Transforming Cattle into Blessings: The Moral Economy of Mbororo Pilgrimage

In: Journal of Religion in Africa
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  • 1 Social and Cultural Anthropology, Department of Social Research, Unioninkatu 38 D, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland

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Abstract

In this essay I explore the meaning of cattle for the Mbororo pastoralists of the Adamaoua Region, Cameroon, in realising and conceptualising the pilgrimage to Mecca. As an analytic frame I employ the concept of moral economy and the related discussion of cycles of exchange by Jonathan Parry and Maurice Bloch (), which, I argue, open up new ways of understanding and theorising the pilgrimage process. For the Mbororo cattle form the material base for the pilgrimage, as it is only through cattle sales that they are able to carry out the journey. Furthermore, the possibility of going on a public pilgrimage through selling cattle has significance for local intraethnic relations because it has blurred the traditional power hierarchy by providing the relatively marginalised Mbororo a more visible Muslim status in the region. The cattle also shape the way in which the Mbororo conceptualise the pilgrimage experience by forming an elemental part of a set of symbolic transformations through which the blessing (barka) of Mecca reaches the Mbororo camps of Adamaoua, and the pilgrimage is absorbed into the sociocosmic order of the pastoral community. Finally, in the Mbororo moral discourse these ‘pastoral’ transformations, guided by sociospiritual reasons, are contrasted with other Adamaouan pilgrims’ purely economically motivated transactions during the journey.

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  • 1

    I follow Dominique Noye (1974) in the transcription of Fulfulde, the language of the Mbororo and other Fulbe.

  • 21

    William Roff (1985) argues that the Turnerian way of underlining the liminal state of the pilgrimage process means that the post-liminal, i.e., all that happens after the pilgrimage, goes unheeded. Alan Morinis (1992) has noticed the tendency among anthropologists to focus on ‘actual ritual goings-forth on sacred journeys in geographical space’ while the more worldly side of pilgrimage—its economic consequences, social arrangements, and political implications—is left unexplored (7).

  • 22

    Here Coleman (2002) points at the idea of a void to be filled with something essential to pilgrimage as central to both approaches. For Turner and Turner the void is created by stripping away pilgrims’ mundane and everyday identities and roles, which enables the shared state of communitas and ‘the emergence of the integral person from multiple personae’ (1978, 34). In Eade and Sallnow’s understanding, it is the shrine itself that forms the void, that is, a religious space with the ‘capacity to absorb and reflect a multiplicity of religious discourse, to be able to offer a variety of clients what each of them desires’ (1991, 15).

  • 24

    According to Austen (1993), the advantage of the moral economy school in this respect is that it demands that attention should be paid to the conditions of access to material resources, conditions that, in turn, determine a kind of capitalist logic that is possible within any community.

  • 33

    As Réné Dognin (1975) has stated, in the traditional Mbororo conception barka is also connected to lineage, the decreasing and dissolution of which the pastoralists try to prevent through marriages within the lineage and by keeping cattle inside the kin group.

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