Observances at Menarche

Although the first menstruation is experienced by all women everywhere, the event is elaborated by ritual only in some societies, such as the Maroni River Caribs of Surinam (Kloos, 1969, 1971). Here, in traditional times, the girl was secluded for a month in a special place within her parental home, subjected to certain restrictions, and expected to spin cotton to make a hammock for a member of her family. As part of one of the rituals celebrated toward the end of her seclusion, the initiate places her hand into a bowl of large stinging ants in order to impress upon her the need to be industrious like the ant. A feast ensues, and the initiate is told by guests that she is now a woman. The ceremony stresses the industriousness that will be demanded of her as the adult she has become. (For an unusually rich description of a ceremony celebrated at menarche among the Navajo, see Frisbie [1967].)

Not only is menarche given ritual elaboration in some societies, but it also appears that certain cultural practices actually influence the onset of menarche. According to J. W. M. Whiting (1965; see also Landauer & Whiting, 1981; Lipson, 2001), in those societies with cultural practices that inflict stress in infancy, girls will experience menarche earlier than girls in societies without such customs. Furthermore, East African data reported by Borgerhoff Mulder (1989) indicates that age at menarche is a major predictor of completed family size.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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