The ogbanje who wanted to stay: The occult, belonging, family and therapy in Sierra Leone

Luisa T. Schneider*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although prominent in literature on West Africa and especially Nigeria, the phenomenon of ogbanjes in Sierra Leone is little discussed. By following the story of one ogbanje, this paper unravels their significance for social life, for local epistemologies and cosmologies in Freetown. The paper discusses personhood and morality, conceptions of femininity and motherhood as well as the search for culprits. It argues that ogbanjes have to be understood as avengers who, in the name of society, penalize those deeds of women which meet with the disapproval of the community. Ogbanjes embody a breakdown of accepted social concepts as they are able to openly articulate criticism towards their parents and elders and thus serve as a way to negotiate the coming of age. The negotiations over appropriate treatment of ogbanjes highlight the interplay between different forms of belief. In addition, ogbanjes provide coping mechanisms and explanatory tools for untimely deaths.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-152
Number of pages20
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • anthropology of magic and the occult
  • belonging
  • coming of age
  • family
  • femininity and motherhood
  • ogbanje
  • religion and traditional healing
  • Sierra Leone
  • therapy
  • uncertainty


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