Gender over the Life Cycle

The life cycle is divided into three major stages: "red-and-naked children" (before one can talk and walk), "young children" (before marriage), and "adults" (after marriage) (Du, 2002). The wedding ceremony publicly marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. In the ideal life cycle, a married couple go through the life journey together, sharing responsibility, prestige, and authority.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Most Lahu people across subgroups and regions adhere to indigenous values that greatly appreciate children and show preference to neither boys nor girls (Du, 2002; Lei & Liu, 1999, p. 116; Wang & He, 1999, pp. 154,292), who are raised similarly. Regardless of sex, infants and young children receive enormous attention and affection, often being carried by their parents and other relatives. Being physically strong and "listening to the words of elders" are the most valuable traits for boys and girls alike. Caretakers show no apparent gender distinctions in instructing and disciplining children. Traditional values strongly discourage scolding, let along beating, children. Boys and girls play similar games, including "babyholding," "cooking," and "hoeing" (Du, 2002). From ages 5 to 8, children typically begin to apply their games to real-life situations, assisting their parents in domestic work such as baby-sitting, carrying water, and washing their own clothes.

Puberty and Adolescence

The Lahu category that is similar to "puberty" and "adolescence" is "unmarried young men and/or young women." The major markers of the onset of this stage are shyness in front of members of the opposite sex and the ability to understand "the talk between boys and girls," including romantic conversations, love songs, and sexual jokes. Most Lahu enter adolescence at 12 or 13 years of age, although the physical and social development of an individual, rather than calendrical age, serves as the essential index for the category. Socialization at this stage is a continuation of childhood, showing little gender difference.

Attainment of Adulthood

The Lahu threshold for adulthood is the wedding, which unites two socially immature individuals into a single social entity and transforms them into full members of society. Serving as a rite of passage to simultaneously initiate a boy and a girl into adulthood, the symbolism and rituals of the Lahu wedding focus on elaborating the sacredness, endurance, and harmony of a husband-wife dyad. In many Lahu areas, a wedding ceremony consists of two integral parts. The first and more elaborate ceremony is held at the house of the bride's parents, and the second is held at the house of the groom's parents. At each ceremony, a pair of beeswax candles is lit for the paired god Xeul Sha. After the wedding ceremony, the couple simultaneously achieve the social rank of "adult" (chaw mawd). Such a cultural definition of adulthood depends solely on one's marital status and is irrelevant to both age and sex.

Middle Age and Old Age

A married couple is counted as a single social entity and progress jointly through each substage of adulthood, which is defined mainly by parental roles. The married couple jointly hold the status, prestige, and authority of each of the hierarchical stages and substages of the life cycle. Revered status and prestige are intrinsically intertwined with a couple's accomplishment of their social responsibilities, especially their responsibility as parents. From their wedding until the birth of their first grandchild, a couple is categorized as "married youth" or "junior adults" (al niel, roughly between 20 and 45 years of age). From the birth of their first grandchild until they retire from their joint position of household coheads, a husband and wife are categorized as "elders" (chaw mawd in one of its narrow senses, typically between 40 and 65 years of age). When all their children are married and have established their own households, a couple is promoted to the status of "senior elders" (chaw mawd qo), which is the last substage of physical life. After fulfilling their joint responsibilities in life, husband and wife are believed to reunite in the afterlife, jointly holding the honorable and authoritative position of "the parental spirits" in the supernatural realm. Parental spirits are believed to play a significant role in the well-being of the households of their children, and they are appeased on most important ritual occasions.

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