Volume 2, Issue 2, 2014
Invoking Religion in Violent Acts and Rhetoric
The Mai-Mai Rape: Female Bodies and Collective Identities at War in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
The Mai-Mai soldiers comprise a rebel militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who believe that applying magical potions to their bodies and wearing leaves around their heads makes them invisible. Although they previously believed sex would diminish their magical powers, in 2002 they began to claim sexual intercourse strengthens the magic. With this theological change, they began to rape both foreign and Congolese women ritualistically and violently, making the rapes much more than weapons of war. The Mai-Mai’s alienation from and discontent with society has created a power struggle between two sets of collective identities (Mai-Mai vs. un-Mai-Mai) that are at odds over authority, legitimacy, and resources. This article focuses on how both religion and violence have been sharpened in the Mai-Mai’s collective struggles against hegemonic entities, while considering the limitations created by the lack of ethnographic research. This article proposes that violence should not be studied in terms of seemingly static and essentialized religion through which the perpetrators view
the world, but in terms of socio-political and religious disenchantments that herald theological changes and innovations to seemingly established religions in each specific case.