Features, History, Social Science

Burying a Child

But looking back, always the spirit of joyousness rises before me as her emblem and characteristic: she seemed formed to live a life of happiness: her spirits were always held in check by her sensitiveness lest she should displease those she loved, & her tender love was never weary of displaying itself by fondling & all the other little acts of affection.—

We have lost the joy of the Household, and the solace of our old age:—she must have known how we loved her; oh that she could now know how deeply, how tenderly we do still & shall ever love her dear joyous face. Blessings on her.

~Charles Darwin’s memorial of his daughter Anne, who died at the age of 10. April 30, 1851.

In her 2004 book The Afterlife Is Where We Come From detailing her fieldwork among the Beng farmers of West Africa, anthropologist Alma Gottlieb recounts the story of an elderly woman named Afwe Zi. Afwe first came to Gottlieb seeking treatment for a persistent cut she had on her leg. Gottlieb writes that, “We tried every curative cream we could find in the pharmacy, but the cut stubbornly refused to heal. We fretted aloud about the mysterious wound, and we began hearing that Afwe had suffered with this cut for many years. It never got worse, never got better—it just stayed there.” After Gottlieb returned to the United States, she asked a biomedical doctor about the injury, and he suggested that the wound may have been ulcerated, which would explain the lack of healing.

“After telling her tragic story of having lost fourteen children to the same unknown disease, Afwe Zi makes a hand gesture to indicate, ‘nothing left.’” ~The Afterlife Is Where We Come From (2004) by Alma Gottlieb

The Beng explanation, however, was that the wound was due to witchcraft. Some Beng villagers even suspected that Afwe Zi herself was a witch, due to the sad and disquieting details of her personal history. When Gottlieb returned to the village eight years later, Afwe told Gottlieb her tragic story. Over the course of her life, Afwe had fifteen children: fourteen of whom died as infants or toddlers, all from the same unknown illness. Eleven of her children had died before they could even walk. At a loss to explain this unhappy pattern, Afwe and many of the other Beng attributed the many deaths of her children to witchcraft. Gottlieb writes, “I asked Afwe who was responsible for the witchcraft. She replied: ‘My mother tried to find out by doing sacrifices. They sacrificed sheep, they sacrificed sheep, they begged them. . . . Me, I’ve been called a witch, but never, never!! My mother offered palm wine. . . . She gave sráká sacrifices to children. It was a diviner who told my mother to offer these sacrifices. She did a lot of them! She asked the witches to release my children.'” (Gottlieb, 248)

While few parents have known the pain of seeing over a dozen of their children die so young, many parents throughout history have had to deal with the agony of losing a child. Up until the modern era, rates of infant and child mortality historically have been remarkably high. Across cultures, an average of about 27 percent of infants died before the age of one, and 47 percent failed to survive to puberty.

Hunter-gatherer and state level infant and child mortality rates. From ‘Infant and child death in the human environment of evolutionary adaptation’ (2013) by Anthony A. Volk and Jeremy A. Atkinson, published in Evolution and Human Behavior.

Societies the world over have had to adapt to high rates of infant and child mortality, developing beliefs and social traditions to mitigate the impact of seeing so many of their offspring die. The social practice of delaying giving children names is one way people may respond to conditions of high infant mortality. Anthropologists Henry Harpending and LuAnn Wandsnider write that among !Kung hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari, “children are not named until several days after birth.” The Gebusi forager-horticulturalists of New Guinea would wait as long as seven months before naming their children. Anthropologist Bruce Knauft writes that, “Until infants are about seven months old, when their first teeth emerge, Gebusi don’t think of them as fully human. Before then, they’re thought to lack a full human spirit and aren’t even named.” Knauft adds that, “Many infants only flirt with life; 38 percent of them died in their first year. It was almost as if the community was protecting itself from identifying too closely with so many young lives ending so quickly.” Some societies, such as the Snanaimuq of the Pacific Northwest, would wait years before naming their children.

Even when their children survived, parents in many small-scale societies commonly faced agonizing dilemmas in trying to provide and care for multiple children. In his book on the Yanomami forager-horticulturalists of the Amazon, anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon describes a case of infanticide, writing that:

Bahimi was pregnant when I began my fieldwork, but she destroyed the infant when it was born—a boy in this case—explaining tearfully that she had no choice. The new baby would have competed for milk with Ariwari, her youngest child, who was still nursing. Rather than expose Ariwari to the dangers and uncertainty of an early weaning, she chose to terminate the newborn instead. (Chagnon, 29)

Similarly, a man named Kuchingi of the Ache hunter-gatherers of Paraguay told anthropologists Kim Hill and Ana Magdalena Hurtado of how his young brother was killed; “The one who followed me [in birth order] was killed. It was a short birth spacing. My mother killed him because I was small. “You won’t have enough milk for the older one,” she was told. “You must feed the older one.” Then she killed my brother, the one who was born after me.”” The Ache would commonly kill infants that were ill, deformed, had no father or were orphaned. Hill and Hurtado provide an extended description of one case of infanticide:

[Pirauiugi’s] baby was born in camp a few days later, and all the Ache examined it carefully. Young children crowded close to watch the birth and touch the baby as their mothers rebuked them and pushed them away. Every man of the band was present except Betapagi, who had departed with his bow as soon as his new wife began to show signs of labor pain. The baby was small and had very little hair on its head. The Ache felt little affection for children born without hair. No woman volunteered to cradle the baby while the mother recovered from the birth. No man stepped forward to cut the umbilical cord. The signs were clear, and it took only Kuchingi’s verbal suggestion to settle the point. “Bury the child,” he said. “It is defective, it has no hair.” “Besides, it has no father. Betapagi does not want it. He will leave you if you keep it.” Pirajugi said nothing, and the old woman Kanegi began to dig silently with a broken bow stave. The child and placenta were placed in the hole and covered with red sandy soil. A few minutes later the Ache packed up their belongings and Grandpa Bepurangi began to break a trail through the undergrowth with his unstrung bow. Pirajugi was tired, but she had nothing to carry, so she was able to keep up without difficulty. Women cried softly as they walked through the forest. (Hill & Hurtado, 3)

In many societies, patterns of infanticide can be tied to pressures related to procuring enough food. As I wrote in a previous article for Quillette:

Among the Hiwi of Venezuela, and the Ache of Paraguay, female infants and children are disproportionately victims of infanticide, neglect, and child homicide. It is in fact quite common in hunter-gatherer societies that are at war, or heavily reliant on male hunting for subsistence, for female infants to be habitually neglected or killed. In 1931, Knud Rasmussen recorded that, among the Netsilik Inuit, who were almost wholly reliant on male hunting and fishing, out of 96 births from parents he interviewed, 38 girls were killed (nearly 40 percent).

In describing the patterns of infanticide among the Netsilik, Rasmussen wrote that, “instead of condemning them for cruelty we should rather regard it as a horrible consequence of the stern struggle for existence.”

Social scientists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson note that the most commonly attributed reason for infanticide across small-scale societies is that the child was deformed or ill. Other common reasons are adulterous conception, the mother being unwed, and the appearance of twins. In a number of societies, twins were considered to be an ill omen. Missionary Wilfrid Barbrooke Grubb said of the Lengua of Paraguay that, “Twins they consider unlucky. Generally, if not invariably, both are put to death.” Such beliefs may be tied to the difficulties of supporting two children at once. Grubb wrote that, “many of their superstitions have a stratum of fact underlying them…twins would not have the same chance of develop into strong men and women, and it is easy to understand how great a burden twins would be to an Indian women leading a precarious and nomadic life.”

In some cases, practices of infanticide are less clearly connected to functional concerns. The Beng had strong beliefs about proper tooth development for their infants, and any variation of the norm was considered cause for the infant to be killed. Gottlieb writes that:

In Beng villages, the presence of a natal tooth…is considered a harbinger of tragedy. In precolonial days, a baby who was born with a tooth already erupted was killed immediately—drowned in a bucket of soapy water by a female elder of the baby’s matriclan—and the corpse buried hastily in the bush, with no ritual attention (Gottlieb, 224).

Similarly, if an infant learned to walk or talk before having their first tooth, they would be put to death. The Beng believed that in such cases the tooth was a premonition of early death for an elder, and that the only way to avert it would be to kill the baby. Such beliefs and practices may be difficult to understand, but they do not come from a place of callousness or lack of feeling for their children. Beng mothers would ritually bathe their infants multiple times a day, and make magical jewelry that they hoped would protect each child from witchcraft, and aid in proper development.

“This baby wears a “teething necklace” to ensure proper dental development. The baby died a few days after the photo was taken, probably from malnutrition.” From The Afterlife Is Where We Come From (2004) by Alma Gottlieb.

Throughout history, people have struggled to provide enough nourishment for their children, and to protect them from danger and disease. There has, however, been a remarkable increase in infant and child survival in recent years across societies. All countries in the world have seen a substantial decline in child mortality over the last few decades, going from nearly 20 million children dying annually in the 1960s to less than 6 million in 2015. As Steven Pinker says in Enlightenment Now (2018), describing this decline in infant and child mortality: “The loss of a child is among the most devastating experiences. Imagine the tragedy; then try to imagine it another million times. That’s a quarter of the number of children who did not die last year alone who would have died had they been born fifteen years earlier. Now repeat, two hundred times or so, for the years since the decline in child mortality began. [This] represents a triumph of human well-being whose magnitude the mind cannot begin to comprehend.” (Pinker, 57)

Child morality across regions. Source: Our World in Data

At the beginning of this article, I told the story of the Beng woman named Afwe Zi, who saw fourteen of her fifteen children each die in early childhood, all from the same unknown illness. Afwe described the symptoms to Alma Gottlieb, who later consulted with a medical doctor about the potential cause of the illness. The doctor thought asthma was the most likely explanation. If so, then, as Gottlieb writes, “asthma is a potentially fatal disease, but it can usually be brought under control with Western medicines. If Afwe’s fourteen babies had had access to biomedical treatments, conceivably they could all be alive today.”

Photographs © Alma Gottlieb. Reproduced with kind permission.


William Buckner is a student of Evolutionary Anthropology at UC Davis. He is interested in cultural evolution and understanding human conflict patterns across cultures. You can follow him on Twitter @Evolving_Moloch


  1. dirk says

    Two considerations after reading:
    – Polyandry then seems a logical solution for the Inuit of once
    – Infanticide is (partly) a form of eugenics, even if not consciously experienced as such. Beginning 20th century, in the western world eugenics was often referred to in scientific and medical circles. Now it is a taboo.
    Nice picture, the children look very healthy, and eggs there are considerably larger than ours.

    • Liam C says

      The rates of violence increases in pre-state societies that practice polyandry. There is another article on quillette that talks about that, it’s very good.
      And that egg is very big…

      • dirk says

        What do you think Liam, more violence in peoples allowing polyandry, or in polygamy? And even more important, where the balance of gender is very unequal, due to war or hunting needs or cultural habits (privileges of rich and powerful) will there be more or less violence, compared with the situation of monogamy?? I wonder what Peterson would advise the Muslim states, also enforced monogamy? Or multiculti marriages?

    • Matt McManus says

      Could you be much more insensitive? The woman did lose most of her family. A good friend of mine passed away in an accident recently, and his mother is inconsolable. I can only imagine how broken this resilient woman’s heart must be.

      Not only that, there are a lot of unfortunate reasons why birthrates are so high. Lack of access to contraceptives (sometimes by design of state or religious institutions), the necessity of having a lot of children so at least a few will survive to care for your in old age, the persistence of patriarchal norms surrounding sexual availability, lack of reproductive education, young ages for marrying, a lack of opportunity for women to advance educationally and professionally, and so on. Your comment individualizes this phenomena when, as the article itself points out, the reality is vastly more complicated.

      • ga gamba says

        Could you be any more insensitive? You’re very disrespectful of these ancient people’s glorious culture of wandering around, subsistence hunting and gathering, youth marriage, and believing in witchcraft.

        Reading your words it seems you think your Western modernist ways and their manifestations are better. This is cultural chauvinism, Eurocentricism, and white supremacy.

        • brian jackson says

          Ga gamba
          This article courageously tries to deal with the psychological effect that infant mortality has had on the human race as a whole. The author tackles the subject with the insight and compassion borne from the knowledge that this horrific experience was lived by all of our ancestors.
          Behind your poisonous sarcasm, your comments reveal the limits of your intellectual capacity. Only the truly simple-minded can reduce complex issues to a dichotomy of the “this” is better than “that” variety… in this case “Modernity” is better than “Antiquity” ……………..like duh!
          Today it’s hunter-gatherer societies, yesterday the Muslims or the feminists or whatever. It’s all grist to the mill for you. Your take is always the same shallow cynicism and your comments are merely an outlet for your innate egotism and hatefulness. I pity you.

          • Andrew_W says

            Ga Gamba, this article isn’t about who’s better, it deals with the simple but harsh reality of human history, infant mortality rates were high the world over a couple of centuries ago. To survive all cultures had practices that those living in the modern western world would consider abominable. This article is great in it’s ability, for intelligent readers at least, to put such practices into the context of the impoverished societies that then existed.

        • There is nothing glorious about these ancient cultures other than the glorified ideas Hollywood feeds everyone. I come from a poor country and everyone there, mired in poverty, will be happy to trade places with a westener who romanticized their culture. Poverty and death are romantic only when viewed while reading western non-fiction…..it is the priveledfe offered to the rich only. Imagine having that many of your young ones die in front of you while you helplessly blame witchcraft……there is nothing glorious about that. Science and westernizarion, each with tgeir own flaws, is still a better alternative to tribal societies that were at the mercy of disease, poverty an nature. I would never freely trade places with these folks and have immense sympathy for them.

        • Vamos Fazer Bebês Gigantes Juntos says

          Para bailar Ga Gamba
          Para bailar Ga Gamba se necesita una poca de gracia
          Una poca de gracia
          Pa’ mi, pa’ ti, y arriba, y arriba
          Y arriba y arriba
          Por ti seré, por ti seré, por ti seré

          Yo no soy marinero
          Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán
          Soy capitán, soy capitán
          Gamba, Gamba
          Gamba, Gamba
          Gamba, Gamba, Ga

          Para bailar Ga Gamba
          Para bailar Ga Gamba
          Se necesita una poca de gracia
          Una poca de gracia
          Para mi, para ti, ay arriba, ay arriba

          Para bailar Ga Gamba
          Para bailar Ga Gamba
          Se necesita una poca de gracia
          Una poca de gracia
          Pa’ mi, pa’ ti, ay arriba, ay arriba
          Y arriba y arriba
          Por ti seré, por ti seré, por ti seré

          Gamba, Gamba
          Gamba, Gamba
          Gamba, Gamba

          • dirk says

            You must have been in Vera Cruz, Vamos, otherwise you couldn’t have so much affiliation!

          • Tim says

            Ga gamba was obviously ironic, looks like nobody got it

    • NeonCrusader says

      Despite all the pearl-clutching and arguing that followed your comment, thanks for posting the joke harland0. It made me laugh. People seem to forget these days that that’s the whole point of humor. (Not to mention that dark humor is one of the most sane/humanizing responses to tragedy and suffering, in my opinion)

  2. Frances says


    I beg to differ about eugenics being “taboo.” The word may be, but the practice is universal where abortion is legal. Iceland and Denmark boast that they no longer have any Down Syndrome children. In the US the abortion rate of DS infants is 67%, in many European countries from 80-90%. Given those statistics, I would think other children with handicaps are being aborted. Imprefect embryos created through in vitro fertilization are routinely discarded.

    harlandO: That is so vile. These comments should be edited.

    • Steve says

      The facts are often disturbing.
      If you are upset by that facts then it may be best for you to avert your gaze and think happy thoughts.
      Expecting others to remain silent or to alter their words is immature.

      • Another one says

        @Steve Suposing you are replying to Frances Id ask what fact is pointing out in “Lady, it’s a vagina, not a clown car.”

    • dirk says

      Can abortion of DS also be categorised as eugenics Frances? Maybe, but certainly not so clearcut as what scientist and biophysicist Harlane wrote in 1923: without ectogenesis, civilisation would have collapsed within a measurable time owing to the greater fertility of the less desirable members of the population… Such ideas were quite common at the time, but after WWII, it was considered very inhumane to utter them, uptil now even.

      • dirk says

        Sorry, the name was J.B.S.Haldane, and the reading (to the heretics) was titled: Daedalus, or science & the future!

  3. Stephen Harrod Buhner says

    I have struggled with the implications of reduced infant mortality for years and always run up against the difficult fact of competing moral truths; i have no idea how to solve the problem. I once read a paper (from memory, i don’t have the paper in front of me, so please take the point, not the exactness as important) that explored the impact of the work of Doctors Without Borders in Bangladesh. Before their involvement three out of ten children survived. Afterwards seven out of ten did so. The organization felt greatly satisfied to have made such a difference but they failed to pay attention to the long term effects.

    The increased survival rate affected inheritance of land and significantly increased population which led, over time, to food and land shortages and increased the negative impacts humans have on the environment. In a sense, these outcomes are a form of iatrogenic disease – that is, medically caused, not in individual humans but in their impact on culture and sustainable habitation of this planet. As with other iatrogenic impacts, such as the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, the medical system, as is common, takes credit for the initial intervention but no responsibility for long term outcomes.

    And, of course, in the west anyway, the isolation of birth and death in hospitals and nursing homes, its removal from the social structure, has created a culture that has little exposure to death accompanied by an increased fear of it, as if it were an unnatural event in human life. This, itself, creates powerful impacts in, especially, western cultures, most especially the sense that death is unfair and that extreme end of life measures are always needed to prevent it. These extreme measures result in substantial sums of money being spent to provide a few more weeks of months of life while at the same time creating substantial environmental impacts — few pharmaceutical and medical interventions are biodegradable. The massive amounts of chemicals in the tissues of the dead create potent environmental impacts that are rarely discussed and never factored into the impacts of health care. They are in fact another iatrogenic effect of modern medicine.

    To return to the subject of the article: All of us have to face in one way or another the realities of these competing truths. On the one hand we look at the impact of the death of a child and understand in whatever way we can the emotional impact of that event. Our natural desire is to help prevent it. On the other hand we have to, sooner or later, face the impact on sustainable habitation of this planet of increasing population, face the food shortages, land and water conflicts that increased infant survival has already had in many countries around the world.

    No one wants to come to terms with this, for the choices that face us are not between right and wrong but between two competing moral goods. And because we will not, as a species, face the problem it is inevitable that nature will do it for us. As someone once said, “Population problems have a horrible way of solving themselves.”


    • Mike says

      At least according to the statistics presented in the late Hans Rosling’s “Factfulness” this does not appear to be the case. Birth rate is falling with increased childhood survival with the worldwide average being barely above 2. Worst case on current trends will be the the world population stabilising at 11 billion and then reducing.

    • AndrewCC says

      Once infant mortality drops, birth rates follow soon after, as the culture adapts to not needing so many children just so a few survive to adulthood.
      You can actually help an underdeveloped society both the medical technology so their children don’t all die, AND the means to adapt to the new higher survival rates. Not doing both is foolish, but not doing the first is cruel.

      • dirk says

        The problem is Andrew: people and organisations don’t do and think on the long term, just the short term is already complicated enough. Are they to be blamed for it?? Don’t think so! Economist Keynes also taught us not to look to far ahead, because, he reasoned, in the end, we are all dead. The problem, of course, is, we are not, at least not for a full lifetime!

  4. Just Me says

    I am so glad Quillette is publishing these articles by an anthropologist like William Buckner.

    Socio-cultural anthropological information like this used to be a regular feature in the better popular magazines, but has pretty much disappeared.

    It is good for the general public to be reminded of all the different ways humans have lived over time and space, and not just imagine our own modern realities are human universals.

    Young people are mostly ignorant of how hard life used to be for most human beings until very recently, and people just had to cope as best they could.

    If you compare our society to utopia, sure you will find it wanting, but compare it to the way people have lived in most societies, and rejoice. We are doing pretty well.

    Of course, some readers just won’t get it…(yes, I’m talking about harland0).

    • dirk says

      Maybe harland0 is just one of the multiple victims of those vanishing of antrhopological features and info in the magazines, Just me!
      The times of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict are gone indeed. They were very popular among the hippies of the time. But it seems that the varying lens through which we must look has been lost too.

  5. Ian says

    I think the decline of religion in the West has some relationship with the decreased rates of infant mortality. Anxiety over the health of your children is a powerful incentive to go to Church and make peace with fate. There is also the question of what happens to dead children’s souls. How is it possible that something so vital could just disappear? I have often thought that the religiosity of the music of Bach must come partly from the premature deaths of 10 of his 20 children.

  6. Andrew_W says

    I wonder what those people who believe in objective morality make of the reality on display in this article, do their heads explode?

    • dirk says

      Except of my old pastor, my religious father and some church folk, I never met the last decades any person, neither among my friends, nor in the newspapers or magazines I read (not many religious or orthodox ones), believing in objective morality for all mankind, Andrew. Do these people really exist?

      • Andrew_W says

        I don’t know about your old pastor and your religious father, but I’m sure some church folk still exist.

        • dirk says

          But majority of them no longer believe in an objective morality, I am sure. Also church people travel all over the globe, to see temples, mosques and the Bushmen gathering around an ostrich egg (for the post card). And the pastors these days mostly are now from the relative, non-objective school (except some diehards, of course).

          • dirk says

            By the way, how to interpret that ostrich egg? Is it a scene at a real funeral of a kid? Or was it afterwards for the photograph? And what was the symbolic meaning of it? And why these original and antiq clothings ( instead of the much more comfortable T-shirts and slippers). I would love to know William, because have worked long time in Africa, in the bush!

    • Whyaxye says

      “I wonder what those people who believe in objective morality make of the reality on display in this article, do their heads explode?”

      No, there are no exploding heads. It’s perfectly possible to believe that infanticide is objectively wrong, despite it being very common. The goodness of caring for all humans, especially the weak and the less obviously “useful” may only be capable of being manifested under certain conditions, and if someone believes that then they are happy that those conditions are increasingly prevalent.

      • Andrew_W says

        “The goodness of caring for all humans, especially the weak and the less obviously “useful” may only be capable of being manifested under certain conditions,” Fair enough, that’s a reasonable assertion.” . . . and if someone believes that then they are happy that those conditions are increasingly prevalent.” A completely nonsensical and baseless claim.

        • Whyaxye says

          ” . . . and if someone believes that then they are happy that those conditions are increasingly prevalent.” A completely nonsensical and baseless claim.

          Sorry, I’ll try to be clearer. The point I was getting at is that if more people are now capable of fulfilling the criteria of human goodness, then that is in itself a cause for rejoicing. Perhaps what I should have said is:

          “If someone believes that, then, if those conditions are increasingly prevalent, they are happy that those conditions are indeed increasingly prevalent.”

          • Andrew_W says

            Whyaxye, I apologize, some how, unbelievably, I misinterpreted the second half of your sentence.

      • dirk says

        You have a point here, whyaxye, morality as a function of the ruling conditions. In biblical times, it was immoral to save prisoners of war. But after Geneve, it’s the other way round. I saw this week the movie Yol. I am sure that it makes a big difference in moral judgement of the dilemmas shown whether you are a western Christian or a local Kurd.

  7. dirk says

    Reading your first remark, Andrew, on believing yes or no in moral objectivity after all that info from the article of the anthropologist, I immediately thought that you yourself are not (as, I guess, most here don’t), but now I’m not so sure about it anymore.
    I would like to know the reactions on it from French Emmanuel, or of Carles White, who deliberated on it in the former threads Canada’s Cult and Indigenous Ways of Knowledge. And I fear that your Craig would like to baptize and christen those poor animist Bushmen of the picture on the shortest terms.

  8. J. Niko Kopke says

    Do other primates deliberate about these issues? Me thinks humans have excessive brain and imagination power that is misdirected.

  9. Paul Ellis says

    It seems to me that two enduring romantic myths are that it is possible to enjoy the benefits of Western sophistication, such as freely available evidence-based medicine, without having to become in any way Western; and that it is possible to cherry-pick the benefits of Westernism (that evidence-based medicine again) whilst rejecting or ignoring what made those benefits possible: reason, the scientific method, industrialisation, liberal democracy, contestable markets, etc. etc.

    While there is still a juxtaposition frisson to be had in seeing people wearing kimonos or abeyas, or almost nothing, speaking on mobile phones, it’s important to remember that the kimono-wearers have developed Westernised industrial societies that support indigenous companies that develop and make those phones. The abeya-wearers haven’t to the same extent, and still largely rely on Western ex-pats to run the Westernised complex stuff in their countries. This is certainly true of the ME. The almost-nothing wearers have developed no modern technology of note that I’m aware of, but naturally and understandably wish to have their babies saved.

    Where does one start with the poor woman in this article? It would certainly be possible to ‘rescue’ her as an individual to a Westernised country and provide her with the social support she would need to be able to function, at the financial expense of that host country’s pre-existing population. Under those circumstances she wouldn’t need the children to support her that she undoubtably does in her home environment, and which is likely to be a major source of her grief at their loss. But what if one decides to try to ‘rescue’ her entire population group at the same time? And others like it?

    That seems to me to be what the EU and various NGOs are ostensibly trying to do right now, with sadly predictable consequences.

    Surely it’s better to be honest and point out that if people want to enjoy the benefits the West has developed, they’re going to have to Westernise?

    • dirk says

      How do you see that Paul? People to westernize? As a person (not very difficult, just adopt one, or pay for the education, board and lodging)? Or as a nation of 100 million? And who pays for it, even if the whole population would vote for it?
      I’m telling this, because have worked for some 10 yrs in technical development aid. Which means, paying for the irrigation pump, the seeds and fertilizer, the training, the infrastructure, and seeing how everything is going to waste, even before you really have departed. The problem: development is not the sum of a few western details (as was thought after the Marshall help for Europe was so succesful)

      • Paul Ellis says

        “The problem: development is not the sum of a few western details (as was thought after the Marshall help for Europe was so successful)”

        That’s exactly my point, Dirk.

    • Andrew_W says

      Paul Ellis
      Assuming that you and I have the same definition of “Westernised”: ” . . . a process whereby societies come under or adopt Western culture in areas such as industry, technology, law, politics, economics, lifestyle, diet, clothing, language, alphabet, religion, philosophy, and values. Westernization has been an accelerating influence across the world in the last few centuries,” [wiki]

      You claim: “The abeya-wearers haven’t to the same extent, and still largely rely on Western ex-pats to run the Westernised complex stuff in their countries. This is certainly true of the ME.” Frankly while that might have been a reasonable assertion 70 years ago it is not a reasonable assertion today, all countries around the world have educational institutions striving to teach modern technology and scientific understanding, the fact that some countries are poorly run and produce very little and other countries specialize in the production of some goods and services over others is not evidence that they are not Westerized or becoming Westernised.

      • Paul Ellis says

        When I fist visited the UAE 35 years ago I heard stories from people in a position to know about how the Emiratis were trying, and to a significant extent failing, to Emiratify the airlines. I visited again this year and heard the same stories from very similar people, by which I mean the same type of highly-placed ex-pats. I was saddened to discover that so little progress appeared to have been made in this field. 35 years is long enough to have trained and nurtured an entire generation of Emirati managers, administrators, engineers and pilots. There has been no lack of resources.

        Of course there is a veneer of Westernisation, but what seem to be lacking at the large scale are the cultural habits that are required to run entities such as international airlines safely, efficiently, and profitably. Ask yourself: why are the ex-pats still there? Because they are, in considerable numbers.

        The fact that ‘Westernization has been an accelerating influence across the world in the last few centuries [wiki]’ doesn’t mean that it’s taken hold to the extent that it’s possible in the UAE to run a global airline without Western ex-pats.

        Do the Chinese, Japanese or Korean airlines have significant numbers of Western ex-pats working for them? If not, why not?

        • Andrew_W says

          Paul Ellis, I’d rather own the airline than be a pilot, a flight steward, a middle manager or an engineer, perhaps people in the UAE think as I do. In other countries where wearing traditional (non-western) clothes is common and that do not have the oil wealth of Bahrain, SA and Qatar ordinary citizens have to work as pilots, flight stewards, middle managers and engineers – and do.

          • Paul Ellis says

            In the Emirates an airline tends to be owned by one man: the Ruler of the Emirate, an absolute monarch. There’s not much scope for becoming a shareholder, although relatives benefit from the gift of sums of money from the profits. Most blue-collar physical work is carried out by ex-pats from the Subcontinent. There appears to be no policy to Emiratify this work, but there is a clear policy to Emiratify the middle and upper reaches of white-collar work.

            This policy seems not to be working particularly well, and it has been explained to me that the reason is the difference in work ethic and decision-making between Emiratis (as a group) and Western ex-pats. The Emiratification policy frequently results in two people – an ex-pat and an Emirati – doing one job. The airlines are prone to purchasing what amount to Veblen goods, are becoming expensively over-staffed, and are losing profitability.

            Far Eastern airlines are rarely dependent on Western ex-pats to run them. Far Eastern cultures tend to be known for their fierce work ethic. They’ve developed companies such as Sony, Huawei, and Samsung. I can think of no Middle-Eastern equivalent.

          • Andrew_W says

            Paul Ellis, it sounds like the citizens in the UAE are onto a good thing then, they get good incomes without having to do a lot of work, well done them. I think you’re being extraordinarily dishonest though if you think you can then apply the lack of work ethic in a country such as the UAE to other Muslim countries that do not have such a pseudo-welfare system for their citizens.

            You point out that Middle-Eastern countries don’t do much in the way of electronics, well neither does Latin America, neither does Russia. As I’ve already pointed out different countries have different industries. In the Middle East it’s oil, in Russia it’s also oil and little else, in South America it’s agriculture, in Australia it’s minerals, in China it’s becoming heavy industries, in Singapore it’s trade and finance, in New Zealand its agriculture, so what?

      • dirk says

        @Andrew&Paul: but we must realize that scenes as in that picture can be made as well in Brazil, Indonesia and Australia, but far away from western influences,in the bush or desert. Also, most probably, they receive medical care from some nearby medical post and wear different cloths as soon as the photographer has gone. Sometimes this is so because of their stubborn wish to stick to their culture (as with a Yanamomo woman that returned from NwYork to the bush after being married with an anthropologist), mostly it is against their will (as is the case with maybe half the poor world population). Paul: I should have read your comment more thoroughly, yes!

        • Paul Ellis says


          “I think you’re being extraordinarily dishonest though if you think you can then apply the lack of work ethic in a country such as the UAE to other Muslim countries that do not have such a pseudo-welfare system for their citizens.”

          At no point in my posts have I done such a thing. The Far East has developed innovative industrialised societies across the board comparable with Western countries; the Muslim world mostly has not. My last post was simply a statement of facts, as I have had them explained to me by people in a position to know, that might partially explain why, in that location.

          I have noticed in this exchange your tendency to avoid the core of a statement, be rather selective (any words on the Far Eastern cultures?) and instead resort to assertions and ad-homs. Because of this I will not engage with you further.

  10. Emmanuel says

    When I was in French Guiana a few years ago, a young Wayampi man told me that defective babies used to be buried alive soon after birth. When I asked why, he answered me ” handicap is the curse of the Amerindians”.
    What was especially weird with that conversation is that he started talking about that out of nowhere while we were having a beer.

    • dirk says

      “used to be buried alive”, that is, is done no more now, but why?
      – because of missionary influence
      – because of the french law and influence of police
      – because of reformed indigenous habits (with some outside influence, maybe)
      But can you speak of, after all,the existence of an objective morality because of a change due to western influence?

  11. Emmanuel says

    Missionary influence was very limited in that area and therefore played no role in the ending of that practice, which may have still existed in remote villages in the 1970’s. I would say the natives changed their habits under the influence of French society and values. Medical help brought by the French government furthermore made it much easier to take care of a handicapped child. Nowadays women give birth in a hospital in the city so that kind of infanticide would not be possible. I don’t know if they would care about the legal consequences of such a deed. I must say I haven’t seen any handicapped children while I was there but it doesn’t mean they are killed at birth. Life is still very hard in those parts and even with modern medicine, a crippled kid would be luck to reach his fifth birthday.

  12. alan white says

    That egg looks as if it may have been the product of an ostrich.

  13. dirk says

    Thanks Emmanuel,of course,if medical service is around (and due to all those flying doctors, there are probably very few isolated groups without) the functional infanticide is under pressure to disappear, remains the superstitious infanticide(twins,albino, teeth appearance), but also that one, due to mission and law, will slowly disappear, I think. Besides, cripples and other invalids now find often a home paid by NGO or missions, so, morality has the luxury of evoluating, but whether there is now, or will be an objective morality? I doubt. Syrian kids in our country get special education about the right morals, because what the parents see in our streets? Very low ethics!

    • dirk says

      …the luxury of evolving….like in ordinary evolution of life forms

  14. The oldest headstone in our family graveyard was set in 1754. The graveyard has been filled in pretty much chronologically from front to rear in the 264 years since. Until the early part of the 20th century, almost all the graves were those of infants and young children.
    I do not believe those of us born in the 1950s and later will ever really appreciate what that meant, not just to grandma and grandpa, but to every generation of our ancestors since modern humans arose.

  15. dirk says

    That’s a very good and all explaining exposure hodgicus, something that all youngster should remember, how happy I am, that all the 2 sisters and brother I have had, all survived, I didn’t deserve it maybe, but was happy so, unlike the 100.000s before me.

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