Thursday, January 10, 2013

"The spirit came for me when I went to fetch firewood" - Personal Narrative of Spirit Possession in Uganda

"I was lost in the wilderness, and I could smell something strange. I was near a main road and someone asked me what I was waiting for. I said I was lost. I saw smoke around me, and I was told my eyes were swollen. All of a sudden, something started moving all over my body."

-Christine, a former child soldier in Uganda


This video was made as part of an extraordinary multimedia project that chronicles the lives of 40 women in northern Uganda. It recounts the harrowing experiences of these former child soldiers and portrays the current difficulties of reintegrating into society. The piece focuses on five women who had been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as children. Each of these five were given a digital camera, so each woman became a more active participant in the telling of her story - a participatory anthropographia of sorts.

My previous post discussed Spirit Possession as a Trauma-Related Disorder in Uganda. In the process of doing a follow-up on how cen phenomena might be classified in the forthcoming DSM-5, I came upon the video above and the larger DWOG PACO project of Marc Ellison, a photojournalist from Vancouver, Canada. This work deserved to be highlighted separately, so the evolution of Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and Dissociative Trance Disorder (possession trance) will be discussed in the next post.

The Acholi phrase dwog paco (“come back home”) is used as a derogatory and stigmatizing label, which hinders recovery and reintegration into the community. Post-traumatic stress disorder, spirit possession, and other mental health issues faced by the Ugandan women are discussed at length as part of the multimedia project:
The Acholi tribe, which inhabits much of the worst affected regions of northern Uganda, believe in the existence of jogi – spirits or forces that can be either good or evil (Mpyangu, 2010). Usually in conflict and post-conflict zones inhabitants complain of hunger, mortality, disease, poverty, homelessness. However, the Acholi are more concerned about the vengeful spirits of those killed during the conflict. They are believed to have a pernicious influence if not appeased. The cen, or polluting spiritual force, possesses those who have killed, done wrong, witnessed a killing, or touched the body of a corpse, by entering that person’s mind or body resulting in dissociative states, nightmares, flashbacks or psychosis that remain until the wrongdoing is put right (Mpyangu, 2010). The Acholi also believe that cen is contagious and can infect an entire family or community (SWAY, 2008). Consequently anyone thought to be haunted by cen is shunned and avoided by the community.

The project is moving and unforgettable. Learn more about Alice, Christine, Janet, Jennifer and Mary. You can also view the galleries of Janet's, Christine's, Jennifer's and Alice's photography.

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At January 11, 2013 9:34 AM, Anonymous Irena said...

Thanks very much for that!

At January 11, 2013 9:56 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Irena - Thanks for reading. It's not an easy or popular topic, but it's important for people to know.

At January 11, 2013 1:02 PM, Anonymous Tetyana said...

Sigh -- war, what is it good for. Absolutely nothing.

Thanks for this post. It is a very interesting (but difficult to watch) video.


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