Infants, ancestors, and the afterlife: Fieldwork’s family values in rural West Africa

Alma Gottlieb, Philip Graham, Nathaniel Gottlieb-Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When Nathaniel, a six-year-old Euro-American boy, was assigned the identity ofDenju, a revered village ancestor in a rural Beng village in Cote d’lvoire, what did it mean - for the child, for his parents, for his village friends, for the conduct of his mother’s anthropological research? Likewise, when Nathaniel’s father, Philip Graham, learned in the village the news of his own father’s passing, what did it mean to Graham - and for the writing of his novel-in-progress - to discover that his village neighbors were certain that the soul of his deceased father had entered the Beng afterlife and become friends with Denju, the ancestor for whom his son had been named? How did such family sagas combine in unexpected ways to shape Alma Gottlieb’s field research project on the cultural construction of infancy? Making use of the three distinct voices of mother I anthropologist, father/writer, and son/student, this article explores how a range of cultural, literary, political, and psychological issues intersected in unexpected ways during fieldwork, recasting the experiences of one North American family of three people living in a rural village in West Africa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-126
Number of pages6
JournalAnthropology and Humanism
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Philosophy
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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