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Of Spirit Possession and Structural Adjustment Programs: Government Downsizing, Education and Their Enchantments in Neo-Liberal Kenya

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This article analyzes a case of possession by spirit familiars (majini) among female students of a primary school in the Taita/Taveta District of Kenya. I explore the symbolic and historical significance of majini among the people of Taita (Wataita), examining in particular the homology among local conceptions of majini and local conceptions of money. I argue that the idea of majini has long reflected the discontents of the particular modernity that emerged in late colonial and post-colonial Taita society: in particular, the social fact of local reliance on the money earned in urban labor markets and acquired from cash crop production. Then, as now, social criticism about commercial exchange and the atrophy of relations and obligations of blood was framed in terms of gender conflict, just as debates about appropriate gender roles reflected local preoccupation with broader social-cultural transformations. I end by arguing that, if majini once expressed the insufficiencies and cruelties of modernity's articulations, the recent possession incidents speak to the unmaking of Taita modernity in the wake of global transformations associated with economic liberalization.

Affiliations: 1: University of Chicago


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