Aljan; Ishoki



Maguzawa is the indigenous pre-Islamic religion of the Hausa people of Nigeria and Niger. Maguzawa spirits are called the Bori. Even in urban regions where little formal Maguzawa survives, the Bori remain venerated. The name Bori now also indicates modern urban spiritual traditions incorporating Bori spirits (if only because the term Maguzawa is considered disreputable).

Traditional Maguzawa shamanic healers are known as boka, reminiscent of independent Haitian magical practitioners known as bòkò.

Bori is officially condemned by devout Muslims. Periodic attempts are made to outlaw it, but the spiritual tradition persists if only becausepeople tend to resist abandoning spirits who Demonstrate healing powers. Women hold prominent positions in Bori spiritual traditions. Other names for Bori spirits include Iska (plural: Ishoki), which literally means “wind,” and Aljan, derived from the Arabic word, Djinn. The Bori are frequently identified as Djinn, spirits who are acknowledged in the Koran and thus more palatable from an Islamic perspective. However, Bori spirits preceded Djinn in the region. Bori more closely resemble Zar spirits but are described as less capricious.

Individual Bori spirits can develop extremely close, positive relationships with people although they can be demanding, expecting constant attention and offerings. Like lwa, orishas, and Zar spirits, each Bori prefers specific colors, numbers, offerings, fragrances, rhythms, songs, and dances. Bori engage in ritual possession. Each Bori possesses a specific song that celebrates and summons them. Bori ritual leaders are also herbal specialists. Each Bori is associated with specific botanicals.

Bori tend to Demonstrate anger and displeasure by gradually sucking away someone’s life-force. The key word is gradually. Opportunity is left (usually!) to make offerings, conduct ceremonies, or otherwise appease, placate, and propitiate the spirit.

Bori spirits are devotees, too: some are Muslim; others maintain a Pagan path. There are an infinite number of Bori but only approximately one hundred to three hundred are actively involved with people. Bori spirits live like people.

They get married, have children, and belong to families. They have their own city, Jangare, where they live in twelve houses divided by family, ethnicity, and occupation.

Bori are traditionally invoked to bless beginnings: new homes, business ventures, marriages, or births. They are also invoked for healing, but the relationship between Bori spirits and illness is complex.

Bori spirits cause human illness and misfortune and then provide the remedy. They may cause illness and bad luck because they are angry or annoyed, but they also cause it as a way of indicating their interest in a person. Each Bori is associated with specific ailments or misfortunes, which they have the power to cure even when they are not the cause. Each ailment is essentially a calling card for a specific Bori spirit. Bori are also associated with more nebulous disorders: general incompetence, clumsiness, and the inability to do anything right are all considered signs of Bori affliction.

Ceremonies are held to heal these afflictions. The healing ritual is simultaneously an initiation. The newly healed individual is expected to become a trance medium, a vehicle for the particular Bori and an active participant in future rituals.

Antidote: Iron repels the Bori. Even the word iron, whether spoken or written, may be sufficient to send them packing.

Realm: The Bori spirits live in an invisible city named Jangare where they live in twelve houses or Zauren:

• First House: House of the Chief of Spirits inhabited by the Chief’s family, bodyguards, metalworkers, and blind spirits

• Second House: House of the Chief’s Brother

• Third House: House of Koranic Scholars

• Fourth House: House of Lepers and Snakes

• Fifth House: House of the Fulani Spirits

• Sixth House: House of the Younger Brother of the Fulani Chief, incorporating the House of Butchers and the House of Musicians

• Seventh House: House of Water Spirits

• Eighth House: House of the Hunters, including spirits identified by the Hausa as Tuareg

• Ninth House: House of the Chief of Pagans

• Tenth House: House of the Chief of Gwari (also Pagan spirits)

• Eleventh House: House of the North Africans

• Twelfth House: House of Magicians and Sorcerers


Barade; Barhaza; Duna; Inna; Kure; Lwa; Mami Waters; Orisha; Sarkin Aljan; Sarkin Rafi; Zar


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.