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Companion Animal for a Prophet or Witch?: Changing Place of House Cats in Contemporary Mali

In: Society & Animals
Author: Dianna Bell1
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  • 1 Department of Religious Studies, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
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Abstract

This essay offers an analysis of how the spread of Islam across southern Mali has impacted relationships between humans and cats. Historically, Malians have generally characterized cats as familiars for witches, setting them apart from other nonhuman animals as signs of misfortune. Such attitudes regularly culminate in people capturing and killing cats, some of whom are kept as companion animals, without repercussion. But cat-loving Muslims in southern Mali have increasingly started to call such attitudes and practices into question, using stories of the Prophet Muhammad to defend the honor of cats. This article offers a review of the changing nature of human-cat relations in contemporary southern Mali by considering the varied rationales offered for vilifying as well as honoring and tending to cats alike.

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