Cultural Construction of Gender

The Waorani recognized male and female genders, but there was little difference between the two and there were no differences in personality or temperament expectations. All Waorani adults were expected to be autonomous, independent, self-reliant, sexually vibrant, and physically strong and capable. Gender relations were egalitarian, with no rigid sexual division of labor, although men were generally hunters and women gardeners.

Precontact Waorani men wore a string made of cotton with which they tied up their penis by the foreskin. Women also wore a string around their waists. Both sexes wore necklaces made of palm fiber adorned with the teeth, bones, feathers, etc., of peccaries, fish, caiman, and other species hunted for meat. For special occasions such as tepw feasts, Waorani men and women wore crowns made from the feathers of brightly colored birds, primarily toucans and macaws. Both men and women wore armbands woven from cotton fiber, and women went bare-breasted. Children went naked. All went barefoot. Infants were carried in slings made from beaten bark. Today, most Waorani wear Western clothing—mainly shorts and T-shirts. Women sometimes wear dresses or skirts. Most still go barefoot, but rubber boots and sports shoes are prestige items. Some of the older Waorani still use traditional dress, but this is quite rare in the more populated settlements. When they travel outside the Protectorate the Waorani wear modern Ecuadorian dress—jeans or shorts, T-shirts, jackets, shoes, and socks.

Both genders wore their hair long and loose with bangs. The earlobes of both genders were pierced and enlarged to hold balsa plugs, but this was always optional and many older adults alive today do not have elongated earlobes. Piercing usually took place between the ages of 7 and 13 for males and at first menstruation for females. Both genders used achiote, a red pigment, to beautify their faces and bodies for festivals. Today, men generally wear their hair short in Western style and most women still wear their hair long, although younger women choose from the range of hairstyles currently in style. Earlobes are no longer elongated and older people who have elongated earlobes no longer wear balsa plugs. Many women now pierce their ears and use Western-style jewelry, and some women use lipstick and other make-up, especially in towns.

Ideals of beauty for females included a round full face and figure, bright shiny hair, and a well-muscled nicely proportioned physique with some fat (J. A. Yost, personal communication). Thinness is not a sign of beauty among the Waorani. For males, the ideal was a strong, well-muscled, and well-proportioned body.

Capacity for hard work in hunting and gardening was prized. Today, when asked directly about attractiveness, both sexes say that to be "normal" is the ideal, and normal encompasses the traits above. Some of the younger Waorani who have traveled outside the Protectorate recognize the Ecuadorian and often the global ideals of attractiveness presented in popular media. Today, as traditionally, fitness is attractive, and among younger people high value is placed on capacity in sports (e.g., soccer and volleyball) for both genders.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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