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Mtu ni Watu - Disclosing Hidden Stories of Fieldwork


Cologne International Forum Innovative Tandem Collaboration: 1 January 2024 - 31 December 2024 

Dr. Richard Kiaka (Loitokitok, Kenya)

Partner at the University of Cologne: Dr. Hauke-Peter Vehrs (Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology)


Dr. Richard Kiaka (2nd from left) and his research assistants

In anthropological research, field assistants are key characters of our fieldwork. They act as cultural brokers, guide researchers in their daily struggles, translate and interpret languages, manage the complexities and challenges of fieldwork, and offer counsel in critical situations. Many assistants also become associates and co-producers of scientific knowledge. Therefore, they acquire a high status in anthropological work, while at the same time their lives are strongly influenced by the anthropologists’ endeavor. Yet their perspectives and experiences in fieldwork, that have such an enormous impact on anthropological work, are little reflected in publications that emerge from the work they ‘assist’.

In this project we use both a documentary film and scientific toolbox as suitable ways for amplifying voices of field assistants in anthropological research. The production of a documentary film makes the assistant-researcher relations accessible to a scientific audience and a broader public, revealing their experiences and addressing the decolonial critique on the lopsided relations between the Global South and the Global North. The film is based on the long-term partnerships established between Richard Kiaka, Beatrice Taipo and Francis Nkadao, and between Hauke-Peter Vehrs and Charles Lorot in their anthropological fieldwork in Kenya. The scientific toolbox will furthermore document short stories and reflections of all participants – assistants, researchers and members of the local communities – and will be published in an interactive blog. This will allow current and future generations of researchers to reflect on the character of Global North-Global South relations (collaboration, cooperation or partnership).

Screenshot of the Wawili Toolbox Blog website showing the first three blog entries.

Explore the Wawili Toolbox Blog

The Wawili Toolbox is an instrument designed to capture the results of the project through short stories and reflections from participants, shedding light on collaborations between the Global South and North. The blog entries will provide insights on initiating partnerships, ethical challenges, and the overall nature of these collaborations throughout the project and beyond.

Dr. Richard Kiaka

Dr. Richard Kiaka completed his Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Hamburg in 2018, focusing on environmental (in)justices in community based-based water and wildlife management in Namibia. Since 2019, he conducts research on community-based conservation in Kenya’s rangelands and agrarian transformation in western Kenya. Dr. Kiaka is currently a lecturer at the School for Field Studies, Centre for Wildlife Management Studies in Kenya (, and teaches in the field of human dimensions in the conservation of endangered species.