Spirit Possession in a Muslim Town
“Sit, please.” Alhajia Rabi indicated a rickety chair with a ripped vinyl seat. “I am busy now, but later we will talk.”
As the only purveyor of western medicine in Kaura, a Nige rian town one hundred miles south of the Sahara Desert, the Alhajia treated patients in a squat, iron-roofed, green-shuttered dispensary on a lane behind the Magaji’s mud-walled palace. The Magaji, chief of Kaura, had instructed his messenger to bring me to her. “The Alhajia and I used to work together,” he’d told me. Before the eldest son of his father’s elder brother had been deposed by the provincial governor for egregious corruption and he’d been appointed in his place, the Magaji had been a nurse.
“While I treated gents, she treated ladies,” he’d explained to me. “Of course my appointment as chief necessitated my resignation. The Ministry of Health has promised a replacement but none has been forthcoming so far. Thus my former room in the dispensary is padlocked, and for medical attention our Kaura gents must travel to the clinic in faraway Funtua. As the road there is long and full of potholes, for sick people it is a horrible journey. They scream and even beg for death to take them. In fact, meeting death on the way is not infrequent. But our ladies and our children, too, are fortunate.” Alhajia Rabi in her white uniform—crisp head tie, long-sleeved blouse, toe-length wrap-