Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: An Exploration of the Comparative Method

Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: An Exploration of the Comparative Method

Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: An Exploration of the Comparative Method

Gender in Amazonia and Melanesia: An Exploration of the Comparative Method

Synopsis

"A fascinating and probably unique excursion into the thought worlds, cultural and linguistic structures, cosmological and symbolic systems, and gendered relationships of these peoples. The breadth and scope are huge, although the focus on the comparative method purposely anchors the scholarship, and grounds the studies, in a pleasing way."--Gilbert Herdt, author of "Sambia Sexual Culture

Excerpt

Approximately one hundred years ago anthropologists identified what was to become an intriguing, enduring mystery of culture history: the question of the sources and the theoretical implications of remarkable similarities between societies in Amazonia and Melanesia. a world apart and separated by forty thousand or more years of human history, some of the cultures in the two regions nonetheless bore striking resemblances to one another. in both Amazonia and Melanesia, the ethnographers of the period found societies organized around men's houses. There the men conducted secret rituals of initiation and procreation, excluded the women, and punished those who would violate the cult with gang rape or death. in both regions, the men told similar myths that explained the origins of the cults and gender separation. the resemblances were such as to convince anthropologists of the day, including Robert Lowie, Heinrich Schurtz, and Hutton Webster, that they could only have come about through diffusion. Lowie flatly declared that men's cults are “an ethnographical feature originating in a single center, and thence transmitted to other regions” (1920, 313).

The diffusionist school of anthropology waned soon afterward, and for a long period so did interest in the puzzling resemblances of specific societies in the two regions. Nonetheless, during this period anthropologists continued informally to remark upon the similarities in regions that were separated by such a vast gulf of history and geography. the parallels included not only men's cults but also similar systems of ecological adjustment; egalitarian social organization; flexibility in local–and descent–group composition and recruitment; endemic warfare; similar religious, mythological, and cosmological systems; and similar beliefs relating to the body, procreation, and the self. So . . .

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