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Compare and Contrast of the Hariyani and Massai

by Jaime Romans
copyright 08-07-2006

Age Rating: 13 +

While examining the relationship between domestic organization and gender roles as well as their construction both within the Masai family of Nariyana and the Indian family of Dadi, the influence of their culture on their economic system become apparent. Domestic organization, the different options of men and women, the difference in treatment of girls and boys, the concerns of the elder members of the households and their view of the other members also come into focus as while analyzing these cultures and how they are changing. A key component in the transformation has been the introduction of western educational systems and the shift from tribal to individualized thinking. This has had a profound affect on individual identity and subsequent social constructs of gender. These changes in roles, rights and responsibilities alter the access to resources and choices of the individual a well as their pattern of thought from tribal to personal.

Both of the cultures of this essay center around patrilocal, patrilineal societies. The Masai family of Africa has a socio-economic base of pastoralism and the Hariyana family has an agricultural base. Due to the male oriented nature of these two societies, traditionally women have no rights of ownership of either land or animals; in other words they have no security except though those same relationships. Men, while owning these resources and using them wisely can achieve power and influence within their community and thereby excellence, completing the security triangle for themselves. Achieving excellence in either farming or herding depends upon oneís relationship with the environment, for both are tied to the land. How well the work of living is accomplished depends upon both familial and affine relationships; in other words, how many people you have to do the work. The strength of these relationships in conjunction with personal excellence determines power. The security triangle for women, who do not have access to resources, is comprised of relationships both familial and affine, excellence or how well they get the work of living done, and their child bearing capabilities.

In both cultures it is considered better to have sons though much more so in India. Dadiís family values consider children as investments, with males offering the possibility of return and females being considered a loss due to the patrilocal custom following marriage. This less desirable viewpoint is re-enforced by the dowry system. The cost of raising a daughter combined with the cost of her education (so she can marry better), her dowry (potentially, the larger the dowry the better the affine); the end result is that she moveís away to her husbandís family home making it clear why that particular investment is considered a loss. Sons, on the other hand, inherit the land and holdings of their father, thus having a vested interest in patrilocality. They are expected to either work the land or to send money back to the household from the city if they are educated. The cost of raising and educating them is returned when they return their income or labor to the household as well as when they marry and return with their bride who will hopefully bear sons. The Masai herdsman value sons due to the warrior nature of that society and their higher mortality rate. Women, however, have a few more rights and are viewed less as investments, and more as valuable workers within the household. Families are paid bride prices to help compensate for her loss. A wife has the right to milk cattle and to demand that her husband acquire more cattle. While she canít own the cattle she has access to at least some resources.

Due to the different socio-economic bases of these cultures some of the specific work of living varies, though a majority does not. The composition of the household also differs in that Dadiís family is multi generational with all of her sons and their families, except one, living in the same house; all of them contribute their labor and resources to the family collectively. Nariyana and her husbandís household consists of themselves and their children and their co-wives and their children. This difference in household composition leads to the difference of biggest concern for these two women. For Dadi family security and tradition is based upon the family and the land staying intact. This is reflected in her parts of her work of living, running the home and acting as the glue holding the family together. She realizes difficult times are easier to bear when they are shared and that the amount of work does not diminish within a more nuclear household only that there are fewer hands to accomplish it. The more resources being contributed the higher the likelihood that everyoneís needs and wants will be met. Hariyana is less concerned with keeping her family together as there is only one male that owns the cattle; however, as first wife she is in charge of the other wives the collective family. She is also responsible for making sure that the work gets done and that everyone has what they need. The work of living for both families, and for both of these women has remarkably similar challenges and concerns.

The similarities within these two families extend even further than the work of living. Western education is becoming more accessible and more desirable within both of these cultures, changing the framework by changing the individuals within them. Western thought centers around individual freedom and rights rather than the collective good of family or community. This revolution in mainstream thinking is shaking the foundation of these cultures and the families within them. This change in thought does not change all the aspects of that culture or family. For example the work of living and the amount of work doesnít change. What may be affected is who does that work and the composition of the household or the number of people to get the work of living done. The emphasis of individuality and freedom is not always compatible with the restrictions of society and familial responsibilities that are trying to govern those personal needs and wants. This tension is more noted in societies that are less dependant on nature and that have access to more technology; education becomes necessary to have access to resources as the distance grows between that culture and the environment. The limitation of personal desires in favor of cultural directives shifts as the focus from tribal to individual shifts.

The relationships of males and females and their interactions restructure as the opportunity for more equality between the sexes become available. Gender roles are another example of changes that occur as a result of education. Education enables individual access to resources, excellence and power, therefore individual security. Women no longer need men or marriage to ensure their own well being. The value of women within any society changes when they can either choose to contribute to the household or have one of their own, when they can choose to have children or not; and when they have the power to reclaim the resources that are their bodies. When men of a patrilineal society no longer necessarily have power over women within that society the nature of the relationships between males and females changes accordingly.

These radical alterations could unravel the fabric of these societies, or if changes to the context of these societies, are made to evolve with them they could be used to strengthen and empower those cultures. If everyone could have access to the resources necessary for survival, then everyone would be closer to security and the ability to make better choices.

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