Gender over the Life Cycle

The most important life passages for Na are coming of age as adult members of the community and passage to the land of ancestors (their funeral ceremony). These life passages are equally celebrated for Na men and women, and in a similar fashion. Since Na generally did not marry in the past, marriage was not and still is not an important life transition. Traditionally, a daba, a practitioner of Na religion, named a baby within a day of the child's birth. A month later, the household invited elders, especially women of the village, to celebrate the addition of the child to the household. The rituals of naming, and celebration a month after birth are the same for boys and girls. More recently, the child, when a toddler, is brought to the Living Buddha of Yongning to be named.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Na households welcome both boys and girls. However, since girls are seen as necessary for the continuation of the household, a household may begin to experience rising tension if no girls are born into the younger generation.

Na boys and girls are raised similarly, and many household chores and responsibilities are assigned to children based on their age and ability to take them on. However, children's labor power is often not immediately essential to the household, and children are granted a large degree of freedom and playtime. Girls and boys engage in somewhat different activities. Even small girls may join their mothers and aunts for a day of working in the fields. Boys will often join older men in taking livestock to pasture or attempt to join other men's activities such as carpentry. Girls seem to assume more responsibility for household chores than boys. Both girls and boys are taught to be responsible and respectful. Children are not ashamed of helping with household chores of any kind. Children of either sex will be tolerated to a certain degree when acting out (especially if younger than 3 or 4), but they may be admonished verbally or slapped if they create a disturbance. In general, however, there is little or no physical abuse of children.

Because of government campaigns to increase formal education of rural children across China, many Na children now receive at least an elementary education. Officials are trying to enforce children's attendance through ninth grade. Generally, Na girls and boys have almost equal access to education, and girls are thought to perform somewhat better than boys in school because they are less rowdy and more diligent. Most agricultural households believe that it is essential to groom one member of the younger generation to take over the responsibilities of farming. A girl is usually preferred for this task (as she will be more responsible, and can continue the family line).

Attainment of Adulthood

Na go directly from being children to adults. Na follow the same 12-year animal cosmology as the Chinese. Once a child has survived a full cycle, and the child's animal year is being celebrated for the second time, the child is considered tested and ready to be accepted by the household. The household has a formal ceremony to initiate the girl or boy as an adult member of the household and community. This ceremony is called the "wearing skirt" or "wearing pants" ceremony for girls or boys, respectively.

The ceremony is similar for both boys and girls, with several small differences (see Cai, 1997/2000, pp. 179-183; Shih 1993, pp. 189-193). For both, a daba presides over the ceremony, an elder of the same sex leads the initiate through the ritual, and both stand on the staples of Na farms—grain and salted pork. Girls stand next to the one of the two main pillars of the house that symbolizes all the female members of the household; boys stand next to the pillar symbolizing the male members. The attending elder will give a girl jewelry and a shuttle to hold, while a boy will be given silver (or cash) and a knife. During the initiation ceremony, harmony and diligence are stressed as key virtues. The initiate is expected to rise early, work hard, be respectable, and respect all the household members.

Once a Na has been initiated as an adult, he or she is expected to take on the duties and responsibilities of an adult, and in turn has gained the rights of an adult. Within the household, these new members can take part in household discussions and decision-making. Within the wider community, these new initiates are now allowed to participate in social activities and may now choose to become sexually active.

Middle Age and Old Age

For the Na, both age and capability bring respect from household members as well as the larger community. Many Na areas still rely on labor exchange between households, and so a competent sober worker with an even temper and sense of humor is highly valued by the community. All elders are accorded respect because of their seniority.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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