Source Book for African Anthropology






The importance of this subject has been briefly expressed by T. J. A. Yates (1932, No. 159) who says, "The family founded by marriage is not really established till the birth of the first child. Married status among the Bantu has very little meaning apart from parenthood." In support of this view Yates gives evidence from the Bavenda tribe in which a bride crawls in the yard of her husband’s home, kneels before she enters the hut, and performs other acts of obeisance until her first child is born. The Wafungu tribe of Northern Rhodesia recognize four social ranks that are dependent on possession of children. Young men are not qualified to sit in the council house before they are parents. Teknonymy, that is, change of name of the parents at the birth of a child, which is a common Bantu practice, is mentioned as further evidence of the social importance of parenthood. In some tribes avoidance between parents-in-law and children-in-law is not so strictly enforced after the birth of the first child.


In this chapter the chief data to consider are those relating to conception, reincarnation of ancestors, the period of gestation, abortion, parturition and its ritual—for example, disposal of the placenta and the umbilical cord. The destruction of deformed children and ceremonial ablutions for parents are also points of importance. The attitude toward twins and the ritual of naming have to be considered, while facts pertaining to teething, lactation, weaning, and early deformations such as extraction of teeth and scarification should be included. Demography, the attitude toward illegitimate children, and adoption of children, are likewise logically connected with a study of the family. So far as the southern Bantu are concerned most of these subjects have been briefly considered by L. Walk (1928, pp. 38–109), whose article is appropriate as an introduction to this subject.

In order to obtain an impression of the general attitudes and principles of Negroes toward procreation and early education, examples will be chosen from several Bantu and Sudanic tribes. These particular instances are selected as truly representative of the whole, though many local variations occur.

The emphasis placed by Negro tribes on the religious and magical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth might leave the impression that the physiological facts of procreation are not understood, but despite the general prevalence of spiritual beliefs and ritual in connection with childbirth the parts played by male and female are known. The Ovimbundu say that a man puts something into a woman, and the male substance grows in her. This is probably common knowledge in Negro tribes, but the importance of sexual intercourse and conception is completely eclipsed by a ritual procedure. The nature of the rites is well exemplified by data from the Akamba, who are northeastern Bantu Negroes. A medicine-man who uses his magic to induce conception rarely deals in any other form of treatment. He is a skilled specialist, and as such is held in high esteem. His treatment consists of giving a woman an amulet to wear over her womb, and smearing her navel and loins with a concoction. But the importance of taboo is shown by the statement, that no medicine-man can cure sterility if the newly married couple had their first sexual intercourse when the woman was menstruating (G. Beresford-Stooke, 1928, No. 129).

Women of the Ovimbundu regard cowrie shells as symbols of fertility, and for this reason a cord bearing one or more of these shells is worn about the neck. The charm is most effective if it was used by the wearer’s mother or grandmother. Painting the face during pregnancy is a rite which is usually carried out by a medicine-woman to ensure normal development of the fetus. Undoubtedly magic is regarded as a necessary aid to physiological processes of reproduction, which are fairly well understood.

Taboos are necessary to ensure the birth of normal offspring. As soon as a woman discovers that she is pregnant she makes and drinks an infusion prepared from bark fiber to assure removal of the afterbirth. Eating the flesh of a hare during pregnancy is thought to give the baby a split lip. Flesh of the owl as part of the diet will give a child abnormally large eyes. During gestation a woman must not sit on a mortar, a pestle, or a piece of rock, for if she does so her delivery will be unduly prolonged. If a woman carries a burden in her cloth, the baby will be born with an abnormally long head. During pregnancy a woman mixes a prickly plant with her husband’s food in order to make him faithful to her. This custom may have some connection with the fact that before the decline of native prohibitions a husband was not allowed to have relations with his wife until the baby had been weaned. The rule is a usual one in Negro society, but the extent to which a monogamous man remained continent during the time of gestation and lactation is unknown. Children are suckled for two or even three years, and this period, combined with the nine months of gestation, demands a long abstention.

J. H. Weeks (1914, p. 107) states that, despite a popular idea alleging the strong sexual desires of Negroes, they are capable of restraints that Europeans would not tolerate. During her pregnancy and the lactation of her child a woman treats men as utterly non-existent.

The taboos observed during pregnancy by the Ovimbundu are typical instances of the Negro attitude toward gestation, which is regarded as a period in which actions of the mother may adversely affect the unborn child. In some tribes prohibitions affect the father of the child, and during delivery he may have to observe certain precautions. A difficult delivery is often attributed to an illicit love affair, and instances of a woman being asked to disclose the name of her lover in order to make parturition easier are numerous.

A genuine custom of couvade, in which a father goes to bed and acts as if he were the bearer of the child, appears to be rare in Africa, but an instance is given by C. G. and B. Z. Seligman (1932, p. 107). A wide geographical survey of the subject has been made by W. R. Dawson (1929).

The Ovimbundu have confidence in ritual for affecting the sex of a fetus. A woman who has borne only girls may secure male births, provided she can find a woman who has given birth to boys only. To reverse the sexes the women exchange their belts, which are plaited fiber girdles worn close to their bodies in order to support short skirts. Another method of changing a succession of male or female births is the arrangement of a ceremonial exchange of food between the mother of boys and the mother of girls. The food is passed from one woman to the other through a hole in the wall of a hut. Sometimes a woman who has borne only boys gives to the bearer of girls an arrow, a bow, a knife, and an axe, while she receives in exchange from the mother of girls a pounding pestle, a broom, a tray, and a basket. There is in these exchanges an obvious sex symbolism and an implied belief in the efficacy of sympathetic magic.

Normally, parturition takes place at home with two or more women in attendance, but delivery while at work in the fields causes no great inconvenience. Birth is assisted by pressure and massage, aided by magical means, such as untying knots from string and opening lids of boxes if the labor is slow. These are general conditions and observances, but local customs vary. Generally, there is ceremonial treatment of the umbilical cord and placenta, which have to be buried, though the cord is preserved, according to some tribal usages. An Ocimbundu midwife cuts the umbilical cord of a girl with a hoe to ensure success in field work, but the cord of a boy is cut with an arrow to give prowess in hunting. The Ovimbundu say that if the father were present at the confinement his child would be ashamed to be born, therefore the father is excluded.

Washing, massage, and smearing with palm-oil are usual treatments for a newly born Negro child. The Ovimbundu follow a common practice when they give the infant a sip of beer and tie a cord about its waist. Destruction of deformed children is usual, but a child who is allowed to survive for twenty-four hours is unlikely to be killed. This Umbundu practice toward abnormal children is the common procedure. The Ovimbundu protect the fontanelle of a newly born child by covering the place with mucilage that hardens.

I was unable to discover that the Ovimbundu believe in the reincarnation of ancestors in infants, and no ceremony was found for discovering the identity of a newly born child. Yet in this respect the Ovimbundu are exceptional, and in view of the general Negro belief in a reincarnation of ancestors, it is probable that former Umbundu customs have fallen into desuetude. The essence of Negro religion is a belief in a parallelism of the spiritual and secular worlds. Spirits of the dead carry on their activities much as they did on earth. The dead visit their living descendants, affect their welfare, and may be reincarnated in their own kindred.


In common with a majority of Negro tribes the Ovimbundu know how to produce abortion by use of drugs; these they call "medicine for taking away the belly." The literature shows that mechanical means of securing abortion by pressure are sometimes used by Negroes, but the employment of potions is more common. The general attitude toward abortion is one of reprobation. Birth of a child to an unmarried girl is commonly censured by Negroes, although their customs often condone sexual laxity. Therefore, abortion is the resort of those who wish to avoid having illegitimate children. Instance can be found to show that a woman may abort in order to avoid bearing a child to a man she dislikes, and another cause for abortion is the infidelity of young wives to an elderly husband who does not cohabit with them. Instances of the infanticide of illegitimate children are numerous, but examples of the survival of illegitimate children are also common, and in the latter case the children belong to their mother’s kindred as a rule. Generally speaking, the illegitimate child of an adulterous union is the property of the legal husband. Death of a woman during pregnancy or delivery generally demands special funeral rites and ritual to avert evil consequences. At Ngalangi in east-central Angola I was informed that the rite of driving a stake through the abdomen of a pregnant woman after her corpse had been laid in the grave had been recently observed. Usually, the child of a mother who has no milk is not allowed to die but is suckled by another woman. This Umbundu custom is of common occurrence among other Negroes.


Information relating to the birth and treatment of triplets is scanty, but adequate data exist for estimating the attitudes of Negro tribes toward twin births. With regard to triplets, the Ovimbundu say that they are welcome. At the age of five years a male of the triplets, if there happens to be one, is presented to the king, to remain in the royal household as a son who, along with sons of the king’s wives, has opportunities for inheritance and succession. Though twins are welcome, the Ovimbundu, in conformity with general Negro procedure, demand special observances. Such ritual of purification and protection is never absent even though the twins are both allowed to live, and no reprobation attaches to the mother. In all Negro tribes twins are regarded as abnormal, and their birth demands ritual to safeguard the children, their parents, and the community.

Among the Ovimbundu an ocimbanda (medicine-man) carries out rites for purifying a mother of twins, and the afterbirth is placed in two pots which are buried outside the village. A mother of twins receives from the ocimbanda a horn which she hangs round her neck; this she has to blow when crossing a river, when meeting a group of people, or if she sees a hawk overhead. People laugh at a mother of twins, and in jest call her a pig or a bitch because she has had a litter. This banter she takes in good part and replies jokingly. A mother of twins or triplets carries a rattle which she shakes instead of giving the ordinary greetings. Should a twin die, a wooden figurine is made to take the place of the dead child. This figure is held to the breast, or the other infant might die through loneliness. If the surviving twin succumbs, the wooden figurine is buried with it. The making of a figurine of this kind to replace a dead twin is a common Negro custom.

The regard of the Ovimbundu for twins is not, however, a true indication of the general Negro attitude. African customs have to be modified under European administration, but in former days a twin birth often led to execution of the twins and the mother also. In some tribes only the twins were killed, or perhaps one of them was allowed to survive. Customs varied locally.

J. H. Weeks (1914, p. 116) states that the Bakongo dislike twins because of the extra trouble they give; therefore, one of them may be starved to death and replaced by the wooden figurine previously mentioned. In case of infanticide or natural death, twins are buried at crossroads. This is a form of interment given to suicides and people who have been killed by lightning, for such persons are said to have died dishonorably.

A survey of the evidence relating to treatment of twins among the south African Bantu shows the general attitude to be one of hostility and fear. S. S. Dornan (1932, pp. 690–750) states that most Bantu tribes regard the birth of twins as demoniacal, unnatural, monstrous, and portentous of evil to the family and the clan. Calamity can be avoided only by death of the infants. A wide survey of Bantu and non-Bantu tribes south of the Zambezi indicates that only a small minority of the tribes described regard the birth of twins as fortunate for the family, but in some tribes, namely, the Zulu and the Herero, a difference of opinion exists with regard to the malign influence of a twin birth.

In the Ovambo tribe, twins were immediately killed by suffocation, and their mother had to submit to an elaborate ceremony of cleansing. The Makaranga and the Bavenda regard twins as a presage of evil for the village in which they were born. Twins of the Makaranga tribe were killed at once by the midwife, and the parents had to be purified. Twins were thought to have an adverse effect on the quantity of rainfall. Among the Baronga, Bapedi, and Basuto Bechuana, twins were put to death, and their mother was purified by a medicine-man. Dornan points out that among Bushman tribes infanticide of twins might sometimes be due to economic causes. The Bushmen are wandering hunters who at certain times of the year live on the margin of subsistence. Reasons for infanticide of twins among the southern Bantu are magical and psychological, not economic. A woman of the Fingoes who gave birth to twins was regarded as having had dealings with spirits, and as being reprobate. If she gave birth to twins at her first confinement, she and her children were at once killed. If the confinement were not her first, one twin was killed, and the mother together with her surviving child was purified ceremonially (S. S. Dornan, 1932).

In the Lamba tribe, according to C. M. Doke (1931c, p. 133) a twin birth is regarded as normal if the infants are of the same sex. But birth of twins of opposite sexes is a sign of ill luck, and the father has to visit a medicine-man who gives him a concoction to smear over himself, his wife, and the twins.


In connection with the naming of children, several important beliefs and customs occur. Several of the usages commonly found among Bantu tribes can be illustrated by reference to procedure among the Ovimbundu. The custom of teknonymy prevails, and in accordance with this practice parents change their names when their first child is born. In a certain family, the name given to a first child, a girl, was Vitundo. The name of the father, who had hitherto been called Cingandu, was changed to Savitundo, meaning "the father of Vitundo." At the same time the mother’s name, Visolela, was changed to Navitundo, meaning "mother of Vitundo." If the first child dies the parents revert to their original names, but make the same kind of change if a second child is born.

A child who is born after twins is called Kasinda, "to push," and the twins themselves are called Hosi and Njamba, the Lion and the Elephant. The Ovimbundu have no secret names, but in this they are somewhat exceptional. Names of the dead are never mentioned, since this might call up spirits of the dead who are feared; taboo of names of the dead is usual in Negro society. Ovim-bundu children may change their names at the age of about sixteen years and often do so if the names are distasteful to them. A youth named Katito, meaning "Little," changed his name to Mukayita, the meaning of which is unknown, though presumably the new name conveyed some pleasant idea. Change of name during sickness is thought to aid recovery, possibly because of the idea that malignant spirits who are causing the illness may be deceived. An Ocimbundu now named Katahali suffered sickness and misfortune, so he abandoned his former name of Kopiongo. His present name means "he who has seen trouble." A sick child is thought to benefit by receiving a new name of an unpleasant kind, for example ongulu, meaning "a pig."

Names sometimes give an indication of descent. The full name of my interpreter was Ngonga Kalei Liahuka. Ngonga means "eagle," Kalei, "one who works for the king," and Liahuka is the surname of Ngonga’s father. A father chooses the names of his three first children, whether boys or girls, and a mother selects the name of the fourth child, whether male or female. A first son usually receives the name of his paternal grandfather, and a first daughter takes the name of her father’s sister. R. Routil (1929, pp. 315–319) and H. Wieschhoff (1937a) give further information on naming.

Ages are not known with certainty after about five years, but up to this period reckoning is made by remembering the number of times that maize has been sown. Ulima is the period from one annual sowing to the next. The Ovimbundu, like many Negro tribes, can count up to high numbers for purposes of trade, but they do not apply their knowledge for keeping account of ages.

Many Negro tribes watch the process of teething with anxiety, since an appearance of the incisor teeth of the upper jaw before those of the lower jaw is an augury of ill luck. J. Roscoe (1923b, p. 258) states that for the Bakitara an unusual event of this kind implies that offence has been given to gods or to ancestral spirits. The offending teeth are extracted, and a medicine-man is asked to offer sacrifice to the child’s ancestors. "Only shame and disgrace attach to such a child, and whatever rank it might attain, it could never enter the presence of the king."


The background of Negro belief and ritual relating to pregnancy and childbirth can be further illustrated from H. A. Junod’s Bathonga (1912, vol. 1, pp. 35–54; 183–190). The Bathonga have the idea that children are given by the gods; consequently a sacrifice to the gods is thought to be necessary if a woman is sterile, but in addition to the religious rite native doctors have many drugs to remedy barrenness.

Sterility of a wife may be a cause for divorce, but usually the parents of the barren wife provide a younger girl as a second wife. In allowing coition during pregnancy the Bathonga depart from the general Negro rule; in fact, they say that sexual intercourse is favorable to the growth of the fetus. Prohibitions during pregnancy are of the general type, and the acts tabooed are those which are thought capable of injuring the unborn child. Two of the clans prohibit pork as food for girls because pigs move their heads sideways when rooting for food, and it is thought that the infant would make delivery difficult by moving its head in this way. The Bathonga observe the usual taboo against menstruating wives. A wife in this condition must keep to the left half of the hut, and may not cross the middle line. She sleeps on her own mat and wears special clothing. When she cooks mealies, the food should not be touched by her hands. The Ovimbundu do not allow a menstruating wife to cook or to take the evening meal to her husband at the men’s house.

The Bathonga hold the common belief that a protracted and difficult birth proves that the child is not legitimate. In a case of this kind the husband is called, and a test of the child’s legitimacy is made by giving the woman some of her husband’s semen to drink in water. The saying is that if the child is legitimate he will "feel his father," and will be willing to be born. Should delivery still be slow, adultery is assumed, and the midwife urges the woman to give the name of her lover. "If a woman dies during pregnancy she must be cut open to determine the sex of the child. This must be done in the grave before the earth is filled in. The woman might become a ’god of bitterness’ if this precaution were not observed."

For naming a child several methods are available, one of which is of particular interest because of its association with a belief in reincarnation. The name of an ancestor is suggested by the medicine-man, who then throws the bones, and, if necessary, other ancestral names are suggested until a particular arrangement of the bones shows that the correct name has been chosen (H. Wieschhoff, 1937).

If a child cuts its upper teeth first, the omen is bad. Before a string is tied round the child’s waist, the infant is hardly considered as a human being, but after a string smeared with the father’s semen has been tied in this way the child is a member of its kindred. Presentation of a child to the first new moon after the birth is an act which is observed by the Baganda (Roscoe, 1911, p. 58), the Bavenda (Stayt, 1931a, p. 89), and the Bathonga (H. A. Junod, 1910, p. 130), but the general distribution of the custom has not yet been worked out in detail.

The attitude of the Bathonga toward twins is peculiar, for though the infants are disliked they are esteemed and feared. A twin birth is regarded as a defilement which has to be removed by special rites, and in former times one of twins was strangled or was left to die of starvation. A medicine-man who removed the defilement was highly respected because only he knew what drinking potion to give to the father and mother of twins. At the present time infanticide is not practiced, but a mother of twins has to leave the village at once to live in a hut apart from other dwellings. Twins are not presented to the moon, and they are regarded as bad characters. When the twins begin to crawl and approach other huts, people throw cinders at them. The power that causes death by lightning also determines the birth of twins; therefore, the infants are called "Children of Heaven," and appeal is made to them for protection during a thunderstorm.

Valenge women of the southeastern Bantu are despised and sometimes divorced if they are barren. A sterile woman visits a medicine-man in charge of divining bones, or she may send her father or mother to this practitioner, who declares that some act of sacrifice is lacking. The ancestral spirits are offended, and an offering must be made to them before the curse of sterility can be removed. E. D. Earthy (1933, p. 84) mentions that lactation lasts two or three years. When weaning a child the mother rubs her breasts with a species of Capsicum. Pounded leaves from a "tree of forgetfulness" are mixed with chicken and given to the child as food. The child is often sent away for a while. "If a family has adopted a child it becomes of the sib to which the family belongs, and its marriage is arranged accordingly. The marriage prohibitions are the same as for a real child of the family, with the added prohibition that it may not marry into the sib from whence it came. The adopted child is given a medicine in order that it may forget everything about its former life." Adoption of children is a fairly common practice among Negroes.


Negroes of west Africa hold beliefs and observe practices that are in harmony with those recorded for Bantu Negroes. R. S. Rattray (1932a, vol. 2, p. 332) calls attention to the wearing of girdle leaves by women, not only as a mark of age and social distinction, according to the kind of leaves and the position in which they are fixed, but as a sign of motherhood. "Women who have not yet borne any children, if they wear leaves at all, will do so only at the back, but after childbirth at back and front."

The evidence given by R. S. Rattray (1923, pp. 36, 77, 85, 106) for Ashanti emphasizes the belief in reincarnation of an ancestor in the newly born child, and the dependence of conception and safe delivery on divine intervention are illustrated by the instances given. In the sixth month of pregnancy a fowl provided by the wife is sacrificed by her husband, who makes a prayer to his ntoro gods, saying, "Allow this infant to come forth peacefully." The husband and wife, after smearing themselves with white clay have intercourse, and both believe that violation of certain prohibitions will result in an abortion.

Adultery, eating sweets, quarreling, and looking at deformities are all regarded as causes of mishap to the fetus. Difficult delivery is said to result from adultery, and if the usual magical remedies fail the name of the seducer is asked. Deformed children are destroyed at birth, and even slight malformations such as supernumerary toes or excess of nipples (polymastia) is sufficient cause for infanticide. A woman should not be buried with a child in her womb, for if this were done the whole nation would be adversely affected. A pregnant woman cannot be executed, but in former days both the woman and her child were killed after delivery.

If delivery proceeds normally the four elderly women who act as midwives shout, "Hail, so-and-so," and at the same time they name the child after the day on which it was born, but other names are given later in life. After the umbilical cord has been cut on a piece of wood, one of the women moistens her finger with rum and rubs the infant’s throat, then all say, "So-and-so has arrived, let him [or her] sit down with us."

When an Ashanti child is born a ghost mother is thought to mourn her child in the spirit world, and if the infant dies within eight days death is said to be due to the fact that the ghost mother recalled her child, which had been temporarily loaned while she went on a journey. A male child is named by the paternal grandfather, who takes the infant on his knee, spits in the child’s mouth and says, "My child [name] has begotten a child. I call him after myself, naming him——." Spitting to confer a blessing is by no means unusual, especially among the Masai and other Half-Hamites. The custom is mentioned by A. C. Hollis (1905, pp. 115, 315). Among the Lango, a Nilotic tribe of Uganda, spitting is an important part of ritual (Driberg, 1923, pp. 162, 249, 252).

In Ashanti, twins were not killed, with the exception of those born in the royal family. In all families children are greatly desired, and a childless man is sometimes taunted with the sobriquet, kote krawa (wax penis). The third, sixth, and ninth children are the lucky ones; the fifth child is said to be susceptible to misfortune.

Purification rites and prohibitions connected with childbirth are mentioned by C. K. Meek (1931a, p. 362) who states that the Chamba, neighbors of the Jukun of east Nigeria, do not allow a mother to enter the kitchen during the week after delivery, and not then unless all discharge has ceased. A rite exists for removing maternal impurity and dedicating the child to the gods. The spiritual identity of the child is discovered by a diviner, who is said to be a reincarnation of a dead relative of the father or the mother. The name of the reincarnated relative is not disclosed, and a temporary name is given to the infant. Deformed children are killed because they are thought to have been begotten by an evil spirit. The Jukun do not believe that twins are a result of adultery; the event is explained by saying that two dead ancestors wished to be born simultaneously. Sometimes a twin birth is said to be due to the fact that the pregnant mother walked between two people.

The Ibo of Nigeria provide an instance of the detestation of twins and the woman who bore them. "For a woman to imitate goats and dogs fills people with unspeakable disgust." Popular belief says that the twins have resulted from copulation with an evil spirit; therefore, the infants are thrust into a pot and buried in a lonely spot (G. T. Basden, 1921, p. 58). The complete antithesis of this attitude is found among the Lango, Nilotic Negroes, who regard birth of twins as a mark of divine favor (Driberg 1923, p. 139). Germann (1933, p. 86) states that among some tribes of north Liberia twins are welcome, and magical properties are ascribed to them. The father of one of the twins is thought to have been a ghost, but both infants are regarded as having magical qualities since nobody can say which of them was spiritually begotten.

Among the Edo-speaking people of Nigeria, prenatal customs vary locally. According to one local custom a woman washes a cowrie shell and ties it round her waist as soon as she finds herself pregnant; she also drinks a potion made by the medicine-man. The husband of a pregnant woman sacrifices a goat to his wife’s father when the first child is born. From the fifth month of pregnancy a woman changes her style of hairdressing and makes yet another change in the eighth month. In one center, when the umbilical cord drops off, the father ties it to a kola or a coconut tree; this tree is the property of the child when it grows up. Usually the placenta is buried. Ceremonial washing of the mother, the child, and the house in which parturition took place are common procedures (N. W. Thomas, 1922, pp. 253–255).

The subject of naming has been considered by several ethnologists. A. Le Hérissé (1911, p. 235) states that a Dahomean has several names which are given to him at various stages of his life, but he has to abandon and forget former names when new ones are conferred. Some of the principal names are those given immediately after birth; those conferred after consulting Fa or Fate; and names given to féticheurs after their training. Surnames constitute a fourth class. Importance is attached to names conferred by a king and to those given by wives to their husbands.

The chief kinds of personal names mentioned by C. Spiess (1918, pp. 104–159) are: (1) A name denoting the day of the week on which the child was born. (2) The name of the god who granted supplication for the child. (3) The death name, which assures rebirth of a child within the family. (4) The anspielungsnamen, which refers to some incident or circumstance of birth. (5) The trinknamen; this is a sobriquet that is sometimes used ironically, the Ewe word for drink-name is derived from aha (palm wine) and no (to drink). (6) Names indicating the status of a person who has been freed from slavery. (7) Names given at puberty.

The most detailed record of the meaning of personal names is that given by L. W. G. Malcolm (1924, pp. 34–38) who has prepared a record of about two hundred names of boys and girls, with literal translations of the meanings. The translations of a few of these names are: "A lonely person," "One of a large family," "Born on a day of trouble," "Born on the market day," and "It is best to mind one’s own business."


The beliefs and practices recorded here are representative of the fundamental ideas connected with pregnancy, birth, and early infancy. Many local variations occur, and considerable work remains to be done in observation and classification of type ideas, and in showing the relation of these to religion and magic.

Some advance has been made in compilation of data, and comparative study by Hambly (1926a), who gave a broad sociological treatment in "Origins of Education. . . ." D. Kidd (1906) produced a useful account of the training of Zulu children. A brief record of child welfare and education among the Wanguru is given by C. T. Dooley (1934). Evans-Pritchard (1936a) has a study of customs and beliefs relating to twins among the Nilotes, and Schapera (1927b) made a survey of the same subject among south African tribes. R. E. Ellison (1936) published an article dealing with marriage and childbirth among the Kanuri.

The literature is extensive, but we still lack an intimate physiological and psychological study within the home for a considerable period. Such observation would help to explain the social and moral attitudes that are established in the main types of family. We shall see later the prevalence of maternal dominance or of paternal rule, or perhaps a blending of the two, but detailed observation of infantile adjustment is a psychological task of the future. Perhaps the closest approach to this type of study in Africa is to be found in A. I. Richards’ "Hunger and Work in a Savage Tribe," but for Melanesia the family studies of M. Mead are available. Dr. M. Mead’s technique might with advantage be applied in Africa, preferably by women, for example, nurses who have occasion to make frequent visits to homes where they can make intimate contacts with children under five years of age.


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Chicago: "Pregnancy and Infancy," Source Book for African Anthropology in Source Book for African Anthropology, ed. Hambly, Wilfrid D., 1886- 430–442. Original Sources, accessed March 21, 2019,

MLA: . "Pregnancy and Infancy." Source Book for African Anthropology, in Source Book for African Anthropology, edited by Hambly, Wilfrid D., 1886-, pp. 430–442. Original Sources. 21 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: , 'Pregnancy and Infancy' in Source Book for African Anthropology. cited in , Source Book for African Anthropology, ed. , pp.430–442. Original Sources, retrieved 21 March 2019, from