Crossroads of Culture


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Combining history, ethnography, and culture theory, this book explores how residents in northwestern Malawi have responded over time to the early missionary assertion that local religious and healing practices were incompatible with Christianity and western medicine. It details how local agents, in the past and today, have constructed new cultural forms that weave facets of ancestral spiritualism and divination with Christianity and biomedicine. Alongside a rich historical review of the late-19th century encounter between Tumbuka-speakers and the Scottish Presbyterians of the Livingstonia Mission, the book explores the contemporary therapeutic dance complex known as Vimbuza and considers two case studies, each the story of a man confronting illness and struggling to understand the roots and meaning of his a?iction. In the process, the book considers the enduring missiological and anthropological topics of conversion and syncretism, and questions the assertion by some scholars that Western missionaries in Africa have been successful agents of religious hegemony.



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Published 27 February 2020
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EAN13 9789996060427
Language English
Document size 13 MB

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Crossroads of Culture
© 2020 Eric H. Lindland All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission from the publishers. Published by Mzuni Press P/Bag 201 Luwinga, Mzuzu 2 ISBN 978-99960-60-41-0 eISBN 978-99960-60-42-7 Mzuni Press is represented outside Malawi by: African Books Collective Oxford ( Cover: George Kapoka during Vimbuza ceremony in Kamalazi, Zambia. Photo by author.
Crossroads of Culture
Christianity, Ancestral Spiritualism, and the Search for Wellness in Northern Malawi
Eric Lindland
Mzuni Books no. 24
For my father,
Petter Reidar (Ray) Lindland
The research that provides the basis for this book was made possible by a generous Research Enablement Grant from the Overseas Ministries Study Center, with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts. It was also furthered by grants from Emory University’s Fund for Internation-alization, Institute of African Studies, and Department of Anthropology. I am grateful to all of these institutions for their support.
In the journey to complete this book, I am particularly indebted to the residents of Embangweni in Malawi, as it was their hospitality and kindness during my doctoral fieldwork that made it possible. This is especially true for the two men who are the subjects of my case studies, both of whom have passed away. In my writing, I have tried my best to honor the trust and generosity they showed me as they shared their experiences, opinions, hopes, and fears with me, and I dearly hope that effort is evident in what follows. I am also grateful to two leaders in Embangweni at the time of my research – the Reverend Wilfred Chunga, Head of Station at Loudon Station; and Tifapi Kamangilira Jere, better known as Inkosi Mzukuzuku – who were consistently supportive of my research despite some understandable local skepticism. Likewise, I want to especially thank Frank and Nancy Dimmock, and Jim and Jody McGill, for their generosity, counsel, encouragement, and friendship throughout the course of my fieldwork. Thanks also to Jim Nussbaumer for letting me use the map of Embangweni station he generated just previous to my fieldwork, and for letting me revise it to make additions.
The importance of Msenga Mulungu’s contribution to this book cannot be overstated. As my primary research assistant in the field, he was a remarkably able teacher, translator, and transcriber, as well as a skilled social ambassador in my relations with others in the community. My fieldwork benefited dramatically from his efforts, wisdom, and resourcefulness, and I am grateful for both his help and his ongoing friendship.
I am furthermore indebted to the many members of Emory University’s academic community or their support and advice while I was writing the doctoral thesis on which this book is based. I am especially grateful to Bradd Shore for his unwavering support, considered counsel, good humor, and generosity of spirit throughout the preparation, research, and writing of my dissertation. I am also grateful to my doctoral committee members, Ivan Karp and Peter J. Brown, each of whom provided key insights at critical junctures of my research and helped move it forward. Ivan has since passed away, and I know that I am one among many who misses his critical mind and warm spirit. My thinking around this project also benefited from many fruitful conversations with Mark Auslander, John Bing, Lara Deeb, Maysoun Freij, Kendra Hatfield-Timajchy, Vinay Kamat, Corinne Kratz, Chris Kuzawa, Daniel Lende, Sarah Lyon, Thom McDade, Keith McNeal, Donna Murdock, Charles Nuckolls, Hal Odden, Pete Richardson, Elaine Salo, Rebecca Seligman, and Katherine Sieck.
I have also been fortunate to rely on the good counsel and insights of Klaus Fiedler, both during my research time in Malawi and in the years since. At the time of my research, Klaus was a professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Malawi in Zomba and editor of the Kachere Series of books. He subsequently took up a similar post at Mzuzu University in the north and launched Mzuni Press, also as lead editor. It was while meeting together during my return visit to Malawi in 2016 that Klaus suggested I revisit my dissertation and consider publishing it as a book with Mzuni. I am most grateful to him for his encouragement and guidance at that time and in the four years since, as I have little doubt this book would not have come to fruition without his support and good counsel.
My brothers Peter, Greg, and Ted understand, perhaps better than anyone else, the motivations that led me into this research, and their support and encouragement have been instrumental in my ability to complete it. Likewise, my parents, Ray and Sigrid, were unwavering in their support for the journey of inquiry and examination that my ethno-
graphic research and subsequent write-up entailed. For their love, understanding, and encouragement, I am profoundly grateful. I dedicate this book to the memory of my late father, who brought a deep anthropological sensibility to his work as a missionary in Congo/Zaïre between 1958 and 1985. In both word and deed, he taught me to pursue truth with courage and conviction, as well as humility and respect for others.
Finally, I am indebted to my wife Machelle Lee for her patience and encouragement over the past four years as I once again immersed myself in the research and writing that serve as the basis for this book. Her love and support have made this possible.
Eric Lindland February 2020 Brunswick, Maryland
Map 1 Map 2 Map 3 PART ONE Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
PART TWO Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Peoples of the Lake Nyasa basin, ca. 1875
Livingstonia Mission stations
Embangweni (Loudon) Station, 2000
Missiology and Anthropology in the Study of Christian Missions in Africa
Historical Theologies of Bodily Resurrection and the Emergence of a Dualist Paradigm in Modern Western Culture History, Religion, and Medicine in Northern Nyasaland The Establishment, Growth, and Segmentation of the Livingstonia Mission
Missionary and Tumbuka Models of Personhood and Being: Conjunctions and Disjunctions Between Western Dualist and African Monist Schemas
Vimbuza: The History of a Spirit Possession Complex
The Ethnographic Setting and Research Methods
God and the Ancestors: The Emergence of a Syncretic Vimbuza Form
Embodying Spirits: A Case Study in Transitional Syncretism
i ii iii 1 40 41
263 264