Foolish midwives and weak women in Childbed: Gendered opinions on Midwifery in the Dutch East Indies, 1850-1900

European physicians in general had a low opinion of midwives. Going to the Indies, they took these opinions with them in their backpack. In the colony, Europeans looked down on the indigenous healers, the dukun, their contempt for dukun was even stronger for those specialized in obstetrics. The European sources on the doings of these traditional birth attendants (TBA) are real horror stories written with a lot of emotion. The attitude of the European doctors was taken over by the Western-trained Indonesian male doctors. Neither group realized that their help was only called in when a dukun could not handle the delivery because of a complication. They never watched a normal delivery which a TBA could handle perfectly well. This low esteem of TBAs was the main reason why the colonial government established a midwifery school in 1851. They wanted to educate young Indonesian women to become midwives and to replace the dukun. However, the colonial government was accused of letting white and brown mothers down in the most difficult hours of their lives by not providing sufficient obstetric care in the Dutch Indies – which in their view should be Western obstetrical help. This attitude was in line with the prevailing climate of those days, in which men wanted to protect both the workers, and the weak female species. The horror stories about the TBA and compassion with the women in childbed put pressure on the government to improve obstetric care. A fact that was underestimated was that indigenous women preferred TBAs, as they knew and respected the indigenous traditions and magical rituals in the process of childbirth. In the end, the colonial government decided to give priority to general health care and hygiene.

After her graduation as a historian, Liesbeth Hesselink (1943) worked as a teacher in secondary schools, as a civil servant first for the ministry of Education and later for the municipality of Leiden. She also represented the Dutch Labour Party as a member of the board of Councillors for the municipality of Leiden for eight years. After her retirement, she attained her doctorate in 2009 with her thesis titled Genezers op de koloniale markt, inheemse dokters en vroedvrouwen in Nederlands Oost-Indië 1850-1915, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009 (Healers in the colonial market place, indigenous doctors and midwives in the Dutch East Indies 1850 – 1915 ). Other publications: “Crossing Colonial and Medical Boundaries: Plural Medicine on Java, 1850-1910” in A. Digby, W. Ernst and P.B. Mukharhji (eds.), Crossing Colonial Historiographies: Histories of Colonial and Indigenous Medicines in Transnational Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, planning to appear in September 2010, p. 117-43.

Childbirth and Abortion in “German East Africa”. Unruliness of East African Women and the Instability of Colonial Power

 The German Empire turned to ‘welfarist’ policies with regards to the Black inhabitants of its colonies as early as the 1900s, as a reaction to the violent colonial wars it fought, which had resulted in a high number of African casualties. As part of this turn in colonialist policies and as a reaction to a perceived “underpopulation”, reproductive health and population issues emerged on the agenda of (mainly male) German colonialists in “German East Africa”. While the motivations were manifold – ranging from economic calculations to missionary ‘altruism’ – and the disciplinary investment diverse (medical, administrative, economic, missionary), three narratives – culturalist, medical, and modernist – dominated the discussions on “underpopulation” and served to uphold the German colonisers’ political, economic and cultural supremacy. Not surprisingly, Black women were regarded as key to the colonisers’ interventions, but were attributed an ambivalent role. On the one hand, they were portrayed as ‘endangered’ by the supposed “promiscuity” of their husbands, by certain “customs and traditions” (such as “child marriages” and abortions) as well as by their supposed “ignorance” regarding “hygiene” and the like. On the other hand, the supposed “promiscuity” and sex work of Black women was seen as dangerous for the White male colonisers’ health. While the trope “White men saving Black women from Black men” was ever-present, the appearance of White nurses and midwives from Germany complicated the picture. Especially missionary circles advocated the ‘import’ of White women to improve maternal and child health, because they were seen as able to forge closer relations with Black women. My paper is based on German state publications as well as politico-scientific journals and monographs concerned with health and population in “German East Africa”. In order to analyse the material, I mainly resort to postcolonial theory (esp. Frantz Fanon, Roland Barthes and bell hooks).

Daniel Bendix is a PhD student at the Institute for Development Policy and Management of the University of Manchester (UK). His dissertation deals with the colonial history and development present of German reproductive health policies in “German East Africa” (Tanzania). In addition, he works as a facilitator for political adult education in Germany on topics such as South-North relations, colonialism, racism, gender, and “development aid”.

L’introduction de la santé maternelle et infantile en Transjordanie : le rôle des femmes dans les politiques coloniales, 1921-1946

Quelques années après la création de l’Émirat de Transjordanie, les Britanniques fondent un département de la santé dont la mission est d’améliorer les conditions de vie de la population locale et plus particulièrement de lutter contre les maladies infectieuses et endémiques. Une des préoccupations des Britanniques consiste à diminuer la haute mortalité infantile qui menace le développement démographique du nouvel État. Bien que des considérations sur les conditions de pauvreté, de malnutrition et de manque d’hygiène dans lesquelles vit la population locale soient présentes dans les documents coloniaux, une grande partie de la responsabilité de la mortalité infantile élevée est attribuée aux femmes. Les fonctionnaires mettent l’accent sur le fait que les femmes ne connaissent pas les règles fondamentales pour l’élevage des enfants et, qui plus est, font appel aux matrones ou aux accoucheuses locales. Durant les années du Mandat (1921-1946), plusieurs médecins femmes, infirmières et sages-femmes, principalement britanniques, s’efforcent d’introduire de nouvelles pratiques dans le domaine de la santé maternelle et infantile. De petits ambulatoires réservés aux femmes sont institués dans deux villes du nord de la Transjordanie afin d’introduire des formes de surveillance minimale sur la santé des mères et des nouveau-nés ainsi que dans le but d’apprendre aux femmes les règles « modernes » de l’alimentation, de l’hygiène et de la gestion domestique. C’est le début d’un processus de mutation culturelle profonde qui va investir les conceptions du corps, de la sexualité, de la famille et plus largement du rôle des femmes au sein de la société locale. Les actrices de ce processus de médicalisation sont d’abord des femmes européennes parmi lesquelles on compte surtout des missionnaires et les épouses de fonctionnaires coloniaux. Toutefois, bientôt des femmes locales, envoyées se former en tant que sages-femmes et infirmières dans les hôpitaux de la Palestine britannique, commencent à travailler au sein des institutions médicales de l’Émirat dans le but d’élargir les services pour la santé maternelle et infantile. Elles contribuent ainsi à répandre des savoirs et des pratiques biomédicaux qui vont progressivement s’affirmer au détriment des connaissances et des usages locaux d’époque précoloniale. Dans cette communication j’entends analyser les politiques coloniales en matière de santé maternelle et infantile, mettant en avant leur impact sur les conceptions locales du corps féminin, de la sexualité et de la santé. Je vais en particulier explorer le rôle joué par les médecins, les sages-femmes et les infirmières européennes qui ont travaillé en Transjordanie, mettant en avant les différences et les similarités entre leurs attitudes et celles des femmes locales ayant reçu une formation biomédicale qui ont travaillé dans le domaine de la santé. J’entends montrer qu’il y a eu un large consensus autour du paradigme biomédical tant auprès des professionnels de la santé que des femmes transjordaniennes qui ont accepté assez rapidement les pratiques et les idées européennes en matière de santé maternelle.

Irène Maffi est Professeure d’anthropologie culturelle et sociale au Laboratoire d’anthropologie culturelle et sociale et à l’Institut des sciences sociales de la Faculté des sciences sociales et politiques de l’Université de Lausanne.

An “undesirable” politics in Bawku: containing civilizing controversies on a West African frontier (1920-1958)

The twin ravages of 19th century slave-raiding and 20th century colonial rule left their mark on northern Ghana and south-eastern Burkina Faso, characterizing the region as one of historical movement, instability and underdevelopment. With the abolishment of the Atlantic slave trade the region came under the yolk of European colonialism, quickly becoming an important source of labour for both French and British colonial economies. This out-migration of male labour – now institutionalized and increasingly routed toward the gold mines and cocoa plantations to the south – affected the household economies from which these labourers migrated. Kinship relations, domestic production, marriage agreements, as well as practices tied to them – such as circumcision – were transformed as a result of this increasing exploitation. Viewed by administrators of indirect rule as integral to African ‘community’ and the broader political and economic stability of the colonies, female circumcision and the gendered, patriarchal relations in which it is bound, were to be contained and veiled from metropolitan interest. This metropolitan interest, of which the “female circumcision controversy” of Kenya, East Africa, is indicative, was to be avoided in West Africa. And, as archival records aptly demonstrate, much effort was devoted to ensuring that such a controversy did not gain ground in the Ashanti hinterlands of West Africa; under the fragile guise of indirect rule “tradition” was to be a tool for economic exploitation, not an argument for civilizing mission.

This paper will address the ways in which colonial concerns of gender and political economy intersect to guide policies and interventions regarding female circumcision in West Africa. Taking cue from the works of Janice Boddy, Lynn Thomas and Liselott Dellenborg (among others) my study will move beyond the rather neat geographic and temporal periodization of the ‘female circumcision controversy’ in East Africa (1928-1931) to explore why gendered practices – particularly that of female circumcision – came to be seen as integral to political economic stability within this region of labour migration and indirect rule.  Methodologically, my paper will employ colonial archives from British and French West Africa, focusing specifically on correspondence from the Gold Coast and Upper Volta. I will also use the private papers of administrators, missionaries (Pères Blancs) and medical doctors active within this Anglo-French sphere of interest. Additionally, my study seeks to question the role of Rattray – the first government-commissioned anthropologist in the region – in shaping how administrators viewed these practices. In what ways did colonizers see the gendered practice of circumcision as a defence against the ravages of capitalist modernity, or ‘detribalization’ and it’s accompanying “gender chaos”, to quote Jean Allman. Moreover, in what ways did the colonized along this frontier region adapt and transform these practices in the face of colonial attempts to classify, contain and straightjacket ‘tradition’ for political economic ends? Rather than focus on the voices clamouring within both metropole and colony for legislation and eradication, this project will endeavour to explain ‘why’ these voices fell on deaf ears in West Africa, and how this colonial project of ‘non-intervention’ may have worked to complicate longer histories of African-led abandonment efforts.

Jessica V. Cammaert is Ph.D Candidate in the Department of History of Queen’s University (Ontario). Her research interests are sub-saharian Africa, political economy, development theory and pratice of World History, gender and sexuality.

Reproductive Health and Child Birth: Revisiting the Technological Intervention in Colonial Bengal

The proposed study seeks to engage with two things: first, it intends to explore the historical trajectory which made technological intervention in reproductive health and child birth in colonial Bengal a pressing medical imperative, and second, it will attempt to explicate the cultural implications of this intervention in an era of cultural transition from pre-modern to “modern” under the British rule. In recent writings on reproductive health, a sharp historical focus on the use of surgical instruments and its socio-cultural and technological implications for a tradition-bound society like India is curiously lacking. All the major scholarly interventions made so far in this direction have confined themselves to intermittent references to surgical instruments and their impact on the colonized. Even in nineteenth century Britain, when medical profession was characterized by tradition and prejudices about women was slow to recognize the real needs of women, the development of obstetrics and gynecology was not a smooth one. Indian medical world also was certainly not lacking in such problems. The same holds true of caesarian section which slowly crept into Indian medical vocabulary at the beginning of the twentieth century, but was slow to gain recognition. In fact, few more questions are in order: First, when did forceps make their foray into the Indian medical world and how exactly did they grope their way through the socio-cultural taboos that characterized the contemporary Bengali society? What was the implication of the use of such techniques for the Bengali society where the cultural and gender stereotypes often worked in tandem as major impediments to the free acceptance of any innovation? Given the fact that child birth was conventionally perceived as a natural process that warranted little technical intervention and was looked upon as an exclusively female domain, the impact of introduction of forceps merits fresh interrogation.

Arabinda Samanta is Professor of History in the University of Burdwan Golapbag (West Bengal, India) and Coordinator of the University Grant Commission Special Assistance Programme in New Delhi. Books Published: Malarial Fever in Colonial Bengal: Social History of an Epidemic. Kolkata, 2002 ; Rog Rogi O Rashtra (Disease, the Patients and the State) Kolkata, 2005 ; Praakitik Biparjaay O Manush (Natural Hazards and Man) Kolkata, 2006 ; The Revolt of 1857: Memory Identity History eds, Kolkata, 2009 ; Locating Epidemics: Colonial Bengal, 1920s- 1940s, (in Press).

The Gender of Malnutrition in the AOF: Nutritional Science and the Evasion of Political Economy

This paper will explore the tensions between the desire to channel women’s energies into particular activities on the part of the French colonial government in Niger, and the reality that colonial states has very little direct access to women nor did they generally have a grasp of the priorities and concerns that motivated the women under their rule. In a host of domains (hygiene, nutrition, farming, childrearing, sexual behaviour) colonial government strove to direct women’s agency in ways that would serve the often inconsistent interests of the state including the orderly extraction of resources and the upholding of paternal authority.  Women, as guardians of their own bodies, of their children, and of the domestic domain (which could extend far beyond the internal sphere of the compound), pursued their own interests and concerns drawing upon or circumventing the institutions and dictates of the state, occasionally with the complicity of their husbands, fathers and sons, but sometimes in outright defiance of the men in their lives. By focusing upon the ways in which women’s reproductive obligations and concerns influenced their actions and practices, this paper will read against the grain of some conventional colonial era documentary sources (largely related to health and nutrition) to reflect upon the intersections between nutrition, agriculture, and childrearing in Niger from 1930 to 1960. My larger comparative concern is about the framing of the question of population, child mortality and nutrition in colonial contexts. African studies research suggests that patterns of population growth, stagnation or decline are intimately bound up with questions of agricultural production, nutrition and childrearing practices (including weaning). Yet much of the literature of population focuses on sexuality and contraception to a degree that seems to belie the realities and practices of actual women across the globe. This paper will attempt to place the Nigerian case in the context of broader work on women in Africa that brings together thinking on nutrition, farming, and reproduction.

Barbara M. Cooper is Professor in the Department of History of the Rutgers University. She is the author of Marriage in Maradi: Gender and Culture in a Hausa Society in Niger, 1900-1989, Portsmouth: Heinemann (Social History of Africa Series), 1997 and Evangelical Christians in the Muslim Sahel, Indiana University Press, 2006. Winner of the African Studies Association’s Melville J. Herskovits Award for the best book on Africa published in 2006.

Debating Women’s Health: Reflections in Popular Hindi Print-culture in Colonial India, XIXth-XXth century

This paper tries to delineate the intervention of ‘educated section’ of colonial India with western medicine, scientific knowledge about reproduction, reproductive organs and mechanical means of contraception the manner in which it was discussed in the public sphere. In this context this study explores the way women have been represented, shown or projected in the twentieth century in popular Hindi print culture. It further shows how scientific knowledge about reproduction was invoked in public? What were the debates about norms of marriage, procreation and pleasure? For this purpose this paper examines contemporary Hindi literature, medical tracts published in Hindi and advertisements of contraceptives and aphrodisiacs placed in Hindi newspapers and journals. It argues that this intervention generated a rich corpus of medical tracts in Hindi which familiarize the scientific notion about body, sex and reproduction among ‘the masses’ or those within the broad circumference of a reading public. This paper further shows how multiplicity and complexity of social interaction and encounter in forms of advertisements reinforces caste, patriarchy, gender and communal identities. Nevertheless, their main concern was only about a healthy male progeny and man’s pleasure thus marginalising woman’s health and pleasure. The ‘educated section’, in their engagement at various levels sought a new pedagogical role in public life by disseminating this knowledge in paternalistic form to women and married couples. However their primary agenda was to build a ‘strong’, ‘virile’ and ‘masculine’ nation. Women were expected to be ‘good’ wives and mothers, and reproduce/nourish healthy male children for this nation. However, ironically they were clearly outside the boundary of this ‘masculine’ nation. On the basis of our exploration one can perhaps argue that the tracts and the debates opened issues related to sex/sexual pleasure and sexuality to the public domain.

Madhuri Sharma is a Fellow at Nehru Memorial, Museum & Library, Teen Murti House, New Delhi, working on a project titled Media, Medicine and Society in North India, c-1900-2000. She completed her doctoral research on colonial medicine in 2007 from the Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has taught history in some colleges at the University of Delhi and was a Visiting fellow of the British Academy in the Department of History, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow in 2007-08. India’s premier body of historian’s Indian History Congress has awarded twice best paper prize to two of her papers in 2003 and 2006. One of her papers titled Universal Panacea: Reflections on Health in Hindi Print Media was awarded an International Outstanding Essay Prize at the Third Conference of the Asian Society for History of Medicine held at Jawaharlal Nehru University in November 2006.