American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
In urban Uganda, failing to “move” through life at the proper pace -- getting married, having children, and building a house -- is often attributed to spiritual bondages. One’s soul may be tied to others in the spirit realm as a result of one’s personal past, or a result of the pasts of those to whom one is attached (such as one’s sexual partners or biological kin). In this paper I focus on young women’s engagements with these spiritual bondages, exploring in semiotic terms how they go about breaking bondages, that is, canceling the indexical effect of the past in their lives. I suggest that breaking bondages consists of a variety of practices of “spiritual warfare,” which include reconciliation, avoidance and substitution of one relationship for another. I argue that the mode through which spiritual warfare produces its effect is a process of iconization: women work to produce icons of their soul’s openness and closedness to specific spiritual influences through repetitious interactional patterning (in various kinds of interactions including prayer, family meetings, and quotidian utterances). In turn, as the women themselves come to resemble openness and closeness to particular others in and through interaction, they render the past ineffective by denying it a point at which to attach to the woman and her family. Ultimately with this paper, I recognize the role of this ever-unfinished process of semiotic denials of relatedness, which are crucial to cultivating personal and familial progress in contemporary urban Uganda.