Relative Status of Men and Women

The Manjako (both men and women) acknowledge the right and the ability of men to preside over the household and to hold the important political and religious titles such as headmen and shrine priests. Male clan and lineage elders have authority over rice fields. During male initiation, men acquire specialized ritual knowledge, and only initiated men can enter the principal spirit shrines. Some ritual paraphernalia cannot be viewed by women. During the interrogation of the "corpse" (nowadays, a stretcher covered with a cloth) at funerals, the four corners are supported by male youths (though it is said that two of the corners used to be supported by women).

But the society as a whole also attaches a very high value to women and accords them the same basic rights men have. Women have much say in what goes on in the household, in kin groups, in age sets, and in the community at large; in particular, they participate in the decision-making processes for designating headman successors and spouses for their children. They have a high degree of independence, and expect and receive respect from their husbands and brothers.

In traditional marriage, the bride has less say than the groom. Fathers may betroth their daughters at a young age; the daughters have very little choice in the matter. The men perform brideservice as the girl matures, and when she has reached marriageable age, she is more or less forced to marry her official fiance or be punished by the spirits. Many young women prefer to flee the area and/or work as prostitutes to earn money to compensate the groom for his brideservice; they can then marry a man of their own choosing, who is closer in age and often in the same age set. Women are also relatively free to divorce, as long as the husband is compensated for brideservice and/or children remain with the husband.

Funerals also reveal the difference in status between men and women. If a man and a woman die in the same period, the man's funeral will take precedence. For example, the royal drum will be played at the man's funeral rather than the woman's.

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