Driving the Samburu Bride: Fieldwork among Cattle Keepers in Kenya by Diane C. Perlov
214 pages, $33.95 list
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Driving the Samburu Bride
Fieldwork among Cattle Keepers in Kenya
Driving the Samburu Bride is a vivid account of a young anthropologist working in northern Kenya, revealing insights into the Samburu culture and the culture of doing anthropology. With engaging irony and a storyteller’s gift, the author takes the reader through the frustrating, productive, and occasionally euphoric stages of fieldwork. Along the way, Perlov connects theory and practice, and recounts the evolution of her Samburu friendships, forged over decades, including the discovery of her unwitting impact on Samburu girls.
“Perlov recounts tales of fieldwork and friendship among the Samburu in this passionate and deeply amusing work that will touch your heart. Driving a Samburu bride to her new home, traveling beyond the edge of a forest fire in a melting land rover, avoiding a wounded buffalo and a hungry black leopard, and seeking justice for raped school girls were backdrops to her study of livestock marketing and cultural transitions in Samburu pastoralism and society. With a comedic eye, she recalls her stumbles on the path to becoming an anthropologist, discovering only decades later the unexpected and moving effects she had on Samburu girls, whose lives blossomed as teachers, shopkeepers and more confident young women and mothers after they witnessed how a young graduate student was able to negotiate with a novel culture and with male elders and government officials, while eluding gender expectations and evading political challenges. Years later, she realized that while she had been observing the Samburu, they had also been observing her! ‘We each became windows through which we saw and changed our assumptions of ‘the other,’ of the world, and of the possibilities within that wider world for ourselves and for our children.’ Perlov’s charmingly written and refreshing work is at the same time entertaining, informative, and inspiring as she shares her memories and reflections about her experience of life with the Samburu. It demonstrates how the candor and narrative quality of the memoir can enrich the study of anthropology. Beautifully done!” — John G. Galaty, McGill University

“This vivid and accessible ethnography by a gifted storyteller offers fresh insights into several decades of cultural and economic change among Kenya’s Samburu people. With rare candor, wit, compassion, and insight, Perlov demystifies ethnographic research in a captivating narrative that will appeal to both introductory and advanced students—as well as to anyone who has ever wondered what it is like to do anthropological fieldwork. Driving the Samburu Bride combines scholarly excellence with a novelist’s flair. It will be a valuable text for students and professionals interested in the overall craft of anthropology, as well as in topics such as social change, cultural economy, gender relations, ritual, research methods, and Africa.” — Angelique Haugerud, Rutgers University

“Perlov has written the kind of readable, insightful, and honest book that few anthropologists have the wisdom or fortitude to do. Chock full of real and often humorous accounts of what it is like to do anthropological fieldwork, Driving the Samburu Bride will remind readers of why anthropology remains the most humanistic of the social sciences, and also the one whose practitioners throw the most lively dance parties.” — Peter D. Little, Emory University

“Samburu women are known for their elaborate traditional bead necklaces—individual strands laced carefully together, enhancing the effects of color and motion. Diane Perlov has gifted us a book about the experience of fieldwork, presented as a string of vignettes that come together for greater effect. Each story rings true, even familiar, to an experienced fieldworker; but the individual, straightforward episodes are stitched together so as to prompt consideration of complex, intertwined concerns—the adventure of fieldwork, yes, but also its articulation with culture change, gender roles, the personal growth of the anthropologist, and the important but too often neglected effect of the fieldworker on the local people—both individuals and communities. There is much to be gleaned from this evocative, informative, and entertaining book.” — Paul Leslie, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

“This book is one of the most captivating and riveting accounts I have ever read of an anthropologist in the field. Perlov is a masterful and provocative writer—witty and perceptive. In a fresh and nontraditional ethnography, she borrows from narrative techniques of ethnographic film and museum exhibitions to tell the multilayered story that is fieldwork. In vivid and riveting prose, Perlov connects anthropological theory and practice, and reveals the complicated reality of fieldwork for the anthropologist as well as for the people—the subject of her study. Her book elegantly walks that fine line of being academically thought-provoking, heartwarming, and at times laugh-out-loud funny.” — Shahla Haeri, Boston University

“Perlov takes us through the complex relationships, and the often unexpected and extraordinary experiences of anthropological fieldwork. This is an important read for both students and a larger reading public who are interested in cross-cultural relationships that have consistently made anthropology so appealing.” — Elliot Fratkin, Smith College

“More than simply a memoir or insightful description of ethnographic fieldwork among the semi-nomadic Samburu, Perlov’s book gives the reader an engaging portrait of changes in post-Independence Kenya from the 1980s to the present. A narrative of the personal relationships that develop among an anthropologist and her interlocutors, in parts humorous as well as thoughtfully self-reflexive; this is a perfect book for introductory undergraduate courses in cultural anthropology.” — Nancy Lutkehaus, University of Southern California

“Authenticity comes through in each paragraph and chapter. Beautifully written and very engaging, this book will not only resonate with undergraduate students, and those about to undertake fieldwork, but it is also an important contribution to the literature on East African pastoral peoples and anthropology. I teach a large introductory class on East Africa and would definitely assign this book for the class.” — J. Terrence McCabe, University of Colorado

“Anthropologists often tell us how their first fieldwork has affected them. Perlov’s account of how her fieldwork affected the lives of the people she was living with, while she was there and after she had left, is far more interesting. An excellent contribution!” — Johan Helland, Christian Michelsen Institute, Bergen, Norway

“Perlov’s foray into fieldwork in rural Kenya has resulted in a memoir that recalls frightening, informative, and amusing experiences, sometimes all rolled into one event. She brings to life the unforeseen realities of cross-cultural encounters, as she describes learning about cattle-raising, arranged marriages, and the dangers of driving on muddy unpaved roads, all while making lifelong friends and inadvertently influencing generations of Samburu men and women.” — Kathleen Sheldon, UCLA

“Perlov’s thoughtful, engaging, accessible, and funny memoir of her research, relationships, and friendships among the Samburu of Kenya is insightful and also a delight to read. Her journey allows us to understand why connections to other cultures and experiences is part of what makes us homines curans, caring humans.” — Robert Gottlieb, Occidental College
Table of Contents
1. Wasting My Time
2. The Curse of the Maasai
3. Samburu in a Nutshell

4. Year 1: Life at the Center of the World
5. The Samburu Bride
6. Animals Blessed, Cursed, and Just Plain Trouble
7. Year 2: The Participant Observer
8. A Delicate Condition
9. The Government Is Not There
10. Not Enough Cake

Part Three: PROMISE
11. The Beginning of a New Chapter
12. A Plot Twist
13. Definitely Not the End

Glossary of Words Used in the Text