Parental and Other Caretaker Roles

The mother of a child is the one who gave birth to it, though a child calls his or her mother's sister "mother" as well as most of the latter person's sisters or classificatory sisters. Several of these many other "mothers" are actual part time caretakers, and one of them takes over the full care of a closely related orphan.

The same pattern potentially exists for fathers, but since these men's brothers, and their other classificatory fathers, live in other households, their care is seldom sought. The child's mother's husband is the primary father (MH = F), but the Canela also have "contributing fathers." They believe that semen introduced into a woman's womb after she has become pregnant becomes part of the fetus. Thus, the men who have contributed in this way become ethnobiological fathers to the fetus, sharing common blood, in addition to the mother's husband. Contributing fathers occasionally give their contributed-to children food, but they are not significant caretakers, and they do not assume the care of orphans related to them in this way.

The fathers who provide significant care and sustenance are the child's mother's husbands, whether presumed genitors or stepfathers. Such fathers live in the same house with the child's mother and spend considerable time taking care of their children, sometimes with great love and affection. Nevertheless, only the MH who is the presumed genitor can spank or hit his child, not its stepfather, because only shared "blood" (kaproo) will give the hitter sufficient compassion to carry out the punishment constructively.

Besides the parental roles, the other significant caretaker roles are those of the father's sister and the mother's brother, immediate and classificatory. These uncles and aunts together handle the disciplinary matters of their nieces and nephews, since the children's parents are too soft on them, they believe. The parents handle daily matters, but if children get out of hand, they summon the uncles for both sexes and maybe the aunts for girls. The young people fear scoldings from their uncles and start obeying the moment their parents threaten to summon them.

The parents are ashamed to face the sexual matters of their children, so they leave such education to the uncles and aunts who have little sexual shame before their nieces and nephews. Uncles talked nephews out of sexual jealousies, and aunts coaxed nieces into sequential sex situations and private trysts.

If a youth was intransigent, his disciplining uncle saw to it that he was called before the female dance line in the late afternoon to be hazed cruelly by one of the toughest and most warlike elders. A girl who appeared to be menstruating before she had lost her virginity was accused of hiding the name of her lover. Sex brought on menstruation, they believe, so she must have had sex, but who was the young man? To find out, they summoned an aunt to examine her genitals, forcefully if necessary.

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