Gender Related Social Groups

Rules of incest and exogamy produce an overarching unity among diverse and sometimes distant language groups so that 14,000 Indians inhabiting some 150,000 km2 are related by either kin (agnatic) or in-law (affinal) ties.

Eastern Tukanoan society provides one of the few known cases of strongly patrilineal societies in lowland South America. Members of a patrilineal clan speak a single signifying language and conceive of themselves as a group of agnates descended from ancestral brothers born of the body of an anaconda. Each of these founding brothers is the focal ancestor of a patriclan or sib, whose members are spoken of as the "grandchildren of one man."

This ideology of descent consitutes a unisexual model of social order and continuity. One generation of brothers generates another through the name exchange; men structure descent and generational time, linking descendant with ancestor, present and future with past. Although women participate in synchronic linkages, connecting different descent groups, they are absent from this descent model of reproduction.

Women are outsiders. Among Eastern Tukanoans, a local village consists of a core of male relatives, their in-marrying wives, and their unmarried daughters. (The few nonsib members found in most villages are relegated to visitor status, and are barred from local decisions.)

Although in-marrying wives form strong affective bonds with each other (often based on language commonality), numerous factors limit their impact as a formal cohesive political power. For most women, input into village-level politics takes the form of gossip and other informal social criticism. This "subversive" form of politicking undoubtedly has a substantial, though unmea-surable, impact. If a woman's comment is critical, yet made in a jesting satirical style, it is not considered provocative in the way that outright criticism would be.

With patrilocal residence, the rapport established between a wife and her in-laws is critical to her well-being. Ideal circumstances for both marital partners occur when the preferred practice of patrilateral cross-cousin exchange is followed. Then, a man marries his father's sister's daughter. In these marriages, a woman marries her mother's brother's son—a man who is a member of her mother's language group. In this home her father-in-law is a speaker of her mother's language. He calls her by an especially affectionate term and speaks to her in the cadences of her mother's tongue, although she responds in her father's, that is, her "own" language. In such marriages, a woman is said to be "marrying back" (Chernela, 1988a, 1993). Women who "marry back" are said to be

"belongers" in the villages into which they marry, in contrast to wives whose husbands are not of the mother's group, and who are said to "mix" among "others" (Chernela, 1988a).

In the single case that I know of where a woman continued to live in her own village after her marriage, she was the last remaining descendant in the line of founding ancestors, known as the "Firsts." She was considered to be "First of the Firsts." By virtue of her location in the descent structure, she was recognized as having an authorized link to the ancestors. Her unique position within the social structure was manifest in her residence practice. Since she remained in the village of her birth, and her husband's family resided in the village, the case constituted a singular instance of regularized uxorilocal residence in the region. This woman was described to me as being "like a man" (Chernela, 1993, 1997).

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