The Birth of Religion among the Balanta of Guinea-Bissau

University dissertation from Almquist och Wiksell International

Abstract: This thesis deals with a recent event within the history of religions, the rise and development of a non-Christian prophetic movement named Kiyang-yang within the oral, kinship and ancestor based society of the Balanta in Guinea-Bissau. Kiyang-yang is headed by young women and men under the leadership of a woman prophet. The movement aims at a global and radical change of the existing Balanta way of life, opposing gerontocracy, sorcery and spirit cult contamination in favour of the pure and right way of Nhaala, the unique Balanta god. The thesis analyses the ambiguity of the effects, being either a global questioning of the society (pre-modern and undifferentiated), or the birth of religion as a specific religious domain, where the movement can realise its objectives. The movement is proved not to be the creation of something totally new, but the moulding of something new with elements of the old order, which at the same time legitimates the new order. The thesis is based upon fieldwork carried out in various periods stretching over ten years in different parts of the Balanta area. The result being corpuses of ritual songs, transcribed from the Balanta oral language into written form and translated into English, and descriptions of the rituals in which the songs are performed, both of the Kiyang-yang movement and of a parallel traditional women’s movement among the Balanta. The interpretation of daily life practices, rituals and songs is elaborated both from the point of view of the participants, and from the objectifying point of view of the researcher looking for elements of explanation.

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