Countless Blessings
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How do women in Niger experience pregnancy and childbirth differently from women in the United States or Europe? Barbara M. Cooper sets out to understand childbirth in a country with the world's highest fertility rate and an alarmingly high rate of maternal and infant mortality. Cooper shows how the environment, slavery and abolition, French military rule, and the rapid expansion of Islam have all influenced childbirth and fertility in Niger from the 19th century to the present day. She sketches a landscape where fear of infertility generates intense competition between communities, ethnicities, and co-wives and creates a culture where concerns about infertility dominate concerns about overpopulation, where illegitimate children are rejected, and where the education of girls is sacrificed in the name of avoiding shame. Given a medical system poorly adapted to women's needs, a precarious economy, and a political context where it is impossible to address sexuality openly, Cooper discovers that it is little wonder that pregnancy and birth are a woman's greatest pride as well as a source of grave danger.


Glossary of ethnonyms, acronyms and foreign terms


1. Environment, Seduction and Fertility

2. Tensions in the Wake of Conquest: Gender and Reproduction after Abolition

3. Personhood, Socialization and Shame

4. Colonial Accounting

5. Perils of Pregnancy and Childbirth

6. Producing Healthy Babies and Healthy Laborers

7. Feminists, Islamists and Demographers

8. Let's talk about Bastards

9. Contemporary Sexuality and Childbirth

Conclusion: Traveling Companions and Entrustments in Contemporary Niger

Works Cited




Publié par
Date de parution 01 juillet 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9780253042026
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

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A History of Childbirth and Reproduction in the Sahel
Barbara M. Cooper
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
2019 by Barbara M. Cooper
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Cooper, Barbara MacGowan, author.
Title: Countless blessings : a history of childbirth and reproduction in the Sahel / Barbara M. Cooper.
Description: Bloomington, Indiana : Indiana University Press, 2019. | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018031196 (print) | LCCN 2018035445 (ebook) | ISBN 9780253042033 (e-book) | ISBN 9780253042002 (hardback : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780253042019 (pbk. : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Childbirth-Niger. | Childbirth-Sahel. | Childbirth-Social aspects-Niger. | Childbirth-Social aspects-Sahel. | Fertility, Human-Niger. | Fertility, Human-Sahel. | Birth customs-Niger. | Birth customs-Sahel. | Reproductive health-Niger. | Reproductive health-Sahel. | Women, Hausa-Social conditions. | Hausa (African people)-Social life and customs.
Classification: LCC GT2465.S15 (ebook) | LCC GT2465.S15 C66 2019 (print) | DDC 392.1/20966-dc23
LC record available at
1 2 3 4 5 24 23 22 21 20 19
List of Ethnonyms, Foreign Terms, and Acronyms
1 Environment, Seduction, and Fertility
2 Tensions in the Wake of Conquest: Gender and Reproduction after Abolition
3 Personhood, Socialization, and Shame
4 Colonial Accounting
5 Perils of Pregnancy and Childbirth
6 Producing Healthy Babies and Healthy Laborers
7 Feminists, Islamists, and Demographers
8 Let s Talk about Bastards
9 Contemporary Sexuality and Childbirth
Conclusion: Traveling Companions and Entrustments in Contemporary Niger
Works Cited
I PROBABLY WOULDN T HAVE TAKEN UP QUESTIONS OF the body, personhood, and emotional ethics had I not had Julie Livingston as a colleague at Rutgers from 2003 to 2015. Her research, stimulating ideas, and lively intellect gave me the temerity to try my hand in domains far outside my comfort zone. I presented one of the earliest (and most tangled) pieces of this research at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis seminar on vernacular epistemologies that she cohosted with Indrani Chatterjee in 2010. Meredeth Turshen s passionate commitment to women s health in Africa and Ousseina Alidou s sensitive and nuanced attention to women s lives in Niger also informed my growing interest in the topics in this book. Later, Johanna Schoen joined the Rutgers history department, bringing her insight into reproductive health ethics, her boundless enthusiasm, and her unconditional support when my energies were beginning to flag. Plus she brought chocolate. The incomparable Dorothy Hodgson, fellow traveler the entire way, gently nudged me along over many lunches, dinners, and, yes, glasses of wine. Numerous graduate students assisted me in this work during its long gestation: Johanna Jochumsdottir, Christina Chiknas, Dale Booth, Taylor Moore, and Hillary Buxton. This is the quintessential Rutgers book.
This is also a Mellon New Directions book. It is hard to convey my heartfelt gratitude to Mellon for having faith in my project and for seeing me through some very difficult years. The Mellon Foundation has proved unstintingly supportive of scholars pursuing imaginative and risky ventures into topics outside their initial training. For a heavenly year, I was hosted by the Office of Population Research at Princeton, where I had the great good fortune to learn from Tom Espenshade, Jim Trussel, Betsy Armstrong, Noel Cameron, and Keith Hansen. An intense summer course for nurse-midwifery training at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing with Barbara Reale and Kate McHugh reinforced my conviction that nurse-midwives are the most fabulous people on the planet. In France, a variety of lively research institutions provided me with access to their libraries and opportunities to exchange ideas with researchers, practitioners, and scholars: the Institut Nationale d tudes Demographiques, Centre Population et D veloppement at the Universit de Paris-Descartes, and the Centre d tudes d Afrique Noire at the Universit de Bordeaux.
The Mellon grant also enabled me to begin reaching out to specialists in Niger who could orient me to research on population, health, and reproduction in Niamey. Of particular importance to gaining a sense for the existing research by Nigerien public health specialists was Madame Abdoulaye Amina, who provided me with access to the library of the cole Nationale de Sant Publique de Niamey, where a multitude of theses I have cited in this book are housed. Zeinabou Hadari of the Centre Reines Daura was instrumental in making it possible for me to reach out to the networks of women activists and NGOs that are under the surface of my research. Her friendship, hospitality, and commitment to my project as a scholar and activist for women s education have been invaluable. Aissata Sidikou of the Coodination des Organisations Non Gouvernementales et Associations F minines Nig rienne and the Association des Femmes Juristes du Niger welcomed me into the fold of a dynamic network of women in Niamey.
The importance of my work with Hawa K pine of the Association des Femmes Juristes du Niger during sabbatical fieldwork is evident throughout the book; I have come to think of her as my wise sister in pursuit of an understanding of the realities of women s lives in Niger. The congenial atmosphere of the Laboratoire d tudes et de Recherche sur les Dynamiques Sociales et le D veloppement Local stimulated me from the earliest stages of this research. It was there that I met the late Hadiza Moussa. I have had the great good fortune of benefiting from her magisterial study of infertility and contraceptive use in Niamey, Entre Absence et Refus d Enfant . Hadiza died in a road accident in late 2013 to the great sorrow of her many friends, colleagues, and admirers. Her extraordinary research immeasurably enriches this book. Mahaman Tidjani Alou, Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, and Aissa Diarra, among many others, provided valuable ideas and suggestions at different stages of the project.
As I have so often in the past, I found an intellectual home at the Institut de Recherches en Sciences Humaines in Niamey, directed by Abdou Bontiani. I imposed regularly on Seyni Moumouni in his office at the institute, where he generously offered a ready ear and the reassuring support of a fellow historian. At various moments my Boston University homie Sue Rosenfeld shared her home and her acerbic humor in the service of my research. Few friends are willing to host weekly djembe lessons and ceebu jen . Caroline Anderson Agalheir gave my daughter and me a home with all the amenities, including yoga, viewings of Downton Abbey , and opportunities to play Just Dance.
Often finding the time to write up one s research is as hard as managing the actual research and fieldwork. Two residential fellowships enabled me to gain access to libraries and archives in France and, perhaps more crucially, to find time to think and write. I am grateful to Alan Roberts for making possible a magical semester as a visiting scholar with my daughter Rachel in Aix-en-Provence at the Institute for American Universities (IAU College) in 2014. While my daughter learned to paint at the Marchutz school of IAU, I perused documents at the Archives Nationales d Outre-mer and drafted two chapters. This book also benefitted from a fellowship at the Paris Institute for Advanced Studies (France) in the spring of 2015, with the financial support of the French state program Investissements d avenir, managed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-11-LABX-0027-01 Labex RFIEA+). A semester under the direction of Gretty Myrdal in the gorgeous Hotel de Lauzun provided me with unsurpassed bibliographic support, marvelous meals, stimulating discussion with colleagues (including Nancy Hunt), and a tantalizing view of the Seine.
During that year I was also able to get to know some of the scholars at Centre Population et D veloppement better, in particular Doris Bonnet, whose work I so admire. I began a fruitful collaboration with Catherine Baroin on an edited collection about shame in the Sahel; that project sharpened my thinking considerably and introduced me to the work of many other French and West African scholars. During my various trips through Paris, my friends Anne Hugon, Pascale Barthelemy, Odile Goerg, Tamara Gilles-Vernick, Myra Jehlen, and Camille Lefebvre could be counted on to give me a warm welcome and a respite from writing and archives. I am particularly indebted to Christelle Taraud for stimulating conversations about Islamic Africa and for accompanying me to many movies in the neighborhood of St. Michel.
This is in many ways a synthetic work pulling together insights scattered in research on a multitude of different ethnic groups in a range of settings: Susan Rasmu

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