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Invisible Agents

Spirits in a Central African History

David M. Gordon

Publication Year: 2012

Invisible Agents shows how personal and deeply felt spiritual beliefs can inspire social movements and influence historical change. Conventional historiography concentrates on the secular, materialist, or moral sources of political agency. Instead, David M. Gordon argues, when people perceive spirits as exerting power in the visible world, these beliefs form the basis for individual and collective actions. Focusing on the history of the south-central African country of Zambia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, his analysis invites reflection on political and religious realms of action in other parts of the world, and complicates the post-Enlightenment divide of sacred and profane.

The book combines theoretical insights with attention to local detail and remarkable historical sweep, from oral narratives communicated across slave-trading routes during the nineteenth century, through the violent conflicts inspired by Christian and nationalist prophets during colonial times, and ending with the spirits of Pentecostal rebirth during the neoliberal order of the late twentieth century. To gain access to the details of historical change and personal spiritual beliefs across this long historical period, Gordon employs all the tools of the African historian. His own interviews and extensive fieldwork experience in Zambia provide texture and understanding to the narrative. He also critically interprets a diverse range of other sources, including oral traditions, fieldnotes of anthropologists, missionary writings and correspondence, unpublished state records, vernacular publications, and Zambian newspapers.

Invisible Agents will challenge scholars and students alike to think in new ways about the political imagination and the invisible sources of human action and historical change.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Series: New African Histories


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been supported, sustained, and inspired by many communities. Zambians answered my questions with patience and care. Kampamba Mulenga was a wonderful companion in our journeys across Zambia’s Northern Province. I have fond memories of weeks spent with the members of Chinsali’s...


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p. xi


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p. xii

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Introduction: Seeing Invisible Worlds

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pp. 1-24

Invisible forces mobilize us to action. Sometimes they are remote and absolute, such as “freedom” and “fate”; or they are proximate and changing human creations, such as the “state” and its “laws”; or they combine proximity with the personal, as in the emotions of “love” and “hate.” Invisible forces...

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1: The Passion of Chitimukulu

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pp. 25-49

The history of the Bemba kingdom’s rise prior to the nineteenth century remains vague. In Bemba renditions, the military conquest of the region by the Luba-related Crocodile Clan was entwined with stories of autochthonous magical powers, especially those of women, and the passion of...

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2: Christian Witches

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pp. 50-68

In the early 1930s, the Roman Catholic missionary society of the White Fathers applied to open a mission in the Crocodile Clan chief Nkula’s area, around twelve miles from the already established Protestant mission of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland at Lubwa. Since the land was designated...

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3: Satan in the City

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pp. 69-88

In April 1935, a note signed by “G. Loveway” was posted outside the workers’ compound at the Nkana mine on the Copperbelt of colonial Zambia. It complained of persecution, increased taxation, and stagnant wages. “Listen to this all of you who live in the country,” the note began. “Know how they...

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4: A New Jerusalem

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pp. 89-113

Mulenga Lubusha Ngandu was born in the Chinsali District in the early 1920s. Her mother and her father, a village policeman who fought for the British during World War I, were members of the royal Crocodile Clan. She married Gipson Nkwale soon after puberty and had a child with...

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5: The Dawn

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pp. 114-130

A gentle light and warmth that banishes darkness, the dawn is an ageold concept that indicates a liminal moment of a new but familiar beginning. In south-central Africa, the dawn was a long-lasting political idiom that associated everyday welfare with the overcoming of fear and uncertainty. Luchele...

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6: Devils of War

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pp. 131-156

In July 1964, while UNIP controlled the government but the colonial administration was still in charge of security, the interim administration sent in troops to resolve a violent conflict between UNIP cadres and the Lumpa Church. Under orders from the head colonial administrator, Governor...

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7: God in Heaven, Kaunda on Earth

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pp. 157-177

As the last soldiers of the Northern Rhodesia Regiment withdrew from the Northern Province, Zambians prepared to celebrate their independence. A new stadium to accommodate thirty thousand people had been built on the outskirts of Lusaka. The details of the handing over of power followed...

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8: A Nation Reborn

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pp. 178-198

In 1981, the South African–based faith healer and evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, founder of Christ for All Nations (CfAN), planned a crusade in Zambia. He liaised with existing church networks and sent “prayer warriors” to prepare for mass conversions and healing sessions. For two weeks that July,...

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Conclusion: The Spirit Realm of Agency

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pp. 199-202

Some of the most significant political movements and moments in Zambian history—Bemba chieftaincy, Bamuchape, Watchtower, Lenshina’s church, popular nationalism, Kaunda’s humanism, and Chiluba’s reborn Christian nation—have been part of an ongoing Zambian debate about the...


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pp. 203-257

Glossary of Select Spiritual Terms

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pp. 259-260


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pp. 261-281


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pp. 283-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780821444399
E-ISBN-10: 0821444395
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821420249
Print-ISBN-10: 0821420240

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: New African Histories
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 821216781
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Invisible Agents

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Zambia -- History -- Religious aspects.
  • Zambia -- History -- Autonomy and independence movements -- Religious aspects.
  • Christianity and culture -- Zambia -- History.
  • Religion and politics -- Zambia -- History.
  • Zambia -- Politics and government -- To 1964.
  • Zambia -- Politics and government -- 1964-1991.
  • United National Independence Party (Zambia) -- History.
  • Lumpa Church -- History.
  • Bemba (African people) -- Religion.
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