A Plague of Caterpillars - Nigel Barley


A Plague of Caterpillars - Nigel Barley


When local contacts tipped off Nigel Barley that the Dowayo circumcision ceremony was about to take place, he immediately left London for the village in northern Cameroon where he had lived as a field anthropologist for 18 months.

The Dowayos are a mountain people that perform their elaborate, fascinating and fearsome ceremony at six or seven year intervals.  It was an opportunity that was too good to miss, a key moment to test the balance of tradition and modernity.  Yet, like much else in this hilarious book – a cross between Colin Turnbull’s ethnography and Evelyn Waugh’s wicked humour – the circumcision ceremony was to prove frustratingly elusive. But this very failure, compounded by the plague of caterpillars of the book’s title allows Nigel Barley to concentrate on everyday life in Dowayoland and the tattered remnants of an overripe French colonial legacy. Witchcraft fills the Cameroonian air, add an earnest German traveller showing explicit birth-control propaganda to the respectable Dowayos, an interest in the nipple-mutilating practices of highlanders, unanswered questions of the link between infertility and circumcision and you have the ingredients of a comic masterpiece. 

‘Nigel Barley is that rarity, a respected anthropologist with the common touch…wit and wisdom shine through his pages.’ New Statesman

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A Plague of Caterpillars: A Return to the African Bush
ISBN: 978-1-78060-151-9

Format: 144pp demi pb
Place: Africa/Anthropology

Author Biography

Nigel Barley, was born in Kingston-on-Thames in 1947 and studied Modern Languages at Cambridge before completing a doctorate in Social Anthropology at Oxford. He taught at University College London and the Slade School of Art before joining The Department of Ethnography at the British Museum in 1988 where he remained for some twenty years. After several academic works, he wrote The Innocent Anthropologist in 1983. It contradicted so many cherished assumptions that it led to calls for his expulsion from the professional body of anthropologists. He remained,however, and now the book has been translated into some twenty-five languages and is often the first work embraced by students of anthropology in their studies. He left the Museum in 2002 and is now a professional writer,living in London and Indonesia. His most recent work is Island of Demons, a fictionalised treatment of the life of the painter Walter Spies.