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Thinking in-between

Yamaguchi, Ryota

Discourse on the elieeb in southeastern Cameroon

In December of 2012, I once again found myself in a village in Cameroon that had been a fieldwork site for the first time in a year and half. The purpose of my visit was to restart an investigation of a group known as the Bakwele who inhabited the area running alongside the border with the Republic of the Congo. The fieldwork this time around surprised me numerous times due to the fact that various changes had occurred during the time that I had been absent, including the fact that small-scale clear-cutting commercial logging activities had begun in the area and the fact that the K couple, who had been my accommodation and main informants in the past, had divorces. The fact that an individual named G had lost significant weight was another such change. G was a male in his mid-thirties and grandson of the head of the administrative division known as a canton (the official title of the head of the canton is chef de canton, but is simply called the Canton). I remember, on the occasion of my first fieldwork, drinking with him and telling him that in Japanese forests there were foxes that sometimes tricked humans. He certainly liked his alcohol but was a quiet man that never became belligerent or raised his voice when he drank. Gs grandfather, the current Canton, always had G by his side, and many believed that G would succeed his grandfather. I could tell just from looking at G that he was sick. However, despite the fact that he had been suffering from continuous sluggishness and abdominal pain for nearly half a year, he had not yet been to hospital. Although I pleaded with him to go to the hospital soon, he ended up passing away on New Years Day of 2012. At the time of his death, he apparently had been across the border in Congo at the residence of a medicine man traditional healer. As I was away in the city conducting a survey at the time, I was unable to be present at his burial. A magnificent funeral ceremony was held in the village after the burial. He was, after all, the Cantons favorite grandson. To entertain relatives and friends who had traveled from distant locations, the family purchased gasoline,started up the electrical generator, and blasted lingala music. The visitors drank alcohol, sang, and danced. There was an uncomfortable feeling as if something was missing. However, a woman next to me who had been laughing out loud and talking suddenly ran into the salon of the Cantons residence and started crying loudly.

Figure 1. The Canton family tree

In time, I began to hear a certain rumor. Namely, that Gs death was caused by the Cantons oldest son T (Figure 1), Gs maternal uncle, along with his son. According to the rumor, T tried to secure his place as the Cantons successor by getting rid of G who was being groomed by the Canton. Further, it was said that T had previously killed his own younger brother for the same reason. They were famous for being mot elieeb, and it was with this elieeb that they supposedly killed G. Elieeb is a presence that is said by the Bakwele to exist in the abdomen. It orders the individual possessing it to behave in a certain way, and the possessor cannot disobey this order. While there are many kinds of elieeb, the elieeb possessed by T and his son was a man-eating elieeb. The possessors of this type of elieeb are believed to participate in a certain type of gathering, in which members, in turn, kill their own relatives and cannibalize them at a gathering. If they do not do so, they will be eaten by the other members. It was suspected that G had been offered to and eaten by the members of the gathering by T and his son. According to Gs younger sister, on the night before Gs burial, T, who had been sleeping in the Cantons den, suddenly blurted out in his sleep, Youve eaten your fill, havent you. This is my sisters son. Are you satisfied? Her suspicions further fueled by this event, Gs younger sister said that she would go to the medicine man traditional healer to identify her brothers murderer. Meanwhile, everyone other than Gs relatives were whispering among themselves that G died because his family just left him alone and didnt take him to the hospital. In other words, they were of the opinion that Gs death was not mediated by the elieeb and was simply the result of illness. When I had some time alone with my informant K, I asked, No one else could have killed G but T. Why would someone spend money to have the medicine mantraditional healer verify that? I wanted to provoke a reaction from K. As if to admonish me for taking such a judgmental tone, K explained that, until we get verification from the medicine mantraditional healer, we cant say anything for certain. On a later day, I happened to run into T, the man suspected of possessing the elieeb. It was still mid-afternoon, but T was already drunk. He started to ramble on endlessly to me about recent regulations against elephant poaching and elephant hunting in the past. However, I simply could not pay attention to what he was saying. I was struggling to deal with a strange emotion that was overtaking me. The conversation ended with T lecturing me on the fact that, you are a researcher, so you have to pay better attention to what people are saying and ask questions. Looking back, the emotion I experienced at that time was something akin to disgust or revulsion. That was perhaps because I had heard many unpleasant rumors about T before then. The landlady at my boarding house L was Ts oldest daughter, but the two did not get along. She was openly hostile towards T, saying things like, T never once shared the fish that he had caught with us children. Of course, even if he had shared, I wouldnt have eaten it anyways. In addition, it seems that a medicine man traditional healer explained to L that her troubles conceiving were due to the fact that T is interfering by using his elieeb. She says that she even went so far as to consider asking the medicine mantraditional healer to kill T.I had no grudge with T and, moreover, I didnt even believe in the existence of the elieeb. I had no reason to hate T. Perhaps, Ls feelings toward T had, at least in part, influenced my own thinking. I believed that Gs death was the result of his having ignored symptoms for a long period of time and his not having even gone to the hospital. However, in truth, at the same time, the explanation that T had killed G to secure his place as the successor to the Canton also seemed extremely likely and reasonable. However, to accept that explanation would mean that I would have to commit myself to the existence of the elieeb. These two ideas are causing a conflict in my mind.This can alternatively be described as a contradiction between my scientific/rational mind and my non-rational mind. For me, these two thoughts are equally convincing in their own contexts. However, viewing these two thoughts simultaneously fills me with a sense of ambiguity, as if Im being made to stand in-between the two. This seems to resemble my ambiguous standpoint in the field site. Although I attempt to understand the way in which the Bakwele view and perceive the world, no matter how earnestly I try, my efforts are insufficient. At the same time, I feel that I have been influenced by Bakwele-style thinking and, as such, find myself deviating from the typical Japanese. Every time I return from the field site, I have a difficult time readjusting my mindset. In the field, I am neither fish nor fowl but, rather, someone standing at in-between being Bakwele and being Japanese. Incidentally, with regard to the contradictory thoughts, the Bakwele may experience the same thing. For example, concerning Gs death, my informant K adopted the explanation that the family ignored Gs symptoms. In other words, K took the stance that Gs death had nothing to do with the elieeb. However, as K listened to the stories of bereaved family members, he gradually shifted towards accepting the explanation that T killed G using the elieeb. Thereafter, in conversation with myself and others, K sometimes moved back and forth between the two explanations. In such instances, K may also have stood in-between scientific/rational thought and elieeb-based thought and may have been faced with the contradiction of the two. For K as well, while the theory that T killed G with the elieeb may have seemed plausible, it was not self-evident. This perhaps comes from the Bakwele belief that only individuals possessing elieebs can know the activities of elieebs in other individuals. In other words, in order for K, who does not have elieebs, to obtain proof that G was killed by elieebs, he would have no choice but to rely on the opinion of a medicine mantraditional healer who possesses an elieeb. Similarly, because K is not a doctor, he cannot determine with any certainty that G died from a simple disease. This may be what underlay Ks reserved attitude toward my judgmental statement. However, at times, it seems that the Bakwele step easily through these in-betweens. For example, if a surgery at a hospital fails, it may be explained by the fact that the surgery was performed by a doctor that does not possess an elieeb. A doctor without an elieeb does not notice the presence of an elieeb in the patients body and may end up cutting it with a knife, causing it to dissipate, which would then cause the patient to also pass away. In contrast, a doctor with elieeb recognizes the presence of the elieeb in the patients body and can perform the surgery while avoiding it. Furthermore, my informant K explained that a doctor with an elieeb can tell, much like a medicine mantraditional healer, if the patients condition is simply due to disease or is related to the elieeb in some way. If the patients condition is related to the elieeb, the doctor may recommend that the patient receive treatment from a medicine mantraditional healer.It may well be that the Bakwele view the behavior of doctors at hospital, who may be considered custodians of scientific/rational thought, through an elieeb lens. In such situations, it does not seem that the Bakwele are stuck in-between two ways of thinking. It may be the case that there are numerous overlapping domains that exist in-between these two viewpoints. This view also is observed from the preferred explanation that the elieeb is acquired in a manner similar to infection by a microorganism. In this case, the elieeb is explained using an epidemiological metaphor. If that is the case, rather than overlapping with each other, it appears that, by interpreting each other, these two ways of thinking may be creating a new domain. When thinking about such domains, it is important to question even the supposed dichotomy between scientific/rational and elieeb thinking. The place that I had believed to be in-between may, in fact, be only a small spot in a vast expanse.