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Bori Religion in West Africa  

Kari B. Henquinet

Bori is a religious tradition with origins in West Africa dating to at least 1500 ce. Based on oral histories, ethnographies, archaeological analysis, and limited written sources, its origins lie in complex, syncretic blendings of pre-Islamic Arna (Maguzawa) religious traditions, Hausa aristocracies, and Islam throughout what became Northern Nigeria and south-central Niger over many centuries. Bori practitioners have special knowledge of the spirit world and thus are skilled at healing spirit-induced illnesses or interpreting communal problems with a spiritual basis. Individuals are frequently initiated into Bori as they seek healing but also sometimes through their heritage. Once initiated, Bori adepts learn to live with their spirits for the rest of their lives, inviting spirits to possess them during ceremonial rituals. Bori specialists are more prominent in areas heavily influenced by Arna traditions or Hausa aristocracies that maintained special leadership positions connected to Bori for the protection of the kingdom. Women have often found opportunities for power and prestige through Bori in a patriarchal society, although in some regions, men dominate religious leadership and healing practices in Bori. From the early 19th century, Bori was condemned and banned in the Sokoto caliphate and subsequently under British rule in Nigeria. Nevertheless, it persisted in these areas and especially flourished in regions of Hausaland outside of the caliphate, where historical practices of Hausa kingdoms and Arna religion were practiced more openly and centrally in society. Over the course of the 20th century, Bori has been studied by researchers not only in these regions of West Africa but also among diasporic communities and pilgrims with ties to West Africa.

Article

Mami Wata  

Sabine Jell-Bahlsen

There are several moments of approaching the image of Mami Wata and their associated concepts, beliefs, and behaviors: first, the art history of the famous Mami Wata icon; second, anthropology, ethnography, archaeology, religious studies, myth, psychology, healing, and initiate scholarship; third, artistic inspirations in fiction, fine art, and music; fourth, New World and Caribbean connections; and, finally, Christian narration and agency. Mami Wata speaks to human beings’ essential values, for example, life, death, rebirth, and continuity of life in connection with water and the female side of the universe. This belief system prevails in different West African countries in rural and urban areas, along the coastal region, and farther inland. Water is life—and death. Water is essential for human life. A baby floats in the womb before birth, and water floods a dying person’s lungs. Africans have venerated water spirits and deities since time immemorial. The Mami Wata complex harbors three significant elements: a Pidgin English term spelled in numerous ways, a German image turned into an icon of a woman with abundant hair holding two massive serpents, and, most importantly, pre-Christian African histories and religious beliefs and practices. These vary among ethnic groups, are complex, and may incorporate foreign ideas differently. Pan-African devotees correspond to Mami Wata’s popular image created abroad in analogous ways whereby the concept of healing plays an important part. According to Henry Drewal, she is at once originally African and imported.1 Still, the deity’s shrines can absorb a multitude of African, European, Christian, Hindu, and American Indian images. Caribbean variations connect to the adoration of African divinities manifest in the forces of nature, such as water. Several subthemes emerge from an ethnographic case study among the Igbo in southeastern Nigeria: first, concepts of the divine forces of nature, especially earth, and water; second, priesthood, vocation, prophecy, illness, and healing; third, the notion of time, reincarnation, and the continuity of life; fourth mythology, color, and animal symbolism; fifth, gender, fecundity, procreation, behavioral and reproductive norms, and their social and psychological implications; sixth, artistic interpretations and expressions; and, seventh, modernity, changing concepts of wealth, Christian rhetoric, and witch-hunting.

Article

Woman-to-Woman Marriage in West Africa  

Bright Alozie

Extensive research has been conducted on the significance of marriage in African cultural traditions, particularly the rites and sociocultural intricacies associated with it. One specific practice that is woman-marriage, also known as female husbandry or woman-to-woman marriage. In this unique African institution, a woman pays the bride price and marries another woman as her husband. This union is legally, socially, and symbolically recognized as a marriage, with the expectation that the woman who pays the bride price will provide for her wife and that the wife will bear children. Woman-marriages have been a part of customary marriage rites in West Africa for centuries. Despite being ignored and condemned by European officials during colonial times and overlooked in earlier accounts of African history, it continues to be practiced in certain parts of West Africa. This article provides a comprehensive understanding of woman-marriage, its cultural implications, and its prevalence in historical and contemporary West Africa by examining various instances from West African societies. It argues that woman marriages, which are different from homoerotic same-sex practices, serve to establish or reinforce women’s autonomy and kinship structures. The practice not only highlights the flexibility of African gender systems by allowing women to take on male roles, but also challenges the traditional roles of women in marriages and society, deviating from the patriarchal framework of marriage. By granting women a degree of social, economic, and political autonomy, this form of marriage allows women to leverage the opportunities it provides to safeguard their interests.