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Laibon: An Anthropologist's Journey with Samburu Diviners in Kenya [Hardcover]

Elliot Fratkin

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Book Description

Sept. 29 2011 0759120676 978-0759120679
Elliot Fratkin shares the story of his early anthropological fieldwork in Kenya in the 1970s. Using his fieldnotes and letters home to bring to life the voices of those he met, Fratkin invites the reader to experience his cross-cultural friendships with the enigmatic laibon (a diviner and healer of the Samburu and Maasai peoples) Lonyoki, his family, and the people of the nomadic community of Lukumai. Fratkin participated in the daily lives of the Ariaal livestock herders and accompanied the laibon as he performed divination and healing rituals throughout Marsabit and Samburu Districts. After Fratkin reunited Lonyoki with his son and wife, Lonyoki adopted Fratkin into his family, and Fratkin continues his close friendship with Lonyoki’s son Lembalen today. Black-and-white photographs, a guide to the characters, words, and places, and a list of suggested readings supplement the engaging narrative. Laibon is more than a memoir; it delves into nitty-gritty details of fieldwork, speaks to larger questions about ethnographic research, and provides unparalleled insight into the world of the laibon.

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Review

Elliot Fratkin has written an insightful, enjoyable, and very readable book about his fieldwork and life-long friendship with a family of diviners ( laibon ) in northern Kenya. The work is strongly autobiographical, recounting how a young, rebellious American anthropologist in the 1970s found himself conducting dissertation research among Ariaal, a Samburu-related nomadic community of northern Kenya. (African Studies Review)

This autoethnography is entertaining, provocative, and full of enduring truths about what fieldwork entails and offers. He sees his work as both an ethnography of the laibons... and a memoir—a lifelong search for belonging. The book's chapters are divided into revelatory scenes of Fratkin's experiences living among Ariaal. (American Ethnologist)

Elliot dares to use his own research to pose the question: Is there any true objectivity in field research and anthropological inquiry? He dares to depict his own attachments and relationships to this very special community, while also staying true to his research. His insights further the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the culture and of the research process, thus expanding the boundaries of anthropology. Readers from budding anthropologists to aid workers to volunteers will identify with Elliot’s observations, experience, and deep connection to the culture he studied and the people he grew to love. (Kris Holloway, author of Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali)

A vivid, engaging account of Elliot Fratkin's apprenticeship into the mysteries of divination and healing by a prominent Samburu laibon. This book succeeds on many levels—as an unparalleled exploration of the secret meanings and methods of divination by laibons; as a window into the experience of extended field research—the insights and challenges, the emotions and relationships; and as a compelling story about our shared humanity, a reminder that people everywhere experience love, loss and life in ways that will seem achingly familiar. (Dorothy L. Hodgson, Rutgers University)

Fratkin’s book, a journal of personal as well as ethnographic exploration, is honest, funny, moving, empathetic, and respectful and, as an account of fieldwork, rings absolutely true. It is a superb introduction to Samburu, especially their prophets, and to the experience of field anthropology. It would make an engaging teaching text for engaged undergraduates and graduate preparation (Richard Waller, Bucknell University)

About the Author

Elliot Fratkin is professor of anthropology at Smith College.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars not just for academics May 12 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Yes, I read it for a class, but I've since passed it on to my parents who are also enjoying it. The author is writing the book from the perspective of an experienced academic, using his field notes from his first field experience, so we get the perspective of both. He blends narrative and insight so that it does not read like a text, yet educates the reader to the complexities of the situations and the anthropological perspective. He is writing about a place and people he clearly cares deeply for, and has insight that is important for understanding such issues as climate change, foreign aid (that is NOT helpful if the providers don't understand the local situation) and acculturation.
NOTE: even the non-readers in the class enjoyed it, and discussions were lively..
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this great book Dec 23 2012
By Douglas L. Saunders - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I knew Elliot in Kenya, and heard some of these stories firsthand, but it was immensely fun reading how all those stories fit together, and get a more in depth glimpse into Elliot's research, way back when.

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