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Beyond liminality: orphanhood and marginalisation in Botswana

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Abstract:

For children, the death of a parent initiates a rite of passage, a three-stage process: separation from their status as 'son' or 'daughter', a period of liminality with rituals of mourning, burial and interment, and finally re-aggregation into a re-formed social network with a new status as a 'child without parents'. Many orphans in Botswana are excluded from the funerals of their parents; they are structurally invisible. Sometimes, particularly in the case of young children, they are taken to another place, thus they are literally not seen. In the case of older children, some complete all three stages of the rite of passage and the transformation results in clear aggregation into a new status and role. Those children are often resilient and cope well with the trials of orphanhood. For others, liminality is prolonged and the orphans are not reincorporated into a new social network; they are marginalised and may seek 'belonging', 'acceptance' and 'membership' in alternative relationships and in socially unacceptable ways. This paper uses Van Gennep's concept of rite of passage as a framework for examining the coping strategies of orphans in Botswana, where some children demonstrate resilience as they emerge from liminality while others seem stuck in perpetual marginalisation.

Keywords: AFRICA; COPING STRATEGIES; CULTURAL INVOLUTION; EXCLUSION; ORPHANS AND VULNERABLE CHILDREN; RESILIENCE; RITE OF PASSAGE; SOCIAL NETWORKS

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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  • Co-Published by NISC and Routledge - Subscriber access available here
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