The vanishing world of the Bushmen

The original affluent society and its encounter with modernity

An atheist who saw miracles

How a French photographer-ethnographer found the heart of Africa in Brazil

A Uranian among Edwardians

Edward Carpenter’s visionary sexual radicalism

Father of Gaia

James Lovelock’s Gaia theory proposes that the earth, the atmosphere and the biosphere are constituents of a single feedback system—a system, he says, that could easily dispense with us

A visit to Seydou’s studio

The spirit of light in the African Sahel

Dictation from the dead

The posthumous career of Lord Rochester in the Brazilian spirit world


Biography, thanks & acknowledgments


John Ryle is Legrand Ramsey Professor of Anthropology at Bard College, NY. He is cofounder of the Rift Valley Institute, a research and public information organisation that has worked in Eastern and Central Africa since 2001, and was Executive Director of the Institute until 2017.

He is coeditor of The Sudan Handbook (2011) and a contributor to periodicals including the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and Granta. He was formerly a columnist on... more»

Field Notes

31.07.2017 Letter from Yirol

Last month in Yirol I bought a heifer—a brindled two-year old, not yet in calf. In the cattle-naming system of the Muonyjang – the Dinka people – a cow like this is called nyang, the crocodile, a reference to the colour-pattern of her hide. I bought my nyang at the livestock auction on the edge of Yirol town, the administrative centre of Eastern Lakes state, in South Sudan’s pastoral heartland. The cattle for sale were tethered to pegs in a fenced enclosure; the handsomest animals were on parade outside. There were several fine heifers with their calves, and oxen with the black-and-white... more»

Reportage & Criticism

Translating Caetano

In the late 1980s I was living in Salvador da Bahia, the old capital of Brazil, studying Portuguese. I didn’t spend much time in class. There was a beach at the end of the street. And scattered all round the city and the shantytowns beyond—beckoning from the groves of trees that surrounded them—were the terreiros, temples of Candomblé, the African-derived religion of which Salvador, an old slave port—once Brazil’s capital—is the heartland. Caetano and his mother, Dona Canô At weekends I frequented a Candomblé temple outside the city, beyond the airport. It stood among trees in the lee of a sand... more»



Caetano Veloso

A canoe, an Indian canoe,
Cuts through the morning, north to south,
Goddess of legend in the prow,
Torch in her hand, raised to the sky

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Reportage & Criticism

The vanishing world of the Bushmen

Fifty years ago, at a symposium of anthropologists in Chicago, a new consensus emerged on the mode of production of hunting and gathering peoples. Their lives, the researchers agreed, were not—as they had frequently been represented—nasty, brutish and short, endlessly vulnerable to hunger and want. On the contrary, hunter-gatherers enjoyed, or had done until recent times, a varied diet that provided a more than adequate calorific intake, if a fluctuating one, and a 20-hour working week that left ample time for leisure and sleep. This had been achieved, furthermore, without the development of social hierarchies or exploitative gender relations, and... more»


Peace Is the Name of Our Cattle-Camp

Peace Is the Name of Our Cattle-Camp

Summary Following the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the subsequent independence of South Sudan in 2011, many agro-pastoralist and pastoralist areas of the country have experienced an upsurge of livestock raiding, counter raiding and cycles of revenge killing. The increase in unregulated violence has been ascribed to a variety of inter- acting and overlapping factors. These include the corruption of central government, the partisan machinations of politicians, the erosion of customary authority, the ineffectiveness of the judicial system, local boundary changes following the redivision of states and counties, the spread of firearms, an increasingly violent youth subculture and military confrontations provoked by the conflict between national political elites. Greater Yirol (the area that now forms Eastern Lakes State) is an exception, however. Since 2011, there has been a significant... more»


Anth 351: The Interview

The interview—a structured conversation—is central to the practice of a wide range of disciplines and genres. These include ethnographic field work, human rights research, investigative journalism, creative non-fiction and documentary film. Interview-based research also forms a basis for the understanding of culture, for the construction of complex narratives, and for specialist forms such as life histories, testimonies and confessions. The class combines critical analysis of interview-based writing —and audio and video recording—with the development of technical interviewing skills. Classwork will include field exercises in interviewing, recording, transcription and editing, and the production of long-form, focused interviews to publishable standards….

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The Price of Survival