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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Oromos, Slaves, and the Zar Spirits: A Contribution to the History of the Zar Cult
Author:Natvig, Richard
Periodical:International Journal of African Historical Studies
Geographic term:Ethiopia
Subjects:African religions
spirit possession
Religion and Witchcraft
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Cultural Roles
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/219657
Abstract:The zar cult is a spirit possession cult found in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Arabia, south and southwest Iran, Egypt, and the Sudan. It is not a uniform phenomenon throughout this vast region, but its aim is the same: the curing of illnesses or misfortunes caused by possession by a species of spirit called 'zar'. This paper discusses the origin and development of the zar cult by critically examining previous hypotheses and theories, and by drawing attention to hitherto unutilized sources which seem to shed new light on the cult's early history. The evidence suggests that the notion of a spirit named 'zar' may be at least as old as the 16th century. The early zar cult - or 'proto-zar cult' - may have originated in the culture contact, in the 18th or early 19th century, between the (Cushitic) Oromo and the Christian Amhara in southern Abyssinia, possibly as a response of the Oromo to radically changing sociocultural conditions. The proto-zar cult developed into the zar cult in the course of its spread via slave trade routes to the Middle East, probably in the first half of the 19th century. Notes, ref.