Transfers of Belonging

Child Fostering in West Africa in the 20th Century


Author: Erdmute Alber
In Transfers of Belonging, Erdmute Alber traces the history of child fostering in northern Benin from the pre-colonial past to the present by pointing out the embeddedness of child foster practices and norms in a wider political process of change. Child fostering was, for a long time, not just one way of raising children, but seen as the appropriate way of doing so. This changed profoundly with the arrival of European ideas about birth parents being the ‘right’ parents, but also with the introduction of schooling and the differentiation of life chances. Besides providing deep historical and ethnographical insights, Transfers of Belonging offers a new theoretical frame for conceptualizing parenting.

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Erdmute Alber (Ph.D. 1997) is chair of Social Anthropology at Bayreuth University (Germany). She has undertaken long-term field research in West Africa, especially in northern Benin. She has directed several research projects on kinship, generational relations and child fostering in West Africa and published widely in the field of political anthropology, childhood, kinship, intergenerational relations and care.
List of Figures
List of Abbreviations

 Baatombu Peasants
National and Regional Embeddedness
Social Relations
Kinship Terminology
 Fieldwork and Methods
Field Research
Thick Participation
Childhood Studies
Norm, Practice, Emotion

1 Theoretical Approaches and Concepts on Child Fostering
 A Structural-functionalist Perspective: Parenthood and Social Reproduction
Bearing and Begetting: Birth Parenthood
Status Entitlement: Legal Parenthood
Nurturance, Training and Sponsorship: Social Parenthood
Delegation of Parenthood: Types, Reasons and Functions
 A Structuralist Perspective: The Circulation of Children
 Other Perspectives
The Turn to the Actor
Transfers of Imagined Belonging

2 Parenthood in Rural Borgu
 Birth Parenthood
An Open Secret
Giving Birth in the Health Centre
Rites of Transition
Everyday Practices
Acquiring Knowledge
Happy Foster Children
Conceptions of Parenthood
 Child Fostering
Transferring a Child
Possible Foster Parents
Same Sex
Order of Siblings
 Reasons for Child Fostering
Kinship Cohesion
Preventing Regressive Behaviour in Children
Social Parenthood Supports the Hierarchies
Children as Workers
Crisis Fostering
Women’s Interests
 Child Fostering, Gender and Marriage
Exchanging Children and Women
Avoidance and Indirect Communication
Open Conflicts
Foster Parents
Running Away
 Arguments against Child Fostering
Kinship Conflicts
 A Bad Investment

3 Child Fostering in the Twentieth Century
 Precolonial Times
Everyday Realities
Violence and Gifts
Oedipus in Africa?
 Colonial Changes
End of the Raids
New Conceptions
Sero Toro Tuunku and his Foster Son
New Life Courses
Christian Missions
The Introduction of Schools
State Policy
 The Post-colonial Period
Urban Baatombu Households
Expansion of Educational Facilities
 Between Town and Village: A Conflict
 Child Fostering in Urban Areas: Cotonou and Parakou
Urban Households
Mobility and Education
Household Composition
Fostering and Education
 Child Fostering in the Villages of Tɛbɔ, Kika and Yarɔ
Frequency of Child Fostering
Birth Rate and Child Mortality
Schooling and Fostering
Family Relationship between Children and their Foster Parents
 On the threshold of the 21st Century: Two Conflicts

 Names and Interviews
Interviews Cited

Besides anthropologists working on West Africa, this book should be read by all interested in kinship, childhood, child development and the history of Africa.