West Africa's Women of God: Alinesitoué and the Diola Prophetic Tradition

West Africa's Women of God: Alinesitoué and the Diola Prophetic Tradition

West Africa's Women of God: Alinesitoué and the Diola Prophetic Tradition

West Africa's Women of God: Alinesitoué and the Diola Prophetic Tradition

Synopsis

West Africa's Women of God examines the history of direct revelation from Emitai, the Supreme Being, which has been central to the Diola religion from before European colonization to the present day. Robert M. Baum charts the evolution of this movement from its origins as an exclusively male tradition to one that is largely female. He traces the response of Diola to the distinct challenges presented by conquest, colonial rule, and the post-colonial era. Looking specifically at the work of the most famous Diola woman prophet, Alinesitoue, Baum addresses the history of prophecy in West Africa and its impact on colonialism, the development of local religious traditions, and the role of women in religious communities.

Excerpt

After finishing my doctoral dissertation on religious and social change in a precolonial Diola community in 1986, I returned to Esulalu, my research site and home base, in southwestern Senegal. I had planned to write a second book on Esulalu focusing on religious and social change in the colonial era, including the growth of Diola Christianity and the prophet Alinesitoué Diatta. When I arrived, however, people insisted on talking about a new group of women who claimed that Emitai (the supreme being) had sent them to teach about rain rituals and the reform of Diola community life. These women said that their dreams, visions, and auditory experiences came directly from Emitai. They claimed their experiences were part of a tradition extending back to Alinesitoué Diatta, a woman who had taught during the Second World War and been celebrated in Diola and Senegalese culture since her arrest and exile in 1943. These women came to revive local rain rituals directed toward Emitai so that It would end the recurrent droughts that plagued the region. I was already aware of male prophets who had been active before the French conquest, and Alinesitoué Diatta, but had been unaware of other women prophets who preceded her or followed her, and the importance of this tradition for Diola communities.

In the mid-1980s, a woman named Todjai Diatta, from the Department of Oussouye, gained a substantial following in many Diola townships. She revived a ritual, known as Kasila, in which people gathered in a public ritual to ask Emitai for rain. Other people, mostly women but some men, claimed messenger status, insisting that they were sent by Emitai, just as Alinesitoué Diatta had been in the midst of the Second World War. Southern Diola gathered together to renew the Kasila ritual, which they performed in each sub-quarter of each township. They sacrificed a black bull, some pigs, and chickens, which the entire community consumed together for several days, accompanied by the singing of songs honoring the ancestors. Nothing of European origin could be used or worn at the ritual, as Diola asked Emitai to send rain to break the increasing frequency of drought and restore them to a position of self-sufficiency in the cultivation of rice. These prophets emphasized the importance of renewing the rituals of Alinesitoué and claimed to be her spiritual successors. By the 1990s, prophetic move-

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