Gender over the Life Cycle

During the life cycle a person passes through different stages. These are marked by the changing of names, which indicate at the same time the transformations of the person/body during life. One person can have eight or more different names, which are given to him or her on particular occasions: when a child takes its first steps, at the puhuka ceremony, when he/she marries and has his/her first child, and when he/she reaches old age (Gregor, 1977, p. 256). The names a person/receives are passed on to him/her simultaneously by the maternal and paternal sides, mostly reverting to the names of the grandparents' generation and avoiding the duplication of names. Since the father of a child cannot speak the name of his father-in-law, for reasons of respect and/or shame (the same applies to the mother), the child gains two names at the same time—one maternal and one paternal. During the first months of life a child is called by a nickname which both mother and father may pronounce without violating name taboos. There is a great deal of flexibility in the reading of genealogies and the naming system (Gregor, 1977, p. 256).

Every change in the stage of life-cycle concerning social and/or corporal transformation is marked by a new name, which will be announced to the public after an official ritual occasion. Life stages are the same for both sexes and the passage of puberty rites is celebrated equally for boys and girls, differing only in symbolism (see below).

The "metamorphosis" of girls and boys at the age of adolescence is the most important passage in the life cycle. The girls ritual is called kaxatapa (akajatapa), and the corresponding ceremony for boys is puhuka. Social change and physical transformation are ritually "performed" by the whole village, including participation by neighboring villages, and is followed by an individual phase of puberty seclusion, which lasts from at least 3 months up to 3 years.

For both genders, puberty rites and seclusion not only mark the change of status, but also a physical transformation. The more time the person spends in seclusion, the more beautiful and sexually attractive his/her body becomes. The body of the secluded person gains a new shape through the control of bodily fluids, treatment with emetics and tobacco, the application of special medicines and designs, and bodily techniques such as scratching the body with a special cuya scraper and tying the upper arms and below the knee with cotton strings.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Mehinako appreciate children of both genders equally. A slight preference is expressed for girls, especially as the first born. This is because residence patterns, although they are handled quite flexibly (Gregor, 1977, p. 266), favor matrilocality and parents expect their oldest daughter to care for them in old age.

At the birth of the first child, both parents have to observe strict couvade rules (Gregor, 1977, pp. 270-273).

These rules apply to diet and the restriction of special actions, mainly concerning subsistence activities. (During the couvade period the parents of the young couple are supposed to take care of them.) The restrictions applied to the father help to stop the flow of the post-partum blood and protect the child. It is believed that up to 1 year of age the life of the newborn child is intimately connected to the conduct of its parents because its "soul (iyeweku, literally, shadow) is not yet fixed and could easily be taken away by a spirit" (Gregor, 1977, p. 270). The restrictions are very precisely for a year for the first child; post-partum seclusion is reduced to 3 months for the subsequent children. Illness or handicap of a child will always be traced back to a prohibited activity by the father. For example, the father may not go out to fish or build a house (Gregor, 1997, p. 272). After the most dangerous period, the infant is carried around in the rest of the house and is called by a nickname. Both parents and the elder sisters take care of the small children. When it starts to walk it receives its first names. At about the age of 5 years children become more independent and begin to explore the nearer surroundings. A few years later, when they have grown out of the control of their older brothers and sisters, they play mostly in separate peer groups of boys and girls. Educational ideals are the same for both genders: they should be balanced in character and avoid extreme reactions. On the other hand, "angry" girls or boys are also appreciated. However, "angry" persons are not desirable for leadership, for a good leader is supposed to be balanced and good-natured and to abstain from gossip.

Puberty and Adolescence

When the parents become aware of the growing interest of their boy or girl in the opposite sex, they start to instruct them in their duties as future wife or husband. The girl has to carry water and is instructed in craft production and other skills. From now on she receives the special attention of her mother. During this period boys seem to enjoy more freedom. They can demonstrate their abilities as good fishermen and wrestlers. However, if a boy shows too much interest in the opposite sex without favoring one girl, the parents may intervene and arrange a marriage. When brideservice starts, the young men have to comply with their duties and usually have to work for their fathers-in-law for about 2 years. Brideservice is called "payment for the vagina" (Franchetto, 1999, p. 209). Extraconjugal relations also have to be "paid for" (see below). In general, a young man moves to the house or village of his future wife about a year before the wedding; he continues to perform brideservice for one year after the wedding.

Attainment of Adulthood

Mehinako explain the need to arrange an initiation ceremony (puhuka) for boys when their behavior changes and they start to become interested in girls. However, becoming a "ripe" marriageable man or woman involves a complex ritual process for the whole community. After the ceremony every boy or girl gains two new names. The attainment of adolescent status is the most important for both genders, providing central personal and physical transformation and change.

The intertribal ritual is organized by the chief's family when one or two of their boys reach the age of puberty. The same is true for the girls. The rest of the boys, whose families cannot afford such effort and costs, take advantage of the occasion. In September 2000 nearly all the boys in the village aged between 5 and 17 years participated in the initiation ceremony.

The puhuka (piercing) ritual2 for boys not only makes a social change but also their gradual corporal transformation. To my knowledge, the corresponding ceremony for the girls (kaxatapa), when they receive their first uluribelt, has never been described before. The Mehinako told me that the last kaxatapa was held for Yamuni about 25 years ago. During this ritual the girls wear masculine paraphernalia. This indicates that the two rituals of adolescence— similarly to the gendered rituals of yamarikuma and the "sacred trumpets"—have a parallel construction and complement each other. They ritually invert gender roles and play with them. As in the ritual of the "holy trumpets," the puhuka ritual demands exclusion of women during the moment of ear-piercing of the initiands.

The puhuka ritual consist of three parts: the first involves preparation of the feast and collective fishing, welcoming the guests, exchanging goods and the climactic huka-huka wrestling. During this first period the whole village is engaged in singing and dancing.

At the beginning of the second phase the guests should have already left. Now special importance is given to the initiands. They shift between two opposing situations: between rich ornamentation as celestial birds, accompanied by singing and dancing by the whole village, on the one hand, and nakedness plus silence, on the other. This phase concludes with ear-piercing, and passes into the third stage when the initiands are totally cut off from the rest of village in the seclusion apartment. The younger boys are allowed to return to their families after a week of puhuka seclusion. However, for the main initiands it is the beginning of a long phase of silence and corporal and spiritual transformation.

Middle Age and Old Age

Mehinako men and women gain influence and authority due to their experience and their abilities which they can pass on to the younger generation. Married men and women, who regularly participate in ritual performance, can become special ritual leaders within their own gender group. Rhetorical talent and the knowledge of ceremonial forms increases with age. Elder men and women can gain influence and authority, but reaching old age does not seem to be specially honored. Old men are not taken seriously because they forget and mix up everything. If there is no daughter to look after them, old men have a particularly hard life.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

If Pregnancy Is Something That Frightens You, It's Time To Convert Your Fear Into Joy. Ready To Give Birth To A Child? Is The New Status Hitting Your State Of Mind? Are You Still Scared To Undergo All The Pain That Your Best Friend Underwent Just A Few Days Back? Not Convinced With The Answers Given By The Experts?

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment