I set the scene with the story of Emile, a baker and café owner, who had a crocodile killed in front of his café. He then died of a burst aneurism in the brain. Nobody disputed the physiological cause of his death, but this did not necessarily explain why he died. Emile was Bebelibe and lived in the town of Cobly. The Bebelibe are made up of 24 Mbelime-speaking communities, primarily based in the Commune of Cobly, northwest Benin. The crocodile Emile had killed was the totem animal for the one of these communities. The crocodile’s slaying, together with Emile’s refusal to make amends, created a huge scandal at the time. Many thought his subsequent death was a direct consequence of his actions.
Following some further background information about the Bebelibe, I then briefly introduce totemism and why it continues to be relevant, despite Lévi-Strauss’ attempt to deconstruct and invalidate it; the importance of exploring human–animal relationships more generally; and the theoretical ideas I propose can help us understand these relationships better. I then give an overview of what’s to come in the proceeding chapters.