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Anthropology/doubtful African custom reported


Hi Ralph,

Reading "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande, an otherwise excellent book, I came across a report without details about an African custom of leaving elderly and or sick out in the bush to die. It didn't specify the place or the time of this practice, and no footnote was given. A Nigerian friend tells me this is unthinkable anywhere in Africa, given a great pan-African reverence for the elders. Contacting the author has not received a response. Could you lead me to a good source where I may elucidate this issue? I appreciate your help.

All best,

Hi Greg,  

This may be true for some of the more nomadic hunter/gatherers like the Bushmen of the Kalahari.  But your Nigerian friend is essentially correct.  The elderly carry a high social and/or reverential status.  Even among the Bushmen,  the old ones are revered for their knowledge.  However if infirm, may stay behind on their own accord.  Among the Twareg of North Africa the elderly are also revered but as with the Bushmen, may on their own accord "vanish" into the desert.

Sedentary groups do not practice "departure".

There are several ethnographic works that go into some detail.


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Ralph Salier


Business Anthropologist. Business negotiations in multiple cultures and working with multiple cultures in the business arena. Broad understanding of business practices and business "ethics" in different parts of the world.


25+ years in international procurement and negotiations.


MA Anthropology, Proximics

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