Frontiers of Medicine in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1899-1940

By Heather Bell | Go to book overview

7
Midwifery Training and the Politics of Female Circumcision

Training Sudanese midwives and supervising all midwifery practice constituted a distinctive enterprise for the Sudan medical service. As the discussion so far has made clear, much of colonial medicine in Sudan focused on studying insect vectors, isolating pathogens in laboratories, and protecting territory from infection, to the increasing exclusion of concern about individual people and their understandings of health and disease; yellow fever provides the extreme example. In articles in the Reports of the Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories and in the occasional piece in Sudan Notes and Records, doctors expressed at least an intellectual interest in traditional healing. But aside from pre-1914 efforts to use traditional hallaqs (sanitary barbers) as vaccinators and registrars of births, the medical department never legitimized male Sudanese healers (such as fikis (religious healers) or basirs (bone-setters)) by either regulating their practice or seeking to incorporate it into the state medical system. By contrast, the Midwifery Training School or MTS, opened in Omdurman in 1921, recognized traditional practitioners as agents who could be reformed: it sought to create a class of modern, trained Sudanese midwives, out of, and in rivalry to, an entrenched class of traditional midwives known as dayas.1 Such a transformation required constant and explicit engagement with Sudanese people, and their cultural norms about gender roles and intimate practices such as childbirth and female circumcision.

My analysis here relies heavily on the papers of Mabel E. Wolff, founding matron of the MTS and her sister, Gertrude L. Wolff, who first arrived in Sudan to train nurses.2 Throughout the chapter, the name

____________________
1
The strategy of training traditional midwives was also used in colonial Malaya and India; the similarities between training in Sudan and Malaya are particularly striking. See Lenore Manderson, "'Women and the State: Maternal and Child Welfare in Colonial Malaya, 1900-1940'", in Valerie Fildes, Lara Marks, and Hilary Marland (eds.), Women and Children First: International Maternal and Infant Welfare, 1870-1945 ( London: Routledge, 1992), 154-77; Geraldine Forbes, "'Managing Midwifery in India'", in Engels and Marks (eds.), Contesting Colonial Hegemony, 152-72.
2
M. E. Wolff. Matron MTS, 1920-9; Inspectress of Midwives, 1930-7. G. L. Wolff:

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Frontiers of Medicine in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1899-1940
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS vii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations x
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xii
  • GLOSSARY xiv
  • I- The Boundaries of Colonial Medicine 1
  • 2: Medical Policy and Medical Practitioners 22
  • 3- The Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories and the Organization Of Research 55
  • Conclusion 88
  • Conclusion 124
  • 5- Sleeping Sickness and the Ordering Of the South 127
  • Conclusion 161
  • 6- The International Construction Of Yellow Fever 163
  • Conclusion 195
  • 7- Midwifery Training and the Politics Of Female Circumcision 198
  • Conclusion 226
  • 8- Conclusion 229
  • Bibliography 234
  • Index 255
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