The Afterlife Is Where We Come From

Paperback | January 1, 2004

byAlma Gottlieb

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When a new baby arrives among the Beng people of West Africa, they see it not as being born, but as being reincarnated after a rich life in a previous world. Far from being a tabula rasa, a Beng infant is thought to begin its life filled with spiritual knowledge. How do these beliefs affect the way the Beng rear their children?

In this unique and engaging ethnography of babies, Alma Gottlieb explores how religious ideology affects every aspect of Beng childrearing practices—from bathing infants to protecting them from disease to teaching them how to crawl and walk—and how widespread poverty limits these practices. A mother of two, Gottlieb includes moving discussions of how her experiences among the Beng changed the way she saw her own parenting. Throughout the book she also draws telling comparisons between Beng and Euro-American parenting, bringing home just how deeply culture matters to the way we all rear our children.

All parents and anyone interested in the place of culture in the lives of infants, and vice versa, will enjoy The Afterlife Is Where We Come From.

"This wonderfully reflective text should provide the impetus for formulating research possibilities about infancy and toddlerhood for this century." — Caren J. Frost, Medical Anthropology Quarterly
 
“Alma Gottlieb’s careful and thought-provoking account of infancy sheds spectacular light upon a much neglected topic. . . . [It] makes a strong case for the central place of babies in anthropological accounts of religion.  Gottlieb’s remarkably rich account, delivered after a long and reflective period of gestation, deserves a wide audience across a range of disciplines.”—Anthony Simpson, Critique of Anthropology
 

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When a new baby arrives among the Beng people of West Africa, they see it not as being born, but as being reincarnated after a rich life in a previous world. Far from being a tabula rasa, a Beng infant is thought to begin its life filled with spiritual knowledge. How do these beliefs affect the way the Beng rear their children?In this ...

From the Jacket

When a new baby arrives among the Beng people of West Africa, they see it not as being born, but as being reincarnated after a rich life in a previous world. Far from being a tabula rasa, a Beng infant is thought to begin its life filled with spiritual knowledge. How do these beliefs affect the way the Beng rear their children?In this ...

Alma Gottlieb, professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is the author of Under the Kapok Tree: Identity and Difference in Beng Thought and coauthor of Parallel Worlds: An Anthropologist and a Writer Encounter Africa, both published by the University of Chicago Press. She is also the coeditor, most rece...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:427 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:January 1, 2004Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226305023

ISBN - 13:9780226305028

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments
A Note on Pronunciation
Part One: Studying Babies, Studying the Beng
1. Working with Infants: The Anthropologist as Fieldworker, the Anthropologist as Mother
2. Do Babies Have Culture? Explorations in the Anthropology of Infancy
3. The Beng World
Part Two: Days in the Lives of Beng Babies
4. Spiritual Beng Babies: Reflections on Cowry Shells, Coins, and Colic
5. Soiled Beng Babies: Morning Bath, Evening Bath, and Cosmic Dirt
6. Sociable Beng Babies: Mothers, Other Caretakers, and "Strangers" in a Moral Universe
7. Sleepy Beng Babies: Short Naps, Bumpy Naps, Nursing Nights
8. Hungry Beng Babies: Breast Water /Ordinary Water/Sacred Water and the Desire to Breast-feed
9. Developing Beng Babies: Speaking, Teething, Crawling, and Walking on (a Beng) Schedule
10. Sick Beng Babies: Spirits, Witches, and Poverty
11. From Wrugbe to Poverty: Situating Beng Babies in the World at Large
Notes
References
Index

Editorial Reviews

“With the publication of this astonishing book about reincarnation beliefs and infant development in West Africa, the study of the cultural psychology of childhood has come of age. . . . Read The Afterlife Is Where We Come From for an eye-opening interpretation of the local cultural meanings of developmental milestones, such as the transition from crawling to walking or the child’s early articulation of intelligible speech. Read the book as a brilliant exposé of the dangers of presumptively universalizing culture-specific ideals for human development. Read it to deeply fathom why infant development is not, and perhaps ought not to be, the same wherever you go.”