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READING 2. Family and Household in North America. Longhouses and Lineage

READING 2 Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, Ordering the World: Family and Household, in In the Balance: Themes in Global History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998), Abstract: This essay
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READING 2 Candice Goucher, Charles LeGuin, and Linda Walton, Ordering the World: Family and Household, in In the Balance: Themes in Global History (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1998), Abstract: This essay considers both families and households, and the ways these intersected and interacted with the ideas, institutions, and communities of North America, South America, and West Africa before In so doing, it suggests the wide variety of family and household structures that existed around the world, and the differing ways in which gender, power, and lineage could be understood. Throughout, it demonstrates the complex ways in which economics and ideology helped to shape these most intimate of structures. Family and Household in North America Concepts of family and household vary as widely as do the kinds of historical evidence describing them. The recovery of family history in the pre- Columbian Americas depends on written, nonwritten, archaeological, and orally transmitted sources. Households in North America before 1500 were cooperative kinship groups varying in size from fairly small (several hundred) to large (5000). Indeed, the size of cooperative household units adjusted to economic and ecological conditions. Longhouses and Lineage Multifamily dwellings, or longhouses, were common to communities in the Pacific Northwest Coast region, the Great Plains, and among the Eastern Woodland Iroquois. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, one of the earliest European observers of native peoples in the Americas, Amerigo Vespucci, wrote of hundreds of persons sleeping in shared households. In some cases, multifamily dwellings were associated with the development of agriculture, since joint residency encouraged the cooperative labor required by intensive food production, though they were also characteristic of the nonagricultural Pacific Northwest. More commonly, shared kinship was the basis for establishing multifamily dwellings, with membership in a lineage determining joint residence. Matrilineal and patrilineal descent were recognized in different societies, and in some cases, as in some Northwest Coast groups, bilateral descent (acknowledgment of both sides of one s ancestry) was recognized. Matrilineal families, in which descent and property were transmitted through females, were common among groups such as the Iroquois of the Eastern Woodlands. The Zuni of the American Southwest were matrilocal, as well: when a woman married, her husband left his mother s house and came to live in her house, Used by permission for Bridging World History, 1 where he remained forever an outsider. The house and its possessions, the sacred objects and wealth, principally in the form of stored corn and access to the fields, belonged to the women who lived there. The family related by blood through the women was the central and permanent social group. Gender in Zuni Family and Household Religious ceremony and ritual, which permeated Zuni life, as well as economic production were centered in the family household. The working life of a Zuni man was spent in the household into which he married. As a farmer, he was an essential household member, though to the Zuni, a person s importance was not economic. Wealth was important only insofar as it made it possible for a man to undertake and pay for the responsibilities and ritual obligations that would make him truly respected. Lhamana Within the context of meanings and roles structured by gender, women were considered responsible for the family and community; men were responsible for the universe. Their roles were distinct and complementary. The Zuni believed that gender was acquired through a gradual awareness of the individual, usually in childhood. The most striking illustration of Zuni gender construction is the identity known as lhamana (referred to as berdache by anthropologists), who combined the cultural traits and roles of both male and female. The decision to become lhamana was made by a boy in childhood and finalized at puberty, when the youth adopted female dress. Rather than assimilating the ritual knowledge of men, the boy destined to become lhamana hung around the house and learned women s skills, mostly those of weaving and potting. Archaeological evidence supports the antiquity of the lhamana identity. Burials are recorded in which women wear both a dress and a man s kilt and in which men are buried with implements associated with women, such as a clay ball and baskets. In Zuni kivas (the clan s ceremonial houses) at the archaeological site called Pottery Mound ( C.E.), some 100 miles north of the Zuni pueblo, paintings of masked dancers wear the distinctive lhamana hairstyle: half the hair is plaited in a characteristic female whorl and the other half is allowed to hang straight in the male manner. Other figures carry both bow and arrows and a basketry plaque. Gender and Women s Power Among the Blackfoot The Blackfoot of the northwestern Plains provide an example of the difficulty of documenting women s power before the fifteenth century. Male roles were more visible, flamboyant, and assertive, while women s behavior was properly docile and quiet. Yet several aspects of gender roles intersect and even crosscut this portrait of male dominance, and upon closer examination Used by permission for Bridging World History, 2 the boundaries of gender roles that seem at first glance clear can easily become blurred. For example, one way to explain the fact that men, not women, were involved in spirit quests to increase their spirituality is to assume that only men had the potential to achieve spiritual power. An equally valid interpretation would be to attribute the exclusion of women from spirit quests to their innate spirituality: they had no need to engage in spirit quests. Evidence from traditional myths and ritual practices suggests that women were innately more spiritual. Women s power was manifested in rituals such as the Sun Dance Ceremony, in which women played a prominent role. In the Sun Dance, the Holy Woman carries a medicine bundle as a sign of the power of women to move between the Holy People of the Above World and ordinary people below. Age was also an important factor that intersected gender. A large number of elderly women could become manly-hearted over the course of their lives. Such powerful women were able to control social situations as well as property. Although both men and women were believed to be necessarily paired, it was primarily women who brought blessings and powers from spiritual realms to be enjoyed by all. Cultural Reproduction, Family, and Community Family life maintained and expressed the Native American culture, not only through its reproductive functions but also because it functioned as a vehicle for sharing language, beliefs, and behavior. The family adapted and transmitted cultural knowledge across generations. The expression of group belonging reflected the economic and political context in which families resided. For example, among other matrilineal and matrilocal groups in the Pacific Northwest, such as the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, what was inherited was often intangible: the right to wear certain crest designs and to perform particular ceremonial dances and songs. The sense of belonging to a group resulted from this intangible inheritance, but in the Pacific Northwest environment of abundant and renewable resources, the indication of belonging to the community was not limited to the plentiful economic or material possessions, which all shared. The most egregious crime in such communities was often theft, since anything that injured one member of the group was felt by all. The sense of a shared family or group identity was frequently reiterated by moral imperatives that emphasized commitment to community and enduring relationships to the landscape that transcended a single lifetime. Used by permission for Bridging World History, 3 Family and State in Andean South America and Mesoamerica Not all native American peoples were hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers living in small communities. Families also persisted in large corporate groups, such as the Incan state ( ) in the Andean highlands of South America. Families were patriarchal and regulated and controlled not only by the male head of household but also by the state, through laws issued by rulers and supported by the sanctions of religion. In this way, the family was incorporated into the hierarchical and absolutist state, the largest unit with which people identified. The Family in Incan Society As Incan society expanded after about 1000, the family was regarded as a unit of economic production. Men paid their tribute to the state through laboring on public works or in agriculture, or through military service; women spent much of their time weaving. Woven cloths had extraordinary ritual and ceremonial value. A special public building served as a convent for Chosen Women, brought to the Incan capital to weave cloth and participate in rituals. Male dominance was maintained in the patriarchal Incan society by treating women as property. Adultery was considered theft of the female involved, and the male was punished for having committed a crime against property. Boys and girls were educated in separate schools. Families were provided with land by the state, which claimed everything produced and had the power to move family members and households to anywhere their labor was needed. This strategy also reduced resistance among conquered peoples. In turn, the Incas, aware of the benefits of keeping their basic economic units in functioning order, took the care and maintenance of family groups seriously. Ideological changes accompanied territorial expansion and led to the establishment of the empire in the mid-fifteenth century. Men came to symbolize the conqueror and women, the conquered. As a result of the pervasive warfare, in which female enemies were incorporated into households as slaves and wives and male enemies were killed, the status of Incan women was devalued and the power they had once held because of their economic and reproductive roles was diminished. Warfare became as important as childbirth in increasing populations. Although some elite women could gain political influence through their relationship with the Sapa-Inca, both slavery and warfare reduced women s power. Family groups, modified by the authority of the Incan state, would be further transformed following the establishment of European control in the sixteenth century. Used by permission for Bridging World History, 4 Family and Household in Mesoamerica Less is known of family and household in Aztec society, centered in the Valley of Mexico and reaching its peak in the fifteenth century, just before the European conquest. The cult of the warrior that dominated Aztec culture and society was reflected in the beliefs and practices associated with childbirth and child rearing. The metaphor of battle was used for childbirth, and the infant was described as a captive, won in battle. Women giving birth were possessed by the spirit of the Earth Mother. If a woman died in childbirth, the Earth Mother would have to be appeased. From birth, female infants were carefully distinguished from their male counterparts by differences in care and feeding, according to the roles that each would fulfill in society. The social duty of the male was to be a warrior; that of the female was to be a wife. Marriage was a secular rite that symbolized the transfer of a young male from the care of his mother to that of his bride. Although women were restricted to the domestic sphere, some did have public roles healers and physicians, and especially midwives. These occupations had spiritual dimensions. Whereas the constant marking of sexual differences and consideration of gender were central to the ordering of the world in Aztec thought and culture, in the sacred realm sexual differences were often blurred. Many deities, in fact, had androgynous forms, and the gender of healers could be strategically ignored. Sources that reveal the nature of family and household in both Aztec and Incan society are restricted for the most part to accounts recorded by Spanish scribes after the conquest. Neither the largely male informants nor the Spanish conquerors took great interest in the affairs of the domestic sphere, which was regarded as the domain of women. Family and Household in West Africa In many African societies, there is no term equivalent to the word family. Links created by descent and marriage did not always exist between persons sharing a residence. A household, which consisted of people sharing a residence, was as often defined by significant relations of production as it was by functions of reproduction. In other words, the household as an economic unit was often as important as the family as a social unit. The Family and Spirituality As elsewhere throughout the world, a pervasive concern of African societies throughout history was continuity, the ability of the family and group to reproduce itself. An adult s sense of social completeness was dependent on his or her ability to sire or bear children. Motherhood was an essential aspect of female identity in most societies. Children guaranteed the well-being of an individual in old age and ensured the transition of the parent s spirit to the Used by permission for Bridging World History, 5 community of the ancestors, who would be honored by their descendants. The prevalent belief in reincarnation of ancestors as newborn members of the lineage meant that children were highly valued as visible symbols of the continuity of life. The pragmatic concern of many African women and men over fertility ensured a large and productive household labor force The Human Household In many West African societies before 1500, there existed more than a figurative association between humans and their households. Houses were often quite literally human in shape and concept. The human body, household, and family were physical manifestations of the ideology that wove people into a single social fabric. Like the actual white threads observed by author Camare Laye (in the opening to Part II) after his initiation into the social group, the human body (as individual and group) and the built world of society were interconnected. The Batammaliba For example, among the Batammaliba of northern Togo and Benin, who lived in dispersed, stateless settlements in the fifteenth century, the same word designated both the extended family and the house in which its members lived. The meaning of household (those sharing physical space) and family (those sharing social space) was a conceptual continuity. Lacking a household, an individual would be without social and spiritual support. The house was dressed in human clothes, and its parts were identified with parts of the human body as well as with specific human ancestors in its lineage. The Batammaliba house also reflected the importance of historical ancestors in the identity of the family s compound. Every house served to symbolize a tomb; without the death of an elder, there was believed to be no new life. The arrangement of a settlement s cemetery was identical to the placement of family houses within the village, reinforcing the complementarity of house and tomb, present and past. In the house, family history was evoked and manipulated through daily contact between living family members and their ancestors. Kinship and Power Almost everywhere in pre-1500 Africa, kinship played a critical role in both the formation and the transmission of property, power, and prestige. Family mirrored the concepts of gender in society at large. Household represented a zone of social activity as often as it did an actual physical residence. The notion of extended family, the belonging of multiple generations and their siblings (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) to a single family group, is common in African historical contexts. Family Used by permission for Bridging World History, 6 connections had political currency whether they were remembered as shared genealogy legitimizing the right to rule or as proof of descent from the first settlers. Sunjata The reciting of the epic of Sunjata, the thirteenth-century founder of the West African empire of Mali, almost always began with a legitimizing list of ancestors that connected the singer (even centuries removed) with the chronological and political context of the historical hero. In the epic, Sunjata of the Keita clan overcomes a physical affliction and a questionable right to the throne and establishes himself as ruler. Sunjata s defeat of his opponent was a political and spiritual victory, but his right to rule as mansa (guardian of the ancestors or chief ) was claimed through kinship ties. The continuity of the family line reinforced the continuity of male dominance in the social and political spheres of a patriarchy such as that of Mali. Matrilineal Society in Ghana The Akan people of Ghana created some of west Africa s most powerful forest states and empires, beginning around the fourteenth century and culminating in the Asante Empire in the late seventeenth century. Central to Akan identity was the matrilineal structure of society centered on the abusua (which referred to family or matrilineage, as well as clan). Matrilineal descent in Akan society refers to the pattern by which Akan men and women marked their place in the continuum of ancestors, by reference to the female side of the family. It had no special connotations for the distribution of political power, which as elsewhere in large-scale states worked in favor of men. The Akan concern with fertility and bearing children was a recognition of the importance of the abusua in acquiring individual and community identity. Individuals had recognized rights only through their positions within an abusua. Without the protection afforded to members, they were considered without ancestors and without sexual identity. The uncertainty and ambiguity inherent in the lack of ancestry and status are best exemplified by the fact that enemies captured by the expanding Akan state became permanent slaves unless they were integrated into an abusua through adoption. During the expansion of the Akan state during and after the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, neither women nor children gained position or power. The emphasis on warfare resulted in men gaining status, and the increased numbers of slaves available to perform household tasks generally devalued women s labor and diminished their influence even further. Used by permission for Bridging World History, 7 The Akuaba: Motherhood and Family One of the best-known sculptural traditions from the Akan region is the small, abstracted carving of a human figure known as akuaba, literally Akua s child. Oral traditions claim that a woman named Akua, desperate to produce children, once approached a local priest. He consulted the spirit world and then instructed Akua to commission the carving of a small wooden child. She was told to carry the child on her back, feed it, and care for it as if it were real. The whole village laughed at her until she succeeded in her quest to become pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful daughter. The tradition illustrates the high status and importance associated with motherhood in matrilineal societies, even ones in which women are politically subordinated. The akuaba images remain in use today. While images of children and infants are rare in African art history, motherhood is frequently depicted as a source of empowerment. Children had relatively few rights, since knowledge and power, considered to be the basis of rights, were thought to accumulate with age. Still, children were accorded respect because they were believed to be the reincarnation of ancestors. The akuaba fertility figures suggest the important role of children in ref
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