Dancing Skeltons

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Dancing Skeletons
In the ethnography, “Dancing Skeletons, the author Katherine Dettwyler describes many reasons for her research in Mali. The main focus of her research was too attack the problem of malnourished children and to figure out what diseases they were struggling with. This ethnography detailed Dettwyler’s second trip to Mali, and she wanted to relocate many of the children she had previously measured, as well as add more children to her study. Throughout the ethnography, Dettwyler makes it very clear that the malnutrition of these children is a major problem in Mali. She describes many of the children she measures and the picture she paints in one’s mind is horrifying. One of the many diseases she comes across is Kwashiorkor, or funu bana (which means “swelling sickness”). Dettwyler allows you to feel the pain of this disease by detailing a young girl, “ Her face was round and puffy, almost as though she had been beaten… but the defining characteristic was her enormously swollen abdomen…her expression was one of sadness and apathy, her eyes sunken and dull”(Dettwyler 1994:71,72). This description allows the reader to feel for these children and understand the immense hardships that they have to deal with every day. The problem of malnourished children stems from the lack of education within the community. The children all the way up to the adults do not know, or in some cases do not have the resources to drink and eat correctly, or clean themselves. There are a tremendous amount of examples in this ethnography that support this but one of the most troubling is when the teenaged boy tells Dettwyler that his red urine was, “part of growing up”(Dettwyler 1994:46). She later realized that many cultures believe that the red urine is a sign of being sexually mature and when in reality this was an example of a person with schistosomiasis. This disease is caused by parasites that burrow through the skin ending up in the urinary tract and can be fatal.

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