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A black dog enters the home: hunger and malnutrition in Malawi


Hunger and inadequate nutrition are ongoing concerns in rural Malawi and are exemplified in traditional proverbs. Traditional proverbs and common expressions offer insight into commonly held truths across societies throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Strong oral traditions allow community beliefs embodied in proverbs to be passed down from generation to generation. In our qualitative study, we conducted 8 individual and 12 focus group interviews with a total of 83 participants across two districts in rural central Malawi with the aim of soliciting context-specific details on men and women’s knowledge, attitudes and practices related to nutrition, gender equality and women’s empowerment. Each interview began by asking participants to share common proverbs related to nutrition. Our qualitative analysis, informed by an indigenous-based theoretical framework that recognises and centres African indigenous knowledge production, yielded six themes: ‘a black dog enters the home’, ‘don’t stay with your hands hanging’, ‘a man is at the stomach’, ‘showers have fallen’, ‘we lack peace in our hearts’ and ‘the hunger season’. Traditional proverbs can provide insight into the underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition. Physicians, nurses and other allied health professionals around the world have a role to play in addressing hunger and malnutrition, which have been exacerbated by climate change. We have an ethical duty to educate ourselves and others, and change our behaviours, to mitigate the root causes of climate change, which are contributing to food insecurity and resultant poor health outcomes in countries like Malawi.

  • anthropology
  • medical humanities
  • nutrition and metabolism
  • public health

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