Thursday, October 3, 2013

News from Nairobi

Discovering anew through field research
By James Chege, librarian
Maryknoll Institute for African Studies

The first week of the semester saw students in various courses offered by MIASMU undertake their first field research. The field research was conducted under the guidance of the faculty on various topics in accordance with the courses being taken. Each student was assigned a field assistant, a university graduate, who functions as a tutorial assistant.

In one of the student field studies, it was discovered that the Luhyia of Western Kenya officially recognize the wise elders by giving them symbolic gifts of spears. The is to demonstrate  that during times of aggression and attack from enemies the elders are expected to give wise counsel that would protect the community from defeat. This shows that the Luhyia recognized that wisdom is essential to the preservation of the community, a preservation  which could not be achieved  solely by the strength of the warriors.

The field research is essential because literature on African cultural beliefs and practices is scarce and a lot of it misrepresents reality. To overcome this, students are required to undertake field research of at least four hours per course per week in order to gather first-hand knowledge of contemporary cultural realities.

The field research, therefore, is a unique aspect of the MIASMU courses offered and a real eye opener to the students. Through field research, students get a unique opportunity to discuss pertinent issues and interact with people who are living the very cultural realities that are being taught in the classroom.