After a clinical study at Kilifi District hospital had shown a high
prevalence of geophagy among pregnant women, and a strong association of
geophagy, anaemia and iron depletion, 52 pregnant women from the same
hospital, and 4 traditional healers from the surroundings of Kilifi in
Kenya were interviewed on the topic of soil-eating and its perceived
causes and consequences. The findings were substantiated by results from
an earlier anthropological study on maternal health and anaemia in the
same study area.
Most of the pregnant women (73%) ate soil regularly. They mainly ate the
soil from walls of houses, and their estimated median daily ingestion
was 41.5 g. They described soil-eating as a predominantly female
practice with strong relations to fertility and reproduction. They made
associations between soil-eating, the condition of the blood and certain
bodily states: pregnancy, lack of blood (upungufu wa damu), an illness
called safura involving ``weak'' blood, and worms (minyolo).
The relationships the women described between soil-eating and illness
resemble to some extent the causalities explored in biomedical research
on soil-eating, anaemia and intestinal worm infections. However the
women did not conceptualise the issue in terms of the single causal
links characteristic of most scientific thought. Instead, they
acknowledged the existence of multiple links between phenomena which
they observed in their own and other women's bodies.
The women's ideas about soil-eating and their bodies shows the
significance of both social and cultural context on the ways in which
women derive knowledge from, and make sense of their bodily states. The
cultural associations of soil-eating with blood, fertility and
femininity exist alongside knowledge of its links to illness. Our
findings show that soil-eating is more than just a physiologically
induced behaviour; it is a rich cultural practice.
Geisslera, P.W.; Princeb, R.J.; Levenec, M.; Podad, C.; Beckerlegc, S.E.; Mutemid, W.; Shulmand, C.E. Perceptions of soil-eating and anaemia among pregnant women on the Kenyan coast. Social Science and Medicine (1999) 48 (8) 1069-1079. [DOI: 10.1016/S0277-9536(98)00409-2]
Perceptions of soil-eating and anaemia among pregnant women on the Kenyan coast