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Indigenous Methodologies: West Africa


Often, discussions of Indigenous methodologies and epistemologies position indigenous scientific methods as supplementary to mainstream Western science as opposed to legitimate sciences on their own. Because of this misconception, the way non-Indigenous researchers engage with Indigenous communities often ignores the scientific developments and contributions of Indigenous peoples and cultures.

To challenge this, the Indigenous Epistemologies and Methodologies Reading Group aims to assert the validity of Indigenous scientific methods. To achieve this, the reading group will be run by two Indigenous scholars at Cambridge and will incorporate the scholarship of Indigenous North Americans primarily, while also including workshops for teaching attendees how to engage with various Indigenous communities in practice.

Through this reading group, our ambition is that we de-center ‘decolonial theory’* as the primary means of engagement with Indigenous methodologies and epistemologies, recognizing that Indigenous epistemology predates colonialism and deserves to be interrogated as a stand-alone group of scientific methods.

*We follow Tuck and Yang’s scholarship asserting that ‘decolonization is not a metaphor’ and that co-opting such language while simultaneously not advancing the sovereignty of Indigenous communities depends harm to our communities.


Unit 1: Indigenous notions and practice of cultural heritage among the Igbo of Nigeria

Contributor: Stanley Jachike Onyemechalu (@sjonyems)


This paper explores an alternative understanding of heritage through the lens of the Igbo cultural group in Nigeria. It used the Igbo concepts of “Ihe Nketa” and “Oke” to examine the complex relationship between indigeneity, attachment and sustainability in the context of cultural heritage management. Drawing on ethnographic research among the Igbo people in Nsukka of south-eastern Nigeria, this paper found that while the Igbo understanding of heritage are related to definitions offered by UNESCO, their approach to heritage management takes a different turn. which recognises the ephemerality of tangible heritage resources with particular focus on the preservation of their intangible heritage. Against the centralised national management approach to heritage, a by-product of Western colonisation, this paper contends that achieving sustainable heritage management goals requires the recognition and integration of the principles that conserve(d) and manage(d) heritage among indigenous peoples.

Unit 1 Materials

  • Onyemechalu, S.J. and Ugwuanyi, J.K. (2022). Íhé Ńkètá and Òkè: Concepts and practice of indigenous cultural heritage management in the Igbo cultural area of south-eastern Nigeria, Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, 12(4), 609-624.

  • Apoh, W. and Gavua, K. (2016), We will not relocate until our ancestors and shrines come with us, in Schmidt, P.R. and Pikirayi, I. (Eds), Community Archaeology and Heritage in Africa: Decolonizing Practice, London: Routledge. pp. 204-223.

  • Chirikure, C. and Pwiti, G. (2008). Community involvement in archaeology and cultural heritage management: an assessment from case studies in Southern Africa and elsewhere, Current Anthropology. 49(3), 1-13.

  • Dei, G. (2016). Indigenous philosophies, counter epistemologies and anti-colonial education”, in Lehman, W. (Ed.), Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Oxford University Press. pp. 190-206.

  • Harrison, R. (2013). Heritage: Critical Approaches, London: Routledge.

  • Mire, S. (2007). “Preserving knowledge, not objects: a Somali perspective for heritage management and archaeological research”, The African Archaeological Review, 24(3/4), 49-71,

  • Sinamai, A. (2020), We are still here’: African heritage, diversity and the global heritage knowledge templates, Archaeologies, 16(1), 57-71.

  • Smith, L. (2006). Uses of Heritage, London: Routledge,

  • Ugwuanyi, J.K. (2021). Time-space politics and heritagisation in Africa: understanding where to begin decolonisation, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 27(4), 356-374,

Contributor: Marie-Ange Camara (@marieangecamara)


In this session, we will explore the art of writing autoethnodramas using my play Nyamakala: An African Story as a case study. Nyamakala is located in a transdisciplinary space where personal narratives, historical events and dramatic literary writing mingle freely, attempting at decolonising knowledge acquisition in the Ivorian context. It is primarily an attempt to provide an educational and creative tool, able to positively contribute to the improvement of the Ivorian system of education, as well as other former African colonies. I argue that the Ivorian system of education could benefit from such methodologies as it reflects the hybridity of the Ivorian culture today, blending African and European ways of living and being, as oppose to the French-based current programs.

Unit 2 Materials

Unit 3: Indigenous Knowledge and Education in Africa

Guest: Dr. Chika Esiobu


This abstract is taken from Dr. Esiobu's chapter 'The Case of Traditional Bonesetting and Orthopaedic Medical Curriculum' from her book Indigenous Knowledge and Education in Africa.

'In many parts of Africa, traditional bonesetters are renowned for their efficacy in the treatment of bone injuries. Like other variants of indigenous medicine, the knowledge of bonesetting is verbally passed from one generation to another, without resort to formal documentation. Through the practice of apprenticeship and on the job training, traditional bonesetters pass down the knowledge of bone manipulation, herbal topical applications and sometimes oral ingestions to the next generation, often consisting of family members. It should not always be an either/or attitude that pervades traditional bonesetting and orthopedic medicine. There may be ways that both systems can mutually benefit from the other such as traditional medicine benefiting from orthopedic medicine’s use of diagnostic imaging tools.'

Unit 3 Materials

Unit 4: A Phenomenological Approach to Investigating the Conceptualization of Executive (Dys)function in two West African Populations and Its Cross-cultural Implications

Contributor: Dr. Kwabena Kusi-Mensah


In this paper, I performed the first stage of a content validation of the BRIEF (executive function assessment tool) among parents and adolescents in Ghana and Nigeria and explored the local conceptualization of executive functioning.

This study was a qualitative study conducted at 4 sites in rural and urban Ghana and Nigeria among healthy adolescents (aged 12 – 18 years) and parents. 22 Focus group discussions (5 participants per group averagely) among 40 adolescents and 79 parents were conducted using a cognitive interviewing framework to determine the relevance, comprehensibility and conceptualization of items in the BRIEFs. These data were analysed using a thematic analysis approach and independently coded in atlas.ti.

Some major themes of pitfalls of doing tool adaptation in a cross-cultural context will be discussed. For example, the dynamics of translating through multiple layers of language nonetheless threw up unique challenges to the process of ensuring conceptual equivalence.

Unit 4 Materials

This syllabus was co-authored by London Vallery and Myesha Jemison.

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