Gender over the Life Cycle

It is not clear whether there were cultural names for the different stages of the life-cycle. Several life-cycle stages were occasions for ritual, though some practices were private rather than public; only a few were directly related to changes in rights, responsibilities, or power, and occasionally it is unclear whether the parent's or the child's life stage was being marked. When the child's fontanelle was deemed to have closed, the father ceremonially bled his own penis. Once the child possessed two teeth, its septum and ears were supposed to be pierced, though the actual timing of the rite varied considerably. Once the child could walk and talk, its parents privately finished their post-partum taboo on sexual relations with a day's fast and, sometimes, taboos associated with the moon. At the first signs of sexual maturity, both sexes observed a year of food taboos that were connected to the yam cycle and named for their newly emergent body hair. From this point on, they had to avoid the foods associated with childhood and old age and observe a range of taboos to protect their parents from their developing sexuality. A few years later, both males and females began to observe a second set of food taboos to ensure growth, a clear skin, and—for girls—menstruation and full breasts. Around this time, both sexes were initiated in separate ritual sequences, girls being scarified on the shoulders and buttocks to mark their newly nubile status. At the birth of his first child, a father was subjected to a ritual seclusion marking his new parenthood. When his eldest child was initiated, the father then formally "retired" from public life. Finally, in their old age, men and women entered a stage when in Arapesh feeling they were placed together with children.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Mead emphasized how important child socialization was to understanding the warm maternal Arapesh temperament. A baby was never far from its mother's arms and never denied the breast until it had to be weaned, and there was considerable tactile play between mother and child. A crying child was given whatever it craved. Older children of both sexes also played an important role in holding and playing with the youngster.

The Arapesh greatly valued both daughters and sons, and parents afforded them virtually identical levels of affection. However, there was a preference for boys in so far as sons, unlike daughters, would not leave their parents at marriage but stay and care for them in old age. Infanticide was practiced, and daughters seem to have been killed somewhat more often than boys.

From childhood on, girls started to associate more with their mothers, boys more with their fathers. At quite an early age, girls were supposed to start helping with their mother's work, accompanying them to the gardens, caring for younger children, fetching water, and the like. Therefore most of their leisure time was passed in the company of their mothers and other female relatives. Young boys tended to follow their fathers about, sleeping in their arms at night. As they grew older, they would also start accompanying their fathers on hunting and gathering expeditions, but much of the rest of their time would be spent playing with other boys.

There appear to have been no gender-specific rites or rituals in infancy and childhood.

Up to the age of 4 or 5, boys and girls were subject to much the same socialization. Caregivers would immediately intercede to stop quarrels. Tantrums were appeased rather than curbed or disciplined. An angered child would be allowed to kick and scream and roll in the mud, though not to hit another child. Boys often continued with such fits up to the age of 14 or 15. Girls learned to control their tantrums much earlier, not as a result of discipline so much as from the results—for example, they would discover that rolling in the mud would dirty their new sago-leaf skirts and their little netbags. Partly as a result of the society's ritual structure, in particular gender-specific attitudes to the Tamberan (wareh) spirit, little girls learned to be passive and not to express curiosity. Boys, by contrast, were encouraged in curiosity and speculation.

Children played very few games, none of them aggressive or competitive sports requiring "sides." Most games involved singing and pantomime, playing at being animals, for example, or at processing sago. Boys also played at various forms of target practice.

The main caretakers were parents, followed by older siblings. After they reached 5, however, it was common for children to be taken off by an aunt for a week's stay in another hamlet or locality, there to be handed on to another relative and eventually returned to the natal home. In this way, and through parental encouragement, children learned that they had many "mothers" and other relatives around their homes.

The Arapesh conceptualized the relationship between caregivers and care receivers as one of "growing" the young by contributing food to build their bodies. This ideology provided seniors with a measure of control over their juniors. If a young man spoke rudely to an elder, for instance, the latter might answer reproachfully, "And think how many pigs I have fattened from which you took your growth."

Puberty and Adolescence

Adolescence was not apparently recognized as a named stage of the life-cycle. The socialization processes of childhood continued to adolescence, though as they approached this stage boys and girls clustered together more in their daily lives in gender-specific groups.

The socialization of girls was complicated by the Arapesh preference for child betrothal. This practice has attracted considerable interest from incest theorists, but because the details are vague, they have caused considerable confusion in the literature. Girls were betrothed to a future husband at a relatively young age, sometimes at 5 or possibly even younger. At some later date—the exact sequence is unclear—she was adopted into her young husband's home and went to live at his settlement, though in the beginning this might only be for a few days or weeks at a time. An analysis of Mead's census data indicate that these shifts occurred between the ages of about 8 and 15.

In Mead's view, these moves made little gender-specific difference to the socialization process, the young girl in essence moving from the familial amity of her natal home to a similar ambience in her marital home. To all of her in-laws, the young girl "becomes warmly attached. Her feeling for her husband and his father and brothers is practically identical with her feeling for her own father and brothers." However, the responsibility for "growing" the young girl passed from her parents to her young husband, allowing him to exercise a modicum of control over her: because as an adolescent he had helped feed her, he could in later life rebuke her for being sulky or dilatory.

Attainment of Adulthood

In both sexes, initiation marked and produced the transition to adulthood, when both sexes were expected to assume the gender-specific roles associated with maturity. For males, this involved induction into the Tamberan cult, which made boys into men by promoting their physical growth and personal development. Male initiation took two forms: a stripped-down, family affair staged for a single youth, or a communal interlocality affair that occurred every 6 or 7 years. In either case, the initiate was secluded, bathed, beaten, fed a meal containing the blood of older men of the community, and shown a variety of sacra associated with the Tamberan, including masks, carved figures, flutes, and bullroarers. As part of the sequence, the boy's father also took him along his trade road to introduce him to his future trade friends. He was also "incised," though exactly what this involved is unclear.

The initiation rites for females were individually staged at first menstruation and shared structural similarities to male initiation. The young woman—usually now resident at her husband's home—was secluded in a small hut and tabooed water, food, and other comestibles for as long as she could endure, usually 4-7 days. During this period, older women rubbed her with stinging nettles and taught her the "women's tamberan," the practice of thrusting a rolled-up stinging nettle in and out of her vagina. She was also scarified on the shoulders and buttocks. At the end of her seclusion, she was painted and decorated, and her husband fed her ritual foods to ensure she would be strong, fertile, and a hard worker. The sequence ended with presentations of gifts, rituals, and taboo observances.

Middle Age and Old Age

In some ways, the very old and the very young were conceptually assimilated in Arapesh society. Foods were divided into two categories: shaloh, foods eaten by those of reproductive age, and bonah, foods eaten by old people and little children. As this formulation implies, there was also an opposition between the elderly—those passed their reproductive years—and those approaching or in their reproductive years. Youth was a danger to old age. At adolescence, and even more scrupulously following consummation of their marriage, the young had to be careful to protect their elders from the polluting effects of their sexuality. Parents could not eat sago processed by their children, they could not eat food cooked over a fire by which their children had enjoyed sexual relations, and a son had to take care not to consume lime from his father's lime-gourd and not to step over any of his father's possessions. The consequences of infractions are unclear, but among a neighboring group, the Yangoru Boiken, similar age-related pollution is believed to cause arthritis, blindness, and ultimately death.

For all that, elders were respected, and their juniors felt a special responsibility to care for them.

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