In this post, I would like to explore at greater depth the aspects of African culture that conflict with the central idea of birth control. Upon thinking about and researching the importance of fertility as a symbol for prosperity and success in African culture, as promised last week, it became quickly evident that the center of the contradiction between birth control and the value of fertility in Africa is predominantly religious. Across African culture, the fertility goddesses are the female deities that watch over and promote fertility, pregnancy, and birth. Some of the African fertility goddesses are: Ala (Nigeria), Lisa, Minona (Benin), Muso Koroni (Mali), and Oshun (Nigeria).
The religions that these goddesses are a part of seek to insure the fertility and vitality of human beings. Therefore, followers of these religions pray to these divinities who are in direct control of fertility, to ask for their favor and blessing of fertility and thus of success and good fortune. Consequently, infertility is perceived as a punishment for wrong-doing. It is not difficult to see, then, why birth control- a mechanism to promote infertility- is ill-received by these cultures.
The connection between fertility and success is very apparent in African culture. African fertility dolls play a large role in African culture. These statues and carvings are often placed near the family alter with suitable offerings in order to ask the fertility goddess to be favorable towards them. African villagers pray to these fertility goddesses through the dolls to ask for healthy babies to be born to them and for personal health and fertility.
An example of the deep value of fertility in African culture is the Oshun festival in Oshogbo in southwestern Nigeria. Oshun, as you may recall, is the Nigerian goddess of fertility. Thousands of people gather there every year to attend a special annual festival paying homage to the goddess of fertility. At this festival, many women beg in prayer to her for “health, prosperity, and children”, which they see as undeniably connected.
The Oshun festival has become the central pillar of the traditional religion of one of Nigeria’s main ethnic groups, the Yoruba. This week-long ceremony is a celebration of the Orisha religion which is as old as Africa itself. It is clear that fertility is a vital aspect of a religion that is central to African culture.
Understanding of the significance of fertility in African religion and culture allows one to see why it is so difficult for birth control to be accepted in these cultures. When this culture comes under threat from western skepticism about their spiritual matters, they fight back hard to remain steadfast in their tradition. The Oshun festival, for example, is seen as a last bastion of a tradition that people do not want or dare to abandon. This determination to maintain age-old traditions is the demise of the attempt to institute birth control in Africa. The value of fertility is engrained in African culture so deep that it seems impossible to uproot in order to plant the seed of birth control and begin fighting against AIDS in Africa.
From here, I would like to begin to understand the effect of the implementation of birth control in Africa. As I move from the cultural perspective on the fertility of women, and more towards current policy, I will seek to answer these questions: What programs are working to implement it? How successful are they? Does birth control decrease the amount of reported cases of AIDS in the community? What are the roadblocks that they are facing in this process?
Sewpaul, Vishanthie. Cultural Religion and Infertility: A South African Perspective. British Journal of Social Work, 1999, Vol 29, Number 5, p. 741-754.
BBC News. “Worshiping the goddess of fertility.” August 29, 1998. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/160725.stm
Anti, Kenneth Kojo. Women in African Traditional Religions. University of Cape Coast. http://www.mamiwata.com/women.html