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Transforming Cattle into Blessings: The Moral Economy of Mbororo Pilgrimage

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AbstractIn 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 (1989), 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.

Affiliations: 1: Social and Cultural Anthropology, Department of Social ResearchUnioninkatu 38 D, 00014 University of


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