AdvisorNichter, Mark A.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation provides an ethnographic account of birthing practices among Raramuri women in Northern Mexico. The Raramuri practice of kin assisted birth is consonant with core cultural norms and social practices. Raramuri curers diagnose and treat illness, but they typically do not assist at birth, which is a deemed a normal part of the life course. Health is maintained by adhering to community norms of thinking well and acting well, through such behavioral ideals as non violence, generosity, reciprocity, and modesty. Pregnant women minimize risk at birth by conforming to these ideals. The Raramuri, an indigenous population of northern Mexico, number about 100,000. They live in remote canyon regions of the Western Sierra Madre, engaging in subsistence horticulture and pastoralism. In recent years, increasing numbers of Raramuri are migrating to urban areas, due to the effects of logging, drought, and drug growing, all of which contribute to loss of arable land. As a result, Raramuri are entering urban areas in unprecedented numbers. This dissertation draws upon reproductive histories, birth narratives, and participant observation in two sites: Chihuahua city and a remote rancho. The Mexican government provides health services to Raramuri in both localities, and Raramuri women have their most sustained and frequent interaction with mestizos when they seek health care. Reproductive health interactions are fraught with miscommunication, which Raramuri experience as a loss of autonomy and control, leading to their reluctance to utilize services. High infant and maternal mortality rates among the Raramuri are typically blamed on non utilization of existing services. I provide an in depth and nuanced analysis, which addresses poverty and malnutrition, mistrust of state health and family planning agendas, and forms of institutional racism. I argue that the structural violence the Raramuri experience is glossed over by reports which deflect responsibility and blame the victim. Raramuri birthing practices are an expression of women's sense of agency, a form of resistance to a state apparatus they do not trust, and an important site of social reproduction where key values are transmitted and reaffirmed within families, extended kin groups, and Raramuri society as a whole.
Degree ProgramGraduate College