Deities, Demons and Outsiders: the cosmological dimensions of (in)security and (in)justice in Pajok, South Sudan


In the Acholi sociocultural world, the spiritual and physical spheres are not separate but intertwined, leaching into and affecting each other, with multitudinous and very real results. What happens in the physical realm has profound effects on the spiritual realm and, in turn, what happens in the realm of the spiritual can have important consequences in the physical. It is important to note that these consequences can have both positive and negative dimensions, and much of both the day-to-day and the longer-term rituals, activities, and events within the physical Acholi world are attuned to the requirements of these spiritual dimensions of life.

Drawing on long-term participant observation of everyday life in Pajok Payam, this paper provides a descriptive overview of the cosmological and spiritual dimensions of (in)security and (in)justice in Pajok. Several significant themes apparent within these systems are highlighted, including the importance of an overarching Acholi cultural logic of productivity and destruction; the connection between socially abnormal behaviour and culturally shared understandings of (in)security and (in)justice; and the threat posed by structural and conceptual outsiders to end-users’ everyday experiences of (in)security and (in)justice.

By linking the specific details of spiritual entities and cosmological life in Pajok to wider work on Acholi cosmologies, especially, and Sub-Saharan Africa more generally, it is demonstrated that no attempt to understand end-users’ perspectives on, and access to, other aspects of security or justice can progress without an appreciation of the cosmological dimensions of everyday life. Thus, it is argued that full understanding of end-user perspectives of (in)security or (in)justice first needs knowledge about how these affect, and are affected by, life’s spiritual dimensions. Therefore, an argument is made for the wider incorporation of the cosmological in all scholarly and practical efforts to grapple with issues of (in)justice and (in)security within the majority world.

Finally, by a broader redefinition of the typological system presented in Fardon (1990), a heuristic framework for the comparative description and analysis of Sub-Saharan cosmological systems is provided. An argument is then given for the use of this framework to be incorporated within any future research or development work among Sub-Saharan Africa communities.


O’Byrne, R. Deities, Demons and Outsiders: the cosmological dimensions of (in)security and (in)justice inPajok, South Sudan. Justice and Security Research Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London, UK (2015) 56 pp. [JSRP Paper 21]

Deities, Demons and Outsiders: the cosmological dimensions of (in)security and (in)justice in Pajok, South Sudan

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