Dying under the Bird’s Shadow: Narrative Representations of Degedege and Child Survival among the Zaramo of Tanzania


In this article, I examine the cultural interpretations of degedege, an indigenous illness commonly recognized by the Zaramo people of coastal Tanzania as life threatening. Drawing on the narratives of three bereaved parents who lost a child to degedege, I analyze the contextual and circumstantial factors involved in these parents’ negotiation of the identity of an illness and in their subsequent therapy seeking behavior. I show that even though cultural knowledge and etiological beliefs about degedege may be shared locally, there is significant variation in the therapeutic pathways that parents follow to deal with an actual episode of the illness. I emphasize the need for more contextualized data on health-seeking behaviors, and argue that it is necessary to pay attention to the micropolitics of health care decision making at the household level. Finally, I also call attention to the politics of provider–patient communication at public health facilities as a means to improve public health interventions to increase child survival.

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