Kusamira Ritual Music and the Social Reproduction of Wellness in Uganda

Article excerpt

Ritual healing has fascinated ethnographers and historians for several decades. Over the last twenty-five years, ethnomusicologists have begun to examine the cognitive, performative, and phenomenological aspects of ritual and trance. Based on seventeen months of ethnographic field research over the last five years, this study examines ritual healing and spirit mediumship in two regions of southern Uganda, Buganda and Busoga. The groups living in these regions, the Baganda and Basoga, speak mutually intelligible languages respectively called Luganda and Lusoga. The performance of healing rituals involves kusamira , or what this study defines as flexible personhood, which has been termed elsewhere spirit possession or trance. Through the release of a usual sense of self to spirits in kusamira ritual, practitioners called basamize and baswezi create atmospheres for social interaction with ancestral and patron spirits. These interactions not only articulate categories of illness and wellness; they also become sites for manipulating and negotiating trajectories of mediumship and healing. Ritual adepts conceive of holistic wellness in these contexts, obulamu obulungi, as crucially dependent upon blessings from the spirits, emikisa , and the eradication of negative spiritual energy, ebibi . "Carrying spirits," okukongojja , facilitates the kind of social interaction between humans and spirits necessary to pursue these blessings in ritual and sacrifice.

This dissertation offers the first ethnographic narrative on the music of kusamira . Through linguistic and musical research, performance with project participants, and other subjective ethnographic experience, it engages kusamira adherents at the level of verbal art and performative meaning. Specific methods include analysis of song texts, assessment of the place song in ritual contexts, examination of intercontextual references, and musical analysis. These approaches to kusamira ritual redress a major gap in the literature on ritual healing in Interlacustrine East Africa: although earlier studies have often mentioned the presence of music in this kind of ritual, they have failed to account for its significance or examine its meanings beyond a cursory level. …