The Sociopragmatics of Imprecatory Prayers and the Nigerian Cultural Concept of ‘Enemy’ in the Contemporary World

Author: Ekechi Jemimah Ogechi (Pan-Atlantic University, Institute of Humanities, Nigeria)
Speaker: Ekechi Jemimah Ogechi 
Topic: Language, Dialect, Sociolect, Genre
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


This study focuses on the Nigerian concept of enemy, a cultural phenomenon that can be found in a variety of cultural contexts, including prayers, stickers, music, and other social rituals. Nigerians in the contemporary world strongly believe in omnipresent enemies (both seen and unseen) whose preoccupation is to perpetrate wicked and diabolic acts against their victims through witchcraft, spells, sorcery and divination, prompting the rampant use of imprecatory prayers which is an invocation of judgment, calamity, or curse directed at one’s enemy or enemies. Many attribute the obsessive belief in the existence of enemies and their evil acts to the evolution of Pentecostalism, which has influenced people’s thoughts and behaviors rather than being conceived from their primal worldview. Nigerians use imprecatory prayer as a powerful weapon to counter the evil acts of their enemies. The purpose of this paper is to look into the role of language in shaping individual and group adaptive responses to evil and misfortune as well as how society members are able to interpret and understand the utterances using shared background knowledge and mutual contextual beliefs. As a result, we investigate the forms, functions, and prototypical languages used to express imprecations. In light of this, ethnographic data of imprecatory prayers exemplified in the lyrics of two popular gospel songs, as well as two excerpts of prayers taken from two popular contemporary Pentecostal churches were gathered and their pragma-sociolinguistic meanings, forms and functions were explained. The findings show that Language provides categories and methods for encoding sociocultural experiences, values and beliefs, thereby, expressing an implicit value judgment.

Keywords: Imprecatory prayers, enemy, ethnography, Pentecostalism, sociopragmatics