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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?


Note:  While investigating this subject, plus the Life Cycle topics which follow, be sensitive. In some cultures, some of these topics would not be appropriate for men to discuss with women and vice versa. When possible and appropriate, ask a wide variety of people for their opinions. Different age groups, different ethnic groups, and different religions may hold very different perspectives on these issues.

What is the adult attitude to children’s curiosity about their own bodies? regarding procreation and birth? Is such knowledge given, withheld, or fictionalized (e.g., the stork brought you)?

What system of modesty does the society follow regarding which body parts may be seen, excretory functions, bathing, privacy of marital relations. etc.?

Is virginity expected before marriage? From both sexes? If not, when do young people begin having sexual relations? With whom? What relationships would be considered incestuous? Is premarital sex expected. condoned, punished? How? What is the attitude of the parents toward such relations?

Is pregnancy before marriage shameful, accepted, or welcomed? Is the couple punished (e.g., by being fined or expelled from the village)? What effect does such a pregnancy have on a future marriage and bride price?

Are extramarital sex relations accepted or tolerated? For both sexes? Are the spirits offended by such affairs? Is the couple fined or punished? What happens to a child born of an adulterous affair?

What are the attitudes toward homosexuality, prostitution, or abortion? Are such actions tolerated or punished? How?

How are venereal diseases treated? Is contracting such a disease a thing of shame? Is there any connection between sex and morality?

What acts are considered immoral: profaning sacred places or objects, immodest behavior, violations of kinship relationships, incest, violation of an ethical code of behavior, or something else? What is the punishment for infraction of these codes? Is there a list of such behaviors (as, the Ten Commandments, the 7 deadly sins, etc.)? How are these taught and learned?


What understanding and attitudes do people seem to have concerning the cause and prevention of illness?

  • What is their attitude toward the maimed, deformed, and mentally ill?
  • What is the relation between sickness and the spirit world?

What steps do people take to avoid sickness and disease?

  • What type of personal and household cleanliness do they observe?
  • Are these traditional, or learned from other sources?
  • What religious steps are taken to avert or cure sickness?

What are the local remedies for aches and pains, lice and skin conditions, intestinal upsets, major illness, etc.?

What local plants, herbs, teas, or other substances are used in treating health problems?

Where are prescription and non-prescription medications available?

Is there a fresh water supply, and what measures are taken to keep it uncontaminated?

  • Are there toilet facilities? Where are they located?
  • Are any measures taken to control pests and insects?

To what types of medical practitioners do they resort, how soon after the onset of the complaint, and what fees do they pay?

  • Are doctors or clinics accessible to the general public?
  • How is an appointment made and how are services paid for?
  • Do medical practitioners make home visits or does the patient have to go to their clinic/office?

Are some villagers considered to be healers, either through the compounding of local materials or through contact with the spirit world? If there are such people, they may be very reluctant to share their secrets.


Note comments made concerning the appearance of various people. What are the criteria for being considered well-groomed?

How often do they bathe?

  • Wash their hands and face?
  • Brush their teeth?
  • What is used as the cleaning agent–soap, toothpaste, bark from trees, dental floss?
  • How is body waste cleaned off and disposed of?

How do they care for their skin?

  • What is considered beautiful skin and how is it attained?
  • Do people scarify, mutilate or tattoo parts of the body? At what age? Who does the procedure?
  • What body parts are affected?
  • Why is it done?

How are the teeth cared for?

  • What is thought to be attractive (stained teeth, filed teeth, white teeth)? By young people as well?
  • Is gold put on or in teeth? Why and how?
  • Is betel chewed?
  • Are there dentists? Are they patronized? When? Can someone with a toothache just walk into an office, or do appointments have to be made? How?
  • What is considered the reason for tooth decay and how can it be prevented?

What is the attitude toward body odors?

  • Which odors are unpleasant?
  • Which are pleasant?
  • How do foreigners or other outsiders smell?
  • What is used as a deodorant?
  • Are perfumes or other ointments used ordinarily, at festivities, or to enhance sexuality?

How do they care for their hair (shampooing, cutting, arranging, etc.)?

  • What is the traditional hair style? Is this changing with the young people
  • What is available for shampoo?
  • What other ointments, oils, etc. are used?
  • How do they care for their nails?
  • Must nail and hair clippings be disposed of carefully? How?
  • Are certain times more auspicious for clipping?

What types of ornaments do women wear on their bodies and clothing?

  • What type do men wear?
  • How does festive attire differ from ordinary clothing in terms of fabric, ornamentation or adornment?
  • What jewelry is worn and when?
  • Does this indicate relative status?
  • At what age are ears, noses, or other parts pierced? Who does this?
  • How are festive clothes and valuables cared for?


Describe the types of clothing worn by men, women, children, and infants. At what ages do boys and girls begin to wear “adult” clothing? How much of the body needs to be covered? When? Are expectations different for women than for men? What articles are gender specific?

Is clothing distinctive to the ethnic group? If not, is there a time when traditional ethnic clothing is worn? Is it worn with pride?

What is considered “essential” to every person’s wardrobe and how much money would be spent on some of these “essentials”?

Is clothing ready-made? If not, who makes them? Are they hand-sewn or machine-sewn? What kind of material is used in clothing for every-day wear? for special occasions?

Do articles of clothing indicate rank, status, or marital condition?

Do people have many changes of clothes?

  • Are different sets worn to work, on special occasions, for sleeping, for trips to town, etc.?
  • Does the type of clothing change seasonally?
  • What is considered appropriate or inappropriate dress for different occasions?
  • How important is it to dress nicely?

What types of ornaments are worn on the clothes (buttons, clasps, fringes, coins, seeds, embroidery, etc.)?

How is clothing kept clean and how frequently is this done?


Make copies of a chart with times of the day (morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night) with space for writing in activities done during those times. Fill in your own activities for each time frame and give one to some of your friends. Have your friends fill in their own chart with their activities. Compare charts as a conversation exercise. What adjustments would be allowed in the daily routine? Do these tasks get done each day, or is there variety during the week?

Which activities are personal, and which ones involve the whole family? How are bathroom schedules organized and monitored? Are there washstands outside of the toilet area, or is everything enclosed in one room? How often is bathing done, and where?

Have each of the members of one family you know well fill out the charts. Compare the schedules for each and note how they differ, how they augment each other, and how adjustments are made. Note how much of their time is taken in doing their various tasks. What problems do they face during the day and how do they deal with them? Which tasks are done on a daily basis? Does the work vary from day to day (some tasks done one day, some on another)?

Arrange with a family you know well to stay overnight in their home and participate in their life for a whole day. Perhaps you could suggest that you would like to tell your relatives in your home country what a day in the life of a local family is like. Participate in their work as much as possible and try to get a picture of both individual differences and interpersonal relationships. If you have a fellow-worker, split up to follow family members to different tasks. Compare notes later to get a composite picture.

Examples of questions to note:

  •  Who gets up first?
  • What is the first task each member of the family performs?
  • Who wakes up the rest of the family? in what order?
  • Is face-washing enough, or is a complete bath in order in the morning?
  • Who gets the clothes ready for wearing?
  • Who cooks the breakfast?
  • Do the children get walked to school?
  • When does the father leave for work, and when does he return?
  • Does the mother also work? If so, what are the arrangements for child care?
  • What arrangements are made for cleaning the house, washing the dishes, gardening, marketing, etc.?
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