Prayer Has Spoiled Everything

Possession, Power, and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger

Prayer Has Spoiled Everything

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 25 b&w photographs, 2 maps Published: March 2001

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Religious Studies

Bori, in the Mawri society of Niger, are mischievous and invisible beings that populate the bush. Bori is also the practice of taming these wild forces in the context of possession ceremonies. In Prayer Has Spoiled Everything Adeline Masquelier offers an account of how this phenomenon intervenes—sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically—in human lives, providing a constantly renewed source of meaning for Mawri peasants confronted with cultural contradictions and socio-economic marginalization.
To explore the role of bori possession in local definitions of history, power, and identity, Masquelier spent a total of two years in Niger, focusing on the diverse ways in which spirit mediums share, transform, and contest a rapidly changing reality, threatened by Muslim hegemony and financial hardship. She explains how the spread of Islam has provoked irreversible change in the area and how prayer—a conspicuous element of daily life that has become virtually synonymous with Islamic practice in this region of west Africa—has thus become equated with the loss of tradition. By focusing on some of the creative and complex ways that bori at once competes with and borrows from Islam, Masquelier reveals how possession nonetheless remains deeply embedded in Mawri culture, representing more than simple resistance to Islam, patriarchy, or the state. Despite a widening gap between former ways of life and the contradictions of the present, it maintains its place as a feature of daily life in which villagers participate with varying degrees of enthusiasm and approval.
Specialists in African studies, in the anthropology of religion, and in the historical transformations of colonial and postcolonial societies will welcome this study.


Prayer Has Spoiled Everything makes a valuable contribution to the small but substantial literature on bori as practiced in various parts of Africa. With its attention to bori as a living and changing religion that has responded to social developments, it can appeal to historians and anthropologists alike. From the perspective of Islamic studies, the book offers fascinating insights into a rural and small-town society in transition between local and transnational Muslim practice.” — Heather J. Sharkey , African Studies Review

“[A] fine addition to an increasingly dynamic anthropological literature on spirit possession . . . . The pages of the book are filled with local nuances—a testament to Masquelier’s skill as a fieldworker as well as her commitment to long-term study . . . . [A] significant contribution to the anthropology of religion and African studies.” — Paul Stoller , International Journal of African Historical Studies

“This intriguingly titled book is a rich ethnography and analysis of bori -- a term that refers to the spirit beings that inhabit the world of the Mawri people and the possession of practices surrounding them. . . . The most striking aspect of Masquelier’s book is the lushness of her ethnography -- particularly in her descriptions of the spirits themselves and the possession-related ceremonial activity. . . . Through ethnographic vignettes, she sketches an vivid picture of the daily life of the bori mediums and their relationship with their spirit inhabitants. . . . Masquelier’s book is a welcome addition to recent anthropological literature on possession, religion, and resistance.” — Erin Stiles , American Anthropologist

"Adeline Masquelier's Prayer Has Spoiled Everything is welcome both as an introduction to bori among the Mawri, a Hausaphone people of southwestern Niger, and as a review of francophone authors unknown to many hidebound Anglophones. . . . [C]ompelling." — Allen F. Roberts, Africa Today

"Masquelier has given us a sophisticated and ethnographically grounded work that offers much to studies of religion in northern Niger." — Brian Larkin, Journal of Religion

"Throughout her analyses, [Masquelier] tacks between ethnographic and theoretical discussions with an ucommon proficiency. . . . [A]n important discussion . . . . Masquelier is able to paint a vivid ethnographic picture of possession in Africa that touches on a number of central themes within anthropology, including resistance, power, and, chiefly, the politics of religious identity. . . .” — Matthew Engelke , American Ethnologist

“Masquelier locates cultural production at precise moments of colonial and postcolonial relations. The result is both an intimate, densely textured portrait of bori spirits and an exciting demonstration of how people attempt to formulate and appropriate the forces that have undermined their community.”
  — Michael Lambek, author of Knowledge and Practice in Mayotte: Local Discourses of Islam, Sorcery, and Spirit Possession

“With its rich primary data about bori, its creativity and freshness, Prayer Has Spoiled Everything will be of enormous interest to Africanists and to religion scholars of many types.” — Karen McCarthy Brown, author of Mama Lola: A Voodou Priestess in Brooklyn


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Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Adeline Maquelier is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tulane University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations


List of Terms


1. Bori, Power, and Identity in Dogondoutchi

2. Lost Rituals: Changing Topographies of Spirit/Human Interactions

3. Socializing the Spirit

4. The Everyday Life of Bori: Knowledge, Embodiment, and Quotidian Practice

5. Kinesthetic Appropriation and Embodied Knowledge: Babou Spirits and the Making of Value

6. Taking Hold of the Kasuwa; The Ritual Economy of Bori in the Market

7. The Mirrors of Maria: Sweetness, Sexuality, and Dangerous Consumption

8. Lightning, Death, and the Politics of Truth: The Spirits of Rain

Conclusion: Continuities and Discontinuities in Bori



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2639-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2633-5
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