Gender over the Life Cycle

The Kuna express a strong desire for both male and female children, and Kuna leaders traditionally urged their followers to dula omeloge, "increase the membership." A couple with only male or only female children may take medicine to increase their chances of having a child of the opposite sex or will adopt or foster a child.2

Socialization of Boys and Girls

A baby (goe, gwarugwa "newborn") of either gender receives a great deal of attention and physical affection.3 Infants are nursed on demand, and they are often carried around and sung to by older sisters and other female housemates as well as by their mothers. Children of any age are almost never struck or spanked, though as they grow older they may be disciplined with shame or harsh words, and they receive less physical affection than before.

When female babies are a few days old, they undergo a small ritual in which their ear lobes and nasal septum are pierced and small pieces of string tied in the holes. Traditionally, parents would mark the piercing by a village-wide celebration (ikko inna) with drinking of cane beer, though this ritual has almost disappeared. Today some parents sponsor a long puberty ceremony (inna suit) for a young prepubertal daughter, usually as a stratagem to space out the considerable costs of providing these ceremonies for several female children (see below).

In other respects, males and females begin to be treated in significantly different ways when they are old enough to get around easily on their own. Young girls, who traditionally begin to wear little mola blouses as soon as they can walk, and soon thereafter skirts and headcloths, are kept close to home. (Today, children of both sexes often start with factory-made underpants and tops.) As they grow older, girls are called on to carry their younger siblings and sing them lullabies, and eventually they begin to help a little with other household work (see Hatley, 1976).

Boys, in contrast, enjoy a great deal of freedom to roam around the village flying kites, catching birds, swimming, fishing off docks, and raising hell; during the first half of the 20th century they went naked or wore shirts but no pants. Sometimes beginning with diminutive canoes of their own, they soon graduate to more serious fishing and eventually to helping in the forest. In the past boys were toughened and made industrious through the bites of leaf-cutter ants and the application of stinging nettles; the latter was also used as a punishment for both adults and unruly boys.

Today, the experiences of male and female children converge more than before, since both typically complete kindergarten and several years of primary school.4 Boys and girls should be periodically admonished and counseled by village leaders as well as their parents, and traditionally both are administered medicine baths and drinks to make them hard workers, good students, and, in the case of girls, expert mola makers.

Puberty and Adolescence

Puberty is the stage at which boys begin to work seriously in the forest with their fathers and brothers, and, during the early 20th century, to put on long pants for the first time. Many also go away for a year or more of migrant labor, and today a large minority continue their schooling through secondary or university levels (see below). As incipient adults, these "youths" (sapingana) are exhorted to act like a Kuna man (Dule machered) by working hard and defending their people, and pieces of a past warrior ethos surface in, for instance, performances in which pairs of young men dance with stinging nettles grinding between them. Traditionally, many youths would become village constables (sualibgana) and within a few years begin apprenticeships in ritual.

Coming of age is much more strongly marked for females. As a young girl approaches puberty, she is called a dungu, from the verb dungue, "to grow." From her first menses until marriage or loss of virginity, she is a yaagwa, "maiden." The kin term for daughter also changes at puberty, from bunolo to sisgwa.

When a girl has her first period (sergue, "to become mature"), her father announces the event in euphemistic language to the village men, who arrive at her house the following day to build a ritual enclosure (surba emakke) in which she is isolated. During the next 3 days, she is repeatedly bathed in seawater, her hair is cut short for the first time, and she is painted black with the juice of a plant (Genipa americana). The sequence ends with a community-wide feast.

Over the next few years her parents sponsor two puberty ceremonies in her honor, both called inna after the chicha or cane beer which participants consume

(see Prestán Simón, 1975, pp. 135-230). A 1 day affair called inna mutiki, "night chicha" used to follow within a couple of weeks after the rituals of first menstruation, but today it is more likely to come last and to be understood as compensation to the village for its efforts in the other puberty ceremonies. The inna suit or "long chicha," which takes up to 4 days to complete, entails performance of a lengthy chant cycle and numerous component rituals, as well as feasting, dancing, drinking, and merrymaking by villagers. A long Kuna name is chosen for the maiden, and her hair is cut short again. Otherwise, she spends much of the ceremony isolated outside in an enclosure and is more or less ignored.

In recent decades, some girls have received only a single short chicha (called an inna mutiki dummad), and some parents avoid the major expense of puberty ritual altogether, especially for daughters who chose to wear Panamanian clothes, merely serving a hot drink to the community to mark the occasion. However, amid the general decline of ritual in recent decades, villages continue to hold a good many chichas.

Today quite a few boys and girls continue on to higher educational levels, though boys are favored. According to the year 2000 national census (Dirección de Estadística y Censo, 2001), 7,272 males and 4,735 females had completed some secondary school, while 906 males and 457 females had attended university. Several dozen individuals have pursued advanced degrees abroad.

Attainment of Adulthood

A girl is considered a full adult woman (ome) when she marries and has her first child, which often occurs during her middle teenage years. A boy becomes a man (machered) when he is enrolled on the work lists for village labor, and when he marries and has a child.

Middle Age and Old Age

Kuna men and women typically reach the height of their influence, respect, and mastery in middle age and early old age. If all goes well, a woman will have daughters and granddaughters; she will be female household head, midwife, and respected senior woman. A man will be household head, senior ritualist, and perhaps village leader. An individual who has gotten old (serredgusa) deserves leisure and support from his or her children and sons-in-law, though in fact many work hard into advanced old age.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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