Anthropology and international health : Asian case studies by Mark Nichter; Mimi Nichter

By Mark Nichter; Mimi Nichter

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25 She went on to note that a woman taking oral contraceptives was as dry as she would be in the latter days of her cycle before menstruation. She then warned that being in this hot, dry state for a long period of time led to the uterus “crumbling” like a piece of wood disintegrating when left out in the sun. This rendered a woman incapable of conception. The image of a crumbling uterus reemerged in subsequent interviews with other women about the properties and dangers of using oral contraceptives (see Chapter 3).

The second medicine was taken to make the womb strong enough to hold the seed. 11 While analogies linking conception to agriculture emerged during our interviews, it would be misrepresentative to describe the seed-field analogy as a pervasive cultural model for conception in South Kanara. Conception is not a widely thought about or elaborately worked out cultural concept among the non-Brahman, largely matrilineal castes of South Kanara. The most common idea expressed was that in order for conception to occur the mingling of both male and female semen (dhātu) was required at the proper time of the month.

What it does not explain is why the first half of a woman’s cycle (following menses) is deemed more fertile than the second half of her cycle. Reference to a child looking like a man other than a woman’s husband as being related to who she cast her eyes upon after her purification bath may also be a slur upon the woman’s moral character. As Neff (1994) notes fertility among South Indian women is also associated with properly attending to ritual duties to gods and the ancestors such that feminine powers may be released in the form of fertility which serves the family’s social interests.

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