Removing a Community Curse Resulting from the Burial of a Pregnant Woman with a Fetus in Her Womb. An Anthropological Approach Conducted During the Ebola Virus Epidemic in Guinea

  • Julienne Ngoundoung Anoko
  • Doug HenryEmail author
Part of the Global Maternal and Child Health book series (GMCH)


This article recounts the successful application of rapid ethnographic participatory methods to the removal of a community curse provoked by the death of a pregnant woman in the “Forestière” region of Southeastern Guinea, at the height of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic there. The curse-removal ritual, organized by the first author on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO), was performed in 2014, during a period of strong community opposition against international and government measures taken to control the epidemic. It illustrates the importance of rapid ethnography as a way to engage and understand a community’s “lay epidemiology” of disease transmission, as part of epidemic control.

The principal methodology consisted of sensitive ethnographic investigation and community-based participatory action with family members, administrative authorities, regional traditional and religious leaders, and local EVD-response personnel. Ultimately, an improvised ritual permitted the family to bury the woman in a culturally acceptable but clinically mandated state at death, both allowing for a safe burial and removing the curse. This report details how rapid anthropological research methods were used to diffuse a volatile community crisis, and ultimately, build trust between local clinic staff and the surrounding community. It provides a detailed ethnographic account of contemporary traditions surrounding untimely death in this region, but shows how even “traditional” culture can be both innovative and flexible during times of crisis.


Ebola virus disease Ebola epidemic Social anthropology Maternal death Stillbirth Pregnancy Hemorrhagic fever Pregnancy complication Postmortem cesarean section Curse removal Ritual Fetus Listening Communication Community mobilization and implications Kissi people Guéckédou Guinea Safe burial Burial practices Fetal death 



The authors wish to express their gratitude to Heejin Ahn, Research/Administrative Assistant to Dr. Abramowitz (Center for African Studies), for translating the original French version of this paper written by the first author into English and Marie Ouendeno, translator and assistant to Dr. Anoko during the field mission in Guinea, and a WHO Volunteer.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Rene Descartes Paris V La SorbonneParisFrance
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA

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