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Plundered Kitchens, Empty Wombs

Threatened Reproduction and Identity in the Cameroon Grassfields

Subjects: Anthropology, Gender Studies, African Studies, Health & Medicine
Hardcover : 9780472109890, 280 pages, 6 B&W photographs, 6 figures, 6 x 9, June 1999
Open Access : 9780472904259, 280 pages, 6 B&W photographs, 6 figures, 6 x 9, June 2023

This open-access version is made available with the support of Big Ten Academic Alliance member libraries.
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Illuminates the dynamics of social and cultural disintegration through the social construction of female infertility


Plundered Kitchens, Empty Wombs examines the symbolic language of food, fertility, and infertility in a small, mountainous African kingdom to explore more general notions of gender, modernity, and cultural identity.
In the Cameroon grassfields, an area of high fertility, women hold a paradoxical fear of infertility. By combining symbolic, political-economic, and historical analyses, Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg traces the way reproductive threat is invoked in struggles over gender and ethnic identities. Women's fears of reproductive disorders, she finds, are an important mode of expression for their worries about much larger issues, such as rural poverty, brought about or exacerbated by political and economic changes in this century.
A lively case study of an infertile queen who flees the palace sets the stage for discussions of the ethnographic and historical setting, the symbolism of fertility and infertility, and the development and interaction of cosmopolitan and ethno-gynecologies. The book concludes with an analysis of the links between women's role in human reproduction and the divine king's role in social reproduction, both occurring in the rapidly changing context of a multiethnic African nation.
Plundered Kitchens, Empty Wombs underscores the relevance of medical anthropology to other anthropological specializations, as well as to epidemiologists, population specialists, and development planners. It should reach a broad audience in medical anthropology, public health, and women's studies.
Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg is Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Carleton College.

". . . a welcome contribution to a growing body of ethnography that seeks to contextualize symbolic analysis of fertility and infertility in social history and political economy."
—Karina Kielmann, University of Heidelberg, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, June 2000

- Karina Kielmann, University of Heidelberg