Meet Our New Wadsworth Fellows: Abdikadir Kurewa

With the support of the Wadsworth International Fellowship, Abdikadir Kurewa will continue his training in archaeology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, supervised by Dr. Katherine Grillo.

I am from Loiyangalani, a small, culturally rich village in Northern Kenya, nestled amidst the convergence of four distinct minority communities—the El-molo, Samburu, Rendille (my community) and Turkana. This mosaic of diverse cultures shaped my formative years and fueled my profound interest in anthropology.

My academic journey began with a BA in Social Sciences from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa which paved the way for deeper exploration. In 2018 I pursued an MA in Funerary Archaeology at the University of York, UK with the support of a prestigious Chevening scholarship. My professional trajectory has evolved at the National Museums of Kenya, where I have served as a curator at the renown Koobi Fora Museum and Prehistoric site since 2012. Since 2017 I have also been employed by the State Department of Culture and Heritage within the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife, and Heritage. Adhering to the principles outlined in the 2003 UNESCO Convention on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage, my primary duties have involved recording the intangible cultural heritage of diverse communities in Kenya. These experiences, coupled with my exposure to diverse cultures, has served as a springboard for the pursuit of my Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Florida.

My archaeological journey began in 2014 when I participated in the Origins field school organized by the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya and Stony Brooks University, USA. In 2019 my MA thesis at the University of York delved into the Pastoral Neolithic period and focused on funerary practices and the materiality of personhood. Expanding upon this, my Ph.D. research will examine the concept of personhood among nomadic pastoralist communities with an emphasis on bodily modifications, adornments, and their entanglement through time. Employing ethnoarchaeological perspectives drawn from my community, I will explore the interpretation of the Rendille age-set system by studying how it is marked by bodily modifications and adornments across biographical time. Drawing on contemporary scholarship on materiality and relationality in archaeological and social theory, I offer an alternative perspective for interpreting personal adornments that deviates from traditional Western perspectives which tend to approach bodily ornaments through a representational lens. Instead, my study aims to incorporate an African ontology that views artefacts not solely as indicators of static, preexisting cultural markers, but as essential elements that actively shape dynamic and contingent identity formation processes in space and time.

Beyond the academy, my commitment extends to advocacy and community engagement. I champion community archaeology, participatory action research and address critical issues such as responses to climate change, cultural rights, and alternative heritage management models. My attention remains focused on minority pastoralist communities in East Africa. After earning my doctorate, I hope to continue my position at the National Museums of Kenya. Focused on documenting and disseminating archaeological heritage information, I will advocate for knowledge production that integrates Western science with local ontologies and epistemologies to develop a sustainable model for the conservation and management of archaeological heritage in Kenya.

Driven by a commitment to foster inclusivity, I will establish a network of young Kenyan professionals. Drawing on our collaborative efforts, I aim to revise heritage policies by aligning them with sustainable natural and cultural heritage conservation practices and contribute to the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Plan and the AU Agenda 2063. Participatory research and education are integral to my approach. Moreover, I aspire to empower underserved pastoralist communities, and foster a community-driven, long-term perspective towards heritage management. Ultimately, I aim to make meaningful contributions to the preservation and celebration of East Africa’s rich cultural tapestry.