“Anthropology in the name of the child”: The archive of Pamela Reynolds’ research

23 Nov 2018 | By Clive Kirkwood
Pamela Reynolds speaks to children and mother in a village
23 Nov 2018 | By Clive Kirkwood

Special Collections in the University of Cape Town Libraries has recently completed the arrangement and description of a large archival collection of papers donated by a former head of UCT’s Social Anthropology Department, Professor Emerita of John Hopkins University and Life Fellow of UCT, Pamela Reynolds. As an anthropologist, Pamela Reynold’s life’s work has focused on studying the experience of children and youth in the context of various societies and circumstances, using a variety of disciplines.

Interviewed in 1990, Pamela Reynolds explained that the reason for making the focus of her life’s work “to understand the experience of the child” was to pass on this knowledge to those who work with children and who do not have time to do research. Usually children are studied from the perspective of a single discipline, such as health or education. She believed it necessary to use various disciplines and to look at children in a wider context to understand their experiences.

The archival collection comprises the field notes and documentation produced in each of Pamela Reynolds’ research studies as well as the process of publication, and has been arranged to reflect a series for each separate study. The detailed finding aid is accessible online in the AtoM@UCT database, which also contains a biographical note, an overview of the scope and contents of the collection and a select bibliography.

This article seeks only to provide a glimpse into some of Pamela Reynolds’ innovative studies documented in her papers and now available to others for research. Pamela Reynolds’ doctoral research at the University of Cape Town conducted between 1979 and 1981 was an ethnographic study of cognition among seven-year-old Xhosa children in the Crossroads informal settlement in greater Cape Town. For the duration of her study, she lived in a room built on to a shack in Crossroads, as part of the community. Her research was published as Childhood in Crossroads: Cognition and Society in South Africa, 1989.

old black and white photograph of wooden hut

Pamela Reynolds’ next study, relating to traditional healers and childhood in Zimbabwe, was conducted among indigenous healers (n’anga) in Musami, Mashonaland, Zimbabwe, mainly during 1982-1983. Her research was published as Traditional Healers and Childhood in Zimbabwe (1996).

Between 1984 and 1989 Pamela Reynolds conducted research among the Tonga people of the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe. Her first study there, based in Mola in the Omay Communal Area, related to the work performed by children in subsistence agriculture (1984-1987). The multi-facetted research was a study both of children and of agricultural labour and resulted in the book Dance Civet Cat: Child Labour in the Zambezi Valley (1991).   

Between 1987 and 1989 Pamela Reynolds continued her work among the Tonga people to produce an innovative book for children and youth reflecting all aspects of the Tonga heritage and environment. This was published as Lwaano Lwanyika: The Tonga Book of the Earth (with Colleen Crawford Cousins) (1991). Two editions were published: one in English and one in Tonga. Being out of print now, it is a sought-after collector’s item. The aim of the book was to give back to children a sense of their culture and resources, and it incorporated a “fun element” of drawings, photographs, songs, proverbs and information provided by various experts. The original documentation on aspects of culture and the environment, such as lists of flora, are likely to be of value for research in fields other than anthropology.

old photo of a group of straw huts

At the commencement of her Tonga research, Pamela Reynolds had a traditional hut on stilts built in the village of Chitenge, in which she lived and used as a base when conducting her fieldwork in the community during the two multi-year studies.

In the 1990s Pamela Reynolds commenced research and gathering sources for a projected biography on the anthropologist Monica Wilson, UCT’s first female professor. However when South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was announced, Pamela Reynolds directed her research towards the work of the TRC, attending many of the hearings. Linked to a broader survey of human rights violations, she conducted research with 14 men in Zwelethemba township in Worcester, mainly during 1997-1998, who had as youths been involved in the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s. Her research resulted in the book War in Worcester. Youth and the Apartheid State (2013). She also presented a large number of lectures and papers on the subject of the TRC around the world.

Other archival collections of anthropologists in Special Collections such as the Godfrey and Monica Wilson Papers and the Lestrade Papers have proved to be of ongoing research value in various fields. The Pamela Reynolds Papers constitutes an important addition to these research resources available to scholars.