Gender Related Social Groups

Despite the claims of many naive observers, the Kuna do not maintain unilineal descent groups or descent reckoning of any sort, and kinship is thoroughly bilateral. The primary kin-based social group is the uxorilocal or matrilocal household, governed by the rule that upon marrying a man goes to live with his wife. In recent decades households have averaged somewhere in the range of eight to ten members (Howe, 1985; Tice, 1995, p. 117), but earlier in the century they were quite a bit larger (Chapin, 1983, p. 472). Mothers and coresident adult daughters, who work together daily, can be seen as a consanguineal household core, but (Helms [1976] to the contrary) in-married males, except in their first tentative years of marriage, are full members, and the senior male, just like his wife, is seen as progenitor as well as household head.

Village communal labor (which varies considerably from one island to the next) is organized along singlegender lines. Male groups build homes, wharves, public buildings, and airstrips; they work in village-owned stores and coconut groves; and they provide sugar cane, corn, bananas, fish, and other items for communal rituals. Women (often loosely supervised by male task leaders) sweep the streets, tend store, serve refreshments to male workers, and prepare food and drink for feasts and rituals.

Within each village the Kuna maintain an array of voluntary organizations, often called sociedades, which are devoted to land-clearing, fishing, cropping of coconuts and subsistence crops, running communal stores, and other purposes. Though single-sex groups outnumber those with mixed membership, the effective units in many nominally all-male sociedades are husband-wife pairs. For the last 30 years a women's organization for marketing molas has fostered female leadership and organization.

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