Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa

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Anita Grooms
Anthro 110
T-TH: 9:30am-10:45am
Dr. Anderson
3-7-13

The United States is known for the “American Dream”, the material items, our breakthroughs in medicine, our employment opportunities, etc. These are just some of the things the United States has to offer, but the United States also has a downfall to all of the “good” things in life: we think our way of life is better than everyone else’s, and we often judge other countries, especially Africa, for their way of living. We often ask the questions, “What if we go to help them?” or “How can we help them?” when the real question is: “What can we learn from them”?

Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa is a non-fiction book written by Katherine Dettwyler, who traveled to the countries of West Africa for her field research for her Ph.D. in nutritional anthropology, specializing in infant feeding and child health in Mali, West Africa. Among all the chapters in her book, Dettwyler touches on very important topics that make the West African societies/cultures what it is today. Economics, family size, gender, social status, disease, malnutrition, and poverty all play an important role that makes Mali a different than the United States, but working population.

Economics plays a huge role in the villages and cities of Mali. When Dettwyler returned to Bamako, six years after her first visit, she explains that Bamako, even though it’s in the same country, differs substantially from a village outside of Bamako named Magnambougou. The people of Bamako (close to a million people) live in traditional mud huts along the bluffs and banks of the Niger River (Dettwyler 1994: 18), whereas the people of Magnambougou live in “compounds” along dirt paths surrounding the community center. These compounds are made of mud bricks and topped with corrugated iron roofs. A misconception that Americans tend to think is these types of housing automatically makes a third-world country and that they are poor; it is...
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