Songhay - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. According to Songhay religious beliefs, there are a number of paths that situate Songhay in the cosmos. These paths are magic, possession, ancestor worship, witchcraft, and Islam. Islam is superficially important, in that every town has a mosque, and larger towns have Friday mosques. Possession, magic (and sorcery), ancestor worship, and witchcraft, however, are the vital components of Songhay belief. Most Songhay towns have possession troupes and magician-healers, as well as suspected witches.

Religious Practitioners. For Muslims, there are marabouts, Islamic clerics who either heal the sick or lead the community in prayer. Some Songhay communities have imams, who teach Islamic philosophy to lesser clerics. There are also healers as well as priests who are associated with the possession cults and are also healers in their own right.

Ceremonies. Muslim ceremonial activities are the most frequent rituals practiced among the Songhay (daily prayers, weekly prayer, the Ramadan fast, and the Tabaski). There are also spirit-possession ceremonies, which in some Songhay towns occur at least once a week. The most important spirit-possession ceremonies are the genji bi hori, a festival in which Songhay make offerings to the black spirits that control pestilence, and the yenaandi , or rain dance. Both of these ceremonies are held in the hot season.

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