Gender Related Social Groups

In this society comprised of relatively autonomous individuals, there were no active gender-related social groups. The Mundugumor assumed the existence of conflict and hostility among almost all people of the same sex. Land was inherited patrilineally, but because it was so plentiful, access to it never became an issue and patrilin-eal groups were almost invisible. Men, especially fathers, sons and brothers, were highly suspicious of one another. Sons suspected fathers of claiming their sisters to use in exchange for wives for themselves, and brothers competed with one another for the rights to use sisters in their own marriages. Among men, only the mother's brother-sister's son relationship was relaxed; often, the mother's brother sided with his sister's son in order to oppose his brother-in-law, the boy's father. Men did not regularly come together for any purpose. There was no men's house. There were no patrilineal descent group affairs to conduct. Men only came together for raids and the occasional feast, and even these were fraught with interpersonal tensions.

Women were more apt to gather unceremoniously or to work casually together even though they had no structured or enduring groups that lasted over time. Daughters might assist one another and their mother until their own marriage obligations pulled them away, but it was only informally. Two women who participated in the same marriage exchange (i.e., were "exchanged" for one another) maintained somewhat relaxed and close ties. Despite the fact that cowives characteristically did not get along and were constantly competing with one another for their husband's attention for themselves or their children,

... nevertheless they form one of the most permanent semi-co-operative organizations in Mundugumor. They live in the same compound, they see each other constantly, and no formalized avoidance or jesting behaviour separates them or regulates their conduct. They call each other "sister" and reproduce the constellation of daughters around the father of the polygynous household. (Mead, 1935/1963, p. 208)

Groups of females—daughters, mothers, and cowives— could be seen in a compound, working together and quietly chatting about the events of the day. These relations contrasted sharply with men's.

In ordinary times [not feast times], only women gather in chattering groups to comment cattily upon each other's brightly coloured grass skirts, or laugh at the older women who stubbornly insist upon dressing in the modes of an earlier period. (Mead, 1935/1963, p. 175)

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