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Death in the family as a vital conjuncture? Intergenerational care and responsibility following bereavement in Senegal by Ruth Evans


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A presentation from the BSA Death, Dying and Bereavement Conference held on 19 November 2012.

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Death in the family as a vital conjuncture? Intergenerational care and responsibility following bereavement in Senegal by Ruth Evans

  1. 1. Department of Geography & EnvironmentalScienceDeath in the family as a vitalconjuncture?Intergenerational care and responsibilityfollowing bereavement in SenegalRuth Evans, r.evans@reading,ac.ukBSA Death and the family symposium, 19 Nov. 2012 © University of Reading 2007
  2. 2. Theoretical perspectives• Diversity and fluidity of lifecourse transitions that are mediated by axes of social difference• Vital conjunctures : ‘a socially structured zone of possibility that emerges around specific periods of potential transformation in a life or lives. It is a temporary configuration of possible change, a duration of uncertainty and potential’ (Johnson-Hanks, 2002: 871)• Death in the family as a vital conjuncture for family members of different generations? 2
  3. 3. Theoretical perspectives• Ethics of care (Tronto, 1993; Sevenhuisjen, 1998) – human interdependence• Embodied, relational nature of care following bereavement: – Care and responsibility for those who are bereaved following death of family member – Continuing bonds with deceased after death can retain material dimension (Ribbens McCarthy and Prokhovnik, 2012)
  4. 4. Research context: Senegal ‘Triple heritage’: African, Islamic, colonial (Bass & Sow, 2006) Large multi-generational households Rapid environmental, economic and social changes in Sahel region Rural poverty: 67% of poor households; almost 75% of these live in chronic poverty (Fall et al., 2011) Inheritance practices more favourable for women in Senegal than in other African countries (Peterman, 2011)4
  5. 5. Methodology Snowball sampling with 20 Serer families in groundnut basin, Sine Saloum delta, Dakar ‘banlieues’ In-depth semi-structured interviews (51):  Women (12) & men (6) whose spouse had died  Young women (5) and young men (5) whose mother/father had died  Other family members (6)  Religious and community leaders (7)  NGO staff and strategic professionals (11) 2 focus groups with women’s groups (9 5 participants)
  6. 6. Participatory dissemination Research report (Fr and Eng) 7 participatory feedback workshops; coproduction of a DVD Seminar with strategic stakeholders, researchers & participants6
  7. 7. Care and responsibility amongwidows and widowers• Sorrow and loneliness• Untimely and multiple deaths difficult to reconcile• Responses to death shaped by religious and cultural beliefs about the continuing presence of those who have died in world of the living:“Among the Serer, if you don’t respect the period ofwidowhood, it will haunt you, either you will suffer amisfortune or something similar. For us, customs have to berespected, because we say that the dead are not dead, they areliving”. (widow, aged 56, living in Dakar) 7
  8. 8. Care and responsibility amongwidows and widowers• Embodied care and continuing bonds after death expressed through: – mourning rituals – widows and sons did not cultivate husband’s/father’s fields year of loss – remarriage practices – memories and imaginings of deceased spouse – child fosterage practices – inheritance practices 8
  9. 9. Mourning rituals• Widows –mourning period associated with highly embodied practices and restrictions (4 months 10 days for Muslims; 6 months – 1 year for Roman Catholics)• Widowers – 40 days of contemplation, stay at home and don’t work, sexual restraint• Differences in adherence to customary practices• End of mourning period marked by spiritual cleansing ritual 9
  10. 10. Remarriage practices• Strong social pressures on younger women and on men to remarry after mourning period• Levirate remarriage - cultural practice that fosters continuing bonds with deceased husband through surviving kin: “I will treat him like my former husband, because it’s my husband, my husband is still in my heart, but since we know this [custom]...” (widow who remarried her husband’s younger brother three weeks after his death)• Husband’s wishes for widow to continue to live with her children and his relatives 10
  11. 11. Remarriage practices• Older widows not under pressure to remarry and many did not want to remarry• Widowers with children – remarriage as way of finding an alternative for deceased wife’s nurturing and social reproductive role in house?• Widowers’ concerns about how new wife would get on with the children, financial situation and continuing grief 11
  12. 12. Memories of deceased spouse• Embodied experiences of loss in particular places: imagining physical presence of spouse in home/ garden: “When I arrive home or I find myself in my orchard, every time I go there, I used to imagine that she was going to come and find me there. When I get home, I imagine that on my arrival, I will see her opposite me. That lasted months, almost a year, every time I found the children at home, I think, that happened. So, it’s really hard” (widower, who lost two wives and his mother within one year) 12
  13. 13. Child fosterage practices• Young children sent to be cared for by other relatives to meet care needs and reduce the pain of loss: “He was still a baby, at that time, he wasn’t weaned yet. I gave him to her [his sister] to lessen the pain, we had to take him far from home, but when he grows up, I will bring him back home. When he is old enough to go to school, I will bring him back and send him to school. Because he was a very young child who was still very fragile, you understand, if he was at home, the pain would be greater, so I took him there”. (widower with six children) 13
  14. 14. Inheritance practices• Care of person who died shown through ensuring their wishes regarding inheritance were fulfilled and customs and religious practices observed• Most land and property usually transferred to next generation through patrilineal inheritance practices according to Islamic and/or customary law Inheritance disputes were rare; co-wives without sons, daughters and young sons more likely to be disadvantaged 14
  15. 15. Care and responsibility amongbereaved youth• Expectation that adult children will support the family as part of ‘intergenerational contract’: “It is true that the community will console you, will support you but noone can do as much as your deceased husband would have done. Only the children can grow up and support their mother as their deceased father would have done” (women’s group in rural area) 15
  16. 16. Care and responsibility amongbereaved youth• Shift in generational responsibility in some households as some young men become household head• Care of siblings entrusted to eldest son before father’s death: “One day, I was leaving for the fields, it was nearly Tabaski [Muslim festival], he called me and said: ‘I am very tired, I know I am going to die, I want you to look after the children well, because they are vulnerable; I know you are still young, but I entrust them to you’. Since then, I observe these instructions very carefully. They also do everything I tell them to, they obey me. Their mother also looks after me more than my own mother would have done. She is very grateful ”. (young man, aged 25, who lost his father and uncle) 16
  17. 17. Care and responsibility amongbereaved youth• Increase in young women’s social reproductive activities within the home “It’s my daughter [aged 16] who makes every effort to do it [ the domestic work] [...] She looks after everything, really, she’s exhausted” (widower with 7 children)• Young women’s involvement in paid domestic work to support family following loss of male breadwinner 17
  18. 18. Continuing bonds• Embodied experiences of loss in home: loneliness, tensions with surviving parent• Effects of loss in school environment : “The loss of my parents affected me a lot. At that time, I was doing the Troisième [third year of secondary school] and I failed [...] I was thinking about them when I was in class”. (young woman aged 20, who lost both parents within two weeks) 18
  19. 19. Continuing bonds• Movement to another household to deal with memories: “[Talking of her younger sister] She said that if she stays here, she will not really be able to learn because if she stays here, she only dreams of my father, that’s why she left to go there”. (young woman, aged 15, whose father had died in a fishing accident, whose sister moved to another village to live with other relatives and study there following father’s death) 19
  20. 20. Vital conjunctures and re-imagined futures• Heightened awareness of ‘intergenerational contract’ and kinship responsibilities towards widows, siblings• Enhanced maturity and resilience: “losing my mother and my father changed lots of things, because after their death, I had courage, because I had to work to look after my brothers, and later, I said to myself that it was God’s will and I had the courage to learn to be someone who achieves in life” (young man, aged 26, studying at university, who lost both parents ) 20
  21. 21. Vital conjunctures andre-imagined futures• Relational nature of young people’s goals and imagined futures: “Beside my father, I was a child, but now I have set myself a target: to help my mother because she’s the only one I have left, so I must do all I can for her”. (young woman, aged 27, who lost her father and qualified as a teacher) 21
  22. 22. Wider kinship responsibilities• Reliance on maternal relatives in times of difficulty: – Providing for orphaned children and widows with weak ties to husband’s family “It’s my brother who is responsible for feeding us, he works, he copes and the rest of us, we farm [...] They [the children] hardly suffered because they didn’t live with their father, it’s their maternal uncle who takes care of them. In fact, their father was old, so it’s their maternal uncle who has always been responsible for them” (disabled widow, living with her 6 children in household with her parents and her widowed brother and his children) 22
  23. 23. Wider kinship responsibilities• Reciprocal sibling relations - inter-vivos transfers and investments in property, education , pilgrimage to Mecca etc. could be significant 23
  24. 24. Conclusion• Death of close family member represents a vital conjuncture for many families• Significance of particular deaths depends on culturally specific meanings of relationships• Embodied, time-space practices of care and responsibility following death are produced by and reproduce socio-cultural differences and inequalities: – Age and generational position/ marriage status – Gender – Religion, ethnicity – Co-residence and intra-household relations – Locality, access to material assets and resources – Education, skills and livelihood opportunities – Social capital, incl. access to social protection. 24
  25. 25. Further information….Evans, R. (2012) Inheritance, Access to Resources andPoverty in Serer Families in Senegal, Research Note 1, WalkerInstitute for Climate System Research, University ofReading, May 2012, contact Ruth Evans for further information about thestudy: 25
  26. 26. ReferencesBass, L. and Sow, F. (2006) ‘Senegalese families: the confluence of ethnicity,history and social change’, in Oheneba-Sakyi, Y. and Takyi, B. (Eds.), AfricanFamilies at the Turn of the 21st Century, Westport: Praeger Publishers, pp.83-102.Fall, A. Antoine, P., Cissé, R., Dramani, L., Sall, M., Ndoye, T. et al. (2011) TheDynamics of Poverty in Senegal: Chronic Poverty, Transitional Poverty andVulnerabilities, Policy Brief, LARTES National Studies No.27, January 2011.Johnson-Hanks, J. (2002) On the Limits of Life Stages in Ethnography: Toward aTheory of Vital Conjunctures, American Anthropologist, 104, 3: 865-880.Peterman, A. (2011) ‘Widowhood and asset inheritance in Sub-Saharan Africa:empirical evidence from 15 countries’, CPRC Working Paper No. 183, CPRC.Ribbens McCarthy, J. and Prokhovnik, R. (2012) Caring after death and embodiedrelationality , paper presented at Critical Care conference, University ofBrighton, 13-14 September 2012.Sevenhuijsen, S. (1998) Citizenship and the Ethics of Care. Feminist Considerationson Justice, Morality and Politics. London and New York: Routledge.Tronto, J. (1993). Moral Boundaries. A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. NewYork and London: Routledge. 26