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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

Disease Control and Public Health in Colonial Africa  

Samuël Coghe

Disease control and public health have been key aspects of social and political life in sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial. With variations across space and time, many societies viewed disease as the result of imbalances in persons and societies and combined the use of materia medica from the natural world, spiritual divination, and community healing to redress these imbalances. While early encounters between African and European healing systems were still marked by mutual exchanges and adaptations, the emergence of European germ theory-based biomedicine and the establishment of racialized colonial states in the 19th century increasingly challenged the value of African therapeutic practices for disease control on the continent. Initially, colonial states focused on preserving the health of European soldiers, administrators, and settlers, who were deemed particularly vulnerable to tropical climate and its diseases. Around 1900, however, they started paying more attention to diseases among Africans, whose health and population growth were now deemed crucial for economic development and the legitimacy of colonial rule. Fueled by new insights and techniques provided by tropical medicine, antisleeping sickness campaigns would be among the first major interventions. After World War I, colonial health services expanded their campaigns against epidemic diseases, but also engaged with broader public health approaches that addressed reproductive problems and the social determinants of both disease and health. Colonial states were not the only providers of biomedical healthcare in colonial Africa. Missionary societies and private companies had their own health services, with particular logics, methods, and focuses. And after 1945, international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) increasingly invested in health campaigns in Africa as well. Moreover, Africans actively participated in colonial disease control, most notably as nurses, midwives, and doctors. Nevertheless, Western biomedicine never gained hegemony in colonial Africa. Many Africans tried to avoid or minimize participation in certain campaigns or continued to utilize the services of local healers and diviners, often in combination with particular biomedical approaches. To what extent colonial disease control impacted on disease incidence and demography is still controversially debated.

Article

The Young Women’s Christian Association in Anglophone Africa  

Eleanor Tiplady Higgs

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), founded in England in 1855, went on to become a worldwide movement by the end of the Victoria era, under the umbrella organization of the World YWCA. As it spread through the British Empire, it responded to a combination of concerns for young white women’s spiritual and physical well-being and provided a venue for middle-class women to act on Christian charity and piety. Owing to the YWCA’s formal and informal links with empire and mission, its histories on different parts of the African continent bear many similarities to one another. For this reason, it would be easy to overlook the diversity of African YWCA forms, activities, and experiences. However, this variety attests to a key feature of YWCA work from its outset: a willingness and ability to adapt to and meet the local context in which it operates. The first YWCA in English-speaking Africa was established in Cape Town in 1886, followed by Lagos (est. 1906), Nairobi (est. 1911), Freetown (est. 1915), and Monrovia (est. 1941). After 1948, the World YWCA officially prioritized building the YWCA movement on the continent. New or renewed associations were established in Ghana (est. 1952), South Africa, Uganda (est. 1955), Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia, est. 1962), Botswana, Tanzania, and Zambia (est. 1963). Until the 1950s, the World YWCA had been almost exclusively a domain in which white women led, and women of color were expected to follow. As states gained flag independence, YWCAs also transferred power into the hands of local women. In 1960, African YWCA work was well established enough to draw representatives together for the first “World YWCA All-Africa Conference” in Harare (then Salisbury). The English-speaking African YWCA movement then comprised independent organizations in eleven former British colonies, which began new programs of “development” work with support from international partners and donors during the United Nations Decade for Women (1975–1985). The World YWCA was an active supporter of the South African YWCA during apartheid, and African YWCA staff and leaders helped shaped the race politics of the movement throughout the latter 20th century. The YWCA’s legacy in Africa is thus more complex and positive than that of many other organizations with colonial origins.