Healing words: Becoming a spirit-host in Madagascar

John Mack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In discussion of healing processes in sub-Saharan Africa, emphasis is characteristically placed on the role of performance. Yet in spirit mediumship, speech is also an important element in therapeutic practices. In Madagascar, the spirits (tromba) are often of exotic origins (frequently in time as well as space) and the language used is likewise exotic. A complex of techniques of enchantment is employed: amongst them, music, changes of dress, the burning of perfumes and incense, rum, putting matches in the mouth, or the use of herbal medicines. Sometimes artefacts, such as – in the case discussed – a large model ship, are employed. Although the setting is shrine-like, the techniques are at once both dynamic and eclectic, collapsing time and space into a single embodied moment when the spirit speaks through the vehicle of the medium. Such ‘spirit-speech’ is itself empowered and empowering, cathartic and curative.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-243
Number of pages13
JournalAnthropology and Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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