Purchasing Culture: The Dissemination of Associations in the Cross River Region of Cameroon and Nigeria

Purchasing CulturePurchasing Culture investigates the emergence of complex purchasable associations in the Cross River region of southwest Cameroon and southeast Nigeria. These associations emerged in the context of the growing transatlantic trade and were disseminated from the direction of the Atlantic coast to the hinterland. They diffused (and still continue to diffuse) transethnically across the region, ignoring linguistic and national boundaries, and forming translocal networks of owners of the same institutions. The study documents the histories of cult associations and their dissemination by purchase and sale which includes the transfer of intellectual property rights. This mode of dissemination differs substantially from that of secret societies in the West. The associations are men’s and women’s societies, youth’s dance associations and cult agencies. Each type of association developed a different specialization such as the administration of justice, problem solving of clients, collecting debts, or the performance at festivities. The flexibility of these specializations is one reason that they are still of much importance today. They differ as to their complexity (grades, positions), the amount of secret knowledge (secret languages, knowledge to stage a performance) and the elaboration of their performances (masked dancers, miraculous play-acting). Associations form a substantial part of the prestige economy in the Cross River cultures up until the present.

The study contributes to the regional history of small scale societies and their pre-colonial organization of trade in West and Central Africa, to theories of associations and of the diffusion of culture; and to the role of intellectual property in the context of globalization.

The study comprises of ten chapters, plus introduction and conclusion. The first chapter introduces the region from the point of view of one village, its associations, its ethnography and history. Chapters 2 to 6 are chronological and reconstruct the histories of the individual men’s and women’s associations, the cult agencies and the youth’s dance associations. They situate the associations’ emergence in the economic history of the growing trade activities at the Atlantic coast from the seventeenth century onward as well as in colonial and postcolonial history. Chapters 7 to 9 and parts of 6 and 10 are topically arranged and analyse the purchase, the different modes of dissemination, the acquisition and use of the associations in the prestige economy of the Cross River region. Chapter 10 relates the historical and topical findings to present-day debates among the people in the villages and the migrants in towns. It discusses their ideas about the future of their associations, the boundaries of diffusion and the associations’ potential of change. 37 maps and five tables document the dissemination histories of individual associations and 139 photographs illustrate their performances. the appendices consist of a bibliography, a glossary and an index. The study is based on research in the late 1980s, on fifteen months of field research in 130 localities in the Cross River region between 1998 and 2001, and a short trip in 2008 as well as on research in colonial and mission archives and specialized libraries.

Ute Röschenthaler is Associate Professor and lectures in Anthropology at the Goethe University of Frankfurt and the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. She conducted field research in Cameroon, Nigeria and Mali. Her research interests and publications focus on intellectual property, diffusion of culture, economic and media anthropology.  

Röschenthaler, Ute
Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press
Publication year: 

Röschenthaler, Ute, Purchasing Culture: The Dissemination of Associations in the Cross River Region of Cameroon and Nigeria (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2011)