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  Reading Between the Lines: Understanding Assistants in Fieldwork
Reconstruction 9.1 (2009),
Fieldwork and Interdisciplinary Modes of Knowing
Vibha Arora and Justin Scott-Coe, Eds.

Reading Between the Lines: Understanding Assistants in Fieldwork

Abstract: In this presentation I will look at the various levels of interaction between the three agents, the researcher, the assistant and members of the community within which research is being conducted within the context of my fieldwork amongst the Ovahimba people over a period of seven years. The potential interaction between these three agents are manifold and can be questioned in a number of ways, of which: What the researcher wants, what the assistant thinks the researcher wants, what the assistant wants in terms of his or her respective relationships with the researcher and members of the community, what members of the community want from the assistant and also through the assistant from the researcher. I will also examine how research methods were adapted to the level of skills of assistants and how in turn the assistants' skills influenced research methods, as well as why finally, I decided to work without assistants and outsource the skills I did not have, e.g. Word by word translation from Otjiherero to English. Various case studies will be referred to throughout, most notably the dramatic case of Tjomihano, the only assistant that was a member of the local community.


  When Elsewhere Becomes the Here and Now: Seven Years of Fieldwork with the Ovahimba

When Elsewhere Becomes the Here and Now: Seven Years of Fieldwork with the Ovahimba
AnthropoPages, Terrains vécus : Terrains revécus,
Edition Ici et Ailleurs, GRAEA, no. 5-6, March 2006.

Abstract: This article is about the experience of the ethnographer once he establishes himself in the field and inevitably to a lesser or greater degree becomes part of the process he has come to observe and study. Fieldwork constitutes a special time in the evolution of an ethnographer and is considered to be not only the basis of ethnographic research but also an essential experience in the formative years of any scholar. From 1998 to 2004 I lived with the Headman of Etanga, the late Ukoruavi Tjambiru and his family at their homestead on oHere hill in the outskirts of Etanga, a settlement situated in the Kunene Region of Namibia.
The Ovahimba is a pastoral people that form part of the Otjiherero language speaking group of Bantu peoples that live in the north west of Namibia, and the south west of Angola. During my tenure in the field, I documented the everyday and ritual life of the Ovahimba by making video and sound recordings, photographing and keeping an interim field journal. Initially I worked with members of the community as interpreters, but once I had learnt the basics of the language, I pursued my work without the help of assistants and reverted to punctual translation aid only when specific and complex issues needed to be addressed.
The principal aim of my field study was to document the evolution of the everyday and ritual life of an Ovahimba family and their relatives and friends over a period of seven years. The focus of this documentation includes initiation, funeral and possession rites as well as the rapport that developed over time between members of the community and the unexpected visitor on an extended stay I was.
The article will trace the evolution of this long-term research project, from the early beginnings and the difficulties of my first encounters with members of the Ovahimba community of Etanga to the middle years of acquiring the status of an integrated family member to my involvement with community development during the latter years and the problems that arose when it was time to leave the field, return to Paris and start analyzing the body of data collected in the field. The overall approach of the article will focus on the development of the relationship between members of the community and myself, the influence of this experience of intense sharing on our respective lives and the preliminary conclusions of the effects of the years of experimentation on the Ovahimba community and on myself and my future as an ethnographer within that or another community.

To order, contact: Edition du GRAEA
Groupe de Recherches et d’Actions en Ethnologie et Anthropologie
« Ici et Ailleurs » Association Loi 1901
5 Chemin Jardin du Temple – 34590 Marsillargues.

  Les années Ovahimba
Les années Ovahimba

Le film africain & Le film du sud,
novembre 2002, no. 41, pp 45-56

Ma relation avec les Ovahimba s'inscrit dans le paradoxe d'un peuple qui se trouve confronté aux valeurs croisées de deux mondes qui se rencontrent, le leur et celui du développement et de l'urbanisation. Les Ovahimba poursuivent leur pratique de culte des ancêtres, leur rites de passage, leurs cérémonies de musique et de danse, tout en étant aux prises avec les conséquences de la scolarisation sédentaire, la disponibilité de l'olcool, la permanence des points d'eau pour l'approvisionnement, et les obstacles pour entrer dans l'économie monétaire.
Les années Ovahimba cherche à capter cet air du temps.

acheter info
  The World Turns Like the Horns of a Kudu: From the Self to the Other and Back
The World Turns Like the Horns of a Kudu: From the Self to the Other and Back

Die Republikein, 2002

Excerpt: I started my anthropological studies with Professor Hammond-Took in South Africa. I was a music student at the time. In addition to being initiated to notions as diverse as kinship, potlatch, gift, return gift, and joking relationships, amongst others, Johnny Clegg, then junior lecturer, gave a tutorial on the role of the compound housing system for single male migrant labourers in the mining industry of South Africa. The rural and somewhat idyllic traditional model stood in stark opposition to the urban industrial version of the reality of those who had left their homelands to work in the mining industry. The discovery of these dimensions of South African life contributed to my decision to leave for France in 1984.
In Paris, I pursued my studies with Jean Rouch whose interpretation of Cinéma direct resulted in the practice of shared anthropology. My first field experience was in the wastelands of Page View after the authorities demolished and reclassified it as a white residential area. A woman stumbled onto the makeshift set of a film I was making at the time, Chicken Movie. Cluck!, an urban poem exploring the zeitgeist of Johannesburg's sub-culture of the early 1980's. The woman was drunk and needed food. In front of one of the few remaining buildings, an Indian Temple, she started singing her version of an Afrikaans religious song with which I grew up: "Wat se vriend is jy dan Jesus, jy wat ons van pot en huis ontdaan?"[ii] She was just one of the many victims produced by the imposed physical separation of people such as practicedin South Africa at the time. What causes that moment to stand out in my memory is the myriad of cultural references it captured: Indian, Afrikaans, Calvinism, the avant-garde sub-culture, and the extreme poignancy of the situation in South Africa at the time.


  Thus Came "The Ovahimba Years"
Thus Came "The Ovahimba Years"

Die Republikein, 1998

Excerpt: A biting wind was sweeping over the Esplanade des Invalides. I looked at an identity photo taken earlier that morning, and for the first time, the toll the years in exile had taken, was visible. I pulled my scarf over my chest and buttoned up my coat. I crossed the great central boulevard, and pushing ahead, I muttered: “I have to go, I have to continue.” Minutes later I reported at a side entrance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the other side of the Esplanade. A small man invited me to follow him as he trotted down a corridor to a palatial office overlooking the Quai d’Orsay and the river Seine. Tucked in behind her desk, sat a petite lady and to the side, her husband. She was the future French Ambassador to South Africa, he her writer husband. I was to teach her Afrikaans to prepare her upcoming diplomatic sojourn in South Africa; he was sitting in for good measure. We had hardly greeted each other when the husband asked how one would saythe words bonjour and Dieu in Afrikaans. “Goodmorning, God,”[1] I said, and remained standing there, in my coat, with the inadvertant salutations to the Supreme Being still ringing in my ears.
I related this incident to an acquaintance working as a psychologist at Sainte Anne Hospital, an institution for the mentally disturbed. As she looked at me blankly, I thought I could see the years of psychological, psychiatric and psychoanalytical experience reel through her mind. Then she looked away and simply remarked: “Then of course, all of us are invalids!” and told me about the “Hôpital des Invalides” at the upper end of the Esplanade, where, during The Great War, the maimed, les gueules cassées, or broken faces, were hidden from the public eye…

  Pierre-Luc Bartoli - Recent Paintings
Pierre-Luc Bartoli - Recent Paintings

I first met Pierre-Luc Bartoli in 2004 under rays of light streaming through the glass roof the glass roof of his Paris studio in the Faubourg St. Antoine. I remember the paintings, still fresh, almost dripping with paint, and now that they have dried, and are reproduced here, I look through the pages and go back a little in time.

With Bartoli, the themes change with his obsessions, and come to the fore through their visual and physical qualities, as a pretext, as a trigger to painting. Bartoli has always painted strange genre scenes. Here we discover his principal themes of exploration: libraries, subway crowds, drinkers and smokers that form a synthesis of his previous technical and stylistic explorations. As I turn these pages, the paintings and the themes follow one another like the scenes of a film, evoking a sensation of fleeting form and movement...

Rina Sherman
Paris, January 2010


Pierre-Luc Bartoli: Figuration in movement
by Rina Sherman

  Articles in progress
Emotion in Multimedia Ethnographic Fieldwork
Emotion in Multimedia Ethnographic Fieldwork

Emotion is a vital component in the relationship between the field researcher and members of the observed community. Through an account of my experience as an ethnographer using multimedia in the field, I will evoke how emotions to a greater or lesser degree at different times become an integral part of the process that is beings observed, recorded and studied. Through a brief overview of technical and methodological applications, I will illustrate how I adjusted my methods within the various disciplines (film, video, photography, texts) in relation to members of the community and hence emotion…

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