Among the Kapsiki/Higi of the Mandara mountains the division between black-smith and non-smith pervades society. Blacksmiths dominate technical and ritual specialisations—including the forge—and through their association with death are considered dirty. One way in which this opposition is expressed is through the definition of smell.
Using ideophones, the Kapsiki distinguish fourteen types of smell, each associated with specific ‘smelly’ objects, animals or persons (i.e. blacksmiths). The definition of smells by blacksmiths, however, is different from that of non-smiths; also the women of both ‘castes’ define smell differently from the men. Whereas men use the definition of smell to accentuate the gap between smith and non-smith, the women tend to mediate the division.
In Kapsiki culture smell is not associated with notions of evil or witchcraft. It is, however, tied in with burial, which in Kapsiki culture entails protracted exposure to a decomposing corpse. The connection smith-corpse may be one reason for the smelly definition of the smith. Another may be the notion of ambivalence and the tendency to draw strict dividing lines between social groups. Smell in Kapsiki seems to stress borderline situations and the mutual dependence of opposing groups.