Contesting Markets: Analyses of Ideology, Discourse and Practice

By Roy Dilly | Go to book overview

8
Kinship, Witchcraft and 'the Market'

Hybrid Patterns in Cameroonian Societies 1

PETER GESCHIERE

The aim of this chapter is to study various reflections on the market in south and west Cameroon. The focus will be on kinship and witchcraft/sorcery 2 -- spheres of life that in the west are not primarily associated with the market. In the societies discussed here, however, it is difficult to separate these spheres from 'the market'. To understand how these groups are coping with the impact of the world market -- to recognise their own reflections on what western people call 'the forces of the market' and the peculiar expressions of these forces at the local level -- it is especially the more intimate spheres of life, like kinship and sorcery, that we have to study.

The penetration of the market into these personal spheres -- which still constitute the core of the local patterns of organisation -- is all the more surprising since several of these groups did not know the institution of a market-place until the colonial conquest (around 1900). This applies especially to the societies of the southern forests where exchanges between the groups were couched in terms of kinship and an ideology of reciprocity. Yet, it is precisely in these societies 'without markets' that nowadays idioms of the market have emerged with surprising force on nodal points of the kinship organisation: in funeral rites and marriage ceremonies, in sexual relations and the domestic division of labour. Apparently an ideology of reciprocity and market-like behaviour can go very well together.

The Duala on the coast and the Bamiléké and the 'Grassfielders' in the western mountains had a much longer experience with the market-place as an institution. Especially in the mountains, social formations had developed which were based on a regional network of trade, linked to long-distance exchanges ( Warnier 1985). During colonial and post-colonial times, these groups adapted relatively well to the new market conditions. The more successful entrepreneurs in present-day Cameroon come from these areas. However, even though the market penetrated fairly easily in these areas, developments hardly corresponded to classical economic theory. Here, specific metaphors of the market emerged, especially couched in a discourse of witchcraft, which were of direct -- albeit variable -- consequence to economic behaviour.

A comparison of these different examples can help in deconstructing western notions of the market -- a task which seemed overdue to many participants of the St Andrews conference. 3 During my first fieldwork one of the most shocking experiences

-159-

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