Cultural Construction of Gender

Gender categories include only male and female. Women wear skirts and sarongs. Men wear loose-fitting trousers, a shirt, and a headcloth. Women working in the fields will put on shirts over their sarongs. Women wear their hair knotted on the back of their head and cut out a small fringe of forehead hair so that it frames it. Boys and married men without children wear their hair knotted at the base of the head. Women wear earrings, brasswire coil from ankle to knee, coiled arm brass, and a girdle of fine brasswire interspersed with beads under their sarongs; some wear coiled brass around the neck. Girls start wearing earrings at an early age, and wearing of coiled brass represents the girl becoming of marriageable age.

Rungus institutions that lead up to marriage and guide behavior after marriage are informed by the major value premise: all sexual relations, unless occurring in marriage, are deleterious for those involved, the rest of the society, and its cultural ecology. The resulting heat from illicit intercourse causes illness and death that spreads out from the offenders to the entire community, infertility of marriages, desiccation of the countryside, failure of swid-dens, and reproductive failure of domestic animals. Gender in the kinship system is not systematically marked. Husband and wife are referred to by the same term. Terms for siblings and children are not gender differentiated, although a descriptive term indicating gender can be added. Gender is marked in terms for mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, and aunt.

Gender is not identified in pronouns, verbs, or verbal clauses either for the actor or the recipient of action, with one exception. Verbs indicating the initiation of sexual activity are used only for males. This mirrors the cultural imperatives that females publicly do not put themselves forward in matters of sexual relations, although there are rare instances when females do in fact initiate sexual behavior.

Gender over the Life Cycle Socialization of Boys and Girls

The major caregivers and agents of socialization are the parents. Grandparents and aunts and uncles in the long-house can also be involved. Socialization for boys and girls is different, as their roles are different, but the processes are the same. Girls and boys are thought to be equally valuable. Girls will bring in a brideprice, which adds to family property. Boys require a brideprice which comes from family property, but they also make major contributions to the accumulation of property by their work in the swiddens before marriage.

Boys and girls go naked as they are "not yet aware enough to be ashamed" until about 3 or 4. Then girls start wearing a skirt; boys a little older start wearing trousers. At this time, girls begin to participate in the household economy. Well before puberty a girl takes responsibility for household tasks and caring for younger siblings while her mother accompanies her husband to the fields. Boys begin to participate in the work of the domestic family, such as helping in the swiddens and gathering firewood, several years later than girls. At the age of only 11 or 12 years a girl is an accomplished housekeeper and can be considered a suitable wife. A boy at this age is just beginning to learn how to help in the swiddens. However, by his mid-teens he will be fully competent in the swid-dens and other male tasks such as house-building, etc., and is equal to a girl in his ability to manage a household economy.

There are water games and much play in the river involving both sexes while they are still young. Well before pubescence the sexes segregate in bathing and water play. In general play tends to be gender oriented, with boys imitating the work of adult males and girls that of females. Girls play at being priestesses and spirit mediums at sacrifices; boys build the platforms on which a pig is to be sacrificed.

Puberty and Adolescence

No rites or genital modifications occur. The Rungus distinguish children from marriageable girls and boys by the term for "child." By about the age of 10, before her breasts begin to enlarge, a girl starts wearing a sarong over her skirt. When breast development is apparent, a girl is referred to as a "maiden," which indicates that she is of marriageable age. Menarche does not constitute a labeled stage in a girl's development. Marriageable young men are referred to as "past childhood." Male and female children under the age of 9 or 10 years sleep with their parents in the enclosed family sleeping area of the longhouse apartment. However, boys beyond this age must sleep in the gallery, the open area of the longhouse, while unmarried girls continue to sleep with their parents. Female visitors also sleep inside the enclosed area of the apartment.

In an effort to make themselves attractive to the opposite sex, both males and females will have their teeth filed and blackened at the age of approximately 12-15 years.

Work groups for weeding swiddens are formed of boys and girls. These also serve as a means to get acquainted with each other and engage in flirting. During this period young men and women will also join together in the preparations for various ceremonies to cure illness and promote fecundity in their own and nearby long-houses. Young women prepare the food and bring water; young men catch the pigs and chickens for sacrifice, and kill and prepare them for cooking.

Attainment of Adulthood

The major social and psychological discontinuity that occurs is for women at marriage. Previously they were expected to exhibit uninterest in sexual matters. Following marriage children are expected and wanted. Marriage and building a separate longhouse apartment is the beginning of adulthood, but becoming a parent for the first time is a major social transition. It is marked for both males and females. With his first child, a man shaves his head. A new mother no longer covers her breasts while working in the longhouse, but keeps her sarong around her waist to facilitate nursing children and work.

Middle Age and Old Age

During middle years, while the children are in their adolescence and still working in the household, the domestic family's economy improves as a result of larger agricultural surpluses. Wives who are skilled spirit mediums and priestesses are in demand. The payment for their services adds significantly to the domestic economy. Women skilled in weaving the elaborate ritual clothing also bring in considerable income. Husbands' counsel in the community moots is taken more seriously.

After the children have married and left, an older couple will continue with their own economy. When they can no longer work in the swiddens, they will join the household of the youngest child.

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