Essay: Ethnology: Balinese vs. The Lahu

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[. . .] 3. Qhawqhat Lahu of Lancang, Southwest China

The Lahu populate a mountainous area of China along a border region adjacent to Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam (Du 523). Subsistence depends on farming hill rice, wheat, and buckwheat, domesticated animals, and foraging for food in the forests and streams. Of the 63 households constituting the Qhawqhat village, 51 did indeed share labor equally between the male and female heads of household inside and outside the home (531). The other 12 households experienced unequal divisions of labor due to sickness, government obligations, and laziness. Even though males dominated the later group, these are primarily due to the imposition of government obligations by China's government.

Despite the apparent lack of gender roles when it comes to subsistence labor, there were divisions along physical capabilities. This resulted in men dominating such tasks as hunting, fishing, plowing, tree cutting, and blacksmithing. Women, on the other hand, with their smaller and more nimble fingers were more likely to be involved in weaving cloth. Sex-associated physical differences therefore influence labor task assignments within the Qhawqhat village.

Despite this difference, the principal of joint ownership of the household permeates all aspects of Qhawqhat village life. Men are expected to participate fully in pregnancy and childbirth (Cunningham 526-529). The husband is expected to take over the tasks their wives are unable to perform as the pregnancy matures, which helps her and their unborn child to stay healthy while keeping the household running smoothly. The husband is also expected to act as the principal midwife during the birth of their child. In the days immediately following the birth, the mother rests in bed and breastfeeds the infant, while the father does everything else (529-531). After the postpartum period has ended, the couple begins to share equally all tasks associated with childrearing, including cooking meals, feeding (after breastfeeding has ended), changing, and comforting the infant.

4. Conclusions

The Balinese culture attempts to hold women in high regard, but the Lahu had long ago achieved this goal. The encroachment of paternalistic cultures could be one explanation for why Bali culture has seemingly changed so drastically since the first anthropologists visited Bali over 80 years ago. Alternatively, early anthropologists could have come from such strict paternalistic cultures that Bali culture appeared to them as gender equal by comparison. Cunningham mentions how the culture of China's paternalistic government is beginning to alter the division of labor among the Lahu (531), so a similar intrusion into Bali culture could have happened after Indonesia was formed 66 years ago.

The Balinese and Lahu are both agricultural in origin, but Bali culture has become increasingly westernized and urban over the past half century. This may explain why men dominate government offices, the corporate world, and higher education. In contrast, the remoteness of the Qhawqhat village has protected it from western influence and it remains a predominately agricultural society. Despite this difference, the occupations/tasks that require physical strength are dominated by men and occupations/tasks considered conducive to childrearing are dominated by women. The remarkable efforts to erase gender differences by Lahu ancestors have failed to completely erase these divisions, because the biology of sex typically confers greater upper body strength to men and requires women to give birth and breastfeed their young. As a result, both Balinese and Lahu men will generally be found plowing fields, hunting, and foraging in the oceans and forests for game, whereas women will be found closer to home. Sex therefore still plays a significant role in defining gender roles in disparate cultures, and unless we evolve drastically, it always will.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Clark E. "Indonesia." Countries and their Cultures, Volume 2. Eds. Melvin Ember and Carol R. Ember. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001. 1034-1056. Print.

Du, Shanshan. "Husband and Wife do it together": Sex/gender allocation of labor among the Qhawqhat lahu of Lancang, Southwest China." American Anthropologist 102.3 (200) [HIDDEN] Web of Science. Web. 6 Sept. 2011.

McIntyre, Matthew H. And Edwards, Carolyn P. "The Early Development of Gender Differences." Annual Review in Anthropology 38 (2009): 83-97. Web of Science. Web. 6 Sept. 2011.

Parker, Lynette. "Engendering School Children in Bali." Journal… [END OF PREVIEW]

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