Host or Hostage? A Guide for Surviving House Guests

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In the process of accommodating one's spirits and learning to avoid conflict, bori devotees may internalize these principles in such a deep way that they become naturalized. They "become the spirit": Hence, a devotee of Maria, a prostitute and the wanton and profligate wife of Zahoho, will act in the manner of Maria, and spend without counting, indulge her taste in luxurious clothing, or develop an addiction for sweets.

In the end, how devotees experience the world, why they adopt—or eschew—certain moral characteristics, or sink into a set of normative roles rather than another depends primarily on what spirits they are possessed by. As their selves are progressively enmeshed with the social representations and cul- tural definitions of their possessing spirits, hosts continuously re-orient themselves in terms of the spirits they personify so well.

Actions, events, and experiences thus become routinely reconfigured and interpreted from the spirits' perspective or in light of their participation in the world of humans. By merging their destinies to the histories of their spirits, bori mediums can no longer make sense of their lives outside of a context in which they act as, or under the guidance of, one of their spirits. In light of such considerations, it thus becomes relevant to ask, following Lambek , "not why is [a person] possessed, but by whom?

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During as well as outside of the possession act, the contours of both spirit's and host's per- sonae are continuously reconfigured in evolving sets of bodily dispositions that, when well "absorbed," make it very difficult to distinguish the host's consciousness from the willful force that inhabits the same body. Subjectivities, tastes, and attitudes cannot always be neatly attributed to distinct entities or agencies i.

Possession, as a lifelong exercise though which mediums learn to become "naturally" attuned to the demands of their spirits, is about nego- tiating and embracing otherness to such an extent that one becomes in- creasingly spiritlike while remaining essentially human. As newly initiated mediums learn to bend gracefully, but not break, in the face of constraints or contradictions brought by competing subjectivities, as they acquire con- trol over the terms of the "cohabitation," they progressively feel less hos- tage, and more host, to the invisible forces to whom they lend corporeality.

She had been actively involved in bori for the last year despite her father's opposition to spirit possession. This is, in fact, why she was holding the ceremony some 30 kilometers away from Dogondoutchi, where her family lived. Though she ordinarily resided in the paternal compound, when she was not away on trips, she had thought it prudent to avoid flaunting her religious affiliation in the face of the resolutely Muslim members of her father's household.

She thus minimized contact with her father, Malam Hamidou, who disapproved of her "sinful" activities, but she remained close to her mother and her father's other wives, who all supported her yearnings for status and respectability in the bori membership. Zeinabou had been drawn to bori after her former fiance had decided not to marry her following a two-year courtship.

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Desperate to reconquer her suitor's love, Zeinabou had started attending bori ceremonies with her grand- mother, who was a spirit medium. Though her marriage plans had ulti- mately failed, the spirits had been good to her. They had helped her deal with the frustrations of life. And while her father now threatened to disown her each time he heard that she was hanging out with mutanen bori bori people , Zeinabou knew she was doing the right thing by attending to some spirits whom, it was later discovered, she had inherited from her paternal grandmother. She had thus undergone initiation gyara to make official her involvement in bori and "give her spirits their mouths" i.

As a young initiate, she was expected to attend ceremonies and behave toward her fellow 'y a n bori and the community at large in a con- siderate, mature, and morally appropriate manner. In the process of mas- tering the skills every medium acquires through her involvement in bori activities, she was also learning how to become a balanced, responsible, and self-sufficient person. Paradoxically, learning to be a good host for Maria, one of the spirits she had inherited, meant that she was becoming—if she was not already—like the pretty prostitute, a sexually promiscuous and profligate individual whose conspicuous lack of moral restraint contrasted sharply with the model housewife Zeinabou yearned to be.

This, she surmised, would also be an occasion to assuage her other spirits and to assure them of her devotion.

Host or hostage a guide for surviving house guests

After setting the date for the event, Zeinabou worked tirelessly to insure the success of her cere- mony. She wanted everyone to appreciate the depth of her commitment to bori and recognize her talent as a host, a cook, and a medium. This meant, above all, spending a considerable amount of money, for in addi- tion to the fees paid to the various participants healers, musicians, etc. While the wasa turned out to be a suc- cess by all accounts, certain things did not go quite the way they were supposed to.

It is the unexpected element of the ceremony that I relate and analyze below. The spirit's "visit," however, turned out to be more than a social call. All afternoon, the musicians had been playing their calabash drums to invite the members of the Doguwa family to Zeinabou's wasa. Despite their con- certed efforts, the ritual grounds remained devoid of spirits. Neither Rankasso, the amarya's bride, i. Arzika, the healer appointed by Zeinabou to supervise the ceremony, was worriedly considering postponing the wasa altogether when, suddenly, Rankasso took hold of her medium.

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She was mean, mad, and vicious. Ignoring those who tried to calm her down, she threw her devotee's body into a violent and convulsive trance, and started pacing the dancing arena at a frenetic speed. As Zeinabou's frail body started bending furiously backward and forward, I found myself fearing for my friend's life.

The drama of Zeinabou overtaken by this powerful force was imprinted onto her body with an intensity that defied description. When she had calmed down a bit, Rankasso spoke in her screeching and "hiccupy" voice. She was angry and offended, which was why she had stopped the other spirits from coming to the wasa held in her honor. Ze- inabou, she said, had acted very improperly, and it was time she start apologizing. Instead of building the altar, she went to Niamey and spent the money on herself," the spirit clamored.

Host or Hostage? A Guide for Surviving House Guests: A Guide for Surviving House Guests

You must forgive her. Soon, God willing, she will erect a stone for you. You must be patient," Arzika answered in defense of Zeinabou.


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If he gives me money, I will put up a stone for you, Doguwa, as soon as I come back to Doutchi. I will call the boka [healer] from Kone Jibo, he will come stay with Yenge [the local chief of bori] and we will have the stone put up there. As soon as she heard his car, she went out. He had called her and she knew it was him. She told him: 'I need money because I must hold a wasa. So she left for Konni.

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She spent the night there, then she left for Ilela [Nigeria] to do some shopping, and then she came back to Doutchi. After that, she left for Niamey, and she bought lots of clothes there. She spent all her money, and came back to Doutchi. Now, they gently tried to appease her: "You must forgive Zeinabou. She is young, she is inexperienced," one medium offered.

Don't be mad at her. She does not always think about what will happen, she is still very young," another one added. In response to the pleas that she forgive her immature host, Rankasso walked toward the musicians and told them that her wrapper was now theirs. It was the second time in less than three months that Rankasso had given away her wrapper to the musicians, an unmistakable sign that she was very angry with her doki as mount. Unmoved by the spirit's generous offering, the violinist and the drummers kept on playing.

They were calling the other spirits who traditionally accompanied the fearful Doguwa. But their efforts were in vain. As suddenly as she had appeared, Rankasso de- parted. Before she could fall to the ground, a limp and exhausted Zeinabou was quickly grabbed by two older women. As she regained consciousness, another medium offered her water. The wasa was over. But Zeinabou's struggles to domesticate, and be domesticated by, her spirit were not.

It was crucial, for instance, that the young woman demonstrate publicly her repentance fol- lowing the offended spirit's public revelations of Zeinabou's outrageous- conduct.

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In the end, Zeinabou did make amends, promising, among other things, to erect an altar for Rankasso. Two years later, she married a bori musician and appeared to be reconciled with the virtuous life that the morally upright spirit was urging her to follow. When I returned to Niger in , Zeinabou took me to the place outside her husband's village where, at the foot of a thorny acacia tree, she had erected a stone for Rankasso.

There is no telling who will be possessed, what spirits will show up, or what will be said by whom during a particular wasa. More often than not, bori ceremonies are slightly chaotic, fragmented, and confusing.

Host or Hostage? a Guide for Surviving House Guests

In this respect, they could be contrasted, as Gibbal does of Ghimbala possession in Mali, with the "beautiful, unsurprising, and cold choreographies of Yet the performances' impact on the moral imagination stems in large part from the dissonances and dramatic tensions every par- ticipant experiences. It is precisely because there is no way to predict in advance what will happen that possession ceremonies remain useful and pragmatic. As Zeinabou's indirect confession eloquently demonstrates, possession provides a privileged context where personal motivations, in- dividual aspirations, unconscious desires, social conventions, and public values can be brought together in a dramatic and productive way.

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