Can Your Culture Make you Healthier?

Can Your Make you Healthy

CAN YOUR CULTURE MAKE YOU HEALTHIER? This Fulani girl is from the village of Goumbi Kanno, near Niger’s border with Nigeria. At the time that I met her, I was working for CARE International, conducting breastfeeding education among the mothers of Goumbi Kanno, a village composed of both the Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups. I was living on the Hausa side of the village, and my first – very judgemental! — impression of Kanno was that it was filthy and neglected.

The well was in terrible shape, the water brown and polluted by runoff, and the ground surrounding the well was covered in animal feces. The village streets were littered with plastic bags, rusting metal, and animal and human excrements. Pools of stagnant rainwater collected in pot holes.

As I usually do in order to get my bearings in a location, I walked around. I walked over a mile to what I discovered to be the Fulani side of the village. The switch was dramatic; the trash and filth disappeared, there were no plastics or metal or excrements littering the ground. Even the well had a wall surrounding it, thereby protecting it from runoff and animal feces.

NOTE: many of my best friends are Hausa, so please my Hausa friends, do not take offense!

I first believed this difference to be a coincidence. But the more villages that I visited in the region, the more it became clear to me that traditionally nomadic populations had very different health behavior and knowledge compared with their sedentary counterparts. Two years later, I spent a year as a Fulbright scholar researching this phenomenon across Niger.