Marabouts: “Sometimes it is the entourage that pushes to explore the field of the supernatural”

Why do some churches present witchcraft as the cause of all misfortune? / Landry Banga


While the recent affair around footballer Paul Pogba sheds light on the term “marabout”, Abdou Khadre Sanogo, a Senegalese sociologist, explains to La Croix Africa its different meanings. He insists on making the difference between the “marabouts” as spiritual advisers, and those whom he qualifies as “charlatans”.

La Croix Africa: What is a marabout?

Abdou Khadre Sanogo : To be able to answer this question, it is important to make the conceptual distinction between the marabout and the charlatan. The notion of marabout is, today, hackneyed. In Senegal, the marabout is a Sufi Muslim spiritual guide who deciphers for his disciples the path of religion in all its meanings. These marabouts are part of Muslim religious family lines, of brotherhoods which are religious ideological schools claiming Islam. Each brotherhood has its principles which do not deviate from the great fundamental whole of the Islamic religion.

What I call “charlatans” are not in the religious domain. The quack is more about healing. It is sometimes called “healer”. The charlatan claims to find answers to the social concerns of Africans. People consult them so that they solve their daily worries. In my opinion, the Pogba story is more charlatanism than what we call “marabout”, at least in Senegal. What the charlatan does as incantations or rituals to obtain the realization of the ambitions of those who consult him is called “maraboutage”.

There is also the question of the remuneration…

In the revealed religions, particularly in Islam, it happens that people go to see spiritual guides who claim to be of brotherly lineage, to entrust them with their projects or their problems and to solicit their prayers. These people often give his marabouts what is called “hadya” which is not a retribution but a symbolic gesture, a gift that the brotherhood guide never demands.

The charlatans themselves have prices for all the services to be rendered. They often ask for sacrifices which can be of all kinds. These practices can be dangerous for the balance of society because some charlatans even demand human sacrifices. The use of charlatanism is prohibited by both Islam and Christianity.

What do you think explains why modern Africans resort to the services of those you call charlatans?

Abdou Khadre Sanogo : Africans have been socialized with cultural realities that give importance to the supernatural. These beliefs often resist in school. Moreover, whatever our level of education, we have an entourage who, as soon as a problem arises, encourages us to explore the field of the supernatural in an attempt to solve it. Some end up giving in, without believing in these phenomena. If, by a combination of circumstances, it seems to “work”, we get bogged down, alas. But fortunately, there are more and more Africans who have decided to free themselves from these beliefs.

Also Read: Does Witchcraft Exist?

For some time now, a spiritual current has been emerging which calls itself pan-Africanist and advocates a “return to the sources”, with in particular, recourse to traditional African religions…

Abdou Khadre Sanogo : I consider that to be nonsense. Today, there is a great rise of the pan-Africanist, or nationalist movement. These currents are not new since they have been advocated by great historical political leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba.

Where the problem arises is that some people try to hide behind this current to introduce a debate that I would describe as messianic. In other words, in different parts of the world, new religions are emerging that want to rush into identity breaches. I consider it has become a kind of business. These people are trying to sell dreams to those who follow them.

Social networks are an instrument they use to convince that in the name of a return to basics, we must abandon revealed religions for traditional African religions. The relatively low level of education in Africa is also fertile ground for this type of discourse.

Collected By Lucie Sarr

Marabouts: “Sometimes it is the entourage that pushes to explore the field of the supernatural”