Uganda’s Mariam Nabatanzi – One Woman, 38 Surviving Children

This is going to be close to some sort of global record, one Ugandan woman, Mariam Nabatanzi, has 38 surviving children. She’s not aided by the fact that her husband recently abandoned her and the children. To give an example of what it means to be in a household that size the daily ration is 25 kg of maize flour.

Ah, to explain. In much of sub-Saharan Africa the basic meal, the foundational stodge, is mealie meal. As with potatoes to the early 19th century Irish, rice in an East Asian diet, so a maize or cornflour porridge is the basic calorie intake. When times are good or families doing well then supplemented with meat and or fish, vegetables and so on. When bad then it’s a bowl of mealie meal and consider your stomach lucky. Or, actually, bad and no mealie meal either. Think on it, not doing badly means grits and grits only for all and every meal.

But how did the one woman end up with so many children? No one is fertile for that many years, obviously.

Mariam Nabatanzi gave birth to twins a year after she was married off at the age of 12. Five more sets of twins followed – along with four sets of triplets and five sets of quadruplets. Three years ago, however, the 39-year-old Ugandan was abandoned by her husband, leaving her to support their surviving 38 children alone.

That’s a heck of a fertility rate.

Desperate for cash, Nabatanzi turns a hand to everything: hairdressing, event decorating, collecting and selling scrap metal, brewing local gin and selling herbal medicine. The money is swallowed up by food, medical care, clothing and school fees. On a grimy wall in one room of her home hang proud portraits of some of her children graduating from school, gold tinsel around their necks.

Secondary schooling for them all isn’t going to be a thing given the numbers there. But she does seem to be doing as well as can be expected. Must be, to have so many surviving.

Myself I’m ever so slightly dubious about these numbers. The idea of five sets of quadruplets in one series of pregnancies astonishes. So, if we do have any Ugandan readers anyone care to tell us more about this story?

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