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The Spirit’s Wish: Possession Trance and Female Power among the Punu of Congo-Brazzaville

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Abstract Among the rural Punu of Congo-Brazzaville, possession trance is an essential part of the mainly female celebrations dedicated to the bayisi or water spirits. It is a privileged medium through which these spirits reveal their wishes and conditions their willingness to assure the community’s well-being. On the human side, in order to be possessed an ‘opening of the mind’ is requested and needs to be activated through collective song-dance performances that recall the flowing motions of the spirits’ water world and convey the longing for this maternal universe. As a critique of the predominant use of the term ‘agency’ in reference to autonomy and resistance, this paper adheres to a context-based view that relies on the way the actors experience the phenomenon. In line with the Punu reality this paper considers receptivity, in its ambivalent link to suffering, as the main source of the power these possessions grant to women.

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