Skip to main content
×
Home

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

Abstract
ABSTRACT

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.

Résumé

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.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Appadurai A. 1996. Modernity at Large: cultural dimensions of globalization. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Apter A. 1999. ‘IBB = 419: Nigerian democracy and the politics of illusion’, in Comaroff J. and Comaroff J. (eds), Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa: critical perspectives, pp. 267-307. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ardener E. 1970. ‘Witchcraft, economics and the continuity of belief’, in Douglas M. (ed.), Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations, pp. 141-60. London: Travistock.
Auslander M. 1993. ‘“Open the wombs!”: the symbolic politics of modern Ngoni witchfmding’, in Comaroff J. and Comaroff J. (eds), Modernity and its Malcontents: ritual and power in postcolonial Africa, pp. 167-92. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Barber K. 1982. ‘Popular reactions to the petro-naira’, Journal of Modern African Studies 20 (3), 431-50.
Bastian M. 1993. ‘“Bloodhounds who have no friends”: witchcraft and locality in the Nigerian popular press’, in Comaroff J. and Comaroff J. (eds), Modernity and its Malcontents: ritual and power in postcolonial Africa, pp. 129-66. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bayart J. F. 1993. The State in Africa: the politics of the belly. London: Longman.
Bayart J. F. 1999. ‘The “social capital” of the felonious state, or The ruses of political intelligence’, in Bayart J. F.Ellis S. and Hibou B. (eds), The Criminalization of the State in Africa, pp. 32-48. Oxford: James Currey, for the International African Institute.
Berry S. 1985. Fathers Work for their Sons: accumulation, mobility and class formation in an extended Yoruba community. Berkeley CA: University of California Press.
Berry S. 1989. ‘Social institutions and access to resources’, Africa 59 (1), 41-55.
Bledsoe C. 1980. Women and Marriage in Kpelle Society. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.
Bledsoe C. 1995. ‘Marginal members: children of previous unions in Mende households in Sierra Leone’, in Greenhalgh S. (ed.), Situating Fertility: anthropology and demographic inquiry, pp. 130-53. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chabal P. and Daloz J. P. 1999. Africa Works: disorder as political instrument. Oxford: James Currey, for the International African Institute.
Comaroff J. and Comaroff J. 1993. ‘Introduction’, in Comaroff J. and Comaroff J. (eds), Modernity and its Malcontents: ritual and power in postcolonial Africa, pp. xi-xxxvi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Comaroff J. 1999. ‘Occult economies and the violence of abstraction: notes from the South African postcolony’, American Ethnologist 26 (2), 279-303.
d’Azevedo W. 1962. ‘Common principles and variant kinship structures among the Gola of western Liberia’, American Anthropologist 64 (3), 504- 20.
Englund H. 1996. ‘Witchcraft, modernity and the person: the morality of accumulation in central Malawi’, Critique of Anthropology 16 (3), 257-81.
Englund H. and Leach J. 2000. ‘Ethnography and the meta-narratives of modernity’, Current Anthropology 41 (2), 225-48.
Fisiy C and Geschiere P. 1991. ‘Sorcery, witchcraft and accumulation: regional variations in south and west Cameroon’, Critique of Anthropology 11 (3), 251-78.
Geschiere P. 1997. The Modernity of Witchcraft: politics and the occult in postcolonial Africa. Charlottesville VA: University of Virginia Press.
Geschiere P. and Gugler J. 1998. ‘Introduction: the rural-urban connection: changing issues of belonging and identification’, Africa 68 (3), 309-19.
Geschiere P. and Nyamnjoh F. 1998. ‘Witchcraft in the ‘“politics of belonging” ’, African Studies Review 41 (3), 69-91.
Guyer J. 1993. ‘Wealth in people and self-realization in equatorial Africa’, Man 28, 243-65.
Guyer J. 1995. ‘Wealth in people as wealth in knowledge: accumulation and composition in equatorial Africa’, Journal of Africa History 36, 91-120.
Hibou B. 1999. ‘The “social capital” of the state as an agent of deception, or, The ruses of economic intelligence’, in Bayart J. F.Ellis S. and Hibou B. (eds), The Criminalization of the State in Africa, pp. 69-113. Oxford: James Currey, for the International African Institute.
Imo State Government. 1997. Government White Paper on the Report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Disturbances of24-25 September 1996 in Owerri. Owerri: Office of the Secretary to the State Government.
Joseph R. 1987. Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Marshall R. 1991. ‘Power in the name of Jesus’, Review of African Political Economy 52, 21-38.
Marshall R. 1993. ‘“Power in the name of Jesus”: social transformation and pentecostalism in western Nigeria “revisited” ’, in Ranger T. O. and Vaughan O. (eds), Legitimacy and the State in Twentieth Century Africa, pp. 213-46. London: Macmillan.
Marshall R. 1998. ‘“God is not a democrat”: pentecostalism and democratisation in Nigeria’, in Gifford P. (ed.), The Christian Churches and the Democratisation of Africa, pp. 239-60. New York: Brill.
Marshall- Fratani R. 1998. ‘Mediating the global and the local in Nigerian pentecostalism’, Journal of Religion in Africa 38 (3), 278-313.
Maxwell D. 2000. ‘Pentecostalism and politics in post-colonial Zimbabwe’, Africa 70 (2), 249-77.
Meyer B. 1995. ‘“Delivered from the powers of darkness”: confessions of satanic riches in Christian Ghana’, Africa 65 (2), 236-55.
Meyer B. 1998a. ‘The power of money: politics, occult forces, and pentecostalism in Ghana’, African Studies Review 41 (3), 15-37.
Meyer B. 1998b. ‘“Make a complete break with the past”: memory and post- colonial modernity in Ghanaian pentecostalist discourse’, Journal of Religion in Africa 28 (3), 316-49.
Miers S. and Kopytoff I. (eds). 1977. Slavery in Africa: historical and anthropological perspectives. Madison WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Nelson C. 1996. ‘PAT 101: principles of patronage’, Issues: a Journal of Opinion 24 (1), 45-51.
Rowlands M. and Warnier J. P. 1988. ‘Sorcery, power and the modern state in Cameroon’, Man (n.s.) 23, 118-32.
Shaw R. 1997. ‘The production of witchcraft/witchcraft as production: memory, modernity, and the slave trade in Sierra Leone’, American Ethnologist 24 (4), 856-76.
Smith D. 1999. ‘Having People: fertility, family, and modernity in Igbo- speaking Nigeria’. Ph.D. dissertation, Atlanta GA: Department of Anthropology, Emory University.
Smith D.In press. ‘Ritual killing, “419,” and fast wealth: inequality and the popular imagination in southeastern Nigeria’, American Ethnologist 28 (4).
Taussig M. 1997. The Magic of the State. New York and London: Routledge.
Watts M. 1992. ‘The shock of modernity: petroleum, protest and fast capitalism in an industrializing society’, in Pred A. and Watts M. (eds), Reworking Modernity: capitalisms and symbolic discontent, pp. 21-63. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press.
White L. 1993. ‘Vampire priests of central Africa: African debates about labor and religion in colonial northern Zambia’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 35 (4), 746-72.
White L. 1997. ‘The traffic in heads: bodies, borders, and the articulation of regional histories’, Journal of Southern African Studies 23 (2), 325-38.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 15 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 327 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.