Rukuba - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Rukuba believe that the prosperity and the well-being of the land and people rests in the physical person of the village chief, who is a scapegoat. 1f prosperity fails, or if drought, locust invasions, plagues, defeats in war, or deep dissensions between the villagers occur, the chief is deposed and replaced to remedy the situation. The village chief is a variation of James G. Frazer's "divine king"; he is forced to commit a transgression, which makes him good and bad at the same time. Like any of the other divine kings, his bad part is sacrificed by proxy at regular times and one of his alter egos is also killed in the two prominent ritual villages, the beneficial effect being shared by the other villages as well. An individual's well-being also depends on his "double" residing in his mother's natal village, under the care of a clan chief. The High God is beyond reach, and ancestors play almost no role. No more than 4 to 5 percent of the Rukuba are Christians (Evangelical Church of West Africa), but they constitute the most politically active and "modernist" group. Islam has made no inroad.

Religious Practitioners. The Rukuba have two kinds of local doctors: those curing with herbs and plants, and diviners. No special power is vested in the first type, whereas the second is credited with spiritual powers. The most sought-after diviners, however, come from neighboring tribes, and Rukuba diviners are, conversely, more known across the ethnic border. Some specialize in treating illnesses coming from the maternal side of the patient.

Ceremonies. The most important ceremonies are connected with initiations during which numerous goats are slaughtered. Agricultural rites are not spectacular, although each clan chief has to undertake them. The most secret rituals are those connected with the person of the chief, but most Rukuba men know them. Ritual knowledge can be shared by all men, but women are supposed to know nothing about it.

Arts. There is no art in the Western sense of the word. The Rukuba decorate their village ritual hut, their village sacred pots and drums, and, in one village only, there is a septennial private display of decorated objects for the benefit of people organizing the ritual.

Medicine. Traditional curing goes side by side with other methods of treating disease. Western medicines are eagerly sought from the missionaries and a dispensary that is well attended. Hospitals in the nearby town of Jos are frequently visited, especially by Christians.

Death and Afterlife. Chiefs, clan chiefs, blacksmiths, diviners, and witches reincarnate. Their souls stay in a shooting star, or somewhere else, before reentering a pregnant woman's womb. Other people's souls simply disappear; their influence may remain, temporarily, through their bones or through curses uttered when they were alive. Burial ceremonies and mourning practices are aimed at getting rid of the dead as completely and as soon as possible.

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