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Anthropological Family Portrait Qualitative Research

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Updated: May 7th, 2019


All families have a story to tell. These stories depict the values that are held dearly by members of that family. As time goes on, these stories are passed from one generation to the next and in the process they get mixed up and distorted. Slowly by slowly all the facts are lost and with them goes culture. One sure way of preserving these stories is documentation following a fair research. A family ethnography is usually a great way of documenting the facts.


In an effort to preserve the stories of my family, I carried out a research using the following steps. These steps enabled me to carry out a fair research and come up with our family ethnography. The following steps were followed:


Considering that the only people I could rely on to give me information about my kinship are all my family members, I decided to use informal interviews to do my research. It’s a bit unnerving trying to get formal with my relatives. Distance from the people I wanted to interview also played a major role in my decision to carry out an informal interview.


It’s hard to study or carry out a research on any family without considering both the mothers side and the father’s side. These two sides are equally important if a clear conclusion is to be drawn at the end of the interview. As I was settling for whom to interview, my parents came first in my mind which is very natural. Having both my mother and father as informants I was sure to get a clear view of the whole extended family.

However I had a strong feeling that I needed more respondents, I settled on an uncle from my mother’s side and an aunt from my father’s side I felt that would offer more details and gender balance in each side of the family. On both cases I picked the siblings that are older than my parents. Finally I picked my only living grandfather from my Father’s side of the family and my grandmother on my mother’s side. With those six respondents I was sure to get a fair view of the whole family.


Since I had settled for an informal interview I did not have to gather so many materials. All I needed was writing materials to capture the data from my phone-conducted interviews. I however listed some areas of interest and curiosity that I wanted handled by each respondent from a different angle.


Having settled on at least a male and a female from each side of the family I knew I had gender balance. The main reason of including siblings older than my parents was an effort towards closing the gap; I knew these two would be in a position to answer more questions owing to their age.

Even in their old age and most probably poor memory, I settled on my grandfather and grandmother so that I could crosscheck everything I heard from their children. I knew they would have forgotten the finer details but the bigger picture would still be intact in their memories.


Due to the long distance between me and my respondents, phone interview was the most convenient. I chose to interview one person at a time. I explained to them that this was an important exercise for me and all I was seeking was accurate information. I booked a date with each of my respondents after they agreed to set aside some time from their busy schedules.

During the interview they were all psychologically prepared for what they were coming to do and even got some time to refresh their memory. I can comfortably claim that my respondents did not have divided attention.


I was not able to conduct a face-to-face interview which usually has more to offer than a phone interview in that some physical responses such as fidgeting would suggest more information could be available. Taking down notes proved to be quite difficult which forced me to record the phone conversations.

Family Ethnography

My father Mushabbab son of Aide was born and bred in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. According to my mother, he is a man that is admired by all the members of our extended family. When my mother told me that, I assumed she was just blowing her husband’s trumpet until almost every informant I interviewed echoed her sentiments.

Aide, my grandfather actually named him his best son. The reason for all this praise is because of my father’s way to strictly follow the Islam culture. Unlike his brothers, he did not shy away from bringing up a big family. Evidently, not many of my age would boast of having a nuclear family that large.

In fact, most of my recent friends have no siblings at all. My dad’s cars import business is one which embraces all types of culture because in business you never know who you have to interact with next. Due to his constant travel my grandfather and uncles always feared that my dad would change from a conservative Muslim to a more liberal one.

They had a long wait for my dad always knows where to draw the line. He has taught us that as much as we do not agree to other people’s views of the world it is none of our business to try and change them into we tend to believe is right. Respect for other peoples culture and beliefs have been his cornerstone of success.

In pursuit for success and comfortable life for him and his family, my dad took up business very early in his life. In a family that had always known livestock farming as the only source of livelihood he had dared to be different. He faced a lot of opposition from my grandfather who believed that success can only be achieved from tried and tested ways, livestock farming. My father had to work extra hard to prove to everyone that the path he had chosen actually led somewhere.

It is from dad’s success that her smaller sister Wadha got the courage to pursue her dream. She had always wished to serve in the army something that appeared farfetched. Growing up in a conservative family is always a challenge especially so when one dares to go against the grain.

According to the Islam culture, women are handled delicately and their place in life well established. Up to date many Muslim nation do not allow women to vote let alone serve in the army. That is what my aunt had to deal with first, stigma. She did not look back, she joined the army to fulfill her wish, and actually, she even got married to an army officer.

She was always jovial and always made it clear to anyone who wished to listen that she was living her dream and loving it. My grandfather however refused to bless her because he always felt that he had been disobeyed. He always referred to her as the only daughter who wanted to be born male.

Apart from my grandfather, everybody else in the family was happy with what aunt Wadha was doing with her life. Her bright smile spoke volumes and anyone could tell she would have never been this happy anywhere else.

As life would have it her happiness did not last for long. To me all these was just but news, I had never know my aunt as a happy person in fact we used to call her aunt gloomy which clearly depicted her moods. I always wanted to know why she was different from the rest of the family who are always jovial and welcoming. My probe opened healing wounds but it was worth it.

My aunt’s husband, Yahia, had been an army officer just like my aunt. He led a strict Muslim life; prayed five times in a day, followed the teachings of the Quran diligently, observed the Holy month of Ramadan and had already made several trips to Mecca.

He observed all the values that my family believes in and therefore was the right person to marry aunt Wadha. However he was the reason that made my aunt to be always gloomy. He did this through his early demise which my aunt believed was foul play. She never accepted the sudden death of her husband in the battlefield as the will of Allah; I do not think she ever will.

That was when she left the army to lead a private life. Everybody I interviewed believes she is so much better compared to the mourning period, nobody ever thought she would survive the pain. The whole family accorded her all the help she needed during that time but one thing that nobody will ever forget is that she lost a soul mate.

My grandfather Aide, a conservative Muslim, has a lot of love for livestock rearing, so much that when my father and his siblings were growing up they had a secret code “shepherd” for him. Interestingly when he discovered what they called him he admonished them for doing it in secrecy, he reminded them that he was proud of what he does and allowed them to call him shepherd in public without fear.

Livestock farming has been both a passion and a means of livelihood for my grandfather for all his adult life. He started his livestock farming immediately after clearing high school after receiving a few heads of cattle as a gift from his father.

Since then he has never looked back. On his farm he has had all kinds of farm animals ever domesticated by man from sheep to goats, from camels to llama, from horses to donkeys, from dogs, to cats, to cows, to rabbits and the list grows. His farm is quite large but well managed. The animals are kept in the highest of standards. On the same farm my grandfather has put a lot of recreational facilities which are well maintained ranging from the swimming pool to the lone tennis courts.

A section of the farm is well developed for all kinds of sports that one could be forgiven to think that he once hosted Olympic Games. That development of a kind of stadium on a farm reveals several secrets about my grandfather. He is reported to have had a lot of interest in sports but he really never made it past the district level during competitions, this I would attribute o lack of enough practice because even to date he has an athletic body.

Secondly he is reported to have had angina pectoris at some stage in his life which calls for physical fitness to contain. All in all, my grandfather is a very generous man who could have developed the facilities for his family. As a matter of fact he has erected buildings where we can stay when we go visiting him just next to the recreational facilities.

My mother Sara is an iron lady who takes both family and business matters in one stride and turns out alright. Unlike my father she did not go to college after high school though that’s something nobody would easily tell. Apart from bringing up such a huge family and making sure that each one of us tows the line, my mother has a large business acumen that complements my dad’s efforts.

In the early years of their marriage my dad experienced a lot of difficulties that saw him almost quitting, it is my mother’s hand that brought him up again and he said he would be forever grateful. She is always making business trips but nothing ever goes wrong in her absence.

My grandmother from my mother’s side is a very jovial lady. She lost her husband at a very early stage of their marriage. After bringing up her children she joined active politics by becoming an activist for both human and Muslim women rights. This proved to be quite a murky path for any woman especially those with families to take care of.

This forced her to channel her energy in to a different direction. Her effort to establish an interest group for the aged was harshly brought to a stop by the government of the day because she had already been identified as an activist and therefore a likely enemy of the government.

In connection with that, she had a lot of reservations when two of my brothers joined the police force. My brothers Aide and Saeed were very excited to serve as policemen and could not understand why my grandmother was not enthusiastic about the whole idea. To her policemen are equivalent with the government that frustrated her efforts and she never wanted to have anything to do with it. Aide and Saeed however really enjoy what they do.

The uniform looks good on them and their families are happy. My grandmother eventually is getting acquainted to the idea that her grandsons are serving the country at their own level. She always says that service is an honor and that those who serve impartially will be rewarded, more so by the fruit of their labor.

My brother Bader is here with me in the United States of America studying Mechanical Engineering. Growing up with him was not such an easy thing. This is mainly because every time we received a new toy his first task was not to know how to play with it but how to dismantle it and try to build it back. Many times I felt he did this to annoy me but later in life I got to understand him. May be it is that interest of wanting to know how things work that led him to pursuing Mechanical Engineering.


With religion being the backbone of our family hard work and persistence remain the two values that I would say have brought our family this far. We spend a lot of time away from each other and only get to re unite during the holidays. Special days are marked and celebrated accordingly.

Apart from praying five times in a day we also get to observe Ramadan-Aid Alfeter and Aid Aladha. During these holidays we travel together as a family to the agreed destinations usually in the USA and Malaysia. We love and appreciate cultural diversity.

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