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war6 and now the spirit of this person wanted revenge. Hence, in order to resolve the unfortunate situation, Andréa and the sorcerer decided to make a kubiamúnti ceremony in order to extract the spirit causing the illness while also securing Andréa’s house against further attacks. The ceremony had two phases. First, the sorcerer located and extracted the evil spirits. This was done by the sorcerer physically ’eating off’ Andréa’s body until the harmful forces were removed. During the second phase, the house was shielded by burying magical items treated by a secret mixture of herbs in all corners of the plot. Whereas an unprotected household is visible to harmful spirits, irrespective of whether it is occupied by ancestral spirits, after the kubiamúnti ceremony it was completely invisible to them. MAKING SPACE In many sub-Saharan societies, then, spiritual and physical realities interweave to such an extent that any radical distinction is obsolete. There is essentially no ontological distinction between relationships established with (physically living) peers and those established with deceased ancestors. Still, while it is possible to communicate with invisible worlds, it is not always apparent what is being said. Ancestral spirits are erratic beings, whose intentions and desires cannot always be predicted in advance. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage with the invisible realms of existence without exposing oneself to the harmful forces that always lurk underneath not survive, it is equally important to try to conceal ‘purposes, possesssions, propensities, practices – and, even more subtly, to conceal concealment, to hide the fact that anything at all was being hidden’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 2001:275). Let me briefly expand on this point by referring to a concrete example from Maputo, Mozambique: According to residents living in Mulwene, a neighbourhood in Maputo, a household is protected against harmful witchcraft attacks by its family spirits resting under the gàndzèlò (the ancestors’ altar), which is usually the largest tree on the plot. In several instances, however, additional measures are put in place, as the malevolent spirits might be stronger than the ancestral spirits protecting the house. A sorcerer is then summoned to perform kubiamúnti, i.e. a ceremonial act intended to protect the household from harmful intrusions (cf. Ashforth 2001:213). Ideally, kubiamúnti occurs before people move into the house, but as it is a costly ceremony (approximately 250 USD), it is usually performed only when the house owners discover that they are being attacked by malevolent spirits. Andréa Machava, a resident living in the area, had been ill for some time and despite several visits to the community hospital, her condition continued to worsen. Andréa therefore decided to consult a local sorcerer (Changana nyamusoro), who confirmed what she was already suspecting, namely that she had been attacked by a malicious spirit. According to Andréa, her father had killed a person during the civil 61 physical body will appear to be dead, while the spirit continues a nocturnal, zombie-like existence as effective labour for the sorcerer (West 2005:181, 186; 2001:138; Junod 1962b:514; cf. Geschiere and Nyamnjoh 1998; Niehaus 2005).5 In ‘Kupilikula: Governance and the Invisible Realm in Mozambique’ (West 2005), Harry West eloquently shows how acts of witchcraft might enable the instigating person to manipulate and draw advantages from otherwise dangerous forces when approached through specialists capable of seeing the hidden dimensions of existence. In these instances, witchcraft crystallizes the otherwise unattainable possibilities that are only accessible by engaging with powers which at the outset are ambiguous and imbued by uncertainty even to the expert (Geschiere 1997:23-24; Peek 1991:14). DISTANCE AND PROXIMITY While communities in both urban and rural environments across the continent are built around the need for physical proximity, social intimacy is not unproblematic. In many African languages, notions of intimacy between people rely on registers of spoken as well as unspoken ambivalences: Intimate relations are seen as essential but, at the same time, it is also those who are closest to you who pose the greatest threats to one’s very existence. This might pertain to relatives, neighbours, friends, state officials or deceased ancestors still affecting the lives of the living. While it would not be possible to occupy social positions in local communities without having to engage with these significant others, they might also be potentially harmful, say, when seeking to appropriate one’s belongings or simply by attempting to cause harm out of envy or vengeance. Hence, in a world ‘whose every crevice potentially conceal(s) peril’ (West 2005:34), a fundamental question is how to properly distance oneself from one’s intimates who are crucial to one’s social existence, but who may also turn out to be detrimental or even lethal. To live in close proximity to others potentially exposes what is best kept hidden and that is why mechanisms of concealment and distantiation are often required. In various ways, members of the same community can signal how they are mutually other and thereby allow social life to be guided by a certain kind of ‘intimate distantiation’. In other words, while living close to relatives, friends and neighbours without whom one could probably


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