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James Pfeiffer
"Pentecostalism, African Independent Churches, and Traditional Healing in Mozambique"

Since the early 1990s, Pentecostal and African Independent Churches (AICs) have rapidly expanded throughout central and southern Mozambique in the aftermath of war and in the midst of economic adjustment that has hastened commoditization of community life and intensified local inequalities. The extraordinary recent success of Pentecostalism in Mozambique signals a dramatic shift away from reliance on “traditional” healers (nyangas in Shona, and curandeiros in Portuguese) to treat persistent illness believed to have spiritual causes. Illness narratives and survey data collected in 2002-2003 from recent AIC recruits in central Mozambique reveal how new socioeconomic insecurities have influenced treatment choice. Health problems are continually reinterpreted in response to social conflicts within the household and community that often reveal harmful spirit activity linked to “sorcery” capabilities purchased from local healers by competitive family members, coworkers, or neighbors. Church explanatory models for illness often incorporate these local Shona idioms of social distress, however they have imported the Pentecostal notion of a universal and healing “Holy Spirit” to provide pervasive protection against relentless occult threats in the new social environment. Meanwhile, “traditional” healing practices are increasingly commodified and tailored for men who often pay high fees to practice, or protect against, sorcery threats from competitors. The powerful new discourse on social/spiritual protection introduced by Pentecostals and AICs is especially attractive to the many poor women whose reproductive capacities are so often the targets of hostility produced by deepening social fear and uncertainty.

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Last updated 4/6/05 by Selene Platt