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The power of AIDS: kinship, mobility and the valuing of social and ritual relationships in Tanzania

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The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa has become a test case of the effects of globalisation, in that it demonstrates how international processes may affect regional life situations and how 'the local' can simultaneously develop in its own way, through the processes of appropriating, modifying, and resisting global influences. Drawing on fieldwork in Tanzania, I show how the Luo in the Mara region define HIV/AIDS as an outcome of modernity and globalisation, which to them have become embodied in processes of migration, the collapse of generational and gender hierarchies, and an increased immorality in contemporary society. While social and moral ruptures in Mara become further condensed in tensions between lineages and AIDS-sick relatives, mourning and burial rituals (including widow cleansing), disputes over inheritance rights, and the attribution of illness to the breaking of a taboo (chira) have become essential for negotiating and maintaining social and cultural relationships in an era of AIDS. In conclusion I argue that the concepts of vitality and moral practice may assist an understanding of how different social actors in sub-Saharan Africa have responded to the breakdowns associated with increased suffering and death, and to describe some social and moral developments observable in the context of internationally driven public health campaigns in the region.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-09-01

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