Cultural Overview

While Kalymnian Islanders are Greek by background and citizenship, and the vast majority are practicing Greek Orthodox Christians, certain aspects of their history and social structure make their gender system quite distinct from that which has been described for other parts of Greece. Kalymnians make the claim that "we used to have matriarchy on the island," referring to the perceived female power over key decision-making that sets the island off from a more patriarchal mainland Greek tradition. From an anthropological perspective, Kalymnos and a few of the other Dodecanese islands are extremely unusual in that they are not only matrilocal in their residence patterns, but they traditionally practiced a system of female primogeniture in inheritance, which I will examine further below.1

The Dodecanese islands have long been separated historically from the fortunes of the rest of Greece. From the 13th century, they were ruled successively by Venetian and Genoese merchants, by the Knights of Saint John, by the Ottoman Empire, and, for approximately 30 years prior to World War II, by the state of Italy as part of its attempt to develop a colonial empire. Foreign rule, however, was fairly light during most of this time, and islanders developed an elaborate system of local government known as the Demogerontia or council of elders, an annually elected body that administered the affairs of each island. It was during the Italian period (1913-42) that protest against foreign rule reached its zenith and took on the interesting gender dimensions discussed below.

Kalymnians, who number about 15,000 in local residence, refer to their home as "the barren island." It is 49 square miles of rock, of which less than a fifth is arable land. Thus, Kalymnians have a long tradition of seafaring, and have become known in the past century as "the island of sponge fishermen" (Bernard, 1976; Warn, 2000). Sponge fishing in the Mediterranean, which required male absence for 6-8 months of the year, has been an important factor in shaping the island's gender structure.

The sponge industry has been in decline since the 1970s, and the island economy has shifted to rely more on fishing, the merchant marine, tourism, and migrant remittances. Kalymnians practice seasonal and more permanent migration, and have established large migrant communities primarily in Darwin, Australia, and Tarpon Springs, Florida (U.S.A.). Tarpon Springs has been dubbed "little Kalymnos," and some Kalymnians continue sponge fishing off the coast of Florida. There are also over 100 non-Greek-born permanent residents of Kalymnos, many of whom are British, American, and Scandinavian women who are married to Kalymnian men (and more uncommonly, the reverse [Sutton, 1998a]).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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