Cover of Widows in African Societies by Edited by Betty Potash
Widows in African Societies
Choices and Constraints
Edited by Betty Potash

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1986
336 pages.
$67.50

Cloth ISBN: 9780804712996

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Although widows constitute a quarter of the adult female population in many African societies, they have not been the focus of detailed, cross-cultural research. This is the first comparative anthropological study of widowhood in Africa, comprising ten case studies that cover a broad spectrum of societies in different parts of the continent. This volume shows clearly that widows are not passive objects of male transactions; they have interests and options, and make choices affecting their own lives. Ties to children, access to productive sources, and rights to housing are shown to have particular importance for widows' residential and marital decisions.

This book provides a needed corrective both to the male perspective on kinship and to women's studies that deal almost exclusively with the adult married woman. In contrast to the traditional anthropological emphasis on widow remarriage and the functions such marriages have for the maintenance of marriage alliances, these papers deal with the women themselves and the quality of their lives.

The introduction surveys the literature, examines the factors affecting the widows' strategies, and shows how accepted anthropological concepts of marriage, affinity, and community look different when considered from the perspective of widows. There is a foreword by Mariam K. Slater.

About the author

Betty Potash has taught at the New School for Social Research, Syracuse University, Lehigh University, the University of Nairobi, and the University of Lagos.