Cultural Overview

Most Glebo are shifting rice farmers with a relatively egalitarian form of social organization in which the major status distinctions are age and gender. The Glebo language belongs to the Kwa or Kruan subfamily of the Niger-Congo group. Like the rest of Liberia's indigenous peoples, they reckon kinship through patrilineal descent, which means that children "belong" to their father's family in terms of the inheritance of rights to land and other privileges. Ideally, a woman moves to her husband's home town at marriage and farms land to which he has access. However, married women do not lose their affiliation with their own families of birth and can claim land for farming through their fathers and brothers. Despite a formal ideology of patriarchy, local-level political organization includes parallel public offices for men and women, and a series of checks and balances ensures that women have a voice in community-wide affairs. Although the coastal towns are important for social and political identity and are the sites of significant ritual events, they are fully occupied for only a few months of the year. Most people spend the majority of their time on their upland farms in a dispersed settlement pattern in which extended families farm adjacent land. The coast, with its sandy beaches and lagoons, is used for fishing and collecting shellfish.

Between the coast and the forest is about 10-15 miles of open grassy savannah, where cattle are pastured and cassava is grown. Rice, the primary crop, is grown in rain-fed fields in the high forest (mostly secondary growth) farther to the interior, where game animals are hunted and palm nuts, rubber, and other forest products are collected. The Glebo move constantly between these environmental zones as they carry out their subsistence activities.

Like other tropical forest-dwelling horticulturalists, the Glebo fall within what has come to be called "the female farming" belt of West and Central Africa. As the name implies, most of the work of subsistence agriculture is performed by women, and the status of family breadwinner is central to feminine identity. The most common occupation reported by women in my 1983 census of the Cape Palmas community was "farmer" (Moran, 1990). International development workers, conditioned to see men as farmers and women as "farmer's wives," have often introduced inappropriate and even damaging agricultural programs because of a failure to understand this basic division of labor. Men's occupations are often a combination of seasonal labor, cash cropping, hunting, and gathering forest products, but provisioning the household is not seen as a male responsibility. Where both spouses are involved in the cash sector, as with women who have gone into full-time market trading, the responsibility for providing food on a daily basis is still defined as female. Only among the "civilized," or educated, Western-oriented Glebo community is a married woman ideally to be supported by her husband, and even here, a woman will often have a small business selling baked goods or surplus produce in order to have her own income.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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