Accepted Paper:

Offerings to sacred fish: a popular sacrificial site in Burkina Faso  

Author:

Katja Werthmann (University of Leipzig)

Paper short abstract:

The category of "the popular" as opposed to "the orthodox" implies that the popular is by definition non-normative. The paper questions this assumption by discussing the example of ritual practice at the sacrificial site of Dafra near Bobo-Dioulassso in Burkina Faso.

Paper long abstract:

Dafra is a sacrificial site near Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Fasos's second-largest and predominantly Muslim city. Dafra lies at the source of the river Houet and is situated in a gorge. In it live silurids (catfish); these are considered the tutelary spirits of Bobo-Dioulasso. Dafra has the reputation of being a powerful place where wishes made and confirmed by vows will be fulfilled. People come to Dafra because of illness, infertility, lack of money, failure in school or business, nightmares etc. Ritual practice at the site includes killing chickens and feeding their intestines to the fish. Should a wish be fulfilled, an offering of thanks in the form of an animal sacrifice has to be made. Pilgrims to Dafra come from all over Burkina Faso, neighboring countries, and even from as far as Europe or the US. Although the pilgrimage to Dafra is disapproved by representatives of the monotheistic religions, not only adherents of local religions, but also Muslims and Christians go there.

The category of "the popular" as opposed to "the orthodox" implies that the popular is by definition non-normative. Although the current ritual practice at Dafra is modeled on local religious traditions, the killing of chickens at the site seems to be a recent introduction and is not appreciated by everybody. Thus, even within the (non-emic) category of "the popular", and in spite of the absence of institutions that define and maintain "orthodoxy", there are both normative views and dissenting opinions about what constitutes proper ritual practice at Dafra.

Panel W008
What makes popular piety popular?