Human–animal relationships go beyond simple day-to-day interactions between different entities. People can also become animals, and animals people, either as a result of reincarnation or temporary transformation by shape-shifting – or rather body-shifting, which better describes the process, given that the material body does not change shape as such. Members of Bebelibe communities whose totem animals are monkeys, buffaloes, crocodiles, pythons and warthogs, are renowned for their ability to body-shift, as are certain animals such as crocodiles, buffaloes and pythons.
In this chapter, I examine the ontological phenomena of body-shifting, whether temporary or as a result of death and reincarnation, as understood by my Bebelibe interviewees and compare it with the phenomena of shape-shifting from other regions in Africa and elsewhere in the world. Most of my Bebelibe interviewees considered an entity’s ability to body-shift as something quite normal, as those concerned are born this way. Body-shifting does not require medicines, power objects, hallucinogens, or powers from other sources, which is often the case elsewhere in the world. Nor is it an instance of possession or mimesis. I suggest ways of understanding the phenomena through transmateriality, presencing and the ontological penumbra.