Spirit Embodiments

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Shambaa artist, Tanzania, healer’s gourds. Photo by Barbara Thompson.

Among the peoples of northeastern Tanzania, medicine gourds embody the power of ancestor spirits, nature spirits, and deities. These supernatural beings preside over specific activities in personal healing ceremonies, purification rites, the settlement of disputes, the identification of criminals, and rainmaking ceremonies. They provide the living with guidance, insight, and medicinal knowledge. If, however, these spirits are angered by the actions of the living, they can also cause humans the kinds of afflictions they are called upon to cure.