The etiology of the Wimbum people in the Western Grassfields of Cameroon is described through an examination of the way in which the meanings of key concepts, used to interpret and explain illness and other forms of misfortune, are continually being produced and reproduced in the praxis of everyday communication. During the course of numerous dialogues, witchcraft, a highly ambivalent force, gradually emerges as the prime mover. As destructive cannibals or respectable elders the witches are the ultimate cause of all significant illness, misfortune and death, and as diviners they are also the ultimate judges who apportion moral responsibility. Even the ancestors and the traditional gods turn out to be fronts behind which the witches hide their activities. The study is on three levels: a medical anthropological exploration of explanations of illness and misfortune; a detailed ethnography of traditional African cosmology and witchcraft; and an examination of recent theoretical issues in anthropology such as the nature of ethnographic fieldwork and the possibility of dialogical or postmodern ethnography.
'Robert Pool's completely honest revelation of his interviews and his attempts to make sense of them are a welcome and encouraging illustration of how fieldwork is usually conducted, what kind of data we are collecting, and how meaning is produced from it. It is not just a theoretical contribution, but also an excellent book to read before or after going into the field.' Folk: Journal of the Danish Ethnographic Sociey ' Written in accessible and highly readable English, this substantial book should become a popular text in courses in anthropology, comparative religion and medical systems, and cross-cultural studies. Pool demonstrates in ways that immediately engage the reader how understanding and knowledge are never "finally" determined once and for all, but are continually being defined and redefined by informants and ethnographers, in dialogical process. [...] This book contributes importantly to the development of conceptual frameworks for investigating and anaysing topics that neither seek "final" conclusive statements about indigenous etiologies nor seek to generalise from an ethnographer's experience of one village in one society to the rest of Africa. [...] This book is exemplary in its demonstration of the anthropologist at work - his use of participant observation methods in the field and evocation of creative tensions between data gathering and interpretation in the struggle to produce texts "talking about" everyday knowledges - and should be widely read by academic and students across several disciplines concerned with analysis of "the Other".' African Studies Review and Newsletter "... an exciting and innovative book on several levels. ...There is an honesty, clarity and lack of cultural superiority about the book and about Pool himself which is wholly refreshing" Social Anthropology "This book can be a valuable tool for use in teaching interviewing techniques, for discussing the role of language use in fieldwork, and for considering current issues in ethnographic research." Medical Anthropological Quarterly