Epidemiology of Spirit Possession Among the Luvale of Zambia

  • Anita Spring


In the past few years in the West, medical notions concerning the cause and nature of disease have been changing rapidly. Not only does a more organic and synergistic model of the human organism replace the Cartesian separation between mind and body, but we now recognize that environmental factors, especially conditions in society and culture, are integrally related to the well-being or harmony of the organism (Chesler 1973; Illich 1976). The Cartesian view of the world influenced anthropological studies of non-Western healing. This is implicit in most analyses of the phenomena, which often divide into the materialist concepts of “organic” and “psychosomatic,” even though most non-Westerners make no such distinction themselves. Spirit possession studies in particular suffer from this Western idiosyncrasy in that many anthropologists who write about possession show that it was “only” a palliative for psychosomatic illness brought about by disharmonies in the social order, and that actual “physical” disease is not the “important” aspect of possession cults and rituals. Following Evans-Pritchard (1937), anthropologists have tried to look at people’s answers to the moral question of “why me” in relationship to possession, but consistently neglect the physiological condition of persons that possession cures treat. Although possession rituals undoubtedly do treat both symbolic-social disorders and physical illnesses, the emphasis placed on the symbolism of participation in ritual possession cults means that we have a great deal of literature that illustrates the “symbolicity” of non-Westerners, but not much that demonstrates their empirical recognition of personal ill health, technical proficiency in treating disease, or the relationship between possession and individual cure.


General Illness Sick Child Child Rear Spirit Possession Cult Member 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anita Spring
    • 1
  1. 1.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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