Gender over the Life Cycle

The Bakkarwal divide the human life (cycle) into seven major phases (Rao, 1998a); terminological gender differentiation begins at about 4 years of age. In the first three phases girls and boys are referred to as baalak (child), and thereafter as jawaan until they themselves have a few children. After this no specific term of classification exists until one reaches old age.

Four phases are distinguished within childhood; the first four years of life are said to constitute roughly the first of these four subdivisions. Although passages from one stage to another are not publicly marked by specific ceremonies, there are subtle markers that are expressed through the body, body behavior, and apparel.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Children are highly valued; great care is taken to protect them from all evil influences and infants are exposed as little as possible to the stares of strangers. For roughly the first 2 years of their lives, both male and female infants are nursed regularly on demand and then only very occasionally during the day. At night, every infant is given the breast as long as it does not have a younger sibling. There is no regular toilet training and infants of both sexes are carried around, either piggyback in a sling or in arms. A youngest child sleeps with its mother either until the birth of the next child, or until it is at least about 7 years old. If a younger sibling is born, the older child sleeps, if male, with its father, if female, with an older sister, or with its father's mother if she is a widow, or failing this, close to its own mother. As a baby girl or boy grows, notwithstanding the presence of a younger sibling of either sex, the physical and verbal expressions of affection toward it by its mother continue and are supplemented by those of grandparents, father, and older siblings.

Infant boys and girls are clad in long shirts reaching down to their ankles, but whereas from the age of about 2 years a girl must wear trousers to keep her private parts covered, little boys run around without trousers for much longer, sometimes until they are circumcised. Over their trousers, girls wear a shirt which stretches to a little below their knees. However cold it may be, girls wrap only a shawl around themselves, like their mothers and elder sisters, whereas men and little boys whose families can afford it keep themselves warm in woolen coats.

Being properly clad is part of being well mannered and well behaved, and really good manners are attributed only to the wealthy, especially to wealthy men. The learning of basic good manners begins in early childhood and goes on till after puberty. The basic elements relate to dress and body postures—notably the hair and head-covering—and are gender specific in their details. Covering the head can be an expression of social power; but it can equally underline the acceptance and acknowledgement of reduced autonomy for women—a phenomenon which is closely linked to concepts that have often been glossed as "shame," "shyness," and modesty.

At 6 months, every infant receives its first haircut, an event celebrated by cooking a sweet dish for the entire camp. At this stage, the head is considered "pure" and this hair, which is also pure, is hidden away from evil creatures in a hole. There is no gender differentiation as yet, but a little girl's hair is never cut after she is about 2 years old, whereas boys and men are expected to have their heads shaved regularly.

Around a week after its birth, every infant receives a tiny cloth cap, with two earflaps, tapered at the back and embroidered colorfully. This type of cap is worn (in larger sizes) by the child until it is about 4 or 5 years old. After this, however, a gender-based difference marks the caps of boys and girls. Ideally, boys are shaved and given a flat white flapless cap, which resembles that of adult men and is embroidered like these with white needlework; on this a turban is ideally tied. Usually, however, boys wear either a cap or a turban, and sometimes neither; girls, on the other hand, are rarely seen with their heads uncovered. Unlike men's caps, all those worn by females after infancy are made of black cotton cloth and embroidered with colored silk thread.

While covering the head is more explicitly associated with community tradition and Islamic prescriptions, body postures are associated with secular social morals, summed up in a concept that encompasses a complex range of norms and values impinging on social responsibility, sexual control, modesty, the domestic space, and well-being. As they grow older, gender differentiation expressed in body postures and body movement prepares boys and girls for their future social roles.

Bakkarwal children are brought up with great indulgence. From their earliest years, children of both sexes are left to develop a certain physical autonomy. If food is available, children—especially boys—of all ages eat without waiting for others. Children below the age of 7 or 8 are never beaten or even severely scolded, since they are considered too young to undertake purposeful action and comprehend punishment. It is only from the age of about 7 onwards that increasing cultural competence is expected, and it is now that every little boy and girl is increasingly involved in the daily tasks of a herding household.

In early childhood work and play are intertwined. Toys are unknown, but when out herding, children weave grasses, construct toy tents, and play games individually and in twos, rather than in groups. Throughout the year Bakkarwal camps are small and scattered, and playgroups are very small. Children are not allowed to wander off on their own, for example, to other camps. A child's world consists primarily of its own camp members, and at this stage its access to social knowledge is still very reduced. In summer, young children accompany their mothers who collect fuel wood and wild vegetables; in winter they go with their siblings and neighbors to fetch fodder, tend animals, or wash clothes at the nearest stream. Whereas mixed groups of little boys and girls go gathering and collecting wood and fodder, fetching water is a purely female task, although a brother in arms may be taken along. Children start joining such work groups by the time they are about 3 years old, but are taken to steeper places only when they are about 5. Until they are about 8, most tend to play more than they work; this is especially true of boys, who are considered more immature than girls. But all children learn to recognize the right plants and trees, and practice how to handle the forests and negotiate the mountain slopes. Later in life, men forget much of this knowledge, especially that pertaining to medicinal plants.

Milking and churning are arduous but essential tasks; while the latter is done only by adult women, older children may milk if their mothers are sick, and younger children help their mothers. Herding is basically a male job, but in less wealthy families little girls herd near home from the age of 6 or 7 until they are about 10 years old; after this they may also graze animals during the day, but only if accompanied by their fathers or male siblings. Boys start herding when they are a little older, since as children they are considered less responsible than their sisters. Particularly fathers tend to praise their little daughters and de-emphasize the importance of their young sons' labor in herding. Mothers, on the other hand, often praise their sons and defend them when their fathers accuse them of laziness.

As they grow older, the mixed work and play groups split according to gender, with girls increasingly helping their mothers with domestic tasks and boys spending more time herding. Girls with younger siblings spend more time caring for them and practicing their future role as mothers. By the time a child is about 10 years old, the biological and social foundations are said to be laid for the capacity which develops to fend for him/herself and be responsible. There is now no need for elaborate care and tending. From now until they reach puberty, a girl and a boy are termed betki and laraa respectively, and this change of terminology marks the entrance into the next phase of the life cycle.

A child younger than about 10 is still considered fairly vulnerable and delicate, but prepubertal boys and girls are thought of as basically sturdy, strength being one of the elements circumscribed by the term jawaan. Children in the phase in between are neither baalak nor jawaan. A betki and a laraa have crossed one set of dangers which threatened mainly their physical life; they will face a second set when they are around 16 or 17, and they must be prepared for this confrontation. These dangers are more social than physical, and must be manipulated through socialization. While this manipulation is required for both girls and boys, it is generally felt that girls are "less of a problem" than boys, if one is "a little careful." Girls are also said to "to grow up much more quickly" than boys. This is partly because—although by nature they end up with less capacity for reason than boys—in the early years they have more of it than do boys of their own age, and partly because they are not as easily exposed to bad influences from outside the family.

In this phase gender differentiation is often publicly marked by male circumcision, which usually takes place between the ages of 6 and 12; it may not take place after this, but also not before the child is at least 10 days old. This act finally confirms the boy as a Muslim, but it is also said to affect him physiologically and prepares him gradually for puberty, when his seminal level will greatly rise. The occasion is celebrated with food being cooked for the camp members.

Puberty and Adolescence

Bakkarwali language does not explicitly designate the period preceding sexual maturity or full adulthood, but conceptually this period is distinguished from other phases of life. Both girls and boys are deemed to become jawaan when they are between about 10 and 16 or 17 years of age and are also terminologically distinguished from those younger and older and are known as gadri and gadro, respectively. They are considered to develop and change physically, a process that intensifies after marriage. These changes are considered to be the outward manifestations of an internal psychological process, for now the levels of blood in a girl and semen in a boy start to rise— slowly in some and faster in others, all depending on their innate temper or inherent disposition. They rise to reach a certain plateau, the level of which, again, varies individually. The attainment of this plateau manifests itself in the phenomenon of menarche and ejaculation, but is not synonymous with the maximum, for the levels of blood and semen are said to spurt at regular intervals all through the adult phase. When these spurts take place regularly, one is considered a young adult. Girls who had reached menarche, but did not have regular menstrual cycles, were not thought to be fully jawaan, and hence, even if married, they were not considered ready for sexual intercourse.

To help his "strength ripen" a boy must now start accompanying the family's herds to the high pastures. In these expanses he can test his mettle and experience the beauty and hardship of a herder's life. And yet this phase is in many ways ambivalent, and this ambivalence is built into the term jawaani which is associated, exclusively in men, with what may be described as a carefree disposition. Romance and adventure are part of it, but so too are thoughtlessness and the lack of a sense of proportion. Jawaani in a young male who is physically jawaan is accepted as perfectly normal, but it is not considered befitting those who are much older. If the potentially negative aspects of jawaani are not curbed in time, they may lead to a man becoming too "hot" later in life.

"Heat" must always be regulated, since it has negative as well as positive effects. In the phase in which they gradually become jawaan every boy and girl tends to be humorally hotter than ever before, and to avoid problems in later life their intake of "heat" must be carefully tuned to their gender-specific requirements. The level of "heat" socially accepted in boys and men is considerably higher than that in girls and women, who are supposed to be "hotter by nature." Thus, while girls should avoid "hot" foods, such as raw onions, eggs, and too much salt or fat, there are no similar restrictions for boys. Excessive salt can dehydrate a girl and render her barren. But "hot" foodstuffs, and especially fat, also symbolize wealth and a good life. "Heat" thus conjures up luxury which, however, connotes self-indulgence and passion on the one hand and infertility on the other, and to abstain from "hot" foods is a metaphor for self-control. In keeping with this logic, the annual fast enjoined by Islam and first observed by girls at menarche and boys at around 15, is also said to help "cool them down." The general increase in heat in boys and girls leads to a rise in the levels of their body fluids, and this in turn to the levels of physical strength achieved in the years to follow. But this rise is also associated with the development of certain negative desires in them, and hence special care must be taken to achieve and maintain a highly sensitive equilibrium between "hot" and "cold." Excessive heat could make a girl sexually too demanding, and this in turn could make her ill and even barren; alternatively, later in life she could become so egocentric as to become a witch, turning others ill and barren. A boy with excessive heat is likely to become too power-loving and hence cruel. It is in this phase that character forms and beauty develops, and so, if a girl's parents are not careful enough, a pretty girl could grow so "hot" as to become too aware of her own beauty, and a sturdy boy overly conscious of his own strength.

With the onset of menarche, a girl attains a new social status and participates in new productive activities. Most women remembered their first menses because they also kept the first ritual fast following this. An adolescent girl is now expected to possess modesty and the sense of shame (laaj). If necessary, she may now milk and churn, except during her monthly periods, but until she herself marries and becomes a mother she may no longer go to the highest pastures, nor may she be present at the birth of a baby or at a burial (Casimir, in press; Casimir & Rao, in press), since she herself is no longer pure. With menar-che, a girl may no longer be careless about wearing her cap, and indeed her mother now makes her a new cap. From now on it would be shameful for her to be seen bareheaded.

Attainment of Adulthood

There are no specific rites of passage marking the transition to adulthood, but generally boys and girls are married when they are considered adult. For girls this is at around 16 years and for boys at about 18 years of age (Rao, 1998a, 2000). Most girls are engaged shortly before their first menses. The formal engagement ceremony seals an agreement which may have been reached either shortly before or several years earlier between the respective (officially male) guardians of the girl and the boy. The social and public importance of engagement is symbolized for a girl by her outward appearance; for a boy there are no such symbolic status markers. An affianced girl applies collyrium to her eyes and henna to her hair. The combination of red (henna), black (collyrium), and white (considered to be the girl's own ideal skin color) serve an apotropaic purpose, but are also the colors of matrimony.

Ideally a girl's father, the latter's father and brothers, the girl's elder brother, and her mother's brother have the right to bestow her hand on whomsoever they consider most suitable. At least officially, the agency of the future bride and groom is entirely denied. Of paramount importance in the choice of prospective brides and grooms is social identity represented by zaat/khel and links of kinship. Partly from these follow two additional criteria, namely the reputation of the respective mothers in terms of character, and the economic status of the two families. In other words, women are considered as criteria in decision-making, even if they are not acknowledged as decision-makers.

In this phase, girls and their parents are anxious about the prospect of the bride's having to leave the natal home; this anxiety stems not only from the role changes that accompany the transition from unmarried daughter to married wife, but also from the often great physical distance between natal and marital homes. Bakkarwal children and youths are brought up in relative seclusion. It is only during migration that young girls have a chance to meet persons from beyond their nuclear or immediate extended family. Thus they are often not familiar with even close relatives. Therefore, leaving the natal home entails entering a whole new world and meeting one's parents and younger unmarried siblings only infre-quently—often after the autumn migration, or at other slack periods of the pastoral work cycle.

In the early stages of her wedded life in her conjugal home, a woman tends to identify herself with her natal family; she is now identified by others also through her husband and his family. It is her duty to look after her husband and her "household," which may include his parents and siblings. If, for any reason, she fails to comply, her husband may even take another wife, and while this may not be appreciated, it is nevertheless considered "in a way natural for a man" in such circumstances. Outward markers of a married woman are a pair of special bracelets, eyes ringed with collyrium, and strands of henna in the hair. No such markers distinguish a married man, nor is he defined through his wife or affines—unless he is a live-in son-in-law, in which case his father-in-law acts as the defining person. Until he sets up his own "household," a married man is socially defined exclusively through his father, and even thereafter he is contextualized through his elder agnates.

Middle Age and Old Age

"By 40 one should be able to sit back and let the children and grandchildren do the work" is a wish commonly expressed by Bakkarwal women and men, and indeed by the time they are about 40 most do have sons and daughters who in their turn have become parents. Grandparents are entitled to greater respect within the family and, if they are wealthy, to greater control over resources. This also endows them with considerable status within the larger community, and many life histories collected among older men reflect this romantic and idealized phase of life.

Women and men, whether middle-aged or old, married or widowed, wear basically the same kind of clothes; there are no formal restrictions on color, but elderly women and men tend to wear less bright colors. Older men tend not to trim their beards, and while there is no formal age or statuswise restriction on wearing jewelry, older women generally wear less jewelry than young married women. In old age a woman is free to gift her jewelry to whomsoever she pleases; usually she distributes it among her daughters.

The entire process of life is conceived as a gradual increase and then decrease of bodily strength. This in turn is related to the gradual rise and fall of body substances which rise in youth to reach a certain plateau in maturity and fall slowly thereafter. Graying hair, pain in the joints, weak vision, loss of teeth, failing memory, general slowness, bad temper, etc. are all symptoms of this decrease. Menopause (there is no specific Bakkarwali term for this) is not considered a symptom of old age but rather its consequence, and a woman is considered old when she reaches this stage. It is explicitly connected to weakening vision and lack of strength, which themselves are the result of the decrease in the level of blood in the body. No chronological age is attached to climacterium, but it is believed that among men the level of blood (manifested in semen) sinks later than it does in women.

Ideally, at least one adult (young or middle-aged) woman is required in a household to take care of the elderly, and at no stage in the domestic cycle do old men or women live entirely alone. The Bakkarwal distinguish terminologically between being budo/budi (old, aged) and being bujurg (old, venerable, great), a distinction which appears to be closely related to gender and perceptions of power and well-being. Ideologically, one is considered budo/budi at the latest when one's eldest grandchildren have married and reproduced—that is, at around 60 years of age for both men and women. By this time a man must have long distributed his property among his inheritors; whether he still retains control over them symbolically or not depends on his social status— on whether he is considered budo or bujurg. A woman is never called bujurg, but whatever their biological age, wealthy old men in full possession of their mental and physical faculties are categorized as bujurg.

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