Culture and athletics: an ethnographic investigation of everyday practice of the Nandi people in Nandi hills, Kenya

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This thesis examines the everyday practices behind the success of Nandi athletes, uncovering the hidden secrets that give them an advantage over non-Nandi runners. By gathering the cultural history of running in Nandi Hills to provide an explanation behind the factors influencing its middle and long distance athletes, thematic issues associated with everyday life within the community shed light on its middle and long distance runners. Research was carried out in order to deconstruct the components that produce a successful sportsperson, by offering an ethnographic insight into the lives of athletes in Nandi Hills. This was possible through the lens of anthropological research, incorporating cultural dynamics as 'that complex whole' of views and perspectives into social research. The unit of analysis is individual Nandi athletes who live and train in Nandi County. In addition, non-athletes who live in the research location contributed data to the study. Purposive sampling was used to select people in accordance with groups constituting athletes of different genders, ages, running distances and training locations. The main data collection method employed was ethnographic observation. Additional data was also collected from one focus group discussion, four narratives and three life histories. A survey was administered to 100 respondents selected as they became available, and taking into account gender and age. Findings supported initial assumptions that: athletics in Nandi Hills has its origins in pre-sportised running such as raiding and cattle rustling that was organised as sport; athletes assume a prominent status in community life in accordance with traditional customs and practices that respect physical achievements and dedication to running; and, athletics is a lifestyle choice for the Nandi, who are heavily influenced by their culture and also an aptitude for running. These findings were linked to theoretical notions such as the changing nature of running as a moral economy for the Nandi; the modernisation of ethnic identity and the changing status of women; and cultural transformation within the community as Nandi people are increasingly exposed to global systems and structures. It is concluded that the high number of world champion professional athletes coming from Nandi Hills is because of the close relationship between sport, culture, and society which can be seen in the production and reproduction of a running tradition within the Nandi community.

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