Unfolding tragedies : the impact of a mother's death on her kin and community : an ethnography from Southern Malawi
In examining the specific impact of a mother's death on her surviving family and community, the thesis highlights the social devastation resulting from such an event. Crucially, it argues that the increased frequency of maternal death associated with the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the associated increase in numbers of orphaned children, have the potential to provoke full-scale destruction of traditional kinship structures and coping mechanisms. The study contributes to a gendered study of death and the resultant coping mechanisms as well as emphasizing the importance of sibling bonds in Malawian kinship. Furthermore, it provides an analysis of the current trends relating to orphan care, and suggests how these goals could be improved within the specific cultural context. The findings are based on 14 months of in situ fieldwork, during which time a totla of 78 interviews were conducted with 66 individuals, 46 of whom are case studies. Further interviews were conducted with hospital personnel, workers with orphans, and teachers, i.e. those in positions to provide social commentary. Nudist N4 software was used for data management of the interview transcripts and fieldnotes, and facilitated access to the coded data as analysis proceeded. An historical understanding of Malawi's cultural context is outlined in the introductory chapter and the entire discussion is grounded within this context. More detailed anthropological data is provided in the chapter on kinship, which emphasizes the importance of maternal kin in looking after orphans subsequent to a mother's death. Chapters on HIV and death outline how communities are besieged by illnesses surrounding HIV-infection, and how the increased death rates associated with HIV have undermined the traditional bereavement processes, and, hence, the associated coping mechanisms. The thesis concludes with a discussion of the kinds of orphan care currently available in Malawi, followed by recommendations on how the needs of orphans could better be met by development initiatives that are more suited to working with community-based organizations.