cause of ill-luck and sickness, and such can be counteracted only through consultation with a laibon.Some diseases may, however, be treated by western medicine; and laibon have been known to refer a patient to hospital.

There are two sources of misfortune which can be attributed confidently to particular individuals: the curse and the evil eye.The curse to be effective must always be justified.Its operation is attributed to Enk Ai; and it is directed towards the preservation of proper relations in society.It can be counteracted only through reconciliation followed by blessing, by the curser, of the cursed; and the curse of a man, unreconciled before death, has no remission.It may be used against an unknown miscreant - a thief or a murderer; and the consequences for him are so severe that he will ultimate­ly make confession in order to obtain forgiveness.It may be inflicted by an older age-grade on a junior, by pater, genitor or genitrix on their children, by a husband or one of his age-peers on his wife, by a laibon on consultants who disobey his instructions and, finally, by a whole society on one of its members who has become a public danger.

The evil eye, on the other hand, appears to be entirely arbitrary in its incidence.It is hereditary; and one sub-clan is particularly notorious.Although its possessor may use his power with deliberate evil intention, its effect is normally involuntary.Simply to look at another may cause him to faint or, in the extreme case, to die.The only cure is for the owner of the eye to spit on his victim; and a stranger entering a house in which he finds children, will spit on them as a prophylactic measure.Allied to this power appear to be the dangerous possibilities of exceptional beauty, courage or wealth.Simply to be admired and talked about may itself bring disaster.This belief may suggest that admiration hides jealousy.Perhaps it does no more than symbolise the conviction - which may be expressed elsewhere in accusations of sorcery - that individual excellence or success is an anti-social as acts deliberately directed at the misfortune of others.Within these manifold possibilities of mystical intervention in human affairs, there is no ancestor-cult and no belief in spirits subordinate to Enk Ai.Corpses are thrown into the bush to be eaten by hyenas.Rarely, very old and rich men, or women who have had many children, are carefully buried and a mound of stones piled on the grave.The oldest son will always try to live near to the grave; and the life of such a man may return to commingle with his cattle, causing them to increase.Death of the old is spoken of as 'going to sleep'; and the death of young children attracts no special attenffon.But those who die in their prime have their clothes and ornaments thrown away; and their names must never be mentioned.

Finally, the ceremony of the blessing of women is one of deep emotion.During the reparation, as one of their songs describes, they have to 'cross lonely and arid plains unaccompanied', travelling throughout the country to beg gifts for the necessary expenditure.During the long ceremony itself, attention is concentrated on children - on those who have not been born, on the many who died in infancy, on full-grown sons killed in battle with men and animals, on the hopes of children yet to come.Strong men have been known to hide their faces and leave the throng for a while.The incessant singing, with solo and chorus and rhythmic movements, in which prayer for children is directed to Enk Ai, is of the form which, in other cultures, readily leads to dissociation phenomena.Towards the end, the women are taunted:

To whom shall honour be given, when all the

newly wed women have turned cold and their wombs

have gone to sleep; when only the uncircumcised

boys are worthy of praise, and they unable to

guard the tribe or to extend our generation...

The barren women are pitied as

a heifer too short and her genitals malformed.

By no means at all can the bull gain access to them

They are reminded of the children who are dead; accused of 'eating' them - of causing their deaths by sins of omission or commission.Cries fill the air: Oi eitu anya, Oi eitu anya, 'I protest I did not eat; I protest... '.At one point in the particular ceremony described, more than half of the hundred and thirty-four women present were lying on the ground, over­whelmed by their tears or unconscious.Some hours after the end of the ceremony, three of the women were still seems certain that, in Ankole or Buganda, such a condihon would be regarded as spirit-­possession.In Maasai it is not.The only suggestive of this type of inter­pretation is the rare occasions on which a laibon speaks the words of Enk Ai in a trance condition.

All the elements of human experience, which are symbolised in Nkore mythology, are found also in that of Maasai: ultimate confidence in the active benevolence of Enk Ai and his fulfilment of just curses; frontiers, which must not be transgressed, in the stars and the ambivalence of individual excel­lence; the anti-social imagination once more in sorcery; the arbitrary nature of experience in the evil eye.I sense - though I have no adequate evidence - that there is a clearer sense of personal responsibility.But, while Ruhanga is good without appearing to do very much about it, Enk Ai is at all points acffvely intervening.While in Ankole the violation of totems and taboos brings automatic retribution, the stars can be circumvented by the help of Enk Ai mediated through a laibon.The relative ease, with which spit corrects the consequences of an evil eye, suggests far less fear of the arbi­trary (perhaps, greater confidence in Enk Ai) than the elaborate rituals required to deal with ghosts and emandwa.What is striking, in a compara­tive study, is the intense personal energy of Enk Ai and his detailed involve­ment in mundane affairs, along with the absence of inferior spirits and ghosts.Perhaps the relative inactivity of Ruhanga leaves a gap which has to be filled by such beings.But they also relieve him of any direct responsibil­ity for misfortunes.Enk Ai, though he punishes justly, is still the author of evil as well as good.


Ganda society differs at four important points from that of Ankole.In the first place, there is no distinction between a Hima ruling class and subor­dinate Bantu.Immigrants have been wholly absorbed into the indigenous Bantu stock; and this applies also to the ruling family, who may originally have been allied to the ruling Bito of the neighbouring kingdom of Bunyoro.The Kabaka (king) marries into all the indigenous clans and himself takes the clan of his mother.Secondly, the clan tradition is much stronger.No Ganda is adequately described except in terms of his patrilineal descent; the head of each clan, and of minor lineage groups, claims personal identity with all his predecessors in the office; and the lineage burial grounds are of primary social and ritual importance.Thirdly, the history of Buganda, for at least thirty-three generations of kabakas, whose tombs with the appropriate ritual are still preserved, is that of continual expansion of territory and centralisation of political power.Finally, the consequences of contact with the outside world have, hitherto, been far more radical.Islam, brought by Arabs, was significant in the first half of the nineteenth century.The 'wars of religion' from 1888 to 1894 forced widescale movements of population; from 1889 the Christians were in political power and the pagans, in an important sense, detribalised; and it is difficult to determine how far not only Ganda writings, but oral tradition itself, has been influenced by western ideas and Muslim and Christian theology.

Ancestral ghosts appear to have added occasional benevolent activities to the solely malevolent features reported from Ankole.The place of the emandwa was taken by a large number of balubaale (sing. lubaale).Some of these can be identified with Cwezi spirits of Ankole (Kawumpuli = Kahumpuri; Mukasa = Mugasha), although there is no Cwezi legend in Buganda.Others are clearly nature spirits (Musoke of the rainbow, Musisi of earthquakes).Others again are legendary heroes (Kibunka, spirit of war); and, of whatever probable origin, many of them are fitted into a genealogical table providing a human ancestry.In addition to providing a possession-cult closely similar to that of emandwa, they were widely available for consultation by all Ganda.Their special shrines were well equipped with priests, mediums and other officers; and, at least today, they are widely used by diviners.

It is far less clear that there was any belief in a 'high god'.The name adopted by the missionaries was Katonda, since -tonda means 'create'.He was already recognised as lubaale and had three temples close together in central Buganda.The site of each was called Butonda; but etymologically Katonda, 'the person of Butonda', is as likely a derivation as Butonda, 'the place of Katonda'.Very little was known of him except that he was benevo­lent and concerned with conception.The pied wagtail was his aide and, on his behalf, counted the people in each hut.Kagway, the early Ganda Chris­tian writer, gives him one-and-a half lines compared with five pages for Kibunka. Nsimbi writes, 'Ganda believe that he created all things and people.His name (unlike that of most of the balubaale) is not given to men or women'.But in conversation Nsimbi is very doubtful whether Katonda was traditionally different from other balubaale.In contrast with Ruhanga and Enk Ai, he causes states of 'possession'.There is extraordinarily little evidence for the belief of some Ganda that Katonda has always been known as creator and the other balubaale as his satellites.I have been told by a Roman Catholic, who discovered the balubaale in his old age, that 'lubaale is one.All the balubaale (including Katonda) are particular manifestations of the essential unity'.

Another competitor is Muwanga, who is etymologically the same as Ruhanga and of whom Nsimbi writes that he was leader of all gods and ruler of all things.He is the lubaale by whom 'possession' is first sought by the majority of contemporary diviners.They may have recourse to others if Muwanga is not successful in any particular instance.

Finally, Ggulu means 'sky'.He is father of Walumbe and Kiwanuka (spirits of death and lightning) and of Nnambi, wife of Kintu the legendary first kabaka .Like Katonda his name is not given to humans; and Roscoe, writing in 1911, says that he had neither shrine nor medium until 'recently' a man was possessed by him and a shrine built.

Whatever the original status of any of these three, it seems unlikely that any of them could lay claim to more than local significance.It is surely important that, in contrast with Ruhanga, who is always distinct from emandwa, all of them were assimilated to the cult of the balubaale.Perhaps the early clan structure was so strong that its mythological needs were met by the ancestor cult along with the high mythological character of the clan and lineage heads and the misambwa, which are spirits inherent in wild animals and other natural objects, usually ascribed to a human origin.Leg­end may well be right in attributing the coming, at least of the most important balubaale, to the needs of the kabakas in constant warfare with the Nyoro.The need (if there was one) for a mythological symbol of the tribe as a whole was to be met in another way.

For the story of Buganda, from the dawn of legend up to the middle of the nineteenth century, can be seen as a never wholly successful attempt, on the part of the kabakas, to wean their people from sectional clan loyalties to an unmediated loyalty to themselves - from the identity statement, 'I am son of Waddimba, son of Ssembajjwe, of the Monkey Clan' to 'I am Kabaka's man'.This they did administratively by establishing at least two hierarchies directly dependent on themselves and cutting across the authority both of one another and of the traditional clan heads.Mythologically, they became 'head of the clan heads'; they married into all clans and adopted their motherrs totem, so that all Ganda could claim kinship with kabaka.But they also developed a special cult of their own ghosts.On the death of a kabaka, his jawbone and umbilical cord were preserved in a special shrine, where they were guarded by his official sister and a high-ranking officer of his court and were available for regular consultation by the reigning kabaka.The bodies were buried separately and the sites carefully preserved.Ghosts of kabakas might also possess ordinary men and women and Taylor says that they are used by contemporary diviners.

There is evidence that, by the beginning of the nineteenth century the political elite of Buganda were becoming sceptical about their traditional mythology and developing that capacity for individual responsibility which was necessary in a highly centralised administration and made them so acceptable to English missionaries and administrators.Kabaka Ssuuna II (1836-56) was ruthless with priests and mediums who did not prophesy to his liking; and Mutesa I (1856-84) was prepared to consider the possibflities of Islam and of both catholic and protestant Christianity.In the end, it was the radical monotheism of these three groups which was to provide (at least temporarily) an identity stronger than 'I am Kabaka's man' and to lead to the eclipse of the kabakaship by a dymanic and westward-looking oligrachy.Not till the deportation of Kabaka Mutesa II in 1952 was it realised how integral was the kabakaship to the very being of Buganda, and the old balubaale were recalled to restore what had been destroyed by those of the west.In 1961, when Buganda was finally threatened not by western colonialism but by absorption into a unitary, independent, Buganda, 'I am Kabaka's man' became the essential statement of ultimate concern, far transcending any claims of the old clans or the new religions.The balubaale, it was said, had put all power into his hands.But this was no more than the development of what had been for so long the implicit (and, in the circumstances, the only possible tribal) alternative to the system of clan loyalties.Richards has vividly described the way in which each individual Ganda was not merely in a 'dyadict relationship of subordination and superordination - the peasant with his chief, the chief with the kabaka.In an important sense each was directly dependent on the kabaka.The latter was not a source of supernatural power.Rather, in the absence of any one god who could claim authority over the whole tribe, he had become, as Ssuuna II boasted to the Arabs, 'the god of earth, as their Allah was Lord of Heaven'.He was not only the ruthless conqueror of all Buganda.He was to be thanked for stealing your wife or bestowing punish­ment.He was the source of all power, authority and glory.He was thusband', 'father', 'the tree under whose shade we peasants sit'.At the same time he was owned by his people and protected by them: one who, when he was deported by the British, was seen 'as an innocent and defence­less youth to be protected by the whole state and by every peasant and notable in it'.

There is evidence that this highly ambivalent attitude was held towards the kabakaship rather than towards its particular incumbent.The successful rebellion against Kabaka Mwanga in 1888 was not the only example of an attempt against the reigning monarch.In 1952 it was said that, if the British had only waited a little longer, the Ganda themselves would have deposed his grandson.In 1962 he failed to appear at an opening ceremony, at which his presence had been widely publicised.An old man, who had been deeply involved in the agitation for the Kabaka's position in an independent Uganda, commented, 'Kabaka had promised to be there.If Mutesa cannot keep his promise, then Kabaka must change'.But Kabaka had become - however, rightfully, he might punish his people for their good - the symbol of all goodness, of tribal glory and the continuity of Buganda's history, the charter by which she might look forward to an independent future. The source of evil was - not the British, for they had done, and might again do, much good, but - the local agents of British Government who had betrayed the good faith shown towards the Ganda by their predecessors.Much more it was to become the African rulers of independent Uganda, who wished to submerge the ancient kingdom.The balubaale were of use insofar as they protected the Kabaka with the ancient glory of Buganda.They, with the ghosts and sorcerers, were enough to account for the arbitrary character of domestic life and the uncertainty of personal relations.

It is always difficult to distinguish between a 'religious' and a 'political' faith.In time of war, or of international tension, Yahweh often enough appears to be little more than the supernatural sanction of British or American national assertion.No doubt Enk Ai fulfils much the same function for Maasai: and Ruhanga, if he can be conceived as sufficiently active, for Nkore.Ganda had no such supernatural focus of tribal aspirations.They found focus, instead, in a strong political figure.

Theoretical Considerations

Eddington suggested that physicists find no order in the universe which they have not first imposed upon it.All that is necessary to discover the so-called 'laws' of physics is a thorough knowledge of human minds.This hypothesis has not received wide support.But it is as well to remember that it is a proposition of the same order as that made by meta-psychologists who suppose that God and the spirits are 'no more than' projections, onto a wholly material universe, of unconscious elements in the minds of men.Psycholo­gists can make empirically-verifiable statements about human behaviour and about its conscious concomitants.Some of them, using an apparently scientific language, can enter into clinical relationships with others, which lead to genuine therapy and self-understanding.But they cannot, as psychologists, make any pronouncement about the reality or character of objective events to which subjective experience is believed to refer.

Nevertheless, it is reasonable to suppose that subjective experience is an important factor in man's interpretation of the external universe.In the context of this seminar, 'Man makes God in his own image.That is why there are so many gods'.This is not to say - nor is it to deny - that there is no God.It is simply to assert that whatever gods there will be known in as many forms as there are men to know them; and, in the twentieth century, it is necessary to ask what contribution can be made by psychoanalysis to an understanding of their appearances.

Lienhardt has pointed out that all the fores which western man includes in the idea of the individual unconscious have in other cultures been exteriorised as personal forces acting on man from without.In Jungian terms, we introject while they projected.Ghosts become neuroses.But this is too easy.If I can project my unconscious aggressiveness into a tennis ball or into writing this paper, I shall probably be better-tempered with my wife.But it is nonetheless a projection because I know, in an intellectual sort of way, what I am doing.If, in order to escape the intolerable feeling that I am playing badly or writing nonsense, I blame my racquet or the cook I am indulging in exactly the same sort of mental exercise as an Nkore who lays the blame on sorcery or on the ghost of his paternal aunt.If, on the other hand, I do exceptionally well, I shall probably say, 'O, I just had a stroke of luck', because admiration is a mystically dangerous to me as to a Maasai beauty.Western men are constantly doing this sort of thing - even those who have had a training analysis and are potentially most deeply aware of the tricks of their own unconscious.If we accept the view of contemporary Freudians, life is made up of a continual flow of projection and introjection - ­of alternately exteriorising and interiorising our experience.The question is not whether we project but what we project and how we project it.French peasants, who saw a spaceman where their fathers would have seen the Virgin Mary, had a culture no less mythological because it was expressed in terms of science fiction instead of traditional religion.At the sophisticated level, scientific belief in the uniformity of nature must be regarded, psycho-analytically, as a projection of much the same 'basic trust' as is found in the theistic confidence in the reliability of God.The question, to which there seems at present to be no adequate answer, is why one culture expresses this projection in personal, the other in impersonal, terms.

Freud's analysis of the concept of God, as he found it in nineteenth-century Vienna, was as the projection of an interiorised, author­itarian father-figure.A contemporary Freudian has suggested that, while this is adequate to the experience of God as 'absolute demand', his character as 'ultimate succour' must be analysed in terms of a child's still more basic experience of his mother as the source of all infantile security.Once it is admitted that the experience of God may be determined by more than one element in the indivdual unconscious, the way is open to a more detailed analysis of different mythologies.If I make a stumbling excursion in this direction, it is with the knowledge that I have no professional experience of analysis, either as practitioner or as patient: but in the conviction that somebody must stick his neck out to draw attention to the immense possibilities, for anthropology, religious studies and psycho-analysis itself, of cross-cultural studies which employ, at the same time, both sociological and psycho-analytic insights.

In Erikson's scheme, the basic human values of faith, will, conscience, reason are related to four crises of development, each of which must be successfully surmounted if the individual is to develop a strong ego-identity.Faith is based in the primary experience of 'basic trust' and is always threatened by the alternative of 'basic mistrust'.Either will affect the adult attitude to the universe as a whole.The discovery of autonomy - of bowel­ control and learning to walk - is threatened by the shame and doubt involved in failure.'How this doubt is met by adults determines the ability to combine will with self-discipline, rebellion with responsibility.' The stage of learning initiative involves the experience of guilt as a child's initiative conflicts with adult patterns of conduct.Hence conscience arises.This is the classical Oedipus stage.Finally, a child learns simple techniques and tools, together with the beginings of reason, as the means to manipulate both the material universe and his conscious experience.Only after this can an individual develop a clear sense of identity, in which faith, will, conscience and reason can be integrated.

Klein, whose formulation is earlier than Erikson's, speaks of a 'schizoid position', followed by a 'depressive position', which must be surmounted before a normal Oedipal developmental is possible.In the former a child distinguishes clearly between the comforting and frustrating aspects of its experience of its mother.The origins of 'good' and levil' are experienced as wholly different; and most analysts recognise the mechanism of 'splitting', by which intolerable aspects of experience are dissociated from the 'self'.They may become the basis of paranoid phantasies or even the focus of secondary 'selves'.In the 'depressive position' a much fuller integration takes place; the loving mother is recognised as the same as the frustrating mother, whom the child hates and wish to harm; and this coincidence of love and hate is the origin of basic guilt-feelings.Only when this position is achieved is it possible for a baby to be related to its mother as a whole person and to lay the basis for full personal relationships with others.

Finally, psychologists of many schools agree that, in the early stages of development, children are unable to distinguish between subject and object.Events, which to normal adult observers appear to be in the outer world, are located in the inner; and subjective wishes appear to be objectively realised.At the same time, as the self develops, some experiences may not be fully integrated and continue to find independent expression outside conscious control.Thumb-sucking becomes the satisfaction of a mother's breast.Nail-biting expresses an unrecognised desire to attack.This is 'magic'; and it extends far into adult life - not only into religious ceremonies and such popular customs as 'touching wood', but to medical prescriptions which are 'to be taken after meals with a sip of water' and university professors who spend their weekends sunbathing.We endow outward events with a potency for which there is no empirical evidence unless it is supplied by our own creative imaginations.Nor are we free from the power of the curse.Men in western society may laugh at the curse of a drunkard or of a miser who loses his wealth - for such curses are unjust.But the curse of one whom we love or respect is forbidden not only by his own conscience, but by the psychic fact which lies behind his conscience, that it breeds a remorse which has remission only in reconciliation.This type of outlook is so universal that, in a comparative study, there is little need to draw attention to anything but the details of its variation from culture to culture.Good sorcery in Africa becomes, in the west, patent medicines and the doctor's bedside manner.Bad sorcery is found in defacing photographs and painting swastikas on others' property.

There is, however, greater difficulty about concepts of God and the spirits.If the prophetic belief in Yahwah is taken as a yardstick, If the prophetic belief in Yahweh is taken as a yardstick, it can perhaps be seen as the projection of a strong ego-identity in which the 'depressive position' has become so firmly established that good and evil are clearly seen to derive from the same source.At the same time, the vision of the Kingdom of God reflects the primary experience of blissful security with mother; and the recognition, that this can be gained only in responsible obedience to a strict morality, has a strong element of the Oedipus relationship with father.In what I believe to be its biblical Christian form, there is an increased emphasis on the 'concern' which belongs to the 'depressive position', and on humility which may be related to the particular solution of the Oedipus stage which is found in submission to father.The God of Greek, and much other western, theology represents a much stronger integration of the stage of reason into the ego-identity.The emphasis on law, which was characteristic of the Pharisees and later of the Puritans, seems to be a departure from the pro­phetic yardstick which yields a God much more akin to Freud's analysis in terms of projection at the Oedipus level.On the other hand, the devil, when is seen as the eternal opposite of God surely represents a regression to the 'schizoid position'.In his classical Christian form, where he is ultimately under God's control, he symbolises mants recognition of the chaos of uncon­scious hate which, somehow, has to be integrated with love.Finally, both the Hebrew prophets and the Puritan Empiricists of the seventeenth century in England suppressed sorcery and the cults of subordinate spirits.It looks very much like a repression of elements in the deep unconscious, felt as a threat to the new sense of identity.The Christians of the New Testament were able to integrate these unconscious forces into the ego and see their projections as beings, like the devil himself, under the ultimate control of God .

In these terms, it is possible to see Enk Ai, a god of history, as a projection of very much the same character as Yahweh; and it would be revealing to discover how far the Oedipus stage is represented in individual initiative and its concomitant sense of guilt.That he should be identified with rain is surely no more than a recognition that rain is the active element in all Maasai economy, determining not only their seasonal migrations but the very possibility of life itself.Ruhanga, a god of nature, is primarily a projection of the mother-figure, while emandwa and ancestor~ represent a high degrees of 1 splitting' without any very successful achievements at either the 'depressive position' or the Oedipus level.It is common practice to attribute ancestor cults to repressed guilt-feelings, and the absence of any conscious guilt in the Nkore attitude towards their ghosts does not prove its lack in the unconscious.But it is at least as reasonable to suppose that they represent processes of ' splitting' and paranoid phantasies belonging to an earlier period of mental growth.In that case, the mythologies of Nkore and Ganda both stem from a less integrated psyche than that of the Maasai.(It might be possible to argue that the Maasai have a primary type of inte­gration, while Nkore and Ganda represent a stage of dissociation through which it is necessary to pass before reaching the more complex integration symbolised in the Christian myth.This would have important implications for Christian missionaries trying to build directly on belief in Enk Ai.On the other hand, it may be that Maasai project onto their cattle unconscious elements which elsewhere find expression in mythology).Ganda seem to lack any mythology which may be attributed to the primary mother-figure, to the 'depressive position' or even to a satisfactory solution of the Oedipus phase.Rather, their search for identity, caught between the rival claims of clan and Kabaka, seems to have projected itself onto a human focus, who is at the same time authoritarian father, protecting mother and child to be protected.It suggests an unconscious confusion of introjected material which, in western man, would produce alarming clinical consequences.

Finally, to try and round off the picture, western man, insofar as he distrusts any belief in the supernatural, seems to project onto the universe an identity which emphasises Erikson's fourth stage of growth - that of the manipulative skills and reason.The fact that his identity as scientist is often enough combined with a wholly unreflective type of religion suggests a funda­mental split in his personality which makes him, often enough, deeply suspi­cious of psycho-analysis.

I have put forward these extremely tentative proposals, knowing that they merit criticism, and indeed inviting criticism of a positive nature.I have done so because I see no hope of understanding religion except by combining the insights of psycho-analysis with the intimate involvement of anthropologists.The relation of personality-development to social structure and customs of child-rearing is a matter which still needs detailed investigation.There is perhaps still too little recognition of the bearing on both of mythology and of the development of scientific thinking.But the question remains whether contemporary western psycho-analysis, starting as it does from the standpoint of the separate individual, is in fact adequate to the task.Lee has written of the Wintu that they regard the individual as a differentiated part of society, while the west treats society as a plurality of individuals.Is not the view of the Wintu the view of all traditional societies and is it possible for a psychology, which is adequate to an inner-directed society, to be applied with meaning to a society which is tradition-directed?If we started from society, instead of from the individual, it might be that myth was then the 'reality', while 'unconscious elements' were society's protection into the individual.This, indeed, is a dilemma similar to that between the mathematical treatment of the universe as either expending or contracting.It is possible to fit observed facts into one set of equations or the other.It is not possible to accept both sets of equations; and facts may take on a very different appearance when viewed from one point of view rather than the other.Perhaps this is what Jung was after, with his idea of the collective unconscious and his refusal to admit any ultimate distinction between subjective and objective.One view fills the outer world with psyche, the other finds all psyche inside man.Perhaps sociolo­gists are after the same thing when they insist on 'social fact'.But it does not make it any easier to compare the idea of a 'high God~ in western, inner­directed, society with the many ideas which are found in traditional societies.What has the Saviour of individual souls to do with the Sustainer of tribal customs?Is it, indeed, possible for members of traditional societies to become Christian (at least in the western sense) until they have discovered the meaning of guilt and of the inner-directed life?Often enough, in East Africa, Christ has been assimilated to indigenous society not so much as the incarnation of the Creator as in the guise of a new, and perhaps more powerful, emandwa or lubaale.

If we view them theologically, it is difficult enough to feel that Enk Ai, the active God of history, is the same being as Ruhanga, the benign God of creation.If we analyse them in terms of western psychology, they seem to have wholly different origins.Neither can be said to march with God as he has developed in western Christian thought.None of them finds any ade­quate comparand among the Ganda.Perhaps we make a mistake in supposing that the idea of a 'high God' is any more than a highly abstract concept of western thinking.Perhaps, in any case, we ought not to study 'religion' in comparative terms, but rather as the unique attempt of each society to express the meaning of its existence.I leave it at that.


I owe this story to Mr. Okot p'Bitek

A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Cambridge, 1926

My knowledge of Ankole is due almost wholly to Mr. Y.K. Bamunoba.Our joint paper 'Emandwa Initiation in Ankole' is shortly to be published in Uganda Journal.From this paper I have quoted liberally.For Maasai I rely entirely on Mr. B.K. Kantai .He has collected a mass of fascinating material which, when it is eventually published, should largely change the western understanding of Maasai tradition.My informants on Buganda are too many to name.I have summarised the position in 'Some Aspects of Kiganda Religion', UgandaJ., 26 (1962), 171-182 and in a note at the end of 'Emandwa initiation'.Standard summaries of existing information are to be found in the appro­priate volumes of Ethnographic Survey of Africa, International African Institute.They are not very informative; and some details given of the Maasai are almost certainly wrong.In particular this applies to the statement that Mbatiany (a dead laibon) is invoked in prayer.According to my information, prayers are offered to Enk Ai 'through so-and-so (the living laibon) of the seed of Mbatiany'.It is simply that the prayers of a living laibon are suppossed to be more effective than those of an ordinary Maasai.

H.F. Morris, 'The Making of Ankole', Uganda Journal, 21 (1957), 1-15

D.J. Stenning, communication to B.K. Taylor, The Western Lacustrine Bantu, Ethnographic Survey of Africa, London, 1962

J.H.M. Beattie, 'Initiation into the Cwezi Spirit Possession Cult in Bunyoro', African Studies, 16 (1957 ), 150-161 H. Cory, 'The Buswezi', American Anthropologist, 57 (1955) 923-952

Ebihemu seem to be in a different category from totems and taboos, the violation of which, whether or not it is made public, brings automatic retribution.The violation of ebihemu (e.g. for a woman to eat goat's meat) brings no such automatic punishment.What is feared is discovery, possible expulsion by her husband and being laughed at by other women.Nobody really believes the rationalisations (e.g. that a woman who eats goat's meat will grow a beard like a goat).But the number of ebihemu is manifold.

The Nkore name for each herb comes from the root of the verb used in the second half of each verse:

Egi n'enyaweera:Amaka gange geere

Ogu n'omuhiingura: Guhiinguze egyika

Ogu n'omuzibira:Ozibire abangyizi

Genesis 2:17; e:7; 4:1-8; 3:22; 3:8-13

0enk ai, rain sky, God.In prayers, na Ai, O God

1Psalm 37

2Strictly, oloiboni, plur. iloibonok; feminine, enkoiboni, plur.inkoibonok (A-ibon, to make medicine)

3Olonana, who practised from 1890 to 1911, saw 'a long snake which will cut across our country and has fire at its head.It will be able to swallow human beings; but they will come out alive'.He saw 'a huge water-bird from whose stomach emerged people who looked like meat'.He saw 'uncircumcised boys beating our brave moran'.Were these not prophecies of the railway, the aeroplane and the submission of the Maasai to the British? Similar claims are sometimes made for Nkore diviners of the nineteenth century.

4Other members of the same sub-clan can stop rain and are skilled sorcerers .

5A corporate 'May God bring this to pass' repeated after each petition.

6Women leave their heads unshaven after the birth of a child or after its circumcision.Otherwise they are shaved clean.

7'Donkey' is a pet name given to children, since it is a helpful beast which takes burdens off women's backs.

8The gift of children is a debt owed by Enk Ai to all women.Otherwise the tribe would become extinct.

9In 1960 a woman laibon travelled the Kajiado District, warning Maasai to amend their ways or expect disaster.In 1961 femine and floods dev­astated Maasailand.In 1963/4 the chief laibon decreed a purification ceremony for all adults to ensure the return of prosperity.Unfortu­nately no details, either of the warnings or of the purification, are at present available.

In 1963 moran were found to be sleeping with wives of the age-set whose daughters they would, in due course, marry.A collective curse was threatened and could have been made actual by the refusal of daughters in marriage.The moran collected blankets, sheets, honey, sugar as a gift for the elders' who then brewed beer which, with blessings, they shared with the offenders.

2Although a man is pater of all his wife's children, she can be enjoyed sexually by any member of his age-set.In 1963 a wife, in the absence of her husband, refused hospitality to a member of his set who cursed her.A few nights later, two other women were sleeping with her in the hut, while the husband was sleeping in a neighbouring hut.A leopard entered the wife's hut and, out of the three possibilities, mauled her.The husband, coming in response to their cries, was also mauled and died in hospital.Both husband and wife fell victims to the curse on the latter, for the husband was responsible for the sins of his wife.

22A curse aimed at a contemporary politician, who was thought to be dividing the tribe, may be quoted at length.A meeting, representative of several clans, was held under a tree, facing towards the sunset.An old and respected man briefly explained the cause of the meeting.

Then, facing westwards, he uttered the curse.The offender was not named; but the words 'If he has any evil intentions', were suffixed to each clause:

That the food which he eats may be poisonous

That the water which he drinks may kill him

That the air which he breathes may take him to set with the sun

That his bed may be full of snakes

That his path may be full of thorns

That enemies may meet him in the way and kill him

That the grass on which he feeds his flocks may be bitter

That God may refuse to give him children

That he may have no friends

That he may have no home

That the milk which he has shared with the Maasai family may kill him

That his ways may be full of danger

That he may have no happiness and no good fortune

That he may be hated and rejected by the whole Maasai family

May God remove him from our community for ever

The strength of this taboo is indicated by the recent death of a woman called Sidai - the common word for 'good', 'beautiful', 'healthy'.On her death, her immediate community had to substitute, in everyday conversa­tion, the archaic word, shiati.

A preliminary note appears at the end of my 'Emandwa Initiation'.So far as I know, this is the first reference to a cult of this sort in Buganda.

A. Kagwa, Ekitabo kye Mpisa za Baganda, London, 1905 (1952 edition), 226, 218-22

M.B. Nsimbi, Amannya Amaganda, Kampala, 1956, 138f.

Nsimbi, op.cit., 124. Cf. Nkore: -hanga, create, set in order; Ganda: -tonda, create; -wanga, set in order

J. Roscoe, The Baganda, London, 1911, 317, Nsimbi, op.cit., 137

The son of a Monkey Clan woman could not become kabaka.But the head of that clan was ritual 'parent' of the reigning kabaka.

The description of the sites see R. Oliver, 'The Royal Tombs of Buganda', Uganda Journal, 23 (1959), 129-1 33.For a discussion of their contemporary significance, see J.V. Taylor, The Growth of the Church in Buganda, London, 1951, 209-212.

3The Muslim martyrs of 1875 are discussed in A. Katumba and F.B. Welbourn, 'Muslim Martyrs of Buganda' in process of publication in Uganda Journal.The Christian martyrs of 1~5-7 are fully described in J.F. Faupel, African Holocaust, London, 1962

32A.I. Richards in ed. L.A. Fallers, The King's Men, London, 1964, 274-288.See also Fallers, ibid., 73f.I think that they underestimate the importance of clan-loyalties.

33Quoted R.F. Burton, The Lake Regions of Uganda, London, 1860

34G. Lienhardt, Divinity and Experience, Clarendon Press, 1961, Chapter 4

35This is based on an alleged report in The Tidles, about 1961, which I have not been able to trace.

36E.H. Erikson, Young Man Luther, London, 1958, 257ff.

37Erikson, op. cit. and Childhood and Society, New York, 1950, and G.M. Carstairs, The Twice-born, London, 1957, are psycho-analysts who have made valuable incursions into anthropology.O. Manoni Prospero and Caliban, London, 1956, and M.J. Eield, Search for Security, London, 1960, underwent training-analyses to supplement their existing anthropological training.

38Melanie Klein, Contributions to Psycho-Analysis, London, 1948; D.W. Winnicott, Collected Papers, London, 1958, 262-77.Winnicott speaks of 'the stage of concern', the point at which a child becomes capable of feeling concern for others.

39I have discllssed this in 'An Empirical Approach to Ghosts', First Inter-national Congress of Africanists, Accra, 1962 and 'Gods and gods', to be published in Presence Africaine

40Quoted H.M. Lynd, Shame and the Search for Identity, London, 1958, 81, 174

4For these terms see D. Riesman, The Lonely Crowd, London, 1950


African Spritual Religious Systems: VooDoo

Voodoo (Vodun) is a derivative of the world's oldest known religions which have been around in Africa since the beginning of human civilization.


Ironically, it was the enforced immigration of enslaved African from different ethnic groups that provided the circumstances for the development of Voodoo. European colonists thought that by desolating the ethnic groups, these could not come together as a community. However, in the misery of slavery, the transplanted Africans found in their faith a common thread. They began to invoke not only their own Gods, but to practice rites other than their own.

In this process, they comingled and modified rituals of various ethnic groups. The result of such fusion was that the different religious groups integrated their beliefs, thereby creating a new religion: Voodoo. The word "voodoo" comes from the West African word "vodun," meaning spirit. This Afro-Caribbean religion mixed practices from many African ethnics groups such as the Fon, the Nago, the Ibos, Dahomeans, Congos , Senegalese, Haussars, Caplaous, Mondungues, Mandinge, Angolese, Libyans, Ethiopians, and the Malgaches.

The Essence of  Voodoo

Within the voodoo society, there are no accidents. Practitioners believe that nothing and no event has a life of its own. That is why "vous deux", you two, you too. The universe is all one. Each thing affects something else. Scientists know that. Nature knows it. Many spiritualists agree that we are not separate, we all serve as parts of One. So, in essence, what you do unto another, you do unto you, because you ARE the other. Voo doo. View you. We are mirrors of each others souls. God is manifest through the spirits of ancestors who can bring good or harm and must be honored in ceremonies. There is a sacred cycle between the living and the dead. Believers ask for their misery to end. Rituals include prayers, drumming, dancing, singing and animal sacrifice.

Vodun The serpent figures heavily in the Voodoo faith. The word Voodoo has been translated as "the snake under whose auspices gather all who share the faith". The high priest and/or priestess of the faith (often called Papa or Maman) are the vehicles for the expression of the serpent's power. The supreme deity is Bon Dieu. There are hundreds of spirits called Loa who control nature, health, wealth and happiness of mortals. The Loa form a pantheon of deities that include Damballah, Ezili, Ogu, Agwe, Legba and others.

During Voodoo ceremonies these Loa can possess the bodies of the ceremony participants. Loa appear by "possessing" the faithful, who in turn become the Loa, relaying advice, warnings and desires. Voodoo is an animist faith. That is, objects and natural phenomena are believed to possess holy significance, to possess a soul. Thus the Loa Agwe is the divine presence behind the hurricane.

Music and dance are key elements to Voodoo ceremonies. Ceremonies were often termed by whites "Night Dancing" or "Voodoo Dancing". This dancing is not simply a prelude to sexual frenzy, as it has often been portrayed. The dance is an expression of spirituality, of connection with divinity and the spirit world.

Voodoo is a practical religion, playing an important role in the family and the community. One's ancestors, for instance, are believed to be a part of the world of the spirits, of the Loas, and this is one way that Voodoo serves to root its participants in their own history and tradition. Another practical aspect of Voodoo ceremonies is that participants often come before the priest or priestess to seek advice, spiritual guidance, or help with their problems. The priest or priestess then, through divine aid, offer help such as healing through the use of herbs or medicines (using knowledge that has been passed down within the religion itself), or healing through faith itself as is common in other religions. Voodoo teaches a respect for the natural world.

Unfortunately, the public's perception of voodoo rites and rituals seems often to point to the evil or malicious side of things. There are healing spells, nature spells, love spells, purification spells, joyous celebration spells. Spirits may be invoked to bring harmony and peace, birth and rebirth, increased abundance of luck, material happiness, renewed health.The fact is, for those who believe it, voodoo is powerful. It is also empowering to the person who practices it.

Voodoo and its fight to survive


vooodo Despite Voodoo's noble status as one of the worlds oldest religions, it has been typically characterized as barbaric, primitive, sexually licentious practice based on superstition and spectacle. Much of this image however, is due to a concerted effort by Europeans, who have a massive fear of anything African, to suppress and distort a legitimate and unique religion that flourished among their enslaved Africans. When slavers brought these peoples across the ocean to the Americas , the African's brought their religion with them.

However, since slavery included stripping the slaves of their language, culture, and heritage, this religion had to take some different forms. It had to be practiced in secret, since in some places it was punishable by death, and it had to adapt to the loss of their African languages. In order to survive, Voodoo also adopted many elements of Christianity. When the French who were the colonizers of Haiti , realized that the religion of the Africans was a threat to the colonial system, they prohibited all African religion practices and severely punished the practitioners of Voodoo with imprisonment, lashings and hangings. This religious struggle continued for three centuries, but none of the punishments could extinguished the faith of the Africans.  This process of acculturation helped Voodoo to grow under harsh cultural conditions in many areas of the Americas .

Voodoo survives as a legitimate religion in a number of areas of the world, Brazil where it is called "Candomblé" and the English speaking Caribbean where it is called “Obeah”. The Ewe people of southern Togo and southeastern Ghana -- two countries in West Africa -- are devout believers. In most of the United States however, white slavers were successful in stripping slaves of their Voodoo traditions and beliefs. Thus Voodoo is, for most African Americans, yet another part of their heritage that they can only try to re-discover.


voodun The strength that the Africans in Haiti gained from their religion was so strong and powerful, that they were able to survive the cruel persecution of the French rulers against Voodoo. It was in the midst of this struggle that the revolution was conspired. The Voodoo priests consulted their oracle and learned how the political battle would have to be fought in order for them to be victorious. The revolution exploded in 1791 with a Petr— ritual and continued until 1804 when the Haitians finally won independence. Today the system of Voodoo reflects its history. We can see the African ethnic mixture in the names of different rites and in the pantheon of Gods or Loas, which is composed of deities from all parts of Africa . 



Mawu, the Supreme God

The South Bénin cultural area of the Fon, Gun, Mina and Ewe peoples is characterized by a similar conception of divinity: belief in the existence of God is general. This God, recognized as the Supreme Being, as Transcendent, is referred to by the term Mawu. According to the testimony of Fr. Paul Falcon "everyone professes the existence of a Supreme Being who created ‘the trees and the ropes’, a Fon idiomatic expression which means everything that exists… This Supreme Being is called Mawu". That God is the creator of the universe, of mankind and of all that exists is generally accepted. And this notion of God existed among these peoples before the arrival of the great monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam). With the Fon, for example, this god Mawu is also named Sêgbo lisa, Dada Sêgbo, Sêmêdo or Gbêdoto depending on whether one is stressing the creation (Mawu, Dada-Sêgbo), the principle of being (Sêmêdo) or life (Gbêdoto).

But if there is no doubt at all about the Supreme God Mawu in the mentality of these peoples, where do the very popular practices of Vodun come from? To answer this question means showing the existing relationship between Mawu and Vodun.


The relationship between Mawu and Vodun

The absolute transcendence attributed to Mawu does not allow one to conceive of his relationship of immanence with humanity. Yet the human spirit needs a relationship of salvific proximity, of easy access to the Supreme Being. And since creatures manifest the Creator, man finds sacred forces in certain phenomena or situations that are beyond his understanding. It is through this vision of the world that Vodun emerges.


For the people of South Benin, Mawu is good, but he does not concern himself directly with man; he is omnipotent but has delegated his power to the Vodun(s). Hence the Vodun(s), recognized as Mawu’s creatures, according to the Fon expression "Mawu wê do Vodun lê", are Mawu’s representatives among men, signs of the divinity’s immanence in response to the spiritual desires of mankind. In this sense, Vodun designates all that is sacred, all power coming from the invisible world to influence the world of the living, everything that is mysterious. For this reason, it is explicitly distinct from Mawu. But we find that there is no actual worship of the latter in the tradition, except certain spontaneous prayers or references such as "Mawu na blo" (God will act), "Kpê Mawu ton" (may God decide thus) used on different occasions. The Vodun(s) receive the worship because of their proximity to man compared to Mawu. Divine qualities are attributed to them, characterised as the spirits they are considered to be above all natural laws. All these attributes are the work of Mawu. Examining the internal dynamics of the Vodun pantheon will give a clearer idea of the dependent relationship the Vodun(s) have with Mawu.


Types of Vodun 

It would be a vain enterprise to claim to enumerate the types of Vodun or to classify them exhaustively. Mgr. Robert Sastre tried to tackle the question in Les Vodun dans la vie culturelle, sociale et politique du Sud-Dahomey. Honorat Aguessy did the same thing in Cultures Vodun, Manifestations – Migrations – Métamorphoses (Afrique, Caraïbes, Amériques). With this important background, in our approach we will focus on the mystical origin of the Vodun(s) as proposed by Fr. Mêdéwalé Jacob Agossou in Gbêto et Gbêdoto.


Firstly, the Vodun(s) are considered as the sons of Mawu, God the Creator. Here are the seven most important of these:

Sakpata: This is the eldest son of Mawu to whom the earth was entrusted: "Ayi Vodun", the Vodun of the earth. His power is feared and terrifying. His attributes are the arm of smallpox, scissors, a chain and black, white and red spots. Sakpata has many sons, including the Vodun of leprosy (Ada Tangni), and of incurable sores (sinji aglosumato).

Xêvioso (or Xêbioso): This is the Vodun of the sky (Jivodun) who manifests himself in thunder and lightning. He is Mawu’s second son and is considered a Vodun of justice who punishes thieves, liars, criminals and evil-doers. His attibutes are the thunderbolt, the double axe, the ram, the colour red and fire. Xêvioso has several sons including Sogbo, Aklobè, Avlékété.

Agbe: This is the Vodun of the sea (Tovodun). He is also known as Hu. He is represented by a serpent, a symbol of everything that gives life. One of his powerful children is Dan Toxosu who manifests himself in the birth of monster babies.

Gu: This is the Vodun of iron and war. He gives man his different technologies. He is the Vodun who does not accept complicity with evil. Therefore he is capable of killing all accomplices in acts of infamy if he is appealed to. This is expressed by the Fon saying "da gu do".

Agê: This fifth son of Mawu is the Vodun of agriculture and the forests. He reigns over animals and birds.

Jo: This Vodun is characterized by invisibility. He is the Vodun of the air.

Lêgba: This is Mawu’s youngest son. He received no endowments at all because all had already been shared out among his elders. He is jealous, and it is he who loosens the rigid structure of the pantheon. He is the Vodun of the unpredictable, of what cannot be assigned to any other and he is characterised by daily tragedies; all that is beyond good and evil.


Alongside Mawu’s sons, one finds other Vodun(s) that are protectors of equally important clans. These are the Toxwyo: eponymous deified ancestors. They maintain a link between the invisible world and human beings in their daily lives.


From the above, we can classify the Vodun(s) as follows:

Inter-ethnic Vodun(s) linked to natural phenomena: Jivodun: Xêvioso;Ayivodun: Sakpata; Tovodun: Agbe.

Inter-ethnic Vodun(s) linked to historical-mythical persons: Lêgba, Gu.

Ethnic Vodun(s): Akovodun (Agasu for the Houégbajavi of Abomey). TheToxwyo are in this category.

Modern Vodun(s): These Vodun(s) are mainly from Ghana. They are Goro who protects against witchcraft, and Koku, the Vodun of the occult powers of violence.


After these investigations, it seems important to ask the question: so what exactly is Vodun?

It can be said that the Vodun(s) constitute a special class of Mawu’s living creatures. They are above mankind, but they are not "God". Let us recognise, together with Fr. Barthélemy Adoukonou and all the others, that defining Vodun is not an easy task, even for Vodun adepts. Fon expressions like: "Vodun gongon", "Vodun d’ablu" (Vodun is deep, Vodun is obscure) say it all. This is why, as Mgr. Robert Sastre said, we must refer to the social and cultural context which gives rise to Vodun in order to grasp what Vodun really is.



In view of what has been said above, certain questions arise: due to the practical implications which illustrate its manifestations, can Vodun be assimilated with fetishism, or even outright naturalism? What relationships does it establish between the practising individual and his entire cosmic, social and spiritual environment?


Vodun: naturalism, fetishism or animism?

These may be naturalist, fetishist and animist expressions and manifestations, but the basic vision to retain is that… The argument for naturalism and fetishism in Vodun rests on some epiphenomena of its practice: the Voduns are related to different concrete elements of the universe and are materialised through specific objects to which devotional cults are rendered and sacrifices are offered (mounds of earth, metal bars, tree trunks…). Nothing would prevent us from seeing in this from the outset an attribution of soul and powers to common objects which, as a result, acquire a preponderant and terrifying importance. This begs the question: is the Vodun a person? Is it worth something in the absence of man above and beneath it? One answer to this question might be thatVodun is nothing but an ethical and religious structure set up to serve authority in society. But this is just a limited view of the Vodun reality.

Certain people erroneously equate Vodun with fetish. Indeed, some would see the Vodun cult as a coarse idolatry of material objects or as a cult of matter, without any consideration of its rich functionality which we shall illustrate below. Furthermore, it should be noted that these mistaken views are due to ethnological approaches to the Vodun phenomenon which refrain from articulating its uniquely physical, cosmic and social function in religious mediation. It is true that "Mê wê no ylo do Vodun b’ê non nyin Vodun" (it is because man calls it Vodun that it is Vodun). But rather than seeing in it a power generated by the complex interaction of senses, intentions, gestures and spoken words, it is far more a question of the anthropological support which places Vodun in a symbolic system where it owes its performance to the necessary mediation of the physical, and therefore of matter in general. It would thus be more correct to translate "Mê wê no ylo do Vodun b’ê non nyinVodun" as: A personal attitude of recognition and acceptance is required for the sacred to become symbolVodun evokes the mystery and what pertains to the divine. In this way the suspicion is removed, at least as regards the essence, even if it remains in the somewhat deviant manifestations of the Vodun phenomenon. The network of relationships of which Vodun is a symbol is yet another proof of this.


Vodun and Gbe (life/world): Cosmogony

The word "gbê" which means "life", also means "the universe". It is this second meaning that we focus on here. The created universe in its cosmic deployment is not foreign to the deployment ofVodun. In the concrete expressions of the latter, there is a Vodun of the earth (Sakpata), a Vodun of the sky (Xêvioso), a Vodun of the sea (Agbé) and Vodun(s)representing the ancestors (Toxwyo), as we have seen. Indeed, all the elements of the universe are involved in the Vodun phenomenon. It is not that the mind-set of South Benin imagination conceives of a Vodun cosmogenesis: Vodun is thus neither the generator nor the creator of the universe. But its link to everything in nature is one of mediation and of the protection of man. In fact, its link with "Gbê" only finds its meaning through its link with "Gbêto" (man).


Vodun and Gbeto (Man): Anthropology

The religiosity manifest in man through the Vodun phenomenon makes him a subject who places himself at the service of its symbolism. And while serving it, he makes use of it in return. Furthermore, what men call Vodun, is the unknowable, mystery, the ineffable when it comes to natural elements; it is the extraordinary, the hero, the unbeatable, the powerful when it is a question of human beings. Before the name Vodun is given to them, they are referred to as "nu mê sên" (venerable thing; worthy of adoration). This gives rise to the cults and their impacts. After objectively identifying the Vodun, man becomes its subject. Henceforth, not a single aspect of his life escapes his object of adoration and veneration. The  , messenger of the Vodun(s), intervenes while a child is still in his mother’s womb, to identify his destiny and, if need be, to avert it. Similarly, throughout all the stages of life, from birth, and through the different existential situations, the Vodun faithful will feel enfolded in the omnipresence of Vodun, and will constantly benefit from the watchful and protective eye of the Pantheon, with all the consequences of this solicitude. But curiously and paradoxically, Vodun does not "accompany" a faithful in death, to the beyond. At the funeral of aVodun adept, a rite exists to remove the spirit of the Vodun of which he is the "spouse", so as to leave him to his fate. Here there are perhaps two meanings that are important to note. Firstly, theVodun takes care of the living and not of the dead; secondly, Vodun is essentially an intermediary between man and God the Creator, to whom he simply delivers him when he dies.

As a principle of mediation for man, Vodun also plays an important role in the organisation of human society.


Religious initiation and educational plan in the context of Vodun

Àgbasa-yiyi: "access to the living room" and discovering the joto

The Àgabasa-yiyi is of capital importance in the lives of Fon men. It is the first of a series of three rites of initiation to the  through which the Fon pass. Of the three, Àgabasa-yiyi is fundamentally the most important one through which everyone must pass. Young girls and boys can be initiated to the second degree of , but only men can reach the third degree of initiation. Initiation, as Fr B. Adoukonou points out, "represents one of the essential means invented by Africans to transmit in a lively and existential way what for lack of a better expression we shall call the fundamental parameters of life. These three initiations to the Fá are in religious terms of a type that is intermediate between a purely profane initiation to history… and a consecration to Vodun which can go as far as a crisis of possession". The Àgabasa-yiyi ceremony has no rigorously fixed date. It never takes place before at least three lunar months after birth.

The purpose of Àgabasa-yiyi is to introduce the child to the family community in the "living room" (Agbasa) of the representative of the eponymous Ancestor. It is the rite of the integration of a child or of several children of the same generation within the family community including the deceased members, the living and the Spirits which protect the family. The consultation of the  by theBokonon, "Diviner-Healer", reveals the child’s Joto, in other words, the Vodun, "divinity" or the Mêxo(Ancestor; sometimes deified) who, in him, is "sent" to the family by the Great Sê. The Joto is a "reference to a protective force. It is… a dynamic element which intervenes in the constitution of the individual’s personality". The Joto is the Ancestor whose vital influx animates the child. He is referred to as Sê-Joto or Sê mêkokanto (Sê gatherer of the earth of the human body); he who presents to the Creator-God the clay out of which has been fashioned the body of the newcomer to the Land of Life (Gbê Tomê). He is the force, the vital and spiritual energy, which models and directs the existence of the person; hence the title  (Protector) that is given to him. The Joto is "Father of the coming into existence", the direct collaborator of Mawu in the generation of the child.

Once the Joto is known, he is given a welcome: "Sê doo nú wè" (You are welcome, O sê!), and as his "other self" and under protection, he is welcomed through the rite of Jono Kpikpé (encounter, welcome of the stranger, the guest). In principle, the child does not receive the name of his Joto. He can however be addressed by this name from time to time in order to remind him of it. This name can sometimes prevail if the person concerned is one day called and consecrated to the cult of hisJoto. "In such cases, the name becomes a real name in religion. It is formally forbidden, under severe penalties, for the individual to be called by another name".

Despite the terminological ambiguities inevitably encountered in the formulation of the term Joto, any idea of reincarnation should be absolutely discarded: the child is not the reincarnation of his JotoAncestor. The Fon religious belief holds that the individual  is immortal. When a person dies and enters the Yêsùnyimê (world of the Spirits, metaphysical world), the individual  goes back toSêgbo (the Great Sê), in other words, to his origins, his original state. In his role as Joto, it is he who places his hand on the head of the candidate to life (Alodotanumêto) "to take him in a way under his protective shadow". There is no reincarnation in the proper sense, but a transmission of the personality. The individual soul of the Joto does not become incarnate in his protégé, but the Jototransmits to the latter "his sociological part, his status and his role". A proof of this is that several persons living at the same time can have and indeed most often do have the same Joto.

The Sê-mekokanto (the ancestor who gathered the clay with which the body of the new-born child has been fashioned) imprints on the child his social personality, what he has become "through his social and active commitment in the historical process" which "he embodied in his lifetime and which is maintained by the group that will educate the new-born child in accordance with the master" ( … ) "The social personality, the active commitment and the historical conscience that the ancestor hands down to his descendent constitute a psychological heritage which gives meaning to his life and coincides with the above-mentioned directives. The protector ancestor comes to materialise the right to safeguard and maintain life as well as that to act in such a way that it flourishes and develops fully. In this way the Sê-mekokanto (the protector ancestor) ensures the growth of the family life of which he was the first or one of the first important links…".

The Joto is sometimes assisted in his task by another Ancestor or Divine Spirit, acting as an auxiliaryJoto or companion to the first one. This arrangement is fully consistent with the link-strengthening process, a reality that is viewed by the Fon as an inalienable value.

To identify the Joto, one first needs to have determined the  which reveals it.  is the name given to the signs or figures that are meaningful within the divination system of the Fá. These are the series of signs that serve to reveal the Joto’s self. Henceforth the revealing  and the Jotoconstitute two components inseparable from each other and intrinsic in the personal, social and religious destiny of the individual, as well as in his project of fulfilment. While Joto is the individual’s typological reference,  is "the sought and welcomed will of a Desired Third Party" (Sêgbo) coming as an epiphany, i.e. manifested by the Joto is the "word of the oracle", the voice of the Supreme Being on each person who comes into existence. As the voice of  is also the way that traces and indicates for man. Because, "the world is without measure, but we cannot live without measure", thus speaks angoulevan is the word of life given and entrusted temporarily to parents as a measure of guidance for the one who has just made his entry into the land of life (Gbêtomê) and into the world of men (Gbêtolê mê). He traces the path he is to follow, in other words he establishes the ordinances or laws (Sù) according to which he will have to avoid death-bearing acts both for himself and for others, and acts detrimental to the community’s integrity. Until a child reaches the age of reason, it is the mother who respects the ordinances of his . In general, mothers take upon themselves the responsibility and the concern to follow these ordinances for the rest of their lives, for and with their offspring, even when they are adult. By this gesture, they demonstrate that the life preserved in a family member is a gain in vitality for all and that everyone must co-operate in maintaining it.

Through the Àgbasi-yiyi rite, the Fon individual is recognised as a true member of his family, since his link with the ancestors, mystical foundations of the family, is determined by it. Through his Joto, his integration among the living members of the family is reinforced all the more by his being tied to the deceased members. The Agbasa rite has two dimensions: while the possession of a Joto confers a social status on a person, the determination of his , "Word of the oracle on his power of fulfilment", recognises his individual character. Thus there is reciprocal interaction between social status and the status of the individual.

Those who have not been through the rite of Àgbasi-yiyi have neither personal nor community status: "no word of the oracle supports them in life" (E do du é ji à). If these points of reference, theJoto and the , are not known by their families, they remain strangers, men without roots. Hence the anxious question of a Fon faced with another who shows a habitual behavioural imbalance: E ka yi àgbasa n’i à? "has the rite of Àgbasi-yiyi been accomplished for him?". The same question is often asked spontaneously as regards the ceremony of SunkÚnkÚn, E ka kosun n’i à? "Has the rite of Sunkunkun been accomplished for him?" It is said of a person whose behaviour raises such questions that his spirit is not at rest: "Ayi ton huhwê à; ayi ton j’ayi à"; the spirit is agitated. This agitation is a manifestation of an inner, social and religious lack of harmony. It is considered that it cannot be otherwise, because neither this person nor the others have a knowledge of the sublime will of the "Great Sê" which gives meaning to his life, the "word of the oracle" which governs and directs the individual’s life.

Listening to history and tales strengthens the character of the young; their moral formation, largely based on examples received, combines the imitation of elders, particularly Ancestors (history) with that of heroes (tales).



Common initiation

An education which does not assume moral and religious values as essential is not an education of quality. Religious conviction gives meaning to behaviour and moral choices. Fon religious education, according to Mgr. A.T. Sanon, leads the individual to "sense the invisible through the visible and concrete":


- Nu kplon mê o, (moral) education,

e no zé do we place it on

Numêsênlê sin ali nu: the path of "the-beings-to-be-adored"

(divinities and ancestors):

Vodun lé do lè a Vodun has ordered such and such a thing

Sakpata gbê do Sakpata has forbidden

E ma wa nu le o. such a thing to be done.

Numêsênlê wê e so It is mainly "the-beings-to-be-adored"

Do nukon taùn that we have put forward

Bo do kplon nù vilê na to educate the children.

At the heart of the Fon man there is a religious "fear" which, at the moment of moral action takes the form of a deep conviction: it is the E-gblé-ma-kú (may-I-die-if-it-goes-wrong: the determination to succeed) which we find in our elders. This adamant conviction has fundamentally contributed to keeping the peace in society. No compromises would be tolerated, whoever the perpetrator might be.

The young Fon is faced with his religious responsibilities as soon as he reaches the age of Do so kan nu (12 or 13). His parents teach him to know his Joto and his : "Dù le wê jo wê, bo nù le vê wè" (you are born under such and such a "sign", you are under the protection of such and such a "Dù", and it is ill-fated for you to do such and such or to eat such and such). Until this point, he has been allowed not to observe the ordinances of his Dù, given his young age. His mother acted on his behalf. Henceforth, it is up to him to respect these ordinances, even if his mother continues to do so for him. Life is maintained by individuals for one another, but everyone must maintain it if it is to be preserved and increased. If it is true that we walk for each other, it is also true that each one walks for himself. Only this way will all attain the fullness of life.

Agoo-ma-yi-sogwé is the stage that marks late adolescence (around the age of twenty). At this time the second initiation to the Fá takes place, known as Fá-sinsên (adoration of the Fá) or Fá-yi-yi(reception of the Fá). At this stage in their lives, boys and girls are generally in a growth crisis. It is said that a youth is "disturbed" by the Fá. He or she must "receive" and "adore" the Fá, in other words, "in a public religious act, conform his or her will to that of the Supreme Being of whom the Fá is the messenger (Fá Gbêwêndoto). Youthful freedom struggling for self-control must utter the most profound ‘yes’ to the will of God (Gbê) in order to become stronger". The consultation of the Fá reveals the "sign" (Dù) under which the boys or girls present themselves. This will be the Dù (word of the oracle) of their adolescence. For each one and with each one, the Bokonon (diviner-healer) removes the Adrà, in other words he offers the sacrifice that clears their path (i.e. their lives) of obstacles, accidents and misfortunes (Adrà). They are given the Fá and they receive it: it is the word of Mawu-Gbêdoto (God) for each one as he definitively leaves "childhood" to enter adult life.

The third initiation to the Fá is reserved for male candidates alone.They accede to it as adults. It is the door, although a narrow one, to the secrets of the Fá divination system. It is called Fá-titê(consultation of the Fá), a rite through which the  (son of Fá) "receives the revelation of the whole of his destiny". The candidate is no longer only the one for whom the consultation is made, but also the one who consults for himself. Needless to say, given the esoteric character of this initiation compared to the previous ones, non-initiates and women are not even admitted as spectators. The ceremony takes place in the Fázun (the wood, bush or forest of the Fá). As a master-initiator the candidate has a Bokonon. With hands joined containing a "hand" of sacred nuts, he prays three times to Mawu-Gbêdoto (God the Creator) for him to send the Fávi’s Joto, in other words the one who presented God with the clay that served to create the Fávi alongside his protégé. Then under the protection of his Joto, the Fávi manipulates the Fágbo (great Fá with 36 nuts) to extract the partial figures of the  (sign of the oracle) which he writes on the ground as they come out. Once the sign is formed, the Jogbana (the assistant to the Bokonon in the ceremony) reads it aloud. He then gathers up the earth where the Dù inscription is written and places it in a cloth sack. This constitutes the Kpoli of the Fávi: it is the visible sign of the spiritual principle that is in man, i.e. the visible sign of .

Another consultation is held to ensure that the sign which emerged is for the good of the Fávi. A positive answer from the Fá is greeted with joy and satisfaction by everyone. A negative answer leads to an offering of sacrifices to cast off  (death), Azon (illness), Hwê (guilt and legal summons), Hên (poverty, wretchedness). At the end of this sacrifice of exorcism, the Fávi takes a ritual bath in flowing water. The Fávi’s hair, nails, a piece of his loin-cloth and everything that in him that symbolises impurity are buried in the sacred wood. Everyone then returns to the house of theBokonon, the "spiritual Father" of the Fávi.

"If the esoteric meaning of the signs is not readable for the casual consultant, it is for the Fávi, at least in part, once he emerges from the Fázun (sacred wood). Indeed before he leaves, the diviner summarily reveals the qualities of the sign found during the consultation. Later, a more substantial explanation is given to him in the house, first by the colleagues of the initiator, then by the man himself".

Throughout the initiation period, the Fávi is not allowed to have sex: he is in a period of close and special relationship with the sacred. Sexual continence disposes the candidate to preserving all his vital energy for the benefit of his encounter with the "divine power"; it enables the sacred energy to operate effectively on the candidate, free of any hindrance. The lifting of the sex ban happens on the third day after he has returned from the Fázun (the wood of the Fá). It happens after a futher consultation of the Fá to make sure that the Fávi’s  came for his good. After this consultation and the lifting of the sex ban, the Bokonon makes recommendations to the Fávi:

"This is a sort of tradition in the constitution of his new state. There is a stress on the meaning of the sense of brotherhood there should be with all the other Fávi and on the respect and attachment there should be for the spiritual father and all the other Bokonons".

Finally the Fávi is clothed in a brand new white loin-cloth, then he goes home with his Fá. He is a full initiate as regards the order of the stages reserved to common man. Henceforth, he knows "the meaning of life" and the meaning of his own life, he "knows" his personal destiny.

The "Novitiate" of the vodunsi: "School of life"


The very day a child enters the Hun-kpamè or Vodun-Kpamê (Vodun enclosure), i.e. Vodun convent, the Vodun (Divinity) takes possession of the child, girl or boy, who has chosen it. He or she is therefore Vodunsi ipso facto and, for three months, will be Kajèkaji (a gourd who increases the number of gourds): a neophyte. What we call "novitiate" is therefore the process by which they will be made to become in fact what they already are mystically.

The neophytes are supervised by the xwégan (head of house), the Kangan (master of the rope) in charge of discipline, then there are the Hunso and the Nagbo who are "novice" master and mistress respectively. The Hunkpamê (the convent) is a harsh school of renunciation and endurance. Within it, the elect are initiated to the cult of their "spouse", the Vodun to whom they are consecrated for their whole life. Initiation to the Vodun is a particularly important moment that deeply marks the life of the individual. Its aim is gradually to lead the profane from non-existence to their existence as sacred persons; the novice undergoes a series of separations which are each a death to the previous profane life. Before anything else, the Vodunsi must make a solemn vow of absolute discretion as regards what they have seen and heard or will see and hear in the convent. Any Vodunsi who cannot keep quiet about what is to remain secret and act with the veneration that is due to the sacred object he carries on his head will be a traitor. Failure to observe the rules of initiation, of consecration and of proper behaviour in the profane environment is an infidelity and a threat to the authority, not of men, but of the Divinity. One exposes oneself by this to the unpleasant effects of his anger. Those guilty of it can only make amends by paying a large fine and acceding to the rites ofFlá (conjuration) and Wùslasla (purification).

In the pedagogy of initiation, the neophyte is required to prove his capacity for endurance in the formation trials; these formation trials are themselves a condensed form of the trials of life. Training through trials, which is already a characteristic of the Fon educational system in general, finds its strongest expression in the Hunkpamê. Discipline and tenacity are essential, and corporal punishment serves to develop these. In this respect it can be said "the body records knowledge". Each Vodunsi "stores up in his body, the soil in which the initiatory word is sown by means of gestures, attitudes, rhythms and, if need be, flagellation": the teacher’s words and gestures must be memorised and reproduced exactly by the students. The pedagogy of initiation involves the transmission of words and gestures, which requires action both by the group of initiators and by that of the "initiands". "Mind, heart and body work together to build the total man"

Apart from learning the Vodun language, cultural chants and dances, to satisfy the material needs of the convent and the Hunnon (Vodun high priest) the young "must devote themselves at fixed times to working in the fields and manual tasks: making baskets, mats and raffia cloth…which are then sold in the local markets by the convent servants". There is no "dolce far niente" in the initiation period; laziness is to be hated like the plague; "Kajêkaji mo no do hwemê mlon" they say: "the neophyte does not take siestas".

The Vodunsi, male or female, must show maturity and be serious in matters of religion. In this way they are to contribute to the balance and order, social, cultural and religious integrity of their community and people. Before returning to the world of non-initiates, after their consecration and initiation, among other recommendations they are urged to cultivate a sense of brotherhood with all the other Vodunsi, to respect the Vodun and to feel responsible for the land of their Ancestors. The ceremony of the giving of sand to the ex-Kajêkaji is significant in this respect:

"About fifteen years after I was Kajêkaji, the Vodunun gathered all the Vodunsi of my year and told us that he was going to lock us up in a retreat ("xwe mi do xo"). We had been told to utter a strident shout ("gbo") all the way from our houses to the Vodunon. He put a little earth in our left hand. With this gesture of offering earth, he said: "Danxome ko tonye die emi so do alomê nu hwi ma nu e jê ayi gbede o" (Here is the earth of the Danxomê which I place in your hands, let it never fall!)"

Vodun: from Hennu (family) to To (country): sociology

Hênnu designates the family, reduced or extended, the first unit of social organisation. It is a blood-line community, united by a single ancestor, with food or moral prohibitions, family Vodun cults and divinities to which the family is loyal.  is a grouping of several families or several xwè (parental enclosures). As in the family, it too has a hierarchy of prohibitions (Tosu), prescribed sacred practices (sin), protector Vodun(s) (Tovodun) and priests dedicated to the cult. Here, more than at the family level, the reciprocal influence of political and religious authority is apparent. More often than not, it is Vodun that prevails in the consecration of customary chiefs. And generally the Vodunoracles are also irrevocable: hence the fear they inspire and which provides for an easier take-over control of social phenomena. In this way, in traditional society, a social category without its Vodun(s)is fragile and bound to disappear. It should be noted here that quite apart from the ethnic or inter-ethnic Vodun(s), most Vodun(s) are all the more efficient when they are of foreign origin, in other words, imported.

In actual fact, in view of these examples of the functional role of Vodun, we can but admit the instrumental dimension of the phenomenon: Vodun(s) are not ends in themselves, they all lead to a same end.


Vodun and monotheism

By identifying Vodun as an idolatrous fetishism or a superstitious animism, certain ethnologists came to the conclusion that the Vodun cult is the perfect illustration of polytheism. This is perhaps true with reference to the Pantheon of Greek gods. But with every analogy explored and keeping things in proportion, even the unknown god to which a temple in Athens was dedicated in the times of the Apostle Paul does not have the same value as the Mawu of South Benin to whom no cult is rendered and who is even invoked by all the priests of all the Vodun(s). In fact, the Vodun phenomenon has a single objective although it has a multiplicity of expressions and manifestations. It is the expression of homo religiosus through a given culture. In the collective imagination of our people, the cult rendered to the divinities known as Vodun(s) is a short-cut to the True God whose revelation is as yet lacking; ultimately, it is to this God that all worship is given, he who alone is worthy of being adored. Indeed, in this same view, it is the Great God who created all men and all these Vodun(s), and gave them to men as intermediaries. Even if there has been a certain attempt at inculturation by seeing these intermediaries as stepping stones to the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the unique mediator between God and man, it must be noted the terms of this comparison are disproportionate: Christ being the beyond of the models.

It clearly follows to speak of polytheism in the context of Vodun is hardly correct. Rather, it appears to be polyhedral monotheism which highlights an active relationship with the cosmos, nature, phenomena and deceased human beings, in contrast with a direct relationship with God. Neither can one say absolutely that we are in the presence of a pantheist (God in everything), it is rather pan-in-theist (everything in God). This stage is not far removed from the Christian belief in a single God. But this is nothing more than an apology of Vodun which would not be naïve and fallacious if Vodunwere limited to this positive substance which characterises it.



Vodun, in spite of its functional ramifications that we have just discovered and its ethical value that we shall proceed to demonstrate, also has some regrettable sides. We shall simply mention the two principal ones.

From the sacred to violence

Seeing certain Vodun practices on the cultural and moral (behavioural) levels, one might be led to define it as the dictatorship of the sacred. Generally, in traditional religions, the sacred is what overcomes us and imposes itself upon us, that to which we ultimately entrust our forces and freedoms for it to protect us and ensure our happiness. In this sense we understand how sovereigns of kingdoms are not far from the sacred, in other words from being deified. In the case of Vodun, the sacred assumes an even more terrifying dimension. A certain Vodun can seek vengeance. Another may kill. Yet another may require human sacrifice… The man who has succeeded in enslaving himself to a Vodun and mustered the necessary popular credit for this, can finally take any liberty. One easily forgets that it is a man speaking in the name of the divinity. Sacred violence thus becomes normal, especially to the extent that exemplary reprisals are often ordered to dissuade those who might be tempted to ask the reason why. This violence manifests itself as much at the level of the austerity of the Vodun convent mystique as at the level of the occult practices that are its adjuncts. It is even manifest simply on the level of Vodun cultural and folkloric demonstrations. In the face of this violence human freedom is totally without defence. It is enough for fate to designate individuals for them to be forced into the convent. With the coming of Christianity, the Church authorities had to fight intensely with the Vodun heads of convents in cases where catechumens were kidnapped. In comparison with these cases of physical violence, the occult dimension of Vodunis even more frightening.


Vodun and magic sorcery

With the functionality of Vodun described above, one might say that it is simply a naturalist religion. However, the whole power of the phenomenon is based on two meta-rational realities: magic and sorcery. It is these that confer upon it its power, the viability of its hierarchical structures and its credit with the people. It is a complex universe which one cannot penetrate and emerge from unscathed. What is even worse is the malefic use that is made of its power. The key words are  (charm) andAzé (sorcery). The former is supposed to protect from evil spells. But whoever knows how to make the antidote has also known the poison… Thus the  can also be cast on someone as an evil spell:é do bo’é. As for Azé, it seems that there must also be a protective sorcery called white sorcery. But there is nothing more dangerous than this inextricable world where evil takes the shape of good and imposes a code of conduct. It is precisely this connivance between Vodun and these esoteric circles of harm that always make a deep inculturation difficult, given that in Vodun the cult aspects are amply mixed with cultural ones.


In the cultural area of South Benin, which is the area I am addressing in my discourse, the deep influence of the religious phenomenon on the social, economic and political structures is undeniable. The present time is solidly rooted in the time of the venerated ancestors; events, almost in their minute detail, are explained, understood and lived in a certain continuity with the will of the Vodun. The pharmacopoeia constitutes a major force of the convents. Each family, each son or each large socio-geographic entity (the To) has its special Vodun which imposes itself as the primary area for the quest for existential meaning. Wisdom has as its base the fear of Vodun. Economic life receives the aid expected from the Vodun. "The art of arts, in other words politics, is marked by the Vodun reality". From these various data collected at source, one might infer that the Vodun religion imbues the social fabric to the point that worship may supplant culture.

Such a deduction is much more theoretical than real. Vodun does not absorb all that is cultural. There is a strong tendency for religion to replace culture. What does recur is that the cult appropriates cultural elements. The religious cult can claim for itself as meaningful signs (acts, gestures, words…) those by which man shows his relationship of communion with the transcendent. In Vodun, this is a specific act of devotion and religiosity. The essential acts of worship in the Vodunreligion are sacrifices (of propitiation or thanksgiving), offerings and prayers. Communion meals and annual purification rites complete the vast range of forms of ritual worship. The cult’s impact on cultural life goes through the moral prohibitions and prescriptions which emanate specifically fromVodun (Vodun-sù). This necessary distinction between the cult and the culture is the unavoidable condition for sincere dialogue between this culture and Christianity, so as to start a process of inculturation. But this precise definition in no way seeks to insinuate that the religion as a whole is a negative, coarse idolatry.

If the truth is to be told, it must be recognised that the shortcomings, failures and deviations of Vodun(charms, magic, sorcery, fetishism…) exploit the senses, the useful, in a quest for power. There is an unwarranted substitution of symbols, signs for the pure material nature of the sign. This leads to superstitious and magical attitudes, widespread infusion of wickedness and terror in Vodunpractices. Hence the perplexity and scepticism when faced with a Vodun that promotes a certain morality. In the Hênnu, the Ako (lineage) and the ToVodun constitutes an element of social cohesion. The regular ceremonies of each social entity’s particular Vodun provide great moments of brotherhood in action. The followers of the same Vodun are bound by this Vodun’s specific prohibitions and legal prescriptions. The Vodun rules establish a life of solidarity among these individuals: quarrels between followers of the same Vodun are generally settled at the convent or at the Vodunun’s house. In addition, Vodun tolerates no transgression of its prohibitions. This maintains among sincere Vodun adepts a permanent culture of fidelity. The total commitment of ex-Vodunadepts who have converted to Christianity is a proof of this. Finally, it should be noted that if Vodundoes not oppose the rules of life known as Gbêsu, it accepts them implicitly. These Gbêsu hold the destruction of life and the betrayal of friends in abomination. The features to be focused on therefore, are the values of fraternity, solidarity, communion and religious fidelity, without forgetting the social prohibitions to which Vodun implicitly give credit.


To conclude this brief communication on the traditional Vodun religion of Benin, I must point out that it was not possible to say everything, even on essential aspects. However, in spite of all the excesses to its discredit, Vodun in its purity remains a fertile ground for evangelisation. As a cultural phenomenon, it could offer numerous values to be Christianised. But the gordian knot remains the difficulty of setting it on the Paschal way. To empty Vodun of its magic and sorcery would be beneficial for the people of Benin. For the time being, this seems an utopian enterprise, today more than in the past.

Indeed, the seventeen years of Marxist-Leninist policies in Benin, 1972-1989, with anti-religious campaigns and witch-hunts, had contributed to diminishing the importance and reducing the influence of Vodun. But with the coming of democratic renewal since 1990, Vodun has regained vitality. From 28 May to 1 June 1991, a symposium of the great leaders of the Vodun cults was held with the aim of restoring a certain degree of legal recognition for this traditional religion. In 1993, a great international Vodun festival was organised and held in Benin: "Ouidah 92". Its effect was to foster its renewal. In the same year, Pope John Paul II’s visit and his highly media-enhanced meeting with Vodun leaders were taken by many Vodun followers, not as a sign of dialogue, but as the indication that the Church at last recognises that the Vodun cult has its place. This combination of circumstances means that in Benin Vodun is currently organising and structuring itself more and more as a traditional religion, with a national feast (10 January) and a national hierarchy. In sum, to reach out to these Vodun adepts, the Church will no longer be able to use only the Bible and Holy Water, but above all will need dialogue.



Vigorous Ritual Dancing as a means of inducing Trance States (Gnosis)

In this account of shamanic night dancing, we see how gnosis (trance state) is obtained predominantly due to to exhaustive dancing (ecstatic vigorous exercise) and rhythmic music.

Relevant Excerpts from source:
  • At the height of all-night dancing, San shamans reported that their “spiritual potency” began to “boil” or “steam” inside them
  • Beginning in the pit of their stomach and causing them to double over in severe pain.
  • In San paintings, the arms are often held out behind them.
  • The “potency” was then said to have traveled up their spine and culminated by “exploding” in their head. 
  • This propelled them into full trance and the spirit realm. 
  • Informants of Bleek also described feeling as if their bodies were becoming taller or they were levitating or that their normally close-cropped hair was growing during trance. Others reported being transformed into animals.

A rock painting of four southern /Xam San Bushmen in similar postures while performing an all-night ritual healing or trance dance. Importantly, the key for entering the spirit realm was the highly energetic ‘healing’ or ‘trance dance.’ According to nineteenth-century ethnographic accounts of southern Bushmen, the ritual took place at night around a large bonfire and involved the whole community. Sometimes the carcass of an eland or some other animal served as the focal point. The women, who rarely participated in the southern San dance, gathered close to the fire in a tight circle and began singing and rapidly clapping ‘medicine songs.’ The pulsing rhythms, together with the heat and flickering of the fire, opened the gates for supernatural experiences.

The men, including shamans and those seeking their first trance journey, began their intense dancing and breathing in time with the rapid clapping and singing. The ritual is said to have lasted up to 24 or more hours. After several hours of sustained dancing, shamans began suffering the effects of overheating, heavy sweating and exhaustion. The physical stress and dehydration made them stagger about and fall down as they began entering a state of trance. The exertion also caused their delicate nasal blood vessels to rupture and bleed profusely as depicted in many San paintings, including the four shamans in this print. Shamans often mixed nasal blood with underarm sweat and smeared it on the bodies of community members in the belief that the smell of the potent blood would drive away evil spirits. When shamans entered deeper states of trance they collapsed and began having out-of-body experiences. They claimed they were transformed into part human-part animal beings that left the “real world” and entered the spirit realms where they harnessed potent forces within certain species of “rain animals.” For example, the eland, particularly a dying one, was believed by the San to be charged with power that shamans could draw out of them as they also “symbolically died” during trance. 

Because there is no Khoisan word for “trance,” San shamans used metaphors, or symbolic substitutes, to describe the experiences which they later painted on the walls of rock shelters. According to Lewis-Williams, they depicted some of the outward physical signs of trance as:

• Part human-part animal figures.

• Humans, part human-part animal figures and eland bleeding from their noses.

• Human figures bent over as if in pain with their arms thrust out behind them, lying prone, or floating. 

• Unusually elongated human bodies and foreshortened limbs.

• Elongated male figures with erections.

• Lines emerging from a human figure’s head or back of its neck.

• Shamans touching potent rain animals.

• Human and part human-part animal figures in flight.

Oral descriptions of the sensory effects of trance by San informants contribute significantly to interpreting the South African and central Tanzanian paintings. For example, at the height of all-night dancing, San shamans reported that their “spiritual potency” began to “boil” or “steam” inside them; beginning in the pit of their stomach and causing them to double over in severe pain. In San paintings, the arms are often held out behind them. The “potency” was then said to have traveled up their spine and culminated by “exploding” in their head. This propelled them into full trance and the spirit realm. Informants of Bleek also described feeling as if their bodies were becoming taller or they were levitating or that their normally close-cropped hair was growing during trance. Others reported being transformed into animals.

Based on his long-term study of the !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, Bradford Keeney describes what takes place in the bodies of shamans during the performance of these intense all-night rituals:
“They shake and quake, jerk and jolt, tremble and vibrate, and they make noise and sing mu sic. As the music and rhythms of the dance help the [shamans] enter into deeper shaking, their bodies bend over and their arms extend behind their back…”
(From D. Lewis-Williams, 1987. Redrawn by J.A. Cavallo)


Honoring The Orishas


Excerpts directly from the YouTube Page:


I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, and spent many hours along the banks of the Mississipi River. As you know this area is rich in folklore, music and mystery. As a child, I was surrounded by a community of elders who maintained centuries old stories and traditions. I also found that any question I posed was met with a proverbial answer. "Don't be like the bulldog in the hay!" I was told.

I soon learned that my intelligence was measured by my ability to decipher proverbs and to glean life-guidance from the content of stories.

This influence awakened a creativity that led to me gathering materials (both oral and written). I've become a professional storyteller, writer, and community activist for more than forty years now.

On this page I offer you some of my favority proverbs, jokes and sayings. They are drawn from cultures all over the world. Read them, consider them, and respond if you like.

But most importantly enjoy them.

A List of Proverbs

A world begins with One. Can you be The One who makes this place a better world?

Rocks on the path may be picked up or kicked off. If you kick them aside, you create obstacles for others. If you pick up the stones, you can use them to build a fortress. What will you do?

The earlly bird catches the worm and the night owl feasts on mouse. Everyone has their turn in Time. How do you use your time?

Do you argue vigorously with a fool. This endeavor makes a wise person foolish.

Open your eyes wide! Look! See the world before you. Close your eyes. Breathe! And see the light within you.

Flies cannot enter a closed mouth. Curses are accrued by a wagging tongue.

Bush and Dick give genitalia a bad name.

Cure illness with stillness. Meditate daily.

You can't throw sugar on shit and call it ice cream.

A cow need her tail more than once to fan a fly.

Two racehorses can have a conversation. But what can a jackass say?

Water drank from a clean cup does not sting the tongue.

The tightrope walker is nervous. What if they ask her to dance?

When head, heart, and hands agree wonderful things can be done.

Nobody knows what's at the bottom of the Ocean.

The One who is the head must never be the tail.

A hard head makes a soft behind.

A bell rings loudest on its own front porch.

If you push you luck, it might push back.

The bigger they come the harder they fall.

The bigger the family, the bigger the funeral.

Beware the height of the pedestal. It matches the speed of the fall.

A burnt child fears fire.

When a king falls, a prince rises to the throne.

He who knows does not die like he who does not know.

Lessons can be learned in this life or the next.

A dog has four legs but can only run one way. Where are you going human?

The ears cannot grow above the head.

Don't let your ass overload your underwear.

Can two rams drink from the same stream?

No one succeeds alone.

The ancestors and the womb live in the same place.

Two long nosed people cannot kiss each other.

Though eyes decieve, the mirror never lies.

After the fat is fried, we will taste the grease.

Bit by bit we eat the head of the rat.

The parrot sings in the jungle and the pigeon in the city.

The needle carries the thread.

Pretending to be crazy is crazy in itself.

Your best friend may be your worst enemy.

The cheap is expensive in the end.

He who rests under a strong tree benefits from the shadow.

A new broom sweeps clean.

When there is war, the warrior does not sleep.

When it rains, the toad goes underneath the stone to take shelter.

Always practice what your heart says.

Do not destroy with your tongue what you built with your head.

The bandage in front of your eyes does not let you see in front of your nose.