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Awakening Spirits: The Ontology of Spirit, Self, and Society in Ndau Spirit Possession Practices in Zimbabwe

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

In the Ndau communities of southeastern Zimbabwe people are born with a variety of spirits, thus spirit possession itself is a public manifestation of this relationship that is profoundly affected by local understandings of the Ndau self. There has often been an implication in the study of African (and Zimbabwean) spirit practices that the spirits themselves are actually something else, reflecting the agnostic assumptions of contemporary social sciences. By approaching spirit possession in relation to the Ndau sense of self, I offer an approach that reconciles the seemingly contradictory evaluations of spiritual truth inherent in local explanations of mediums and these scholarly explanations. Approaching possession as an intersubjective habit of the self accommodates local regimes of truth and explanations while simultaneously allowing for an agent-oriented psychology and semiotics that recognizes the obvious power that such experiences have for people.

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