Document Type


Date of Degree


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Ellen Lewin


As women who are sub-fertile, infertile or whose children have died, kanyalengs play a special role at public gatherings and celebrations as performers in The Gambia. The collective activities of kanyalengs speak to the hardships that are associated with the inability to meet cultural expectations for a sufficiently large family They traditionally take the form of bold song and dance performances which enable kanyalengs to shame themselves before Allah in hopes that their outrageous behavior will convince divine will to take pity and make them fertile or allow their children to survive.

Drawing on data from interviews, participant observation and archival research conducted in Gambia over an eight month period in 2004, this dissertation considers the reproductive concerns of kanyalengs in the context of marriage and kinship as well as their micro political-economic interests in creating and maintaining an appropriately large family. It investigates Gambian women's explanations of and responses to reproductive disruptions including various healing modalities as well as kanyaleng membership. Kanyaleng performances often reveal gender disparities in various aspects of Gambian life as well as the burden of successful reproduction that lies squarely on women's shoulders. However, this dissertation argues that the goal of kanyaleng yaa ("being a kanyaleng") is not to permanently transform reproductive expectations, but to ultimately fulfill them.

Kanyaleng yaa operates both as an individual identity and as an expression of group solidarity, with members working together to attain their personal and collective goals, reproductive and otherwise, through ritual and work. Increasingly, the lines between these two categories of action have become blurred with kanyalengs' entrée into development work as "traditional communicators." This dissertation examines how kanyalengs' concerns correspond to or conflict with the reproductive health agendas that national and international agents have set for Gambian women and asserts that new opportunities for kanyalengs in development present chances to parlay their liminal status into social and economic advantages. Further, it explores the unique way in which kanyalengs are engaged with the dissemination of messages as development educators that may ultimately be at odds with what they perceive to be their best reproductive interests.


reproduction, infertility, Gambia


xiii, 273 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 254-273).


Copyright 2006 Carolyn Ann Hough

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