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How is death viewed? Is there life after death? Is the dead person feared? Why? What steps are taken to protect the living?

How soon is a person buried after death? How is a dead body preserved until the funeral takes place? Is there a “wake?” How are friends and family notified of the death of a loved one? How are people greeted as they arrive? By whom? How long do guests stay and what do they do to comfort the family? How do the chief mourners relate to the guests?

Who prepares the corpse for burial and how is this done? How are financial arrangements made if done by practitioners? Who is responsible for making funeral arrangements? How is the gravesite determined? Who prepares it? How is a corpse disposed of? What happens to the person’s belongings?

Describe the customs observed at death and for a funeral. How long does the mourning period last? What are the obligations and responsibilities of the family during this time? What is expected from friends and others (supplying meals, continued visits, prayer, reciting religious texts, etc.)?

What happens to widows or widowers? Who cares for them? May they remarry? Is there a mourning period? How long is it and what signs of mourning are shown?

Is euthanasia practiced? For what reasons? Are there cases of suicide? For what reasons do people kill themselves? Is suicide treated differently from other types of death?


According to folk belief, what is the cause of aging? Why do people get old? What happens to the soul as the body ages?

What is the average life expectancy? What is the attitude toward old age? What age is considered “old”? Are the elderly honored? Are they considered wise? Are they considered burdensome?

What living arrangement options are there for the elderly? What responsibility is taken by the members of the family? Who makes the decisions concerning their living arrangements? Are there nursing homes or retirement centers available as options? Are these government run or private institutions? How are they financed? What happens to old people who are childless, who have no relatives nearby, or are financially destitute?

What responsibilities do the elderly have in family life? in village life? at festivities or ceremonies?


When is a child considered to be a real person (from birth? by some physical change? by attaining a certain age? at a naming ceremony?) How does a child get its name? Why is a certain name chosen?

When and how is the child weaned? What happens if the mother’s milk is insufficient? Are there wet- nurses? What relationship does a wet-nurse then hold in the family? to the child? How does the child receive toilet training? By whom? At what age is this begun? At what age do children of either sex habitually wear lower garments?

Are children generally treated well? How is love shown to a child (by the father, by the mother, by siblings, by the grandparents or other relatives)? How are children instructed in the society’s customs and history? Is this done as a situation presents itself, or is a specific program followed? How can a child be protected from illness and injury?

How are children taught proper behavior? Are they told frightening stories to encourage good behavior? or are heroes held up as models to follow? How may they be punished? Are girls punished differently than boys?

Are children of either gender treated preferentially? If so, how and at what age does it begin? At what age are girls treated differently than boys? Are there different expectations for behavior in boys and girls? What qualities of character are considered desirable for each?

With whom does the child have the closest relationship? Does this change as the child gets older? Who seems to love the child most? Who helps care for young children?

At what age are children expected to begin doing chores? What type and are these gender- specific? When are they expected to take part in religious observances and rituals?


Are there local midwives? Are they trained? If not, how do they get their knowledge? Are they contracted beforehand to be on hand for the delivery? How much do they get paid for a successful delivery? for an unsuccessful one? How long after the delivery do they care for the mother? What are their services? What must the mother do after childbirth?

Where and how is the baby delivered? Who may be present? Who is in charge of the event? Who cuts the cord? How? What is done with the afterbirth? What must be done for the child physically and ritually? Who does this?

What is the father’s role before, during, and after the birth? At what point does he see the baby? Who announces the birth to the rest of the family? to the community? How is this done?

What is the meaning attached to events occurring at the birth of a child (guests present, cord around the baby’s neck, etc.)? What is done in the case of twins? What practices and beliefs are associated with death in childbirth?

Is the birth of a child, whether boy or girl, a time of rejoicing? Are gifts given in either case? To whom?

What religious or folk customs are observed at birth, as baptisms, charms, circumcision, etc.?


Note: For all Life Cycle assignments, be sure to ask a number of people for their stories, opinions, and experiences. Each individual will perceive these in a different way depending on what their ethnic background is, what their own experience has been, and what the local belief is.

According to local people, how does a woman become pregnant? How soon is a woman expected to become pregnant after marriage? What are the attitudes toward barrenness? What are some of the reasons given for barrenness? What recourse does the family, the couple, or the woman have for treatment? Is barrenness a reason for divorce?

Do the spirits play any role in conception? What rituals are practiced to ensure pregnancy? Are these done by a religious practitioner? by a designated woman? someone in the family?

What taboos must a pregnant woman observe? What will happen if the taboos are broken? What kinds of pressure is given by whom to ensure the taboos will be observed? How does the younger generation feel about the taboos? Ask a variety of women about these. Different families also can have different myths, tales, and experiences along these lines.

Are there dietary restrictions for the woman? What type of traditional prenatal care is given? Is there any remedy for morning sickness? Are steps taken to determine the sex of the baby before it is born? Which sex is preferred? Why?

What preparations are made for the arrival of the new-born (clothing, cradle, nursery, etc.)? If none are made, try to find out the reason why. If preparations are made, who does them (friends, certain members of the family, relatives near and far, baby showers, etc.)? What things are considered necessary for the first weeks of the child’s life (a supply of diapers, a pacifier, charms or other objects under the pillow, certain herbs around the bed, etc.)

Is contraception practiced? What types of contraceptives, traditional or modern, are there? Are they readily available? How is the practice viewed by the older generation? by the younger generation?

Is abortion practiced? Under what circumstances? What is the society’s attitude toward it?

What is the cause and frequency of miscarriages? What cures are sought to prevent miscarriages? What is done with the fetus? Is it given a proper burial or disposed of in some other way? When does the fetus receive its soul? Where does the soul come from?


Make a chart of your own family tree and ask your language helper to help you put the kinship terms for each in your new language. Ask your helper to do the same for his/her family. Compare the charts. Make a combined chart, filling in the spaces from your two charts. Are there still relationships you do not have a kinship term for? Have your helper assist you to name those.

Ask three separate families or households near where you live about their families. Do some of their close relations live in the immediate neighborhood? How far do members of their families live? Are some still in a rural situation and supply milk, grain, vegetables to the family in town? Why have some chosen to live close together and others further away? How often and under what conditions do relatives come to visit? Are some of these visits obligatory?

What obligations do family members have toward the benefit of the whole? Which relatives help with work projects? Which family members borrow from and lend to each other? Who is called on to assist in raising orphans or caring for the elderly? Which are expected to help in case of illness? Who is responsible for making wedding and funeral arrangements? Who carries out ritual obligations for the family?

Who is considered the head (patriarch, primary decision maker, etc.) of the family. Does the oldest son automatically step into this position? At what point in time does this transfer occur (at the death of the patriarch, when the son reaches a certain age, etc.)? To whom and in what proportions does property pass as inheritance? Who controls the money in the family? How is it distributed? In any of the above, what part do women play?

Under what circumstances would a family member be avoided or thought ill of?

What is the status of daughters-in-law? the mother-in-law? girls over boys?

What is the cultural attitude toward adoption? Is it widely practiced within the culture? If so, who holds priority for adopting a child, as an orphan? Do adopted children have the same rights as children born into the family? What is the attitude toward foreigners adopting out of the culture?

Look further in your neighborhood and check if the three families you have studied are typical of the area. How are the households in the neighborhood related? Is there any pattern to the location of related households in the village or town? In what other villages do households have relatives?


What patterns of visiting do you observe in the village or around your neighborhood? When do people generally visit each other (time of day, slack times in the year, special occasions, etc.)? Which people tend to visit each other often? Are they friends, neighbors, relatives? Do they give prior notice before visiting?

Do people visit from out-of-town? Are they friends, relatives, strangers? Are they people of the same ethnic group? Do they give prior notice of their arrival? How often do they come? What do they come for (business, social call, visit a sick person, attend a ceremony, etc.)? How long do they stay? Do they bring their own bedding or food, or is it the duty of the host to provide those?

What is the host’s responsibility to visitors? Is there a difference if the visitor is a close friend or relative in the same village, a friend or relative from another village, a stranger of the same ethnic group, a stranger from a different ethnic group, a person with status no matter where he is from, a woman, etc.?

Looking at these same categories, what is expected of each type of visitor? Should he/she bring a hostess gift? If so, what kind is acceptable? Are these gifts given in kind (same kind of gift you received)?

What words of welcome are used? What are the first topics talked about with visitors? Is this dependent on the reason for the visit (funeral, illness, etc.)? How does a host indicate to a visitor that he is not welcome or that it is time for him to leave? How does the visitor indicate that he/she is ready to leave? Are there certain actions that indicate the termination of a visit?

How soon after arrival is something to eat or drink served? Are visitors ever left alone, or is there always a family member present?


Do people own their homes or apartments? or are they renters? What is their responsibility to the owner? and the owner’s responsibility to them? How and when is the rent paid? What type of rental contract is drawn up? Does this need to be renewed after a certain period of time?

When a person moves into a house or apartment, what is furnished in the line of appliances or furniture? Where are such items available, and do they remain the property of the buyer when the property is vacated?

How are breach of contracts settled? How much notice needs to be given for an owner to ask a renter to move? or for the renter to tell the owner he is vacating? Is this always followed? What are the obligations of the one vacating and returning the property to the owner, as cleaning, repairing, etc.

How do people use the land around their dwelling? Is there room for a garden? If so, are flowers or vegetables planted? Is some of the space occupied by animals or chickens?

Are there restrictions as to how the space can be used? or how the dwelling can be decorated (paint, flower boxes, etc.) Is there a patio? What activities happen there?

Is there a space for storage of items like bicycles, children’s toys, lawn mowers, etc.? What arrangement is there for hanging laundry out to dry?


Do people own their homes? or are they renters? What is their responsibility to the owner? and the owner’s responsibility to them? How is the rent paid (by a portion of the crop harvested, or by a monetary payment)? Where is the residence located in relation to the fields?

What crops are planted? Draw up a calendar showing the events in the yearly agricultural cycle, noting time of field preparation, planting, weeding, and harvest for the various crops. How are crops stored? Which are grown for family consumption? which for cash crops?

Observe, participate (as possible) in and record how field work is done, tools used, labor patterns, etc. Take pictures if appropriate.

What kind of buildings are constructed in the fields? Do members of the family stay in their fields for part of the year? Who stays and for how long and why? How often are crops planted on the same piece of ground? Is there a rotation of crops? How do people decide where they will make their fields? How are boundary lines marked?

How valuable is land ownership? Is land passed from one generation to another? How can more land be acquired? Who holds the records of land ownership for the area? Who holds the title to land, and what do the title “papers” look like? How are infringements challenged and decided?

Can land be rented or leased? What portion of any produce must be given to the owner? Can land be purchased? Can the purchaser obtain a clear and permanent deed?


What animals do you see in your neighborhood? Are they free-roaming or tied to a hitching post in front of the owner’s home? Are they confined to a fenced-in pasture or a front yard? How do the people treat these animals (if they appear to own them, if they see them on the street, if they feel threatened by them?)

Are any animals kept as pets? Is this a wide-spread practice? What kind of animals are kept and for what purpose? How are they cared for? Are they shown warmth or affection? Are they given names? How are pet animals obtained? Are wild animals or birds ever tamed for pets?

If animals are kept as pets, are there any codes which owners should observe, as picking up after the pet, keeping them quiet, keeping them confined to certain locations, etc.?

Are dogs kept as pets or for some other purpose? Would every household have at least one dog?

Are certain animals or fowl status symbols? Are any of the animals involved in any kind of religious, local or national ceremonies? Are any of them used as icons for tribes, sports, or institutions?

What domestic animals are raised and for what purpose? How much do people pay for them? sell them for? Are any animals put out for hire? For what purpose? At what price? Whose job is it to care for the domestic animals? At what time of the day?

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