296 pages | 6 x 9 | 15 illus.
Paper 2009 | ISBN 9780812220926 | $27.50s | Outside the Americas £20.99
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Contemporary Ethnography
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"An engaging, provocative intervention in cultural theory."—Journal of the American Academy of ReligionThe Samburu of northern Kenya struggle to maintain their pastoral way of life as drought and the side effects of globalization threaten both their livestock and their livelihood. Mirroring this divide between survival and ruin are the lines between the self and the other, the living and the dead, "this side" and inia bata, "that side." Cultural anthropologist Bilinda Straight, who has lived with the Samburu for extended periods since the 1990s, bears witness to Samburu life and death in Miracles and Extraordinary Experience in Northern Kenya.
"Straight's . . . work reminds the reader of the important ways that theory and ethnography can mutually inform and illuminate, and the book is an important contribution to the existing literature for both area specialist and the theoretically inclined."—American Anthropologist
Written mostly in the field, Miracles and Extraordinary Experience in Northern Kenya is the first book-length ethnography completely devoted to Samburu divinity and belief. Here, child prophets recount their travels to heaven and back. Others report transformations between persons and inanimate objects. Spirit turns into action and back again. The miraculous is interwoven with the mundane as the Samburu continue their day-to-day twenty-first-century existence. Straight describes these fantastic movements inside the cultural logic that makes them possible; thus she calls into question how we experience, how we feel, and how anthropologists and their readers can best engage with the improbable.
In her detailed and precise accounts, Straight writes beyond traditional ethnography, exploring the limits of science and her own limits as a human being, to convey the significance of her time with the Samburu as they recount their fantastic yet authentic experiences in the physical and metaphysical spaces of their culture.
Bilinda Straight is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Western Michigan University and is the editor of Women on the Verge of Home. She has worked with the Samburu in northern Kenya off and on since 1992.