Ghosts of Kanungu

Ghosts of Kanungu

Fertility, Secrecy and Exchange in the Great Lakes of East Africa

Richard Vokes


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James Currey



Ghosts of Kanungu throws light on secrecy and violence in Uganda, Rwanda and the Great Lakes area of East Africa.

On 17 March 2000 several hundred members of a charismatic Christian sect, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (MRTC), burnt to death in the group's headquarters in the Southwest Ugandan village of Kanungu. Days later the Ugandan police discovered a series of mass graves containing over 400 bodies on various other properties belonging to the sect. Was this mass suicide or mass murder?
The question of whether Kanungu is best understood as mass suicide or multiple murder is more than just an intriguing detective story: it goes to the heart of how the event should be perceived and understood in both religious and social terms.
Based on eight years of historical and ethnographic research, Ghosts of Kanungu provides a comprehensive and scholarly account of the MRTC and of the events leading up to the inferno. It argues that none of these events can be understood without reference to a broader social history of Southwestern Uganda during the twentieth century, in which anti-colonial movements, Catholic White Fathers missionaries, colonial relocation schemes, the breakdown of the Ugandan state, post-war reconstruction, the onset of HIV/AIDS, and the transformation of the regional Nyabingi fertility cult into a Marian church with worldwide connections, all played their part.
The themes of this book were presented by the author when he gave the Evans-Pritchard lectures at All Souls College, Oxford.

RICHARD VOKES is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Uganda: Fountain Publishers (PB)


18 black and white, 9 line illustrations
256 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
African Anthropology
Hardback, 9781847010094, November 2009
Paperback, 9781847010728, October 2013
Library eBook
James Currey
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Table of Contents

Prologue: The End as a Beginning
On Fertility & Misfortune
The Many Lives of the Nyabingi Spirit
Genesis: Building the Network
Numbers: Religion in the Time of AIDS
Chronicles: The History of an African-Initiated Church
Revelation: The Last Days of the MRTC


A compelling account. riveting from first to last. This is amongst the outstanding Africanist ethnographies of recent years: a splendid combination of ethnographic investigation with the evaluation of texts and images, and a significant addition to the literature on African-initiated Churches. AFRICAN AFFAIRS

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