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Hunting the Ethical State

The Benkadi Movement of Côte d’Ivoire

In the 1990s a nationwide crime wave overtook Côte d’Ivoire. The Ivoirian police failed to control the situation, so a group of poor, politically marginalized, and mostly Muslim men took on the role of the people’s protectors as part of a movement they called Benkadi. These men were dozos—hunters skilled in ritual sacrifice—and they applied their hunting and occult expertise, along with the ethical principles implicit in both forms of knowledge, to the tracking and capturing of thieves. Meanwhile, as Benkadi emerged, so too did the ethnic, regional, and religious divisions that would culminate in Côte d’Ivoire’s 2002–07 rebellion. 

Hunting the Ethical State
reveals how dozos worked beyond these divisions to derive their new roles as enforcers of security from their ritual hunting ethos. Much as they used sorcery to shape-shift and outwit game, they now transformed into unofficial police, and their ritual networks became police bureaucracies. Though these Muslim and northern-descended men would later resist the state, Joseph Hellweg demonstrates how they briefly succeeded at making a place for themselves within it. Ultimately, Hellweg interprets Benkadi as a flawed but ingenious and thoroughly modern attempt by non-state actors to reform an African state.

312 pages | 15 halftones, 3 maps, 1 line drawing, 2 figures, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

History: African History


“Amidst troubled times for West African states, understanding how ordinary citizens struggle for meaningful, effective governance and security is more important than ever. In this fine book, Hellweg offers us a richly textured account of one such struggle orchestrated by an Ivorian hunters’ movement that connects the spiritual and the mundane, personal and institutional power, and the ‘traditional’ and the thoroughly modern in highly creative ways. Movements like Benkadi—beyond their success or otherwise in securing particular political outcomes—reveal the vitality of political cultures and governance processes in which non-state actors are central. A powerful antidote to top-down, state-centric accounts, this book should be read by anyone interested in the real workings of politics and society in West Africa today.”

Melissa Leach, University of Sussex

“The dozo hunting societies of northern Côte d’Ivoire have frequently been a source of double tension: between Islam and indigenous culture within their home area and between that entire region and the economically dominant Christian south. In a rich blend of ethnography, performance analysis, and political history, Joseph Hellweg both illuminates these antagonisms and also indicates how, in significant moments of transcendence, the hunters provide a local model for national reconciliation.”

Ralph Austen, University of Chicago

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Note on Names, Tense, and Orthography


1 Mestizo Dozos: Sacrifice, Shape-Shifting, and the State

2 Criminal Instability: History, Identity, and Mimesis in a State of Exception

3 Dozos at Home and on the Hunt

4 Sacrificing for Security

5 Disappearance as Power: Islam and the Secret History of Manimory

6 Organizing Benkadi

7 Stalking Crime

8 The Power in the Nightjar’s Call: Dozo Performance as Social Drama

9 Conclusion: From Civic Duty to Civil Unrest




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