Leadership in Public Arenas

Leadership in the political arena is restricted to males. Women have no leadership roles (including social/ political movements), nor do they have equal authority. For example, I know of no female shamans, despite the importance of First Woman as a powerful shamanic spirit.

Men alone are privileged to speak formally. Tukanoans place extreme value on speaking skill and discourse style. Women neither have authority to speak for a group nor are they considered to have the capacity of producing "correct" and clear thought and speech. Men distinguish between the eloquent decorous speech of men and what they regard as the undisciplined chatter of women. Men are expected to engage in dominant and highly visible speech activities, while women are expected to remain quiet and attend to the children.

Eastern Tukanoan men view women as divisive and chaotic influences, especially through their uncontrolled critical gossip. Although in-marrying wives form bonds with each other, 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.

Authority and certain types of knowledge are associated with the head. Authority is vested in the most senior man who is referred to as "our Head" (dahpu); the term refers not only to his leadership role, but also to the anatomical head which "leads," "organizes," and "speaks for" the body (Chernela, 1993). The term also refers to the head of the ancestral anaconda, from which the descendants of the first ancestors originated. Without a "head," a group cannot "speak" and is therefore mute or powerless.

Women are not prohibited from hearing stories, as they are prohibited from hearing ritual ancestral flutes. Yet, women may not tell stories. Women typically overhear the stories told by men, and although they may be attentive, that interest is not usually acknowledged. The body of oral literature that pertains to ancestral times has a distinctly male cast of performer-interpreters, resulting in a text shaped by a distinctly male gaze. Ancestral myth-telling is an activity that falls within men's roles. The exclusion of women either as ratified speakers or listeners reaffirms the male monopoly over ideology and ritual.

Occasionally a woman may "take the floor," creating, for a moment, a distinctly female space within the public sphere (Chernela, 1997). When this occurred once it was at the periphery, not the center of the dance house. The center is reserved for the rhetorical ceremonial speech of males.

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