Cultural Construction of Gender

The Kuna strongly differentiate man (machered) and woman (ome) as cultural categories, and they say that many things in the universe, such as panpipes and buildings, come in male-female pairs. The roles and spheres of influence of the two genders are strongly differentiated, though men and women converse and interact frequently with little ceremony or deference on either side, tempering the undeniable but moderate subordination of women in Kuna society.

Male and female dress is strongly differentiated. In the late 19 th and early 20th century men wore distinctively cut home-made pants and shirts, gold earrings, bowler hats, and, in the 19th century, long hair. Today they wear store-bought shirts and pants, with baseball caps and other assorted hats for work, and in the case of senior men, fedoras for village meetings.

Women's dress changed radically during the 19th century. A small strip of sewn designs at the waist of a blue blouse expanded to become a reverse-applique blouse with complex colorful designs, called a mola, today a form of indigenous art sold throughout Europe and the Americas. Kuna women wear red and yellow headcloths and blue, green, and white wraparound skirts, both manufactured abroad for the indigenous trade. Their forearms and lower legs are tightly wrapped with rows of beadwork, and they wear large gold rings in the nasal septum, gold earrings, and chestpieces, and necklaces of silver coins, shells, pods, and beads.

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, a few villages enforce the wearing of traditional women's dress, but many others leave it to individual choice (see Tice, 1995, pp. 81-82). Probably a majority of girls are now growing up wearing slacks, shorts, and skirts, but a surprising number of women still wear mola at least some of the time, even in the city, and overall female dress remains a key marker of Kuna identity.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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