Comfa

Comfa – In the interaction between indigenous-, African-, European-, and Asian-derived religious traditions in Guyana, Comfa evolved as a possession and ceremonial complex in which protection, problem solving, and healing may be offered to clients. The name derives from the Twi O’komfo: “priest, diviner, or prophet/soothsayer.” Until the 1950s, Comfa referred to the worship and propitiation of the “Watermamma.” Kean Gibson notes that “anyone who becomes spiritually possessed on hearing the beating of drums, or who becomes possessed without apparent reason . . . are said to ‘ketch comfa.’” But it can also refer to communal events led by a host and celebrants who invite possession and mediate between clients and other-thanhuman persons or spirits. These beings who elect to work through entranced celebrants include ancestral members of all the ethnicities that contribute to Guyana’s multicultural population. Each ethnically identified being plays a stereotypical role and is recognizable in the trance “work.” One example of this that also illustrates another link with shamanic initiation and performance elsewhere is that “Spanish spirits . . . demand sexual relations” with a practitioner of the opposite gender. In Siberia and elsewhere, this would be talked about as “marriage” and would lead to transvestitism, but in Comfa, “Spanish spirits” are identified as “prostitutes” and the few who work with them are labeled “promiscuous homosexuals and lesbians.” As elsewhere in the Caribbean, this acceptable possession tradition is often opposed to Obeah.

SOURCE:

Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007

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