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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?


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.

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