Issuu on Google+

TRANCE AND MUSIC IN THE HAUSA BÒORII SPIRIT POSSESSION CULT IN NIGER Veit Erlmann Butler School of Music The University of Texas at Austin In : Ethnomusicology, Vol. 26, No. 1, 25th Anniversary Issue (Jan., 1982), 49-58

In his recently published book La musique et la transe (1980) Gilbert Rouget has undertaken the most exhaustive study to date of the relationship between music and trance. Yet, he only devotes some fifteen pages to a discussion of what music actually does in trance and possession ceremonies. Though I share most of Rouget's views, this paper attempts to give a detailed example of the role music can play in a particular case of spirit possession. It is based on material collected among Hausa bòorii spirit possession adepts of the region of Maradi in Niger Republic in 1979. Traditionally, only women (and prostitutes in particular) become members of a bòorii cult group, but today the cult is open to members of other marginal groups in Hausa society as well. Thus, with the advent of Islam and under the impact of new political and social structures, a growing number of men have been integrated into the cult, especially foreigners from other parts of Hausaland and soldiers of the former French colonial army. To become a member of a cult group, a serious illness such as paralysis or sterility must have been experienced. Only when the illness is not successfully treated by local practitioners (bookaa) or Koranic scholars (maalàmii) may initiation into the cult become necessary, for the failure of a conventional treatment generally points at an offence that has been committed against one of the more than four hundred spirits of the Hausa pantheon. In such a case the afflicted person bas to be initiated during a ceremony lasting seven days (girkaa) that ultimately leads to an agreement with the offended spirit. The new adept ('yar bòorii) is then considered to be the spirit's "mare" (goo' dìiyaa), whom the spirit may "ride" (hawaa) during particular rites. These rites are celebrated during important events that concern the community of bòorii adepts or other individuals who wish to establish ritual contact with the spirits for their own specific needs. In the latter case payment of the bòorii adepts and musicians becomes a primary feature of the cult. In urban centers such as Maradi, being a devotee of the bòorii cult has become a full-time job and bòorii ceremonies are often organized as purely secular shows (wàasaa) which do not involve trance. For most bòorii ceremonies specialized musicians provide such music as praisesongs for important cult members, informal dance music to entertain the cult members before and after a ceremony, and above all individual tunes (taakee) for each of the more than four hundred spirits. These tunes are sung and/or played by a combination of gourdrattles (cakii) and/or calabashes (k'waryaa) and a one-stringed bowed lute (gòogee), or alternatively by a set of calabash-bodied drums (dumaa).


Besmer (1975) has described the structure of typical bòorii ceremonies in Kano, Nigeria, and little has to be added with regard to bòorii ceremonies in the area of Maradi. As a rule, a bòorii ceremony in Maradi consists of the invocation and incorporation of one or more spirits. While the orchestra plays the tune of a particular spirit, a devotee is seated in front of the orchestra with his head covered by a blanket. After a short period the devotee puts himself into a state of trance, which later on, when the blanket is removed, leads to a state of possession proper. This is the moment when the spirit arrives and takes possession of the "mare." The spirit may now be identified, for the adept starts acting out the spirit's appropriate gestures and movements. While the musicians sing the spirit's praises, the adept moves around the dance ground talking to the spectators and receiving ritual offerings from them such as cola nuts, perfume and money. This phase of possession is concluded by dances performed by the spirit. Another spirit may then be invoked and take possession of another adept or the previous devotee.

Physiological aspects of music and trance Most modem theories of trance and spirit possession cults have stressed the importance of neurophysiological mechanisms, which seem to govern the relationship between music and trance. According to these theories, music, in one way or another, generates trance. The most relevant physiological theory is the idea of "auditory driving" advanced by Neher in the early 1960s. It has found wide acceptance among trance specialists mainly, it would seem, because it postulates the immediate physiological effect of music on the brain before and during trance states. Certain sound stimulations, especially drumming, with low frequencies and a rhythm close to the basic alpha brain waves between 8 and 13 cycles per second produce a phenomenon of "auditory driving" of the alpha waves and precipitate behavior similar to trance (Neher 1962). This theory was dismissed by Rouget for three main reasons in an article published prior to La musique et la transe: (l) The parameters of his laboratory experiences… are in no way comparable to those involved in actual possession ceremonies; (2) the physiological results obtained… are in no way comparable to what can be observed during actual ceremonies; (3) if the "driving" effect he is referring to can be produced by beating a drum at a speed which can vary from 8 to 13 beats per second (Neher 1962: 154), and if that speed can eventually be as slow as 4 beats/sec…, then the whole of sub-Saharan Africa should be in trance from the beginning to the end of the year. (Rouget 1977:234)

Some corroborative examples from my own field experience support this view. First, trance may occur without any music at all being performed. Individuals who were not initiated into the cult may enter into trance unexpectedly without any music having been played. Bòorii adepts consider this to be a case of "savage" trance, which generally leads to uncurable mental illness.


Second, although I never observed any bòorii ceremony without music during the initial trance phase, an experienced devotee may be possessed by a spirit during the second possession phase—over a long period of sometimes several days—without any music. Third, an enduring assumption inspired Neher's experiments, namely, that trance is particularly provoked by the playing of percussion instruments. Rouget has shown that in numerous possession cults of the world practically any instrument may be used, from a nearly inaudible zither to a powerful battery of drums. Acoustic signals differ so markedly from one another that the same neurophysiological effects are unlikely (Rouget 1980: 119ff). Although Hausa bòorii ceremonies seldom take place without percussion instruments, they play a secondary role. According to Hausa theory, it is sufficient to play a spirit's tune on the gòogee in order to invoke him. Even musicians of dumaa drum bands readily admit that gòogee music is far more effective than drumming. In extreme cases, when neither a gòogee nor calabashes are available, adepts just sing the spirit's tune and accompany themselves by rhythmical rubbing of some cowrie shells on a grass mat. In Maradi, a ceremony was observed that illustrates the importance of the gòogee part over percussion instruments. When, after two hours of music and dancing, the adepts were still unwilling to become possessed, one of the spectators grew impatient and gave a handsome gift of 1,000 Francs CFA to the musicians and told them to play the tune of Buuzuu, a much-feared spirit known for his ability to incorporate himself immediately in every initiated adept present and to force them to crawl in the dust. Since on this particular occasion Iiyà, head of all bòorii adepts and prostitutes in Maradi, had invited many guests, she was not pleased with the idea that Buuzuu would force her guests into the dust when they were actually invited to assist at a mere show ceremony. Consequently, when the entire assembly fell to the ground, she went over to the musicians and seized the gòogee player's bow. This was meant to force Buuzuu to leave, for his tune was only drummed by the less effective calabashes. Fourth, although Rouget generally denies the possibility of neurophysiological effects of music, he nevertheless sees a worldwide tendency towards accelerando of tempo, which may be considered a universal technique possibly generating trance. 1 have examined most of my tape recordings and found that this holds true of individual tunes, but not of ceremonies of two or more hours. In the Appendix the development of tempo in five bòorii ceremonies is shown. Only in figure 3 is a gradual rise of tempo observed. In figure 4 it remains fairly stable throughout the ceremony. In the other examples tempo rises until approximately the second third of the performance and falls back again in the last third. As for the increasing tempo in individual sections of a ceremony, a zig-zag type of tempo curve is frequent. In fact, most tunes are structured in three parts. The first part is called "drumming of the taakee" (ki'dìn taakee) and is played during the initial trance phase. The second part is called "drumming of praise-epithets" (ki'dìn kiraari) and is played during the second possession phase when the spirit walks about and performs his particular role. The third part is called "drumming for dance" (ki'dìn rawaa) and is played when the spirit dances. Musicians declared that during the third part they often decrease tempo after it reaches a certain maximum in order not to overstress the dancer's ability to follow the rhythm with his dance steps. Yet, slowing down of tempo also occurs at the end of the trance phase when the blanket is removed and the spirit appears.


Fifth, Neher says that "drum rhythms in the range of slightly below 8 to 13 cycles per second in ceremonies that precipitate" behavior similar to trance should be expected (Neher 1962: 154). An examination of the maximum tempi (that is, final tempi) of 179 tunes revealed that only 6.1% had a tempo of between 7 to 10 beats per second. None had a tempo of more than 10 beats per second. Sixth, Neher saw the possibility of "changing stimulus frequency to encompass the range of individual brain rhythms" (Neher 1962: 155). I have checked 86 tunes performed by various musicians in two or three versions on various occasions. Not a single tune had the same number of beats per second in each of the different versions. Further examination revealed that these varying tempi were not adjusted to individual dancers, for in many cases the same tune was performed for the same dancer on different occasions in different tempi. Rather, different tempi are dependent on the overall layout of tempo in a ceremony. For instance, the tune of Buuzuu, mentioned above, is generally accompanied by extremely fast calabash drumming. During one performance the tempo of his tune was 352, in another 480, and in a third performance as high as 624 beats per minute. The difference is explained by the fact that in the second and third ceremonies the tempo of the preceding tune was already rather rapid, and its tempo had to be exceeded in order to bring out clearly the character of the extremely fast tune of Buuzuu. The assumption that adepts do not depend on individual music specially designed for them to enter into trance is also supported by behavior observed in numerous ceremonies. Whenever the spirits 'Dan Gàlàadiimà, Sarkin Ràahii and Àutaa appear, they are often accompanied by their servant Bàgoobirrii. Although all four spirits may incorporate themselves simultaneously in four devotees, only the tune of the superior spirit 'Dan Gàlàadiimà, was played in order to invoke all four spirits. The other spirits are 'Dan Gàlaadiimà's brothers or live in his "household," like Bàgoobirii, and often appear as a family unit without having been invoked by their own tunes.

Psycho-Physiological aspects of music and trance Besides Neher’s theory, Pavlov’s theory of the "conditioned reflex," based on his famous experiments with dogs, has found its way into the theory of spirit possession. It was first applied to possession dances by M. Herskovits (1943) and later picked up by R. Bastide, who argued that it is not only a musical stimulus that determines trance, but the total ritual situation as such (Bastide 1955:501). In a study of the bòorii cult of Maradi, J. Monfouga-Nicolas (1972:189ff) argues that, in addition to a hallucinogenic plant that is consumed during the initiation and constitutes a nonconditioned stimulus, the musical and gesticulatory corpus learned during the initiation can be considered a conditioned stimulus that later on, when drugs are no longer consumed, provokes the conditioned reflex of trance. Rouget doubts whether this theory still holds true when so many circumstantial restrictions observed in possession rites actually prevent trance (Rouget 1980:256), and when individuals react so differently (Rouget 1977:234). My own experience suggests that the small amount of drugs consumed during the initiation ceremony and the short periods for which neophytes went into trance are not sufficient as a conditioning to induce trance later on without the trance-provoking drug. In any case, exact


measurements in the future will have to determine the influence of drugs. The theory of the "conditioned reflex," however, leaves but a secondary, complementary role to music. It is part of learned behavior acquired earlier under the impact of drugs, which alone may generate trance.

Psychological aspects of music and trance Few theories about music and trance have stressed the importance of psychological factors. Some theories focus on a rather vague notion of "emotion" enhanced by music and leading to trance. Even Rouget in his otherwise sceptical book rather vaguely speaks of the "emotional power of music" (1980:440) and a "conjunction between emotion and the imaginary" in trance (1980:442). Rather than discussing these theories in detail, I propose a closer look at what might be called the Hausa theory of music and trance. Though it presents itself in mythological terms, there is a psychological essence in it that appears to be closer to reality than any other theory. For the Hausa, possession and trance are essentially a matter between the musicians and the spirits. However, all music and ritual arrangements are in vain unless a spirit has chosen someone in whom he wishes to incorporate himself and unless this person was initiated before or inherited a spirit within his family's pantheon. Under these conditions, however, music has the power to invoke the spirits and force them to incorporate themselves in an adept, because spirits, like humans, have a predilection for praisesongs. The music of the bòorii cult is nothing else but praise-songs addressed to the spirits. Some informants said that it may even suffice to pronounce the spirit's name and praise-epithet and that music is an additional embellishment. Some spirits have a special reputation as music lovers, as the eccentric Sarkin Ràahii, for instance, who sometimes seizes children from the crowd of spectators and gratefully offers them to the musicians as remuneration. His brother, 'Dan Gàlàadiimà, liberally distributes among the musicians gifts he received from worshippers. In Hausa theory, then, the relationship between music and trance/possession is viewed as though the adepts played no important role in the possession process. Another extreme example of this perspective is Kurmaa, a deaf spirit who has no tune of his own, since he would not hear it anyway. Consequently, he only incorporates himself in the company of another spirit without being invoked himself. Another major point in this Hausa theory is the assertion that music alone does not generate trance. The fact that one has to be initiated or must have inherited a spirit clearly indicates that the ability to enter into trance is culturally acquired, not naturally experienced behavior. On the other hand, factors that may prevent trance are never due to the ineffectiveness of the music. Bòorii musicians say—and there is a measure of professional pride in it—that music never fails to produce the desired results, unless some evil magic was exercised or mistakes in the hierarchical order of the spirits' appearances were made. Trance is thus not only provoked, but also prevented, by culturally determined behavior. Individual factors also intervene in the adept's ability to go into trance. This is illustrated by the simple fact, observed in any ceremony, that onlooking adepts who worship the same spirit as the one actually present in the trance dancer are not possessed by this


spirit, simply because it is not their turn. Obviously, the ceremonial context and the will to participate in it actively are essential conditions of trance. Cult members who enter into trance when they are actually not expected to do so are sharply rebuked by the group. The most important part, however, of the Hausa theory of music and spirit possession is the parallel drawn between human and ghostly susceptibility to praise-songs. It means that bòorii music is understood as praise-singing and fulfills three basic functions. First, praise-songs are a means of communication in that they speak to the spirits and are understood by the spirits and the spectators. Communication with the spirits is the supreme aim of bòorii ceremonies, and music is one of the forms of communication with the spirits. Other forms include talking, gift-giving, and body contact. Second, praise-songs describe and, hence, identify a person. Every spirit has a praise-song of his own with special tunes, words and sometimes rhythmic patterns of accompaniment by which he may be identified. Thus bòorii music not only serves as a means of communication, it also symbolizes the spirit himself. However, neither the communicative nor the symbolizing functions of music relate to the physiological mechanism of trance. They shape trance or, as Rouget says, "socialize" trance (Rouget 1980:442), for "savage," unsocialized trance and possession by an identified spirit are never accompanied by music. Third, bòorii music helps to generate trance, because praise-singing is a major means of role affirmation in Hausa society. Smith (1957) has shown that Hausa society is very fond of the theatrical display of prestige and social status and that Hausa praisesongs serve this purpose. Praise-songs often emphasize virtues and abilities that the person addressed most often does not really possess, but which force him to adopt the virtues or to play the role of the one he is taken for. The same holds true of bòorii ceremonies: in transforming themselves into spirits, adepts play a highly estimated role compensating for their former low status as ill and valueless members of society. Furthermore, bòorii devotees, especially, women, have a certain individual psychological predisposition for the type of role-acting required in the bòorii cult. MonfougaNicolas has shown that beyond a general liking of Hausa people for outwardness, the bòorii adept displays a high degree of psychological plasticity (1972:273) and extroversion (1972:271), which make him susceptible to signs of respect. At a still deeper level, trance and possession seem to be based on a psychological mechanism that has been described in classical terms by Monfouga-Nicolas. She points out that possession is a particular case of identification. Identification, however, is only a variation of introjection, a basic psychic process. As such it is opposed to the usual pattern of psychic defence, known in both Western and Hausa society, which consists in the projection of psychic disturbance to the outer world (1972:303). The notion of guilt, however, plays a particularly important role in Monfouga-Nicolas's argument. Guilt is part of the shame and respect syndrome prevalent in many African societies (1972:305), and in its conscious form in the bòorii cult the feeling of guilt expresses itself in the confession of a sin that has been committed against a spirit. Because bòorii adepts feel themselves guilty, they believe that they offended a spirit who punished them with the illness that made them adhere to the cult. As a result, adepts introject the persecution through the spirit by identfying themselves with him, that is, they get possessed by him.


Conclusion Trance may be seen as a technique through which the adept, in a voluntary, selfcontrolled, learned change of self-consciousness, introjects the persecution by a spirit and assumes his new role as worshipped spirit. Music, however, simply serves as praise-song in that it says to the adept who he should be and whom he should identify with. It is an initial signal for this technique of introjection through trance. The technique itself may work on a physiological basis as far as drugs are concerned, and one cannot deny that "auditory driving" and other factors, such as hyperventilation, may support it, once trance starts. However, trance is not generated physiologically by music.

References Cited Bastide, Roger 1955 "Le principe de coupure et le comportement afro-brésilien," Anais do XXXI congr. internacional de americanistas (Sao Paulo):493-503. Besmer, Fremont E. 1975 "Bòorii: Structure and Process in Performance," Folia Orientalia 16:101-130. Herskovits, Melville J. 1943 Pesquisas Etnologicas na Bahia. Bahia: Museu d'Estado. Monfouga-Nicolas, Jacqueline 1972 Ambivalence et culte de possession: Contribution à l'étude du Bori hausa. Paris: Editions Anthropos. Neher, Andrew 1962 "A physiological explanation of unusual behavior in ceremonies involving drums," Human Biology 4:151-160. Rouget, Gilbert 1977 "Music and Possession Trance," in J. Blacking, ed., The Anthropology of the Body (London: ASA Monograph 15), p. 233-39. 1980 La musique et la transe: Esquisse d'une théorie générale des relations de la musique et de la possession. Paris: Gallimard. Smith, Michael G. 1957 "The social functions and meaning of Hausa praise-singing," Africa 27(1):26-43.


APPENDIX Tempo in five Bòorii ceremonies Each square represents two and a half minutes of performance on the horizontal axis and 25 beats MM on the vertical axis. The solid lines join the starting and final tempo of a section, and dotted vertical lines indicate a sudden change of tempo. Where no lines appear, the music stopped. The line on top of the curves shows the general tendency of tempo development according to the succession of peak tempi.


This article has been reproduced with the kind autorisation of his author. Š 1982 Society for Ethnomusicology, lnc.


Trance and Music in the Hausa Bòorii Spirit Possession Cult in Niger