22 Pages

Spirit possession as historical narrative

WithThe production of identity and locality in Zanzibar Town* Kjersti Larsen

This chapter approaches locality as a phenomenological quality, and as an aspect of social life, in order to discuss a process through which ethnic identity and belonging are experienced and produced. The discussion is grounded in the phenomenon of spirit possession in Zanzibar, situated off the east coast of Africa. Living in a multi-ethnic society, Zanzibaris participate in continuous interactions and discourses across what may, in analytical terms, be conceptualised as ethnic boundaries. While humans are characterised in social discourse as having ambiguous and shifting relationships to locality and identity, spirits known to Zanzibari women and men are, by contrast, perceived as having clear and distinctive identities and affiliations to specific places. The opposition between the ambiguity and multivocality of human belonging, and the distinctiveness and fixity of spirits’ identity, provides the ethnographic focus of this chapter.