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‘The Arrow of God’: Pentecostalism, Inequality, and the Supernatural in South-Eastern Nigeria

  • Daniel Jordan Smith

In September 1996 the city of Owerri in south-eastern Nigeria erupted in riots over popular suspicion that the town's nouveaux riches were responsible for a spate of ritual murders allegedly committed in the pursuit of ‘fast wealth’. In addition to destroying the properties of the purported perpetrators, the rioters burned several pentecostal churches. This article examines the place of religion in the Owerri crisis, particularly the central position of pentecostal Christianity in popular interpretations of the riots. While pentecostalism itself fuelled local interpretations that ‘fast wealth’ and inequality were the product of satanic rituals, popular rumours simultaneously accused some pentecostal churches of participating in the very occult practices that created instant prosperity and tremendous inequality. The analysis explores the complex and contradictory place of pentecostalism in the Owerri crisis, looking at the problematic relationship of pentecostalism to structures of inequality rooted in patron-clientism and focusing on the ways in which disparities in wealth and power in Nigeria are interpreted and negotiated through idioms of the supernatural.

En septembre 1996, des émeutes ont éclaté dans la ville d'Owerri, dans le Sud-Est du Nigeria, une partie de la population soupçonnant les nouveaux riches de la ville d'être responsables d'une série de meurtres rituels prétendument perpétrés dans le but d'acquérir une « richesse rapide ». Les émeutiers ont non seulement détruit les biens des prétendus coupables, mais aussi brûlé plusieurs églises pentecôtistes. Cet article examine la place de la religion dans la crise d'Owerri et particulièrement la position centrale de la chrétienté pentecôtiste dans les interprétations répandues concernant les émeutes. Alors que le pentecôtisme alimentait lui-même des interprétations locales selon lesquelles la « richesse rapide » et l'inégalité étaient le produit de rituels sataniques, les rumeurs répandues au sein de la population accusaient simultanément certaines églises pentecôtistes de participer aux pratiques occultes créatrices de prospérité instantanée et de grande inégalité. L'analyse examine la place complexe et contradictoire du pentecôtisme dans la crise d'Owerri, en observant le rapport problématique du pentecôtisme aux structures de relations patron-client ancrées dans l'inégalité et en se concentrant sur la manière dont les disparités de richesse et de pouvoir au Nigeria sont interprétées et résolues à travers des idiomes du surnaturel.

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