Leadership in Public Arenas

Men dominate Kuna politics. Each village maintains a hierarchy of offices, with several politico-religious chiefs, secondary officers called argar, and village constables, as well as specialized positions for house building and other tasks; some now have a secular administrative chief as well (Howe, 1986). Since the 1980s a few of the largest and most sophisticated islands have instituted women's meetings or elected women as argar or administrative chief, though not so far as traditional chief. Two women have run unsuccessfully for the national assembly; the daughter of a famous chief briefly served as governor or intendente of Kuna Yala, and women have played leading roles in establishing at least one urban settlement (De Gerdes, 1995; Tice, 1995, p. 51). In Kuna Yala, women also make their feelings known on key issues, such as the election of a new village leader, and a few regional women's meetings have been held. Nonetheless, the vast majority of office-holders and participants in decision-making, at both the village and regional level, are male.

Until recently most men also participated extensively in ritual, spending years or decades establishing names as puberty chanters, medicinalists, or singers of curing chants (see Chapin, 1987; Nordenskiold et al., 1938; Sherzer, 1987). One ritual specialty, that of puberty hair-cutter, is reserved for women. Seers or neles, who are born into their role, can be male or female, and the tiny handful of women who actually practice as nele are also free to master other ritual specialties. Much more significantly, senior women play important but less publicly recognized roles as midwives, funeral mourners, cooks and organizers of village feasts, and curers' wives. The latter, as Chapin (1983, pp. 172-178) shows, actually do much of the work of diagnosis and treatment.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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