Cultural Construction of Gender

All Eastern Tukanoans regard themselves as descended from ancestral brothers born of the body of a primordial anaconda. Each founding brother is the focal ancestor of a sib, whose members are spoken of as the "grandchildren of one man." One generation of brothers generates another through the name exchange. Men structure descent and generational time, linking descendant with ancestor, present and future with past. Although women participate in synchronic linkages, connecting different descent groups, they are absent from the descent model of reproduction.

A local village consists of a core of male relatives (called agnates by anthropologists), their in-marrying wives, and their unmarried daughters. The practice of patrilocality—when a bride takes up residence in the village of her husband—furthers the solidarity of a resident male brotherhood and exacerbates the political subordination of women.

The outsideness of women in the villages into which they marry is exacerbated by the combined practices of patrilineal exogamy and patrilocal postmarital residence. As a result, males inhabiting the same settlement are members of one language group, while in-marrying wives are speakers of other, "foreign," languages. In the Wanano village of Yapima, in which I conducted field-work, the eight in-marrying wives spoke five different languages. Conversation among wives is characteristically multilingual, while discourse among males and unmarried Wanano females is monolingual.

"Femaleness" and "maleness" are considered to be fundamentally different concepts. Moreover, a daily division in practical life between male and female activities still maintains a different, but concrete, separation between the genders.

Woman's anatomy is thought to be polluting and men feel they must protect themselves from female contamination. Males practice purging rituals and aspire to states of mental and physical control, including control of sexual impulses, thought to be outside the potentials of women. It is believed by men that women's bodies can endanger and defile the intellectual rigor and spiritual discipline practiced by men. In short, the dominant male ideology associates men with the head and the cerebral functions of speech, intellect, and leadership. It associates women with the body and the sensate (Chernela, 1988a).

Women began wearing cotton dresses in 1920, as a result of missionary influence. Yet there is no modesty regarding the upper body, and women occasionally go about in only skirts. Women smoke pipes, and maintain their hair long and straight. On ritual occasions women paint their bodies with fine geometric black designs, yet wear no colorful ornaments. In contrast, men's ornamentation in the same rituals involve colorful feather headdresses, body paint, and floral ornaments.

Gender over the Life Cycle Socialization of Boys and Girls

The birth of a boy or girl is marked by the parents by abstention from certain foods and activities. These practices and abstentions are both public and private; they culminate in a ritual bath for the parents, presided over by a shaman, who applies protective substances intended to bless the couple as well as the child. This ritual may be seen by all, as it takes place at the river edge. Until they are able to walk, infants remain in a body sling at mother's side; they sleep with mother in the same hammock. Toddlers stay close to mother, but young boys soon venture out to join the village horde of children. This group roams through the village without organized supervision; it contains children of all ages, with the oldest taking the responsibility for overseeing and protecting the youngest.

Language learning is an important vehicle for socialization. For speakers of Eastern Tukanoan languages, language is not only a matrix of symbols, it is itself a symbol, a marker of identity, and a primary definer of category. In the multilingual communities of the Northwest Amazon, speakers are competent in both mother's and father's languages but must supress mother's language as they mature.

In the processes of language acquisition a child must be socialized to perform but one language in a context of many. In the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next, every attempt is made to avoid the mixing of languages, since it is considered essential that linguistic identities remain distinct and linguistic boundaries be kept stable.

A child is raised learning both mother's and father's languages but is socialized not to speak one of them. The situation is modeled for the child when people speak back and forth in two languages. Yet the child must learn to distinguish the two languages and discern which is appropriate for him to verbalize and which not. Overt instruction provides the child signals that mother's tongue has no social or public value.

For all children speaking competence, and for males rhetorical skill, are prized in father's language—the language of the speaker's descent group. Public demonstrations of mother's language, however, are strongly sanctioned. The result is a set of equivalences in which father-language is social and outside, and mother-language is private and inside (Chernela, 1997).

One part of this elaborate and socially embedded ideology of language is the belief that the well-developing child learns to speak his/her father's language with consistency, and will have the self-discipline to refrain from speaking mother's language, a language it is well understood that he or she knows. The well-bred and mature child speaks only father's language, and any deviation from this detracts from the child's respect among adults and peers.

Therefore language learning for the Tukanoan speaker is an early form of mother-separation. Apart from whatever emotional correlates may or may not attach to this process, the distinction between self and mother has social-structural implications and consequences. It distances and separates, at an early age, that which is mother from that which is self. As the alignment of like and unlike self is established in the course of Eastern Tukanoan language acquisition, mother becomes quintessential "other."

For Eastern Tukanoans, emotional alliances shift in the course of language acquisition and development. In effective linguistic socialization, a child learns to accept the differential values placed on mother's and father's languages and to fear the negative consequences of uttering mother's language.

The specific barrier to spoken bilingualism among the Tukanoan Wanano is the fear that if one speaks one's maternal language, one will be ostracized. Implied is the sense that a child who speaks mother's language is infantile. Furthermore, to speak mother's language is to be like mother, and therefore unlike one's peers. More explicitly, a child is threatened with open reproach if he or she utters mother's language or mixes it with father's language.

In addition, boys are socialized to speak openly and assertively. In general, women refrain from public speaking. Both sexes are hardworking, although boys, who do not participate in the strenuous work of garden cultivation and food processing, have far more time for play. A girl who played to the same extent as boys could be admonished.

Girls and boys accompany the same-sex parent in economic activities from the time they are able to do so. From the time they can walk, girls, like their mothers, carry backpack-style baskets supported by strong tumplines running along the forehead. Girls assist their mothers in the arduous work of preparing, planting, weeding, and harvesting the gardens daily. The size of the harvest basket and the weight of material in it carried by a girl increases as she becomes older. When she is a young adult, she will, like her mother, carry about 40lb of newly harvested manioc roots, firewood, and a small child from the gardens to the house. Girls and mothers work together to process the poisonous manioc roots. These tubers must be peeled, grated, and boiled until they are edible. Between morning garden work and afternoon preparations, girls and mothers work all day, every day.

Prepubescent boys, in contrast, have more free time to spend in play. They may set up a line of baited hooks at night and fetch their catch the next morning. Or, they may fish with hand line at dawn or dusk. But these activities are far less labor intensive than female tasks. Also, boys play no role in preparing the food they catch. They may pass the day among the clusters of young boys who run freely through the village and its surroundings, collecting edible fruits as snacks while they play.

Puberty and Adolescence

For both boys and girls the transition to puberty is marked by rites of passage. Although in some villages highly elaborate complex rituals are still carried out, in many other villages the ceremonies have become simplified (see S. Hugh-Jones [1979] for an in-depth discussion of male initiation rites). Where the full ceremony for boys is carried out, it is held in secret over several days. The simpler versions are shorter. Yet, no matter the length or level of fundamentalism, in all cases boys, guests, sponsors, and chanters are adorned in ritual paraphernalia. Long flutes, thought to carry the specialized powers of men, are played. (In the most traditional ceremonies sight of these flutes is tabooed to women, who either leave the premises or move to a secluded zone.) The sib ancestors are invoked by the flutes and by chants sung by specialized chanters. Formerly, boys were whipped with branches as part of the ceremony; I have not seen this in recent times. Sacred substances, including the hallucinogen ayahuasca, are imbibed and sacred tobacco smoke is blown on the young males as each receives his sib name. Through this process the boy becomes a social being, a member of his patri-line. The recipient of a sib name is thought to be endowed with the particular social status and identity of the ancestor whose name he bears. In a sense, the bearer of an ancestral name is the exchange (kototaro) for that ancestor— his incarnation or transformation in the present.

When a girl reaches puberty a ceremony of equal import is performed. Yet the purpose, emphasis, and participation in the ceremony differ from the male puberty ceremony. A girl's initiation occurs at the time of her first menses, and she experiences her own ritual as the only initiate. At this time she is considered to be in a vulnerable state and must be shielded behind an enclosure. Guests travel great distances to attend. The girl is painted with the red plant urucu and secluded behind a screen in the corner of a large dance house. While in seclusion she may eat only a few specially prepared substances. During the ceremony the girl is not visible to visitors. As in the boys' initiation ceremony, specialized chanters invoke protective spirits. However, while male initiations invoke the supernatural ancestors that emerged from the anaconda-canoe, Pamori Busoku, female initiations invoke a different supernatural creator spirit known as First Woman. First Woman, a powerful shaman, is said to have given birth and breath to herself at the Lake of Milk, origin of all Tukanoan-speaking peoples. From there she journeyed along the same path as the ancestral canoe; but whereas Pamori Busoku traveled below water, First Woman glides above ground, stopping at each village and sacred site to rid it of dangerous spirits. Her accomplishments are essential in protecting vulnerable menstruating girls and women. The chanter narrates in detail First Woman's voyage from Milk Lake to the girl's village, naming at each site her exploits and victories. These are the same challenges and dangers that might harm the menstruating girl, and by invoking them the young women is herself protected. Thus the female initiation ceremony stresses the powers of reproduction and the dangers associated with the powers, whereas the male ceremony emphasizes naming and place in the ancestral line.

Attainment of Adulthood

Once they have passed through the requisite puberty ceremonies, boys and girls are able to marry and have children. Boys are formally ready to parent, and, in doing so, to pass on clan identity.

Girls are by this time skilled horticulturalists, having worked for years alongside their mothers. Upon marriage a girl moves into the home of her husband and gardens alongside her mother-in-law. Eventually she will have a garden of her own, although she is likely to be adjacent to her mother-in-law, work with her in preparing meals, and eat together with her in-laws in a multigenerational unit.

This pressure on males to be good fishermen increases as they move into adulthood and marriage. If a wife does not believe that her husband is providing enough food she can publicly humiliate him (Chernela, 2002). When fishing is especially difficult, males sometimes go to fish in groups and remain away from the village for several days. Although most activities are divided by gender, fish poisoning is an activity in which everyone, including children, takes part.

Since the incest regulation forbids marriage with a member of one's own language group, and a woman moves to her husband's village upon marriage, women will live their adult lives in the villages of speakers of a different language group. Therefore women are marked by difference, even as they act as agents of articulation between groups.

Middle Age and Old Age

When a woman first arrives in a village she is relatively powerless. She may be a stranger to the other wives of the settlement, or even to her husband's family, with whom she lives. She has few manioc plants and must accrue these as she ages. At first she may share a garden with her mother-in-law.

Over time, as she comes to know her brothers-in-law and her cowives, and produces and raises children who "belong" to the village sib, she feels more secure in her position and gains more say in village life. A woman whose sons have married and brought new wives into the household may be quite powerful within that household.

Although males may be said to have a level of prestige not held by women, they do not abuse their privileges. Males do not harm women physically, and are generally not aggressive to women or to children.

The elderly may remain at home while their adult children carry out demanding chores. The elderly show signs of rheumatism, arthritis, and cataracts. An older woman who no longer wishes to work in the garden may stay in the house overseeing a toddler. Likewise, an elderly man who no longer wishes to fish may remain at home.

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