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The Mountain People Book Review


Ik people, the ethnic community from Uganda, have presented an interesting issue for examination since their tribe was discovered. Being hunting and gathering community, Ik people were moving around the Kidepo valley and mountains of Uganda, living in small temporary villages surrounded by outer walls.

Colin Turnbull, a famous British-American anthropologist, was studying various African tribes for many years. In one of his books, The Mountain People, Turnbull describes the Ik people in the period of close examination. Turnbull stayed with this tribe for several years and studied the Ik people’s customs, traditions, culture, and other key aspects of their life. The book was published in 1972. And it became very successful yet rather controversial. The moral aspect of The Mountain People remains a questionable issue nowadays. Turnbull studied the Ik people in very acute period for them. The area of Kidepo valley became a national park, thus the tribe had no place to hunt and feed their families. The Iks suffered soundly from famine, and Turnbull was participating in tribe life in this very period influencing significantly its moral values.

On my opinion, Turnbull has made several major mistakes writing his book. If I were sent to study the Ik people today, I would try to get a more accurate depiction of their life using Turnbull’s mistakes. First of all, I would study the language and cultural background of Ik tribe, unlike Turnbull who had very small knowledge about it. Some statements he made in his book were based on lack of his knowledge, for example, his argument about the Ik tribe traditional trade. Knowing more facts about the tribe’s history would help describe its life more clearly. The second mistake Turnbull made while studying the mountain people was choosing wrong informants. The great number of informants that Turnbull used for translating from Ik language and learning it, explaining various events, and helping understand the tribe did not belong to Ik community but to other African tribes, thus many facts the author portrays in his book were completely misrepresented. I would choose informants directly from the Ik community in order to get accurate information about the life of tribe.

Colin Turnbull depicts the Ik people as a community with a low level of morality, unable to adapt to new conditions of life after serious changes. Truly, the tribe suffered significant famine, people no longer shared food with each other, they let children and old people die, started thieving cattle from neighbor villages. Turnbull probably brought an inaccurate explanation of these facts in his book The Mountain People. However, to my mind, the major facts he describes in his book were presented properly, even if distorted to some extent.

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