Reflecting on Bagele Chilisa’s ‘Indigenous Research Methods’

First of all – this is an incredible book in so many ways. The author is a scholar from Botswana and she writes about the indigenisation of research from an African perspective. She critiques the Euro-western method of conducting research which has contributed to the systematic subjugation of other knowledge systems or other ways of knowing. These methods give the false impression that only certain people are capable of producing knowledge. She argues that these approaches exclude the knowledge systems and ways of knowing of the historically marginalized and oppressed groups from contributing to the research process. In fact, research contributes to the process of “othering”, further colonization and marginalization of these groups, she argues. She discusses two approaches to bringing other ways of knowing into an equal footing in the scholarly examinations of our world; decolonization of dominant research approaches and postcolonial-indigenous research paradigms informed by the recognition that research participants are spiritual beings with multiple relationships – with the land, with each other, with animals, plants and so on.  IMG_1507

In case you have not read my profile yet, I am currently a PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Canada. I took a course about indigenous research methods in 2014. A quick note about these kinds of research methods- they challenge what we know as the normal method of doing research, they recommend relationship building between researchers and participants/the researched, they recognize the use of sources of data from say oral tradition, cultural objects and finally, they seek to use research to respond to improvement of community livelihoods. I must tell you, I am fascinated by these kinds of approaches and needless to say, hugely attracted to them and I try to apply them in my own research.

Anyway, back to this course. One of my motivations to take the course was simply the fact the professor had listed a boIMG_8688ok by an African scholar (Bagele Chilisa) in the reading list. Let me explain. I have always been bothered by the way education seemed to be alienating me from anything remotely African..the way that education seemed to tell me that Africans had not achieved anything in the history of this universe…the way that education seemed to tell me that Africa needs to be rescued from itself by a benevolent preferably white person. This troubled me greatly especially when I was an undergraduate student (2000-2004) and I could not find books written by African scholars….at least in my area of study. So, I wrote my essays and assignments and quoted other scholars (I believe they were 100% western sources) and with every citation I felt a huge sense of disempowerment and hopelessness. Granted, there were African scholars who had published works but most of those were in literature and I was studying environmental resource use. I was thinking to myself– Don’t Africans write anything? Is it only white people who know things? What is wrong with us? I was familiar with the Kenyan scholar, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s work on ‘decolonizing the mind’ and kept wondering if we had not been irredeemably colonized- both physically and emotionally (Ngugi’s work will be subject of another whole blog post- absolutely fascinating work!)

In this book Chilisa is unequivocal. She addresses all the issues that have bothered me for decades and it fills me with immense pride to see an African writing such a book and articulating the issues so eloquently. For me, Chilisa answers the question “What is wrong with us?”

The answer is – there is nothing wrong with us. Absolutely nothing. That makes me feel at peace. She writes about the continent in respectful manner (not the same as sycophancy), she is reminds us that our history is one of struggle against oppression and that there are new forms of oppression for which we now need to mount new forms of resistance. One of IMG_8524the ways to do this, methinks, is an examination of the history of our people and a serious investigation into indigenous knowledge/thought. Once we know who we are or why we do things in a certain manner then it is easier to create a way forward. As Wangari Maathai tells us “Africans have been obscured from themselves”. We have been taught to hate ourselves and we have become professionals at it. We need to learn and work towards becoming nicely obsessed with ourselves. To be continued…..

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