Professor Ebenezer Obadare’s article provides a welcome addition to social science discussions on materiality, mobility, and religiosity. These discussions come in many forms, move in different directions, and weave their way through many recent concerns and theoretical turns. His proposal—vehicular religiosities—promises much, and usefully highlights one arena of material-religiosity-on-the-move that has received surprisingly little attention in Africa. Surprisingly, I say, because “vehicular religiosities” are some of the most striking features of African urbanity today. Obadare is clearly onto something, and not just in West Africa.
In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where I have worked for many years, one cannot but be struck—seduced, actually—by the constant swarm of brightly-painted, smoke-billowing, decibel-generating minibuses called daladala. These vehicles are often adorned with religious icons inside and out; bear banners like “In God we Trust”; and are heavily-loaded not just with passengers and goods, but also with manifold spiritual rules and prayers that (hopefully) keep them on the road and turning a tidy profit. All the more so for long-haul buses, which move people and their stuff at breathtaking speeds between Tanzania’s urban centres and far-flung villages across the nation. These buses are marvelous, baroque creations, vested with hyper-excesses of air horns and flashing lights, blaring music and shimmering logos—”God Bless Us,” “Over the Top,” “Praise the Lord,” “Voice of Allah”—all exquisitely-painted, top to bottom, with everything from ocean scenery to Tanzanian shillings to Jesus.