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|Leiden University catalogue
|Why things go wrong: agency and evil among the Kapsiki of north Cameroon
|van Beek, Walter E.A.
|Agency and changing world views in Africa
|In this chapter the author explores the notion of agency as a theory of causation, as a culturally viable way to explain 'why things happen'. He points out that not only 'good' is attributed to agency, but also 'evil'. If an event is attributable to well-known regularities, even laws, it is the environment and not the agent who causes the event. Agency is a way of explaining, in the context of a particular culture, why things which are not evident are as they are. Mishaps in particular will often be explained by referring to agency of the self or third parties. Looking at the Kapsiki (or Higi) of North Cameroon and Northeastern Nigeria, the author examines agency in four types of misfortunes gleaned from a sample of divination cases: illness, a setback in plans, an unusual experience, and general insecurity vis-à-vis an incomprehensible world. He shows that for the Kapsiki the agents of misfortune are manyfold and varied, ranging from one's own mistakes to evil outsiders, and from the figure of Death roving the mountains to infectious diseases. For the Kapsiki misfortune comes in recognisable, somewhat predictable forms, which means that the evil agents are not considered to act completely freely. The author argues that notions of agency are ways of signification, logical pathways to give meaning to events, and especially to the mishaps, mistakes and misfortunes in people's lives. [ASC Leiden abstract]