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Sex, fertility and menstruation among the Beng of the Ivory Coast: a symbolic analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2011

Extract

Menstrual blood has proved a popular subject for discussion in the anthropological literature but, surprisingly, only a single theme has emerged: societies either do or do not consider menstrual blood and menstruating women to be polluting. If they are not considered polluting, it is taken as a sign of sex-role egalitarianism; conversely, if they are considered polluting, it is taken as a sign of women's lower status vis-a-vis men and/or of the potential danger or threat that women represent to men (e.g. Kessler, 1976: 72-4; Meggitt, 1964; Ortner, 1974; Sacks, 1974; Young, 1965: 155). Friedl (1975: 29) goes so far as to suggest that menstruating women are viewed as threatening and polluting because menstrual blood is a symbol of death: when a woman menstruates, it is a sign that she has not conceived a child and thus during this time she is ‘the antithesis of life’.

Résumé

Sexualité, fertilité et menstruation chez les Beng de la Côte d'lvoire: une analyse symbolique

Cet article explore les dimensions symboliques des croyances rattachées à la menstruation chez les Beng de la Côte d'lvoire. On a trouvé trois règles qui restreignent les activités sexuelles des femmes qui ont leurs règles ou les activités des hommes en contact avec ces femmes. Normalement les anthropologues se servent de telles règles pour indiquer le caractère contaminant du flot menstruel ou des femmes qui ont leurs règies, et déduisent de cela la condition inférieure de la femme en général. Cependant, dans le cas des Beng, ces règles et croyances ne justifient pas une telle interprétation. Plutôt, elles correspondent à une vue du monde fondée sur la séparation symbolique du village, de la forêt, qui est associée avec la Terre. Spécialement, la fertilité humaine qui est symbolisée par le flot menstruel, ne doit pas être confondue avec la fertilité de la forêt ou de la Terre, et l'ensemble de ces trois règles est révélé être associé avec ce principe. Cet essai par conséquent analyse les croyances se rattachant à la menstruation du point de vue indigène et les trouve inconsistantes avec cette interprétation des croyances qui indiquent la contamination intrinsèque de la femme, explication commune dans la littérature.

Type
Sex, marriage, children and divorce
Information
Africa , Volume 52 , Issue 4 , October 1982 , pp. 34 - 47
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 1982

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