This autumn Senior Lecturer in Anthropology, Luci Attala, returned to Wales having completed the first part of her research with the Giriama in rural Kenya. Supported by the Wenner Gren Foundation, Luci is funded to explore the social and economic consequences of piped water coming into a community that has until nine months ago relied exclusively on rain-fed water supplies.
In an area where the climate is dramatically altering and water supplies are dwindling as drought sets in, the implementation of a water pipeline into the area should be celebrated as a success. However, initial research shows the pipeline to be fraught with material and economic concerns, not least because for the first time this community must now find money to buy their water.
Horticulturalist-pastoralists like the Giriama typically subsist without a regular income. Money, earned from small amounts of casual labour that might come into the area, may need to be found for costs such as school uniforms, but, other than various sundries families can survive through their direct relationship with the environment.
Furthermore, until recently, water acted as a social leveller because water practices were not mediated through any economic system. Water fell free into the landscape and access to water was determined in relationship with the landscape rather than financially. Consequently, water as a commodity means relationships with water are altering, creating a broad social distinction between those that have the ability to purchase against those that do not have the money to do so.
Luci is set to return to continue her research in the New Year.