Mystics and missionaries

Narratives of the spirit movement in Eastern Nigeria*

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
David Pratten Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, 51 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PE, UK

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This paper combines insights from de Certeau's writings on mysticism, history and possession, along with Africanist perspectives on new religious movements to inform a case study of a Christian revival movement in late 1920s south‐eastern Nigeria. The paper focuses on the events and fallout of the so‐called Spirit Movement of 1927 in which bands of young men and women entered states of spiritual possession, paraded along the roads, attacked elders and secret society members, and killed suspected witches. Accounts of the origins and meaning of the Spirit Movement were highly contested and contradictory. This paper asks how we account for the mystical in historical ethnography, what light this event throws on colonial subjectivities, how we negotiate dominant missionary and colonial versions of such events, and how the problematic disjunction of sensorial experience and written account can be approached.

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