Thursday, February 21, 2008

Midwifery in Mali: Working with the Indigenous Minianka People

Kris Holloway
2007 Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

ISBN 13: 978-1-57766-435-2
Pages: 212

As a social scientist working with, and on, indigenous people’s issues I read a lot of contemporary ethnographies. Most that I read are largely out of date by the time they reach publication. This is simply because of the nature of the discipline: taking time to do the fieldwork, writing up the manuscript, finding a willing publisher, and the overall book production process all take time. As a result, in a world that changes by the day, more often then not when an ethnography is finally published the material within it is often dated. Social scientists have tried to work around this disciplinary “time drag” by focusing on particular cultural phenomena rather then looking at the culture itself as a whole. Monique and the Mango Rains is an example of one of these modern ethnographies, where the central focus of the book is on midwifery and childbirth in Mali, and the Minianka indigenous people and culture are more part of the contextual background then the actual focus of the book.

Focusing on Fatumata – the author Kris Holloway’s Malian name – and her Peace Corps experience among the Minianka indigenous peoples in Mali’s southeastern region near the Burkina Faso border, the book is a deeply personal narrative about the rhythms of West African life and death. The Minianka (also known as the Mamara, Miniyanka, Minya, Mianka, Minyanka, or Tupiire) are an indigenous group speaking a northern Senufo language used by about 700,000 people in southeastern Mali and northwestern Burkina Faso. Mali is one of the economically poorest countries in the world – the average Malian earns roughly the equivalent of $210 US dollars per year. Compounding this extreme level of poverty is the fact that very few people in Mali have electricity, running water, telephones, or access to modern healthcare. Most women are married by the age of eighteen and have an average of seven children – the risk of death during childbirth and pregnancy is among the top ten in the world. It is here, in the remote southeastern corner of Mali that the author was stationed for two years, and where she met and befriended the local village midwife, Monique Dembele.

The relationship between Fatumata and Monique is what makes this book succeed as it offers a unique glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the Minianka indigenous people and their contemporary struggles. The rarity of this glimpse is that we are given access to a component of Minianka life not often shared with the outside world – the inner realm of womanhood, midwifery, and childbirth. “I couldn’t believe that here, in this dilapidated box, Monique, with a sixth-grade education and nine months of medical training, was birthing babies. Lots of babies” (Holloway 2007: 8). However, as we learn, not only was Monique the midwife – and thus responsible for the future of her village – but she was also a doctor and respected elder. The larger role that Monique played in her village is revealed in the deeply personal narratives presented throughout the book. For example, several times throughout the book Monique confides in Fatumata about her struggles and frustrations: Monique told Fatumata, “He has had many attacks of malaria over the past few months. It has caused severe anemia, and now diarrhea. He is also malnourished. The mother didn’t know what to do. She had not heard about malaria prevention and drugs. … I can do nothing. I don’t have IVs. I don’t have serum. These women must bring me their children before they get so sick, then I have ways of helping them” (Holloway 2007: 30-31).

Broken into thirteen chapters, the book chronicles Fatumata’s relationship with Monique during several important cultural events for the Minianka indigenous peoples: the building of a new birthing hut, governmental revolution in Mali, and the death and birth of several community members. Filling an important gap within the contemporary literature dealing with indigenous peoples in West Africa, Monique and the Mango Rains is the perfect book for undergraduate classes, applied researchers and activists, or simply the interested reader.

Buy Secure on Amazon or from the Publisher.

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Anonymous said...

Sometimes a specific account is more revealing than one which tries to give a general, authoritative account - as you said, often the latter is out of date, and generalisations (even across a small group) can lead to errors. A small, specific, even subjective account gives a wealth of detail which the reader knows is specific to these people and place and time and events, but which can be built on.

Thanks for your comments several weeks ago (on the apology), by the way, and sorry I only stopped by now.

Peter N. Jones said...


Thanks for the thoughtful comments. You are right, by focusing on the specifics a lot more information is often gained. Monique and the Mango Rains is just one great example.


Szavanna said...

Hi there - happy to let you know that this post has been included in the Beautiful Africa blog carnival's 8th edition : )

Peter N. Jones said...

Thanks for including us!

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