Gender over the Life Cycle

The Manjako word for "child," napooc, is not marked for gender; the term is used for boys and girls indifferently. After puberty, the distinction is marked: a girl is referred to as nampili, and a boy as upas (borrowed from Portuguese, rapaz, "boy"). Adult men and women are referred to as nainc "man" or nakaac (alternate ngaac) "woman." The difference between children and adults is evident in funerals. The funeral for a young unmarried girl or boy, ufir, is shorter and simpler than the funeral ceremony for an adult, peum.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

When still very young, boys and girls are treated the same. They play together in household groups. Children of both sexes are allowed, even encouraged, to explore and run around freely. Once they can obey instructions, they are given gender-specific tasks. Girls are asked to help with household chores and watch younger siblings; 4-year-old girls are sometimes seen carrying an infant on their backs. Boys are often sent on errands and join in the chores of the men of the compound (building fences, reroofing buildings, etc). They are also responsible for making sure that cows remain tethered during the growing season. Boys probably have more play time than girls.

Groups of older boys and girls often form work parties. Boys prepare rice fields for planting or fish with lines and hooks in tidal inlets. Groups of girls transport rice seedlings from nurseries to the fields, or gather shellfish in the mangroves. It is in groups such as these that prepubescent girls and boys start to gel into social groups that will eventually become full-fledged age sets.

When the opportunity is present, parents send both sons and daughters to school. However, dropout rates are very high, especially among girls.

Puberty and Adolescence

In Caio and adjacent Manjako lands, as children reach adolescence, they also become members of an age set (uran). Every 4 years or so, boys of approximately 15-19 years of age and girls of approximately 13-17 years of age symbolically "enter the pebomen," a communal ritual hut located at the center of each ward. For the next 4 years, they gather there regularly to have meetings, receive counsel from their elders (members of the age set which preceded them), share meals, have dances, organize work parties, and keep the building and grounds clean and in good repair. They also begin a series of traditional rites by which they form an age set (uran). Though it is not considered normal for age mates (baseenc-) to sleep together during this period, couples often do form and later marry, though this is not permitted if the girl is already betrothed. After approximately 4 years, this age set is "promoted," pushed out of the pebomen by the next generation of youths who start the cycle all over again and form a new age set.

Small groups of female age mates have assigned male "guardians," usually from the age set above them.

The guardian attends the meetings and dances of the group.

Age-set membership is permanent. Throughout their lives, age mates frequently meet, to drink, to dance, to work, to comfort the bereaved, to aid the needy, and to welcome emigrants home. At certain rituals, especially at funerals, they have special assigned roles and responsibilities. Age mates of one's father are also fathers in a way, as age mates of one's mother are mothers.

Attainment of Adulthood

After the 4 years of age-set formation, a community-wide ceremony (ka cit uran) marks the end of the age-set initiation period. The young men, now aged 19-23, start working for a wife (brideservice) who is often still a young girl; they will not marry for 10 or 12 years, during which time the girl grows up and the man establishes a viable home. The women, now aged 17-21, will marry their betrothed who, traditionally, are two or three age sets above them, which means, in arranged marriages, that grooms are 10-12 years older than the brides. Marriage and having children mark attainment of adulthood.

Men are not considered full adults until they have gone through the male initiation rites, which include circumcision (kambas). The event is held about once every 10 years, though in the past it was held only every 25 years or so. Male initiation ceremonies take place over a 3-month period. All the initiated men, even emigrants living in Europe, return home to take part, thus renewing their spiritual ties to their homeland. They gather at the kingdom's main spirit shrine, which is off limits to women. There, new initiates are circumcised and acquire the secret ritual and spiritual knowledge of adult Manjako men. Women and girls participate in dances and singing in honor of their sons, brothers, and boyfriends. It is a sacred time, but also a joyous time, when emigrants come home, when families reunite, and when much feasting is done by all. (For a historical account of the male initiation rites in Caio, see Meireles [1949].)

Middle Age and Old Age

As men mature, they marry additional wives, have children, and acquire titles. They are given more and more social and ritual responsibilities, and their word becomes more respected. Many middle-aged men succeed to the headmanship of a residential court when an aged headman dies. They then move their entire household to the court and take over the responsibilities of the new office; they also take part in meetings of the council of headmen. Men who are not called to a matrilineal headmanship remain in their compound of birth, where they acquire more and more authority and have more and more say in clan matters.

As women mature, they are recognized as wives, mothers, and household managers, especially if they are their husband's first wife. As with men, they have more and more say in family and clan matters. They play a very important role in organizing such collective events as funerals.

Old age for both men and women is a time of rest. Old people continue to live with their families, who provide them with meals and other necessities and consult them on family matters. They continue to play an important role in decision-making and are treated with great respect.

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