Beyond liminality: orphanhood and marginalisation in Botswana

Type Journal Article - African Journal of AIDS Research
Title Beyond liminality: orphanhood and marginalisation in Botswana
Volume 4
Issue 3
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2005
Page numbers 195-204
For children, the death of a parent initiates a rite of passage, a three-stage process: separation from their status as
‘son’ or ‘daughter’, a period of liminality with rituals of mourning, burial and interment, and finally re-aggregation
into a re-formed social network with a new status as a ‘child without parents’. Many orphans in Botswana are
excluded from the funerals of their parents; they are structurally invisible. Sometimes, particularly in the case of
young children, they are taken to another place, thus they are literally not seen. In the case of older children, some
complete all three stages of the rite of passage and the transformation results in clear aggregation into a new
status and role. Those children are often resilient and cope well with the trials of orphanhood. For others, liminality
is prolonged and the orphans are not reincorporated into a new social network; they are marginalised and may
seek ‘belonging’, ‘acceptance’ and ‘membership’ in alternative relationships and in socially unacceptable ways.
This paper uses Van Gennep’s concept of rite of passage as a framework for examining the coping strategies of
orphans in Botswana, where some children demonstrate resilience as they emerge from liminality while others
seem stuck in perpetual marginalisation.

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