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Title:In pursuit of tradition: Local cults and religious conversion among the Sambla of Burkina Faso
Author(s):Royer, Patrick Yves
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Saul, Mahir
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Religion, General
Anthropology, Cultural
History, African
Abstract:This dissertation addresses the construction of identity among the Sambla, a Mande speaking group of western Burkina Faso, in relation to religious shifts of affiliation. Past religious regional movements in the Volta region and contemporary religious changes among the Sambla show that local identities are produced by people who do not perceive a disjunction between local culture and wider cultural processes and forms of power. My overall concern in this thesis is the macrocosmic dimension of local religious practices.
The first part of the dissertation analyzes the formation of Sambla identity as a result of the political and ritual production of a territory generated by overlapping relations of power from outside and from within Sambla society. Chapter one is a brief introduction to Sambla society. Chapter two is a regional social history focusing on the creation of a Sambla identity that took shape under the foreign rule of both the Jula and the French and to some extent outside Sambla control. Conversely, chapter three describes politico-religious processes within Sambla communities that have been instrumental in the formation and consolidation of the overall Sambla society. One central force behind Sambla identity was the institution of the mangan, a ritual ruler (or "divine king"), who gathered people of different origins under a common identity in relation to a ritually defined territory. This political-religious arrangement has provided the basis for both pre-colonial and contemporary ethnic boundaries. I discuss the integration of Sambla society into a hierarchical network of communities, the rituals that sanction the mangan's power, and the perception of the mangan himself as a virtual cult shrine. I conclude the first part of the dissertation with a brief account of the decline of the mangan in the early 1960s.
The underlying theme of overlapping local and wider processes links the first and the second part of the thesis. The second part of the thesis discusses Sambla religious cults and a succession of regional religious movements that spread in the area of the Niger bend and the Black Volta river. The last significant religious movement in the Western Volta area was that of the "Water of Moussa" in the mid-1960s. It was a prophetic movement that quickly waxed and waned but it had dramatic consequences for the Sambla and for many other people of the region. Under the directives of Moussa the Sambla rejected all local cults and religious practices, and they turned subsequently to Islam and Christianity. Today, thirty years after the Water of Moussa, one category of cults called bwen are being recreated by the Sambla. Bwen cults share many characteristics with what anthropologists have labeled 'anti-witchcraft cults', and 'spirit possession cults'. They include a restricted membership with specialized ritual tasks focusing on shrines on which animal sacrifices are routinely performed. The people who are reconstituting these cults and their shrines express a concern with authentic Sambla traditions and they have all rejected their Muslim or Christian beliefs. Contrary to the other cults and religious institutions that have not been reconstituted by the Sambla, these cults, inherited within lineages, may be best adapted to contemporary conditions because they are both local and translocal.
Issue Date:1996
Rights Information:Copyright 1996 Royer, Patrick Yves
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9712424
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9712424

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