Ongoing projects

I am working on a few projects - e-mail me if you're interested! Moreover, I am part of Forager Child Studies, an interdisciplinary group that coordinates research on children foraging behaviors.

Study site: Pemba, Tanzania 

Between 2018 and 2022, I visited Pemba, the northern most island of the Zanzibar archipelago, multiple times. I worked in collaboration with both the Department of Forestry and an agricultural village in the north west of the island. I am currently collaborating on a project on Division of Labor and market integration, led by Dr. Jeffrey Andrews, but I am not planning visits to Pemba on the short run.

Pemba’s climate is tropical, with two wetter and two drier seasons brought by alternating monsoonal winds. Bantu-speaking  people  have  been  living  on  the  island  since  at  least  600  A.D.   Around  the  turn  of  the  millennium,  the  inhabitants  lived  in  wattle-and-daub villages and ’stone-towns’, with coral-rag mosques and multi-store houses. They  cultivated  rice,  coconuts  and  cotton,  and  were  engaged  in  long-distance maritime  trade  that  encompassed  the  whole  Indian  ocean .   At  the  end  of the  15th  century,  the  Portuguese  crown  took  control  of  the  island,  only  to  lose  it  to  the  Omani sultanate at the end of the 17th century.  Although under increasing control from the  British,  up  to  the  establishment  of  a  protectorate  in  1890,  the  Busaidi  sultans  remained  the formal rulers of the Zanzibar archipelago until 1964, when a revolutionary movement removed them from power and promoted the unification of Zanzibar to mainland Tanganika, thus forming modern Tanzania. Pemba  is  known  in  Arab  texts  as  al-Jazra  al-khadr,  or  the  Green  Island,  because  of  its  thick forest cover and fertile soils.  The primary forest has now been largely replaced by crops, including clove trees, which are the main cash crop on Pemba.  The island lacks larger wild fauna, but there are several endemic species of birds, bats, and other smaller animals.  Many of these live in the forest of Ngezi, the largest patch of rainforest that still stands in the north-western corner of the island.

Image: A rice field along the borders of Ngezi forest.

Study site: Cerrado, Brazil 

Since summer 2023 I am developing a collaboration with the Kalunga, a Quilombo in central Brazil. This collaboration is in its intial phases, but I hope to establish a proficuous exchange with this incredible group of people.

The Brazilian Quilombos are traditional groups of people who descend from African ethnic groups, largely of Bantu origin, arrived in Brazil in connection with the slave trade. The Kalunga nowadays live out of agriculture, producing cassava, mais, tobacco, as well as various vegetables, meats and traditional medicines for their own consumption and selling. The absence of synthetic fertilizers and low mechanization allow them to sell to organic markets, which are developing in Brazil. 

Image: View on the Vão das Almas, along which lives one of the largest Kalunga communities (GO).

Cooperative Breeding and Children as Helpers: An Interdisciplinary, Cross-Cultural Approach

I am co-leading a collaborative project with Developmental Psychologists Lauren Bader and Claudia Kupelian, Anthropologists Haneul Jang and Sarah Myers, as well as Theoretical Biologist Piret Avila aimed at exploring the importance of children's help for various aspects of human evolution and wellbeing within a cooperative breeding framework. Thanks to the generous support of IAST's Multidisciplinary Grant (28,590 €) we aim to collect data in four different fieldsite and develop theoretical models to address various issues, from the evolution of human life history to the development of post-partum depression. Find our detailed proposal here

Image: Maryam, her daugthers, nieces and granddaughter pose together in a family picture. She participates in a network support that includes not only her married sisters and daughter, but also in-law relatives and younger individuals.

Fostering: Variability in help available to mothers and family buffering

Is fostering a tool through which extended families strategize the composition of households in order to optimize labor pools? Can the support networks available to mothers be manipulated by moving help, in the form of older children, across households? 

Children and teenagers represent both a cost and a source of labor for households in subsistence societies. Substantial work has been done to estimate production and consumption along the lifetime in a number of ethnic groups, in order to understand how families keep their economies in balance. However, much of this work did not take into account residential mobility of children and teenagers, who can move between often related households and lighten the burden of growing families by either removing a cost or providing labor. Because individuals often engage in age- and sex-specific activities and have equally specific needs, certain household compositions are better at distributing the necessary tasks across its members: for example, in an household full of toddlers, a teenage girl could be a precious supplier of childcare, while a young child could perform menial tasks such as bringing objects for an ailing grandmother. We propose to test the hypothesis that families strategically manipulate household composition to optimize the workloads of individuals by relocating their younger members, so that the costs and benefits provided by individuals of different age and sex categories can be efficiently combined. We aim to do so by analyzing household composition and causes for relocation of children and teenagers across hunter gatherer, pastoralist and agricultural societies. We model the probability that each child has to be given to a foster family as a function of household composition, focusing in particular on the presence of other children of the same age and sex class, and considering the role that each class covers within different subsistence strategies to compare across three societies.

Image: Wahida and her siblings live with their aunt, where they contribute to the family chores by cooking and performing other tasks.
Top image: girls collecting firewood in the mangrove forest, Pemba, Tanzania.