Fipa - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The traditional religion of the Fipa was based on a network of territorial spirit shrines, administered by hereditary priests. These spirits were associated with prominent natural features such as hills, lakes, or large trees, and were commonly incarnated in pythons.

Today about 70 percent of Fipa are nominally Christian—most of these being Catholic—and 5 percent are Muslims. Worship of the traditional divinities has almost entirely lapsed. The most commonly invoked supernatural beings are ancestral spirits—who are intrinsically benign but may inflict sickness on erring descendants—and the intrinsically malign spirits of deceased sorcerers, creditors, suicides, and women who have died in labor.

Religious Practitioners. There are among the Fipa numerous indigenous experts in magico-medicine. Their craft centers on divining the occult causes of their clients' afflictions and dispensing treatment. These practitioners are also consulted by people who wish to obtain some benefit, such as wealth, employment, or a love partner.

Ceremonies. There was formerly an annual New Year ceremony at the beginning of the rainy season in early November, but this is no longer observed. The major ceremonial occasions observed by the Fipa today are the life-cycle rituals of birth, marriage, and death.

Arts. The Fipa have produced little or no sculptural art. Artisans formerly made a range of musical instruments, including flutes, lyres, and drums. Oral art—especially storytelling and the exposition of proverbial lore—is the major form still practiced.

Medicine. Sickness and death are attributed to sorcery or to the action of spirit agencies. Resort to the skills of indigenous practitioners is the main defense against these dangers.

Death and Afterlife. After death, a person's spirit is supposed to reside in an underworld and may decide to reincarnate in the same family after a lapse of two or more generations. After the identity of a reincarnating spirit has been established by divination, the newborn is given the name of his or her putative ancestor.

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