Traveling Companions: The Burial of the Placenta in Niger

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This article, part of a historical study of childbirth in the Sahel, draws upon oral interviews, ethnographic materials, and studies of midwifery to explore placenta burial in Niger. In the region the placenta is often referred to as the traveling companion that ushers the new human from one world to the next. Only through proper respect toward the placenta by means of careful burial can a woman's future fertility be protected. The importance of protecting a woman's future reproductive capacity accounts for both the centrality of this ritual to childbirth and for the appeal of the ritual expertise of elderly traditional birth attendants despite access to bio-medically trained midwives. Protecting a vulnerable parturient mother from the envy of those (such as co-wives) who might tie up her womb is an integral part of the process of childbirth. Appropriate placenta burial orchestrated by a woman's therapy management group makes good on the cyclical intergenerational entrustment through which ancestors and descendants endure in a cycle linking birth and death, planting, and burial. Traditional rituals bear marks of major shifts in the agricultural economy, rapid urbanization, and ongoing adoption and reinterpretation of Islam. Multi-generational interviews reveal that across a broad range of ethnicities, status groups, and educational profiles, women in Niger share a concern for proper placenta burial. This approach to preserving women's reproductive health and fertility is shared by adjacent neighbors, generations, and ethnicities.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)127-148
Number of pages22
JournalAfrican Studies Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


  • Niger
  • childbirth
  • entrustment
  • fertility
  • midwifery
  • placenta burial
  • reproduction


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