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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The 'Head Dance', Contested Self, and Art as a Balancing Act in Tuareg Spirit Possession
Author:Rasmussen, Susan J.ISNI
Periodical:Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Geographic term:Niger
Subjects:spirit possession
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Women's Issues
Religion and Witchcraft
Architecture and the Arts
Cultural Roles
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/1161095
Abstract:Among the Kel Ewey Tuareg of northeastern Niger, particularly in noble circles, spirit possession is associated with Sudanic/servile cultural origins; so, too, are dancing and drumming. The author argues that, in performing a sideways swaying motion of the head and shoulders referred to locally as a dance, women in possession trance transform Sudanic culture. The head dance as flowing, controlled movement, and its central trope of 'swaying like the branch of a tree', encapsulate key cultural symbols to make them almost acceptable in traditional noble Tuareg aesthetic/symbolic terms. Yet this motion implies that one is 'ill' or 'in solitude or in the wild', in need of exorcism that has to be performed on the fringes of the camp or village, outside the tent, after dark, yet in public with an audience. The article uses a synaesthetic approach to show the interconnectedness of symbols. It illustrates the tensions and contradictions of a traditionally stratified society where women now perform a range of semiservile activities, activities that Muslims, nobles and men generally disapprove of. The 'head dance' is a compromise that blurs the line between dance and possession, takes on acceptable images from song and the 'proper' ways of moving, and 'grafts' them on to a particular drum pattern - the whole complex making use of the homonym 'song/branch' as the core image or metaphor. Symbols work synergistically in this process. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. in English and French.