By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Mossi family, Yako, Burkina Faso, 1976. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.

On a continent where life is so uncertain--where as many as half of all children die before they reach the age of five--the ability to provide new life by bearing numerous children is all-important. The African environment is enormously challenging for human existence.  Life is constantly threatened by disease, drought, famine and physical disasters, as well as human disasters that have included in the past the threat of slavery, the economic and social hardships imposed by colonialism in the century from 1860 to 1960, contemporary political strife, and competition for increasingly scarce natural resources.  The young family of a Mossi chief is growing quickly, as the young wife gives birth early in her marriage to several children as a hedge against the uncertainties of disease, accident, and old age.