Saturday, December 17, 2005

Remote and Poked, Anthropology's Dream Tribe

At the NYTimes

Anthropologists and other researchers have long searched the globe for people isolated from the modern world. The Ariaal, a nomadic community of about 10,000 people in northern Kenya, have been seized on by researchers since the 1970's, after one - an anthropologist, Elliot Fratkin - stumbled upon them and began publishing his accounts of their lives in academic journals.

Other researchers have done studies on everything from their cultural practices to their testosterone levels. National Geographic focused on the Ariaal in 1999, in an article on vanishing cultures.

But over the years, more and more Ariaal - like the Masai and the Turkana in Kenya and the Tuaregs and Bedouins elsewhere in Africa - are settling down. Many have migrated closer to Marsabit, the nearest town, which has cellphone reception and even sporadic Internet access.

The scientists continue to arrive in Ariaal country, with their notebooks, tents and bizarre queries, but now they document a semi-isolated people straddling modern life and more traditional ways.

"The era of finding isolated tribal groups is probably over," said Dr. Fratkin, a professor at Smith College who has lived with the Ariaal for long stretches and is regarded by some of them as a member of the tribe.