Academic journal article African Studies Review

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

Academic journal article African Studies Review

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

Article excerpt

Elliot Fratkin. Laibon: An Anthropologist's Journey with Samburu Diviners in Kenya. Lanham, Md.: Altamira Press, xiv + 179. Photographs. Bibliography. Index. $26.99. Paper.

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. His original goal was to study Turkana pastoralists of northwestern Kenya, but he abandoned that idea after finding them not particularly hospitable to the notion of being studied by an anthropologist. As the author makes clear, Turkana are not known to be a "warm and fuzzy" people or to welcome outsiders. Fratkin's alternative was to study another Nilotic group just north of Turkana in southwestern Ethiopia. However, he only made it as far as Marsabit town, a dusty Kenyan outpost about 150 kilometers south of the Ethiopian border, when he learned of a military coup in the country that forced him to abandon this option. Fortuitously, in Marsabit he almost immediately met up with a young man who introduced him to the nearby Ariaal pasto ralis ts and their laibon (diviner). Unmarried and youthful, Fratkin was adopted by the laibon's family and quickly struck up a series of friendships with young men around his same age who made up the so-called warrior (il murran) age set of the community. What emerges from these relationships is an anthropological story of the trials and tribulations of fieldwork, the creativeness and practices of a people coping with a difficult physical environment, and the humanity of a community characterized by similar emotions of love, anger, and compassion that define human nature.

In order to study a mobile group, Fratkin himself adopted a nomadic existence. He often went on foot to herding camps for days at a time, living among young herders and consuming plenty of fresh milk and meat. His narrations of these encounters, including his first experiences with raw cow blood and an angry lion, are both humorous and informative. In his fieldwork he also followed around the laibon as he performed rituals and aided individuals seeking either medical or spiritual advice, and we learn much about local belief systems among Ariaal and Samburu. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.