By Carla Herling
Drake University (formerly University of Iowa)
The African environment is often hostile and unpredictable. Endemic health problems that are little-known outside Africa, including sleeping sickness, malaria, liver flukes, and diseases such as measles that are not health-threatening elsewhere are devastating in Africa. In Africa the ability to provide new life by bearing numerous children is all-important. An African woman's traditional roles are as life bearer, nurturer, and source of generations. The very existence of the family and the clan depends on women's ability to bear children. It is they who can provide security for their parents in old age and who will continue to nourish the spirits of the ancestors through offerings and prayers. As a result, much African art is directed toward encouraging the fertility of women, as well as the soil, plant, and animal life. Many shrines are devoted to spirits that provide the blessing of fertility, and they frequently contain sculpture and other art forms devoted to the concept of fertility.