Quincy J. Amoah

AnthropologyPrinceton University

Award Information

2016 IDRF Program

AnthropologyPrinceton University

Phenomenology of Divination and Ethical Action in Karamoja

This study will examine relations between divinatory truths, action and morality among Karimojong, a pastoralist community in north-eastern Uganda. Karimojong highly value cattle and devote immense intellectual interest to them. They raid to increase their herds and use divination to determine the execution of raids. These often deadly raids have led state agents and NGOs to indict Karimojong as "amoral." Also, the 'unreasonableness' of their divinatory revelations and their seeming indifference to moral queries have induced earlier researchers to make comparable conclusions. However, divination and consequent actions are accompanied by a repertoire of poetry, body techniques and other aesthetic expressions. Through preliminary research over the previous year, I deduced that the difficulties of researchers in engaging Karimojong ethico-morals were due to their focus on discursive responses, the instrumentalities of raiding, and their assumption that "form and style [are] secondary" in understanding moral reasoning. I propose that a phenomenological account of aesthetic forms, perceptible in divination and other expressive practices, with particular focus on their connection to raiding, has the potential of contributing to a revision of previous understandings of Karimojong forms-of-life and should help illuminate their ethico-morals in a new way. The project will involve my immersion in concrete situations of performances and interpretations of divinations, processes of sacrifice, poetics of raids, dance, games, and the aesthetics of cattle with my Karimojong interlocutors. With this ethnography, I hope to account for how my interlocutors deliberate on what constitute a good life and truthful actions by attending to the "presentational" rather than "discursive" modes of justifying action.