Academic journal article Ethnology

Social and Emotional, Contexts of Weaning among Bofi Farmers and Foragers (1)

Academic journal article Ethnology

Social and Emotional, Contexts of Weaning among Bofi Farmers and Foragers (1)

Article excerpt

Weaning is a topic of much theoretical interest in anthropology, psychology, and public health. Several specific images about weaning are ubiquitous throughout the scholarly literature, but these are inadequate for describing the full spectrum of social and emotional factors involved in weaning. The images are evaluated in the context of comparative data collected among the Bofi farmers and foragers. While most studies of weaning have focused on health issues, this analysis identifies social and emotional factors related to caregiving practices, children's responses to weaning, and social transitions that accompany weaning. The Bofi farmers and foragers provide an interesting comparison of weaning because, although they live in the same natural ecology and speak the same language, they have distinct patterns of child-rearing and weaning. The comparison of Bofi weaning practices leads to a discussion of weaning patterns among other farmers and foragers and weaning patterns predicted by region and subsistence. (Tropical farmers and foragers, Central Africa, parent-child relations, weaning)

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Weaning has been of much interest to anthropologists and psychologists for some time and is a prominent feature in many theories of human development. For example, weaning is characterized by attachment theorists (Ainsworth 1967) as a period in which the mother-child relationship is likely to be under stress; parent-offspring conflict theorists depict weaning as a nexus of parent-offspring conflict (Trivers 1974); and in the grandmother hypothesis, weanling children are shown to be especially vulnerable and in need of allomothering by grandmothers (Hawkes, O'Connell, and Blurton-Jones 1997). Despite the theoretical interest in weaning, few systematic studies of the behavior of weanling children have been conducted. Instead, most of our knowledge about weaning is derived from anecdotes in ethnographies, studies of maternal decision-making, and studies documenting the nutritional transition of weaning. Cultural and emotional contexts of weaning, however, have rarely been the focus of research.

Studies of children are currently gaining more interest and attention in anthropology. Hirshfeld (2002) urged anthropologists to study childhood because children are integral members of every culture. By documenting only the ideas and behaviors of adults, he points out, anthropologists are missing a substantial portion of cultures. In most non-Western, small-scale cultures (such as the Bofi foragers and farmers), weaning typically occurs in toddlerhood rather than in infancy, and is therefore a central theme of early childhood. This article describes a cross-cultural study of weaning, documenting the practices, beliefs, caregiving transitions, and child behaviors associated with weaning among two small-scale societies, the Bofi farmers and foragers of Central Africa. My colleagues and I (Fouts, Hewlett, and Lamb 2001) described a preliminary study of the social and emotional aspects of weaning among the Bofi foragers, which involved observations of twelve Bofi forager children and interviews with the children's parents. This preliminary study illustrated how our Western images of weaning were inconsistent with the Bofi forager weaning pattern. Because the Bofi forager sample was small in number and did not contain cross-cultural comparisons of child behavior, we found it difficult to reach any strong conclusions. This essay builds upon the previous study by raising the number of observed Bofi forager children to 22, and by providing comparable data about their neighbors, the Bofi farmers. The Bofi farmers and foragers practice two distinct patterns of weaning that vary with respect to such features as timing, methodology, parental ethnotheories, children's responses to weaning, and caregiving patterns. By examining the Bofi farmer and forager patterns of weaning, this article evaluates prevalent images of weaning, and discusses general patterns of weaning among farmers and foragers. …

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