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Laibon: An Anthropologist’s Journey with Samburu Diviners in Kenya Hardcover – Sep 29 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 202 pages
  • Publisher: AltaMira Press (Sept. 29 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0759120676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0759120679
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 1.7 x 24 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
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Product Description


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)

In this vivid, engaging account of his early, extended anthropological field work with a Samburu community in rural Kenya, Fratkin demonstrates that however ‘exotic’ they may seem to tourists, aid workers and even urban Africans, Samburu pastoralists are just people, part of our shared humanity who experience love, loss and life in familiar ways. In so doing, he also validates the power of anthropological methods, revealing the intimate insights into everyday life and specific research topics (in this case, Samburu laibons) provided by deep immersion, linguistic fluency, participant observation, informal conversations and more formal interviews. . . .Laibon is written and structured like a novel – evocative chapter headings, recurring characters and storylines, extended dialogue, themes of love and loss and a narrative arc that traces the discoveries and challenges of arrival, departure, and return. I highly recommend the book to scholars as a significant study of Samburu divination; to teachers as an ideal text for courses in introductory anthropology, field work and African studies; and to undergraduate and graduate students curious about the highs and lows, truths and trials of ethnographic research in rural Africa. (Nomadic Peoples)

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 (beta) HASH(0xa2b5db88) out of 5 stars 4 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2b52fa8) out of 5 stars not just for academics May 12 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on
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..
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa2914060) out of 5 stars Read this great book Dec 23 2012
By Douglas L. Saunders - Published on
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.
HASH(0xa2dbeb58) out of 5 stars So much fun April 29 2016
By Rebekah Gyger - Published on
Format: Paperback
I had to read this book for class and it was a lot of fun. Definitely on the list of favorites. I had originally just rented it for class, but now I am planning to by it for my own bookshelf.
HASH(0xa2dc75e8) out of 5 stars Excellent story. Very Human July 6 2016
By Emily Bukowski - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Complex and Articulate. Excellent story. Very Human.