Gender Related Social Groups

The Bakairf recognize extended families that consist of two or more individuals related by blood and their spouses and children. In the past these families lived together in large elliptically shaped communal houses, but today the Indians reside in small square houses made of clay with tin or palm thatch roofs. Nuclear families, sometimes with an older relative, occupy these homes. Nonetheless, extended families remain important, and they are organized around the female side of the family.

Women, their married daughters, and granddaughters make up a tightly knit core of individuals who are loyal to each other. They tend to have homes located near each other, accompany each other to the river several times a day to bathe and wash clothes, work together in the gardens, and defend each other's interests in the community. Nuclear families, consisting of a married couple and their children, are important for reproduction, child-rearing, and economic activities. Although embedded in the larger extended family, they operate in a semi-autonomous fashion.

In Bakairf extended families, members distinguish two kinds of cousins: cross cousins and parallel cousins. Cross cousins are the children of opposite-sexed siblings of parents, (i.e., children of either mother's brother or father's sister), while parallel cousins are those of same-sexed siblings of parents (i.e., children of either mother's sister or father's brother). Parallel cousins tend to be lumped together with siblings, and marriage between them is forbidden on the basis of incest rules. Cross cousins, on the other hand, are encouraged to marry, a tradition that reinforces solidarity within the extended family. Although not all Bakairf marriages are between cross cousins, many are.

Bakairf women are not organized into nonkin groups; rather, their solidarity is based on kin connections, which are strengthened through a lifetime of cooperation and shared experiences in the domestic sphere. Men are organized into two different nonkin groups. Those who pass through the puberty rite of ear-piercing at the same time make up a loosely organized age-set. Although their responsibilities toward each other are not rigidly defined, they tend to fraternize, hunt, and assist each other in garden projects more frequently than with those in younger or older cohorts. They compose a type of political interest group in that they share common experiences, aims, and concerns that are different from other men's. They marry and have children at about the same time, and move simultaneously through other developmental stages such as the death of parents. Their demeanor towards each other is playful. This is quite different from the respectful way they must interact with the elders, and the instructive way they act toward those younger than they. Men in the same age-set may find their sense of solidarity temporarily affected by village disputes and rivalries, sexual jealousy, and personal animosity. Yet relationships between members remain strong and usually endure until death. On the other hand, they never eclipse, or even compete seriously with, those blood relationships that claim an individual's allegiance.

Bakairf men also belong to a men's association that plays a dominant role in the political and religious lives of the villagers. Following the ear-piercing ceremony, they are allowed to participate in the key activities that take place in the caduete (men's house) which is located in the center of the village. The caduete is shrouded in secrecy, and women are forbidden to enter it on penalty of rape. Inside the men store sacred and/or musical artifacts and ritual masks, and they perform rituals. Unlike age-related ceremonies that divide men into groups, the men's house unites them and places them in opposition to women.

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