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Q: Yoruba carvings in a house post in Orondo, Nigeria, show the images of three women. What does the woman holding a baby represent?
A: In almost all African societies, the most important role of women is to bear children. Whatever else ? farming, cooking, or their role in women?s associations ? their primary responsibility is to produce and nurture children. [ It is, as Cole puts it, a ?biological imperative? or, as Dennis Warren states, a ?cultural duty" (1974, 2.37). Indeed, certain groups, such as the !Kung, "do not consider
a marriage consummated until the birth of a child" (Fried and Fried 1980, 29). "A person who has no descendants in effect quenches the fire of life, and becomes forever dead since his line of physical continuation is blocked if he does not get married and bear children" (Mbiti 1969, 133). Unhappy is the woman who fails to get children for, whatever other qualities she might possess, her failure to bear children is worse than community genocide: she has become the dead end of human life, not only for the genealogical line but also for herself. . . . the childless wife bears a scar which nothing can erase. She will suffer for this, her own relatives will suffer for this: and it will be an irreparable humiliation for which there is no source of comfort in traditional life. In such a setting, it is not surprising to find great numbers of images of women with children in Africa. The earliest known are several terracottas from Nok in northern Nigeria possibly dating as early as the sixth century B.C. Bernard Fagg writes, "There are two or three pieces, and the frieze of figures . . . which may possibly be representing the concept of motherhood" (1977, 38). The frieze has "repetitive modelling of what is probably a 'mother and child' motif". Images of women holding children may reflect a number of ideas, for example, they may represent ancestors and serve as "symbols of lineage or clan forbears, the generalized and incarnate dead" (Cole 1985, 8). It can only be conjectured that the Djenne example with its "mother" and adult "children" may be an instance of such a meaning. In most cases, the child or children are not identifiable; indeed, they are often amorphous or even caricatural in form. ]
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Asked 5/22/2013 10:43:22 AM
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