Relative Status of Men and Women

Men and women had equal status, rights, and privileges in Waorani society. The familial residential group was often led by a male elder, but his authority was based on persuasion and coercion, not on any ultimate right to authority. Men did not dominate women, and neither women nor children were ever beaten. Men would occasionally kill their spouses, usually over disagreements about taking another wife, but only when they were relatively sure that the death would not be avenged by the woman's kin. There are many incidents of vengeance for the deaths of sisters; thus murder of a wife was rare, although it did occur. More usually, the wife would simply leave her husband in such cases and take up residence elsewhere. There is at least one incident in which a woman was suspected of poisoning her husband. The mutual dependence of men and women for subsistence made marriage an important institution, and although both genders could exist without a spouse, they were then dependent on family and kin who were not obligated to provide what a spouse would normally provide (i.e., meat or manioc). Although there was sharing of food in families, this was not an ideal situation because self-reliance and independence were so highly prized, and most men and women hastened to remarry after the death of a spouse. In addition, the surviving wives and children of a man killed in a raid were often killed as well if there was no wife shortage because they had no one to hunt for them. As already indicated, it was elder relatives who decided on marriage choices for youth, but, once married, they were relatively free to decide to remain together or not. Because marriage was an economic necessity, bachelors who could not attain a wife by such traditional means sometimes resorted to stealing a woman from her family. In these cases, a raid was mounted and the girl's parents and other kin living with them were usually killed. Extramarital sexual relationships with ki were common, expected, and accepted for both sexes. In addition, the Waorani had the institution of partible paternity in which more than one man (ordinarily in a ki relationship with the woman) could be father to a child. In such cases, a woman would take one or more lovers in addition to her husband during pregnancy, and since it was thought that it took four to six acts of intercourse to form a baby, several men could be fathers with obligations to provide and care for the child. Elderly Waorani of both sexes who could no longer take care of themselves were often murdered, frequently by their own kin. Today, the Waorani continue this pattern of egalitarian gender relations, although, as already indicated, influences from the wider Ecuadorian society and the global village impinge on the Waorani as they do on others.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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