CEREMONY: An Anthropologist Misadventures in the African Bush by Nigel Barley

CEREMONY: An Anthropologist Misadventures in the African Bush

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A hilarious account of a British anthropologist's visit to the Dowayo of Northern Cameroon. His humor of understatement and indirectness works perfectly, as he is at once realistically blunt about and innately sensitive to the villagers' ways of thinking. He manages to underscore the comedy of cross-cultural blunders with respect for their common humanity. A German U.N. official arrived to show Films, one on malaria that emphasized the danger of pestilent mosquitos with huge close-ups, and the other an old Tom and Jerry cartoon. Tom was generally identified as a leopard, and the cartoon reinterpreted by a local lad in the form of a folk tale. The moral of the malaria education film was lost on them, however, for the mosquitos of Dowayoland ""were quite different, tiny by comparison. ""He tells of his first taxi driver in Cameroon, who was apparently ""profiting from my hire to deliver newspapers to outlying districts."" The fine business sense of the locals is apparent throughout, whether in arranging a bribe or a loan. Barley tells another story: ""Dowayos were always incredulous when I told them that 'in my village' we gave our daughters away for nothing. One Dowayo of entrepeneurial flair but low ethnographic awareness asked if I could not have a consignment shipped over. We could marry them off and keep the bride-price for ourselves. It all seemed eminently sensible. ""Having previously spent 18 months studying and living with the Dowayo, the author made this return visit hoping to witness the tribe's circumcision ceremony, a brutal but culturally central event that is held only every six or seven years. He never does see it, as a series of bad omens postpone it indefinitely, but he keeps busy deciphering tribal gossip, treading the fine lines of local custom and researching some other scholarly loose ends. His serious notes on anthropology and thoughts on the ethics of research are interesting, and a perfect complement to his wealth of amusing anecdotes. A truly funny and intelligent chronicle of an anthropologist at work.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1986
Publisher: Henry Holt