The Dancing Dead

The Dancing Dead: Ritual and Religion among the Kapsiki/Higi of North Cameroon and Northeastern Nigeria, by Walter E.A. van Beek

Walter E. A. van Beek draws on over four decades of fieldwork to offer an in-depth study of the religion of the Kapsiki/Higi, who live in the Mandara Mountains on the border between North Cameroon and Northeast Nigeria. Concentrating on ritual as the core of traditional religion, van Beek shows how Kapsiki/Higi practices have endured through the long and turbulent history of the region.

Kapsiki rituals reveal a focus on two fundamental concepts: dwelling and belonging. Van Beek examines their sacrificial practices, through which the Kapsiki show a complex and pervasive connection with the Mandara Mountains, as well as the character of their relationships among themselves and with outsiders. Van Beek also explores their rituals of belonging, rites of passage which take place from birth through initiation and marriage and even death, with the tradition of the “dancing dead,” when a fully decorated corpse on the shoulders of a smith dances” with his mourning kinsmen.

The Dancing Dead is the result of the author’s lifelong study of the Kapsiki/Higi. It gives a unique description of the rituals in an African traditional religion based not upon ancestors, but on a completely relational thought system, where in the end all rituals are integrated into one major cycle.


  • Applies new religious and ecological theory to African traditional religion
  • Detailed, vivid description of a lived religion based on the author’s firsthand experience


“The dean of Mandara Mountains anthropology has applied a ‘dwelling’ approach to the rich, ‘thick,’ descriptive materials he has been gathering among the Kapsiki over four decades. The resulting Dancing Dead is a deeply satisfying exegesis of an imagistic religion, an original and outstanding contribution to religious studies and an ethnographic masterpiece. His insights constantly illuminate my own data on the neighboring Sukur.”
–Nicholas David, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Calgary

Product Details

368 pages; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4; ISBN13: 978-0-19-985816-3ISBN10: 0-19-985816-0

About the Author

Walter E. A. van Beek is Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Tilburg University and Senior Researcher at the Africa Studies Centre, Leiden. He has published extensively on both the Kapsiki/Higi culture in North Cameroon and the Dogon in Mali. While his main interest is traditional African religion, he has also published on African tourism and ecology.