Leadership in Public Arenas

Leadership in the political arena is controlled by men and is dominated symbolically and practically by the caduete, the men's house located in the plaza in the center of the village. The literature from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the Bakairf were first contacted, indicates that older women in particular, but women in general, were important authorities in the village and that they openly participated in the public arena in ways that are not seen today (Petrullo, 1932; von den Steinen, 1886/1966). It is probable that contact with Brazilians during the 20th century affected the role of women, making it more subservient to the man's role. Today women influence public events through their husbands and sons.

Men and women control different parts of the village. Men control the central plaza, the caduete, and the soccer field. Women avoid these areas. Maintaining a low profile, they skirt public areas and use the back paths that connect the houses to the gardens and the river. If they inappropriately venture into the plaza, they are socially sanctioned by gossip. At times, when there are important ritual events in the plaza, the women ring its periphery, making sure not to move off the sidelines.

Women control the back areas of the village. Men avoid these back yards except to set up clandestine meetings with women, and if they are found there too often, they are teased.

The mobility of men distinguishes them from women. Men in general, but young men especially, have many opportunities to take trips outside the reservation. When they are young, they travel out of curiosity, and when they are older, they go to Cuiaba, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso, and even to Brasilia, the nation's capital, for political and financial reasons. They also go to ranches to earn wages. They remain there for days or even weeks before returning home. Talking about their experiences is frequently converted into status and prestige in the village. Women are discouraged from traveling outside the reservation. Child-rearing responsibilities, their inability to speak Portuguese as well as men, and their alleged shyness prevent them from leaving the reservation. Recently this has changed among the Bakairi. In the late 1980s and 1990s, women began to work for wages both inside and outside the reservation. Some work in Cuiaba in shops and at FUNAI headquarters as domestic helpers, and a smaller number have assumed more responsibility, working as teachers and medical attendants.

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