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Title:Spirit possession and personhood among the Kel Ewey Tuareg
Author:Rasmussen, Susan J.ISNI
Series:Cambridge studies in social and cultural anthropology
City of publisher:Cambridge
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
Geographic term:Niger
Subjects:African religions
spirit possession
Abstract:The Kel Ewey Tuareg of northeastern Niger name possessing spirits Kel Essuf, or 'people of solitude' (meaning desolation). Spirit possession, which is usually associated with women, is considered to be an illness characterized by muteness, a condition described as 'being in the wild' or 'being in solitude'. The ritual cure or 't?nde n goumaten', however, reverberates with sounds and images, and is also a staged performance. The author examines the nature of the trance situation and the cure of individual cases, as well as the long-term conflicts stemming from the interplay between the public and the personal in possession in general, exploring local concepts of personhood in relation to wider processes of social agency. She focuses on symbolic as well as epistemological aspects of spirit possession. In her analysis she applies methods of art and literary criticism rather than epidemiological or positivistic methods. She finds that the rituals are oxymoronic. Possession involves suffering and requires cure, yet possessed individuals are considered to be fortunate and vulnerable at the same time and the experience is considered to have both a negative and a positive side. Local notions of the 'tamazai' depression that often triggers trance address this transformative dimension of personhood. The study is based on information gathered over the course of many visits and a lengthy residence in the Ar Mountain region of Niger between 1976 and 1991.