Incarnation of an Ape

Incarnation of an Ape

278 pages


Genre: Ethnology, Nonfiction, Narrative Nonfiction, Essay
An autobiography of ethnographic research. An in-depth and self-critical contribution to the debate about the foreign

Heike Behrend studied ethnology in the politically turbulent 1960s; her first field research took her to the Kenyan Tugen Mountains in the late 1970s; in the mid-1980s she set out on the trail of the Holy Spirit movement in northern Uganda. During the AIDS epidemic, she worked through the Catholic Church in western Uganda, and finally, on the Kenyan coast, she researched the local practices of street photographers and photo studios. This autobiography of ethnographic research does not tell a heroic success story, but rather reports on what is usually excluded in traditional ethnographies - the unheroic entanglements and cultural misunderstandings, the conflicts and situations of failure in foreign countries. This book thus invites a frank look at ethnology as a poetics of social relations. In the unflattering names - „monkey,“ „fool,“ or „cannibal“ - given to the ethnologist in Africa, she is confronted with foreign experience of foreign countries and must ask herself what truth these names express, what colonial history they tell, and what criticism they make of her person and work. With her report on four ethnographic research projects in Kenya and Uganda over a period of almost fifty years, Heike Behrend also reflects on the specialist history of ethnology and the changes in the power relations between the researchers and the explored, which she experiences first-hand.


Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair 2021

Nominated for the German Prize for Non-Fiction 2021

#1 of the best non fiction books of 2020 of the newspaper Die Zeit

German title: Menschwerdung eines Affen - Eine Autobiografie der ethnografischen Forschung
ISBN: 978-3-95757-955-3
Publisher: Matthes & Seitz Berlin
Publication date: 2020
Print run: 3
Sold to:

China, Spain

Sample translation

English sample available

Heike Behrend, born in Stralsund in 1947, studied ethnology and religious studies in Munich, Vienna and Berlin. She worked ethnographically, especially in East Africa, taught at various universities in Germany and abroad and lives in Berlin.

"Her empathy for the people of East Africa with whom she has interacted over years and even decades, not to mention her honest, almost unsparing look at herself, make this research autobiography a deeply humane book." Der Falter

"Jumping to the top of the best list is ethnologist Heike Behrend, whose look at our colonial self-image is shattering." Deutschland Kultur

"Only those who open themselves to the world will become at home in it. This experience is the central moment of Heike Behrend's book. The ethnologist's own curiosity encountered that of the visited groups during her field research visits, and she herself became the object of observation by her hosts. It takes a lot of self-knowledge to feel recognized. "Menschwerdung eines Affen" (Incarnation of an Ape), named after the shifting attribution she was given in the Kenyan Tugenberg Mountains as a researcher who became a friend there, bears witness to the fact that Heike Behrend possesses this ability. And with her consideration of the observers of herself as an observer, she also gains a perspective on her own culture - understood as both national and disciplinary. Spiritual scholarship in the form Heike Behrend participatively describes it is, in the best sense, evocation of the mind: it provokes a gaze that acts intellectually rather than visually. Her book is a delicious as well as precious read that broadly shifts our horizons without trying to convey a political agenda. It is born and written out of an emphasis on the commonality of what it means to be human: overcoming prejudice. Those of oneself about others and those of others about oneself. It is an illuminating book in these darkening times." Jury Statement, Leipzig Bookfair