The Hauka were a family
of spirits in the Songhay pantheon
. The Hauka are the youngest family, originating in 1925
when a previously unknown spirit took control of an initiate
at a regular posession-dance
. This spirit identified itself as Gomno Malia
(Governor of the Red Sea).
All Hauka spirits represent colonial (a.k.a. foreign) figures of authority, from the French Prime Minister to doctors, lawyers, and footsoldiers. When posessing the body of an initiate, they will continually froth at the mouth and often have seizure-like attacks. To prove their power, they will put flames to their skin without being burned, and other tricks. They will also ridicule the judges, ministers, and generals they represent, with hilarious, insulting, and disgusting wordplay and actions.
The Hauka movement arose out of resistance to a colonial oppression that they could not really fight: they instead responded with humor and ridicule.
I was introduced to the Hauka cult through Jean Rouch's film Les Maîtres Fous (The Crazy Masters), which documented the contrast between the participating Songhay's everyday lives (generally disempowered and menial) and the intense power and disruption of the possession sessions. He focused on it as a ritual of inversion, where the high are brought low through mockery. Linguistic manipulation (code-switching between the oppressors' French and their own language, bawdy humor) as well as visual puns mimicing military procedures are used to show the participants' power over at least the symbolic systems that they are entangled in.
The film was received with some shock and controversy when it came out in 1954, probably understandably.