Gender over the Life Cycle

Some of the traditional gender-loaded terms for males and females throughout the life-cycle have dropped away or been transformed. Similarly, the categories to which these terms refer have changed. However, much has been retained (see Handy, 1923; Kirkpatrick, 1983,1985,1987).

Pepe (from the French bébé) is now used for babies of either gender (birth to 3 years or so), tama for sons, and mo'i for daughters. To'iki covers all younger children (birth to adolescence); one of its reflexespo'iti is applied to boys in particular andpaho'e to girls. The terms ka'ioi and taure'are'a (Tahitian) cover the period from early adolescence on into adulthood, with males referred to as mahai and females as poko'ehu. 'Enana motua "mature adults" are simply referred to as vahana "man, husband" and vehine "woman, wife." Ko'oua is the unmarked term for the oldest generation (somewhere past the age of 50), while gender is signaled by the contrast between ko'oua for "old man, grandfather" and pakahi'o "old woman, grandmother."

The characteristics and expectations associated with these age- and gender-graded identities are briefly summarized here (but see Kirkpatrick, 1981, 1983,1985, 1987; Martini & Kirkpatrick, 1981; Riley, 2001). Pepe are assumed to have wills of their own and no judgment. To'iki are expected to begin to understand social rules and act as they are instructed, but girls long before boys. Male ka'ioi disregard the needs of others, putting their own arrogant desires first, while females hide their wayward behaviors more effectively. Vehine and vahana are expected to give up life "on the road" and be "mature householders," capable of "mature reflection" and of actively caring for their growing families. Ko'oua resist dependence on the younger generation by adopting grandchildren and working to sustain the family for as long as possible.

Socialization of Boys and Girls

Children are much loved and appreciated; however, some regret may be expressed if a couple repeatedly produces girls rather than boys. The birth of a child was once celebrated with several feasts and rituals (more so for boys than girls), including the burying of the placenta and planting a breadfruit tree to support the child (Ferdon, 1993; Handy, 1923; Suggs, 1966). These two rites are still practiced to some degree, though with minimal fanfare.

Mothers are the primary caregivers for small infants (0-3 months), but older siblings, fathers, grandmothers, and other women begin to hold and watch out for the child after this. As soon as they can be sat up, babies are generally held facing outward and are socialized via triadic participant structures. Caregivers show a lot of ka'oha "concern" for infants and toddlers (regardless of gender), accepting their expressions of willfulness with only gentle remonstrances and instead attempting to distract them (Martini & Kirkpatrick, 1981).

By the age of 3 or 4, both boys and girls are scolded when behaving in unacceptable ways (e.g., fighting, making a noise, or playing with others' belongings). However, caregivers seem more resigned to the continued recalcitrance of boys, who by the age of 6 may begin to show some of the wild and confrontative behaviors of the taure'are'a (e.g., dirty language and playing further from home). They learn some of this behavior as they accompany their grandfathers, fathers, older brothers, and uncles to work—cutting copra, hunting, or fishing. Through verbal jousting, older males expose boys to the importance of hiding fear, pain, and dependence, and teach them the art of being flexible. However, unable to reproduce these verbal skills so young, boys resort to verbal anger and physical violence with their peers.

By contrast, at an early age girls receive commands and exhortations from older sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers to help out and to show ka'oha for others. Thus, by the age of 8 or 9, girls have been socialized to engage in household chores including the care of their younger siblings. However, girls also learn their duties and orientations through verbal play as older females engage them in teasing and gossip. Not unlike the socialization of boys, girls are taught how to stay independent and strong, hiding weak feelings from all but their most intimate relations, as well as how to ferret out and take pity on the weaknesses of others, aiding them but also exposing their state of dependence (Riley, 2001).

As of the mid-1980s, all villages were equipped with a preschool and primary school providing education from 2 to 14 years. Secondary schooling may commence in the three larger towns and can be finished in Tahiti, where there is also a university. French schooling, as well as access to television in the home, is having a real impact on traditional socialization patterns.

Puberty and Adolescence

Prior to contact, some 'Enana spent at least some period of their adolescence in a grouping referred to as the ka'ioi. In the southern islands this group may have consisted only of a subset of young males who sang and danced at festivals, aided in the tattooing of elite males, and served as unranked warriors (Ferdon, 1993; Suggs, 1966). However, it appears that in the northern islands most male and female adolescents passed through this age grade, during which time they learned to perform songs, dances, and sexual moves at traditional festivals as well as at some festivals specifically created for foreigners (Dening, 1980; Handy, 1923). Ka'ioi coated themselves in eka "saffron," wore flowers, lived together in their own dwellings, and engaged in sexual activities both in private and for public entertainment.

Vestiges of these behaviors are still prevalent as the Tahitian term taure'are'a "painted in eka" has been adopted to refer to the male youth (aged between 12 and 30 or so) who band together in the night and go out "on the road," drinking (and smoking pakalolo "marijuana" since the 1970s), dancing to guitars (or boom-boxes more recently), and attempting to engage girls in sexual intercourse either in the bush or more stealthily in their homes (Kirkpatrick, 1983, 1987; Riley, 2001; Suggs, 1966).

At present this "night crawling" is less apparent because of the increase in public koika "festivals" where male and female adolescents may legitimately socialize in the evening and go off together for sex. Sexuality is once again more openly discussed, even by the priesthood, and youth events are orchestrated by Christian organizations in efforts to channel the energies of les jeunes "youth."

Traditionally, supercision took place well before puberty (ages 7-10), whereas tattooing was the marker of puberty for elite males and their ka'ioi companions and was accompanied by elaborate preparations and feasting. Boys are now supercised later (between 10 and 14), in a group but by medical personnel and without ritual fanfare (Kirkpatrick, 1987; Riley, 2001; Suggs, 1966). For girls, the onset of menstruation was once associated with a ritual intended to deal with the tapu nature of the blood (Handy, 1923); however, this event is no longer marked or celebrated in any fashion.

Attainment of Adulthood

Males may not settle down as vahana until late in their twenties or even thirties, and usually only after their second child with the same woman. By contrast, females may settle down, becoming vehine in their late teens, frequently with an older man, sometimes with his children by another marriage, and sometimes bringing a child of her own into the relationship.

Thus it is not anticipated that settling down into "mature householders" will happen overnight, and many young adults switch households and partners (leaving the offspring with their grandparents) several times before attaining "mature householder" status (not before 40 for some vahana).

"Maturity" at this time in history has much to do with finding a way not only to provide food and housing for one's growing family (much of which can be accomplished through unpaid labor), but also to make money to buy children clothes and an education (Kirkpatrick, 1983, 1985, 1987).

Middle Age and Old Age

Ideally, ko'oua "older persons" provide leadership for the community and guidance for younger householders, and indeed most haka'iki "chiefs/mayors" and tumu pure "prayer leaders" are over 40. In reality, most persons over the age of 50 have a diminished role at present, especially given the adoption of Western values that emphasize the acquisition of money and power early in life. However, even prior to contact, first-born sons inherited the property and title of their parents early in life, leaving the latter with little official status (Ferdon, 1993; Handy, 1923).

The decline of ko'oua is characterized by their loss of beauty and their growing dependence on their children and French subsidies. Generally, as their physical strength goes, male ko'oua have a hard time retaining their authority as capable providers, whereas pakahi'o can maintain respect in their role of cleaning house and caring for newly adopted children (Kirkpatrick, 1983, 1985).

Nor are ko'oua necessarily "mature" individuals. Some are known for wandering on the road and providing insufficiently for their family's needs (i.e., acting like taure'are'a) while their pakahi'o are perceived as long-suffering. In other families, strong vehine are recognized for having brought their vahana into line.

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