In this engaging ethnography of spiritual healing in the province of Nampula in Mozambique, Daria Trentini brings us close to the remarkable Ansha as she devotes herself to alleviating the suffering of the women, men, and children who seek her help at the spirit mosque. Ansha lives and works in a very diverse city with people of many different languages, religions, and ethnicities. Even so she skillfully draws upon her knowledge and background to provide compassionate care and guidance as she seeks to unravel the spiritual sources of their suffering. Although Ansha cannot cure them all, she offers them explanations and hope.
Trentini organizes her ethnography specifically, although not exclusively, on the spiritual healing practices of Ansha as examples of “border-events” (8) or “moments in which she—with the aid of spirits—confronts and navigates the borders of postwar Mozambique” (9). The anthropologist learns to appreciate Ansha’s skills as a healer as she confronts such diverse events as funerals, deaths, dreams, revolution, and the arrival of new patients. Ansha welcomes Trentini into her mosque and grants her permission to observe divinations, healing sessions, and spirit ceremonies and rituals. Although Trentini did not become an apprentice healer herself, Ansha describes the author to her patients as a kind of novice in training, a “young, unmarried, or childless woman” (18). Trentini viewed Ansha as her teacher, trainer, mentor, and friend. Their relationship is one of the strongest points of the ethnography, since the narrative centers on the conversations the author has with Ansha, her helpers, and her patients.
The book is divided into four major sections: Ansha and the Spirits, Outside the Mosque, Patients, and Returns. In the first section, we learn of Ansha’s own spiritual journey. The spiritual healer overcame illness and faced many of the same difficulties she would later assist her future patients with. These included reproductive issues, psychological problems relating to mental disorders, individual loss and marital troubles, and general traumas relating to war, migration, and economic change. All of these themes are found in the stories of the patients whom Ansha treats at her spirit mosque. Spirits are seen as responsible for many of these problems but are also integral to the healing of the patients. The section on relations outside the mosque situates Ansha’s spiritual healing practices both historically and socially in Mozambique. Ansha must navigate a complex political, social, and religious landscape with skill to succeed as a spiritual healer. The section on patients narrates the many problems Ansha is faced with in healing her clientele. Their stories reveal tensions and anxieties in contemporary Nampula resulting from colonialism, revolution and counterrevolution, social structural changes away from matrilineal family forms, treatment of disabled people, traditional obligations versus modern attractions, and competing religious forms, from Indigenous to Catholic to Protestant to Islamic. The lives of those individuals who come to the mosque for Ansha’s help are riddled with stresses of living in contemporary Nampula. In the final section, Trentini describes her return in 2016 to the spirit mosque after Ansha’s death. As to be expected, much has changed and Ansha’s legacy is left in the hands of her close friends, family, and spiritual colleagues—and, of course, in the skillful writing of Daria Trentini.
This ethnography is well written and offers much comparative material for medical anthropology, cultural anthropology, and the social science of medicine. I recommend it highly for both undergraduate and graduate students. Daria Trentini has made a very important contribution to the understanding of the personal and professional life and development of a spiritual healer.