Accepted paper:

'This city belongs to spirits': experiencing, contesting and reshaping urban space through spirit possession in northern Mozambique


Daria Trentini (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the ways in which, through spirits, women in Nampula appropriate alternative spaces within the urban context. These practices accordingly defy and transform the male, Muslim city from which many women are/feel increasingly excluded.

Paper long abstract:

'Majini have been made for us to live in this city'. This is how a female healer explained the increase of spirit afflictions among Nampula's women. Majini- spirits arriving from the bush do not only provide women with a creative social commentary addressing the uncertainty of living in the urban community, but enable them to redraw their life and reconfigure urban space.

In this paper, I explore the ways in which women seek to recast city-life through the intervention of spirits, framing the shock of an increasingly male, modern and Muslim urban environment from a set of rural and traditional values. Significantly, several women encounter the spirits while working in the urban fields (machamba) located at the city's margins. Others are forced by spirits to temporarily leave Nampula and head to the nearby mountains, from which they would return with medical herbs, signalling their transformation into spirit healers. Spirits constitute a way of re-appropriating the city enabling a number of women to engineer an independent way of life. Moreover, as these 'marginal' places -machamba and bush - become vital for the city itself, they confer power to local women. Many families' income relies on the work of spirit healers and the agrarian work of women often constitutes the only source of economic security in times of change and uncertainty. Finally, the medical herbs women harvest in the mountains heal and protect the health and fortune of Nampula's population from biomedical inefficacy and sorcery attacks.

panel P121
Spirit of place