Relative Status of Men and Women

Although women may possess considerable influence within their families, men dominate religion, politics, and the economy. In practice, however, men need the support of wives if they hope to organize successful feasts, ritual exchanges, and dances. They will fail unless their wives are willing to help cultivate the extra food and kava gardens and feed the pigs that these ceremonies demand. Fathers expect that unmarried daughters with salaries will turn over at least some of their wages to the family, as husbands do of wives, although women may refuse to do so. Women who cultivate market gardens, or who otherwise make money selling crafts and food in the marketplace, control their earnings.

Parents customarily arrange their children's marriages, and people say that young men and women alike can veto a parental choice. However, since marriage arrangements are frequently complex and delicate, children often come under considerable pressure to acquiesce. Some young women pressured to marry attempt suicide, often by jumping out of tall trees. Only so perilous an act convinces parents that a girl is serious in her objections. Others may disappear for several days, claiming to have been kidnapped by an ancestor. Such signs of ancestral interference may also convince parents to back off reluctant daughters. Suicide rates in general are higher among women than among men, reflecting the island's unequal gender opportunities and pressures.

People expect that newcomers in a village will eventually support local religious and political affiliations. This applies to men and women alike, but women move more often than men given virilocal residence patterns. A girl raised a Presbyterian who marries into a John Frum family soon finds herself dressed in bark skirt dancing to John Frum hymns. There is little expectation that anyone has the right to his or her own individual religious or political beliefs, but women have to adjust theirs more than do men.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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