What is Ethnography?
Often, people do not understand my work as an ‘ethnographer.’
Perhaps, they assume I am creating a life of luxury for myself and just sitting somewhere. Or, they will ask me, are you a writer for the news? Then I reply, no, I am not that kind of writer. Often, those kinds of writers are financed by different corporations, they will arrive suddenly at such-and-such place, they will find a few people, they will ask a few questions, maybe hiring an interpreter, then they leave as fast as they arrived, and send their work to the newspaper or the evening news. But, do they truly understand those people or their lives?
I am a different kind of writer. For me, it is as if time has been slowed down. I stay for a long time. My work is to live among people. This is not ordinary work, it is true. My work is to talk with people. Every day, anywhere. To talk with people by any means. Later, then I sit, to think about things more, and write in order that we should continue these conversations, again and again, maybe for years, in order that one day, these matters should be revealed for others to understand too.
This is indeed my kind of work.
In the first picture, I was talking with an elder with an age of 84 years at a small Christian community within the large Islamic society of Zanzibar. Thereabouts, there is much serenity. This elder possesses much knowledge. If people do not talk with each other or if they do not listen to each other, what will happen to knowledge and understanding?
Ethnografia ni nini?
Mara kwa mara, watu hawaelewi kazi yangu kama ‘mwethnografia.’
Labda, wanadhani najistarehesha na kukalia tu. Au, wataniuliza, wewe mwandishi wa habari? Nikaitika, hapana, mimi sio mwandishi wa ile aina. Mara nyingi, waandishi wa zile aina wanagharimiwa kwa mashirika mbalibali, watafika kwa ghafula mahali fulanifulani, wakapata wachache, wakauliza maswali machache, labda kuajiri mkalimani, halafu wakaondoka haraka namna walivyofika, wakapeleka kazi yao kwenye gazeti au habari za jioni. Lakini, wanaaelewa watu wale au maisha yao kwa kweli?
Mimi ni mwandishi wa aina tofauti. Kwa mimi, ni kama wakati umezoroteshwa. Nakaa kwa muda mrefu. Kazi yangu ni kuishi miongoni mwa watu. Hiyo sio kazi ya kawaida, ni kweli. Kazi yangu ni kuzungumza na watu. Kila siku, ko kote. Kuongea na watu namna zo zote. Baadaye, nikakaa, kufikiria vitu zaidi, na kuandika ili tuendeleze mazungumzo haya, tena na tena labda kwa miaka, ili siku moja, mambo haya yafichuliwe kwa wengine kufahamu pia.
Hiyo ndiyo ni aina yangu ya kazi.
Katika picha ya kwanza, nilikuwa nazungumza na mzee mwenye umri wa themanini na nne kwenye jamii ndogo ya kikristo ndani ya jamii kubwa ya kiislamu ya Unguja. Kule, kuna utulivu mwingi. Mzee huyu mwenye uelewa mwingi. Kama watu hawasipozungumzana au hawasiposikilizana, nini itatokea na uelewa?
Christina Lauren Quigley is a vlogger at Laurelin the Other and review editor and web developer of Ethnography.com. Christina is a 2019-2020 Fulbright Research Alumna and Ethnography.com’s latest author. She began working and writing as an ethnographer–anthropologist in the mountains of northern California as an activist alongside Native American Mountain Maidu communities. Christina has also been known to work for minimum wage in America, selling booze to ordinary Americans at a neighborhood liquor store to further study cultural transmission of Americans’ methods of coping and wellness through alcohol and illegal drugs.
Christina has since fallen under the influence of Congolese rumba music, and lives at the shores of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa to research the ways that music and song traditions diffuse from eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to Tanzania. As modern Congolese music traditions move across the Tanzania-Congo border, refugees and migrants from DR Congo are charismatic masters of their own musical heritage within the African continent. In-country and abroad, Congolese rely on nightlife music transfigured into religious settings. Christina is a Swahili speaker and postgraduate (MA) in music and anthropology at the University of Dar es Salaam.