Middle Age and Old Age

The sharp distinction between the roles of men and women lessens with age, but never disappears. With age, both Yapese men and women become less polluting, but a woman never attains the level of tabugul, "purity," achievable by a man. The attainment of middle age by a man, coupled with his inheritance of the family estate, establishes him as the leader of the estate and positions him to participate fully in village ceremonies and large multivillage ceremonial exchanges. In addition, a high-caste man who reaches this status is eligible to participate in the more restrictive eating classes. The higher the level of "purity" reached by a man as he ages, the higher his overall status and political influence, but it also requires that he lead a more restrictive life. Old men are honored and respected, but they also must be protected.

As a general rule, a woman improves her relative status and rank as a consequence of her husband's attaining pumo'on, "middle age," and pilabthir, "old age." However, the greatest increase in status for a woman comes about after reaching menopause. Following menopause, a woman has more freedom to move about her village. In contrast with an old man who has increasing restrictions, an old woman has fewer restriction and limitations than she did as an adolescent or during her childbearing years. An old woman no longer shares food with those women younger than she but only with women of commensurate status. A Yapese woman who has reached old age and who comes from an important estate is respected by her younger relatives, both male and female, and her opinions in estate matters carry weight.

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