Family portraits of Maasai

Last week I talked with Mario Herrero of the International Livestock Research Institute about research he did with Maasai families in Kenya. He and his colleagues were looking at the question how people who migrate with their cattle for long distances within and between countries cope with the challenges posed to them both by society and by changing natural conditions. When I lived in northern Ghana, where the pastoralists are a group called Fulani, we could see that they very often eluded our attention – even though they live in longstanding and complex relationships with the local sedentary farmers (e.g. herding their cattle for them), they seemed to rarely be involved in local policy making or participatory processes and when we conducted community meetings, they were never amongst the participants, because they don’t belong to the community the same way as sedentary farmers do. Honestly, they were so elusive that it took me a long time to even realize that they were missing from the picture.

Well, the work that Mario and his colleagues did, consciously focused on the Maasai and he pointed this work out to me because of the method they employed, called family portraits . Another mapping technique, though much more qualitative and less pre-structured than the Net-Map approach.

The researchers on the ground, all of them local people, would stay with families for four days to map out the family ties and the ways families relate to the challenges posed to them by their environment. Their paper made me think about the time you need to find something out. One interesting observation they made is that their local facilitators did complain in the beginning, that this method was very time consuming. However, later they realized how strong the longer term benefits were, as their findings were well understood by community members and could be used to plan for better futures. As an inspiration for field research, I especially like the picture on p. 11 where a wide variety of locally available materials are used to map the family portrait on the ground.

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