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Dancing skeletons Life and death in West Africa. By Katherine A. Dettwyler. Prospect Heights IL Waveland. 1993. 172 pp. ISBN 0-88133-748-X. $9

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By Katherine A. Dettwyler. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland. 1993. 172 pp.
ISBN 0-88133-748-X. $9.50 (paper); with
instructor’s manual.
on the outskirts of Bamako, Mali’s capital,
where her 1989 fieldwork is concentrated.
Religions and dominant childhood diseases
in Mali are also examined.
Female circumcision and what it means
for Malian women is explained in Chapter 3
There is something compelling and rivet- along with a story of meeting a mentally
ing in reading of peoples’ travels and en- handicapped woman carrying a malnourcounters in exotic lands. Combine descrip- ished infant. In Chapter 4 we learn about
tions of the methods, problems, and both the public transportation system (the
intermittent euphoria of conducting anthro- back of a pickup truck) and internal parapological fieldwork along with a fast-moving sites as the author and her student assistant
travelogue, and you have the essence of this deliver stool and urine samples to the local
delightful little book. For anyone who has veterinary laboratory. The role that paraworked in developing countries, the sights, sites can play in affecting growth is simply
smells, poverty, and pollution will come but clearly explained here. Fisher people
back vividly while reading this book. For who live along the Niger River assume that
those who have never traveled to such parts as one grows and matures the urine turns
of the world, it will provide an engaging in- red. The actual cause is an increasing load of
schistosomes. Through interviews Bambara
In 1989 Katherine Dettwyler conducted women describe local beliefs about disease.
fieldwork in nutritional anthropology for Chapter 5 introduces the nuances of mean6% months in Mali, 6 years after her initial ing of seemingly straightforward questions
dissertation research there in 1981-1983. asked of women about food consumption and
Following her earlier work in infant growth food purchases in Mali. This is followed by a
and nutrition, she went back to expand her vivid description of the sights, smells, and
research to include infant feeding practices, encounters of the “Grande Marche,” the big
and child health and their effects on growth market of Bamako.
Chapter 6 marks the halfway point in the
of the Bambara people of southern Mali. The
nature of this research, combined with vivid book and a move away from conducting nuethnographic descriptions of the Bambara trition research in the outskirts of Bamako
and starkly frank impressions and feelings to rural villages south and north of the naof the author, are presented in 13 vignettes tion’s capital. The author discusses her
or chapters. Each chapter covers a myriad of timely opportunity to establish a nutrition
topics regarding research, ethnography, and education program (and obtain stacks of
first-hand feelings. Photos throughout the data!) in rural southern Mali. She describes
book provide reflections of disease, malnu- in some detail the steps necessary to estabtrition in its various forms, and images of lish such a program. Dettwyler also reveals
the joking relationship that may exist
everyday life in Mali.
Chapter 1 starts with a description of the among people with certain last names. This
author’s encounter with a Bambara woman is illustrated by exchange of culturally releand her malnourished infant in 1983; it ends vant insults with a man she just met. Arguwith going back 6 years later to greet the ments against the notion that overpopulachild as a healthy 8-year-oldboy. In between tion accounts for most of the poverty and
meetings is an account of finding a house malnutrition in the Third World are made in
appropriate for her and her 9-year-old Chapter 7, entitled “Children, Snakes and
daughter, proper Bambara greetings, and Death.” Major cultural insights are revealed
the power of speaking the local language, when the author finds out that infants who
among other things. In Chapter 2 the author are severely developmentally delayed never
discusses the ever present threat of expo- grow up. They are seen as evil spirits, left in
sure to disease and of contracting a disease the bush, and turn into snakes.
The tediousness (and bad breath) associsuch as malaria, and even dying of it. She
also discusses the town of Magnambougou, ated with doing anthropometry is graphi-
cally disclosed in Chapters 8 and 9, along
with the idea that mildly or moderately malnourished children begin to look “normal” to
the researcher after a while. In contrast to
many societies where children are fed well,
local wisdom states that the children of the
Dogo region of Mali don’t need good food.
This insight is discovered by the author a t a
local dinner when upon encouraging her
daughter to eat some chicken, she is told
that good food is wasted on children. Chapters 10, 11, and 12 provide more and different kinds of nutritional information explained in the context of the local culture.
Chapter 13 is a clinger when Miranda, her
daughter, gets malaria and has a close call
with death. The final Chapter 14,is a postscript on the 6 months spent in Mali and
emphasizes the author’s long-term research
and writing goals to reveal the nature and
extent of malnutrition in Africa. Towards
that end she has done a good job here.
This book would be ideal for introductory
anthropology classes. An accompanying instructor’s manual provides for each chapter
a summary of the chapter’s contents, basic
questions, and more in-depth issues for discussion. It would also be useful in upper division courses in nutritional anthropology
and fieldwork method and theory. The author suggests the book would also be useful
in classes in medical anthropology, peoples
of Africa, and women. The book will, upon
occasion, shock the uninitiated reader, but
will certainly engage the student’s interest.
For anthropologists, nutritional and otherwise, it is a good read.
Department of Anthropology
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
AND ANALYSISOF GE- one interested in pursuing aDNA work. The
AR- editors describe the purpose of the book as
AND Fo“textbook a n d . . .‘cookbook‘, covering most
Edited by Bernd of the important contributions to the field; it
Herrmann and Susanne Hummel. New is intended to provide guidance in research
York: Springer-Verlag. 1993. 263 pp. design” (p, 2).
The book is organized into three sections;
$69.00 (cloth).
the first is an introduction, the second is on
Ancient D N A is a very timely book, pre- kinship and evolution, and the third and
senting a compendium of the amazing ad- largest is on sample preparation and analyvances made in a field that did not even sis. The introduction by Herrmann and
exist a decade ago but is now making news- Hummel first defines aDNA as “any DNA
paper headlines. As discussed in the intro- that has undergone autolytic or diagenetic
duction, it is the new technology of the poly- processes or any kind of fixation” (p. 2). It is
merase chain reaction (PCR) that has made important to note that the actual age of the
it possible to amplify millions of copies of source is generally not very important beDNA segments from just one. With the PCR cause the problems in working with ancient
even trace amounts of DNA preserved in an- source material are also encountered when
cient samples of bone and other tissues can working with year-old material. The editors
be studied. This ability has led to a blossom- then go on to present a summary of imporing of research on ancient DNA (aDNA) in tant issues general to all or most aDNA
widespread fields such as forensics, molecu- studies, such as the level of preservation,
lar evolution, medicine, and all the special- methods of extraction, and avoiding contamized fields dealing with the subject matter of ination by exogenous DNA. The authors coneach individual study (e.g., entomology). clude with an interesting discussion of the
This book brings together the techniques ethical implications of aDNA work (e.g.,
and applications developed in these dispar- what are the rights of living descendants of
ate fields and makes them available to any- individuals sampled for aDNA work?).
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heights, death, west, 88133, skeleton, katherine, isbn, dettwyler, dancing, waveland, 1993, africa, prospects, 172, 748, life
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