Dancing Skeltons

Topics: Ethnographic

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).

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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. My reaction to this book was that it was good first hand feedback to the hardships of cultures in Mali. Reading this, many questions arose about different ways Dettwyler went about her research, and how she acted in Mali. First of all Mrs.

Dettwyler, why would you ever subject your young daughter, twice, to a place where the malaria and immense amounts of other diseases are widespread and where fully developed healthy adults have died because of it? This is probably the most selfish thing she could have done. She herself explains how many anthropologists have died in areas of Mali from malaria. She provides an example of one American who died, her name was Kay. She died from cerebral malaria, and there were many others in the past just like her who died.

Dettwyler experienced this the first time and yet still brought back her daughter, Miranda. I understand that she did this for company but part of being an anthropologist is excepting the fact that at some point you may experience culture shock. This argument was fueled by common sense and also what I learned in class and in the readings. When an anthropologist decides to do fieldwork they are agreeing to deal with many things, one of them being culture shock. Another topic I would have liked to hear about is the healthy children.

The entire ethnography is based on the malnourished children. This is the major issue, but is every child in Mali malnourished? If not then what are the healthy children and parents doing differently to keep from succumbing to the ample diseases. The only time Dettwyler really expresses the healthy children is explaining that the ones who were breastfeed are relatively healthier than the others. She says this is the case because, “mother’s milk provides all the nutrients and calories they need, as well as living cells that grant immunological protection from disease” (Dettwyler 1994:79).

This provided good insight into how these children should be nourished and more facts like that would have helped the overall effect of the ethnography. The final thing I wish Dettwyler looked more into was the male/female relationship and how the males felt about the female gender. I do not know if she didn’t address this because she had limited interaction with the males because of her gender, or whether it was simply of no interest to her. If she could have explained further why she didn’t take much account to this it would have added a more well-rounded ethnography.

What roles did the fathers play in the child raising? Were they passive like it appeared or was it just not discussed? Dettwyler displayed tremendous anthropological skills as well as some not so good skills. A good thing she did was build a high amount rapport with the Malians. This was important so they would allow her to measure them, and also so they would trust her when she taught them how to properly nourish their children. In the text she almost always displays a calm and intellectual demeanor when she is speaking to parents about their badly diseased or injured child.

She has seen so many things that she is not surprised as too what she will see next and it helps her keep her composure. One time she didn’t follow this was when she ran away from the dance because she was so upset about the “dancing skeletons”. Dettwyler ended up breaking down at a ceremonial dance that they were doing for her. The reason she became so upset was because she saw all the terrible malnourished children dancing, and she said they looked like “dancing skeletons” Dettwyler who seemingly never seems phased by what she sees, said, “I fled, in anger and horror…hot tears coursed down my cheeks”(Dettwyller 1994:143).

This helps reinforce the fact that being an anthropologist is not easy and the things they experience are life changing. One anthropological issue I think she is displaying is ethnocentrism. There are many instances where she does not respect the values of the people and she can be disrespectful towards them. One of the instances is when she refuses to eat the goat they prepared, and Macan replies saying, “But they killed this goat especially for you” (Dettwyller 1994:82). After Macon says that, she still refuses to eat the meat and is even rude about it.

There is also another instance where she refuses to eat the food in the Famabougou village after a day of measuring. She doesn’t care that what she is doing is offending them, because she said the food was filled with bacteria from being out all day, and she didn’t want to eat it. Although I would not want to eat bacteria either, I have learned in class that it is very important to show the utmost respect to the cultural people especially when they go out of their way to provide food.

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Dancing Skeltons. (2018, Nov 21). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-dancing-skeltons/

Dancing Skeltons
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