Gender Differences of San, Sherpas and Yanomamo Communities

Women’s status in Sun community is very high and their influence considerable. They maintain a status that is higher than that women in many societies in the world. Although women may be nearly equal to men, men do seem to have the upper hand. There is no prerogative in relation to the important sources of influence in San society. Since there is no formal leaders or hierarchies, decisions are made on the basis of group consensus. Each group has people, whose opinion has more weight because of age, intelligence, charisma, knowledge or having ancestors who have lived in the area longer. These people tend to be more prominent in group discussions and despite their lack of formal authority, they function as group leader. Men occupy these positions more often than women, but old women, especially whose with large families assume such roles. However, men are the ones who learn foreign languages, who attend government meetings, and who speak out on behalf of the community.

Ownership of water holes is inherited through women as well as men. And although possession of water holes is symbolic it gives an important status to women.

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Also, women can be healers, but men traditionally dominated this sphere of San’s life. Most often women use their healing skills in response to the need of a close family member and not in a ritual setting. The status and respect that go with being a healer is, therefore, only minimally available to women.

Women are the main providers of food. The food they gather is the majority of the daily diet of their families. Their economic activity is an autonomous undertaking. Men do not regulate women’s schedules; do not tell them what food to gather and where to go. Also, a woman determines how much of her gathering, will be given away, and to whom. From start to finish, her labor and its product remain her own control.

Meat, which is considered more valuable than gathered food, is economic contribution of men. Distribution of meat involves men in a wider sphere of influence. However, there is a tradition, which keeps men from having more power or prestige in distribution of meat. According this tradition, the owner of the arrow, which killed an animal, is the owner of the meat. Women can also be owners of arrows. So, the owner of the “successful” arrow therefore distributes the meat. Moreover, animal protein is not brought into the village only by men. Women collect lizards, snakes, eggs, insects and occasional small or immature mammals.

Another aspect of women’s importance is their relationship to the gift-giving network called hxaro. All members of the community are part of this network. Women’s participation in hxaro is basically the same as that men, with no difference in the number of exchange partners or in the quality of exchanges.

San women assume roles of great practical importance in the family. Women have maximum influence over decisions affecting their children for years, starting with birth. Kung express no preference for either sex before the child’s birth. When children reach marriageable age, mothers play the major role in deciding whom they will marry and when. Women can get divorced if they wish, usually, it is the wife who initiates divorce.

Mothers are responsible for close to 90% of child care, but fathers provide care for infants either. Both parents guide their children and children are comfortable with either parent.

There are some taboos against women in Sun society, for example, prohibition to touch men’s arrows, especially while menstruating, and to have sex during the menstrual flow. However these taboos do not exclude women from the social, political, or economic life of the community.

San culture downplays many aspects that encourage male dominance in other societies. Competition, ranking of individuals, boastfulness, and self-aggrandizement are all discouraged. Aggression, which is the province of men in most cultures, is absent, and preparation for fighting do not occupy men’s time. Wealth difference is minimized, by sharing food and possessions and giving presents. The division of labor by sex is not rigidly defined. Village life so intimate that there is no division between domestic and public life (an apt distinction for many other cultures, which helps to promote sexual equality.

There is male dominance among Yanomamo and male are considered more valuable than women. Female world is decidedly less attractive than male’s. From very childhood, little girls are obligated to help their mothers. They do not participate as equals in the political affairs of the corporate kinship group and seem to inherit most of the duties without enjoying many privileges. Women’s duties required her to perform the difficult tasks such as collecting firewood, fetching water, prepare meals, quickly respond to demands of their husbands and help them in the gardens.

Men provide meat protein and work in their gardens. They work several hours at mornings and evenings. Day’s hours they prefer to spend retiring because it is too hot to continue work. Whatever the men do for the afternoon, however, the women invariably search for firewood and haul immense, heavy loads of it to their houses just before dark.

Women often are being punished, and some men think that it is reasonable to beat their wife once in a while as if the objective is “just to keep her on her toes.”

The Yanomamo are still conducting intervillage warfare, which affects all aspects of their social organization. It is a political process, for girls are promised in marriage while they are young, and the men who do this attempt to create alliances with other men in via marriage exchanges. There is a shortage of women. Since boys are considered more valueble, they get better treatment and girls die more friequntly. Also, some men have more than one wife.

Male dominance among the Yanomamo takes numerous forms: political leadership and ritual power are reserved for men. Among the Yanomamo, only men become shamans. It is a status or role to which any man can aspire if he so chooses. Women cannot be headmen, because headmen in Yanomamo society are simultaneously peacemakers and valiant warriors. Peacemaking often requires the treat or actual use of force, and most headmen have an acquired reputation for being fierce.

A woman gains respect as she ages, especially when she is old enough to have adult children who care for her and treat her kindly. Old women also have a unique position in the world of intervillage warfare and politics. They are immune from the incursions of raiders and can go from one village to another with complete disregard for personal danger. In this connection they are sometimes employed as messengers and, sometimes, as the recovers of bodies. If a man killed near to village of enemy, old women from the slain village are permitted to recover his body.

Also, because all Yanomamo women are afraid of being abducted by raiders, they are concerned with the political behavior of their men and sometimes goad them into taking action against some possible enemy by caustically accusing the men of cowardice. The men cannot stand being belittled by the women in this fashion, and are badgered to take action by the biting insults of the women.

Explanations of Yanomamo patriarchy include warfare, which makes male warriors and “fierceness” very important, and social organization that groups related men together (Yanomamo’s kinship is traced through males – partilineage relation.)

The sexual differentiation that exists between Sherpa men and women is being maintained by differential access to education and jobs. Sherpa girls receive less education than boys. Nine out of ten graduates are boys, which characterizes the imbalance of the sexes in the upper classes. In the elementary grades the number of boys and girls is about equal. In the upper grades the number of girl students diminishes sharply. The reason is that parents think that a high school diploma is unnecessary for their daughters, who are more likely to be wives and mothers, whereas higher education of their sons can yield big payoff in tourism.

Trading and wage labor are predominantly male activities. Agricultural and pastoral labor is shared by both sexes, and often women do the major share of work while men trek. Plowing is the only productive activity assigned exclusively to men.

The male orientation of Sherpa society is also seen in the great joy expressed at the birth of a boy and the distinct lack of enthusiasm shown at the birth of a girl. Women receive a dowry when the marriage is finalized, and sons receive their fair share of the parental estate.

Village and religious authorities are accessible only for men. In each village there are nawas, shing nawas, chorumba, men who are responsible for controlling the use of village land for agriculture, cattle, protection of forests from unauthorized woodcutters and performance of religious rites and festivals.

All in all, in general Sherpa is an egalitarian society and although there are some significant differences with wealth, power or prestige, women are considered more or less equal to men.

Fast food jobs, prototypical examples of low-wage work, are overwhelmingly held by females in the United States, but not in Harlem. Nearly half of the workers in these ghetto restaurants were men. This suggests that men face real difficulties in finding better jobs in communities like Harlem.

The intersection of age, race, and gender has proven particularly troublesome. Young black women have the highest rate of poverty of any group in the labor force, but the racial disparity persists as they age: black women aged fifty-five to sixty-four in the labor force are most three times more likely to be poor than white women of the same age.

There is enormously big percentage of these Harlem workers who come from a family with a single parent, overwhelmingly a mother. Often the ties between children and their fathers are tenuous and fathers do not participate in raising of their children. Therefore, difficulties and obligations of parenthood often become mothers’ responsibilities.

2.How and why has Sherpa changed since 1950

Ever since the fifteen century, Sherpa society has always been changing. The arrival and settlement in Khumbu, the increase in number of clans, the adoption of Buddhism, the building of temples, the introduction of the potato, grow of population, emigrations, and employment in mountaineering were some of these changes. The twentieth century brought new changes, which affect their life now.

There were two major events in 1950’s which affected life of Sherpas. When mountaineering expeditions inside of Nepal began, Sherpas no longer had to go to Darjeeling for work, because most of the expeditions were organized in Kathmandu, and Sherpas were hired there. Employment with these expeditions reduced the economic pressure to go to Darjeeling.

The second event of the 50’s that altered life of Sherpas was the incursion and the vastly expanded power of the Chinese in Tibet. Two consequences followed from the increased Chinese control. First, the flow of trade over Nangpa La was limited, but some small-scale bartering of grain for salt was allowed to continue in central depots under Chinese control. With trade by weight instead of volume, however, and with bargaining outlawed, there was less profit. Chinese government also brought a halt to big-time trading in hides, sugar, wool, jewelry, butter, and cattle. This curtailment threatened to severely dislocate the Namche Bazaar economy. The second result of Chinese occupation was the enormous stream of refugees into Khumbu. These refuges were absorbed into Sherpa society, but these Tibetians affected their life because they brought some technological innovations.

In 1960’s was started construction of elementary schools in all Khumbu villages. It brought literacy not only Tibetan, but also in Nepali and English. Also during this decade was established hospital in Khunde, which helped to eliminate deceases as cretinism and goiter. Furthermore, through contraceptives it helped to prevent further population grow.

In 1964, in Lukha was build an airstrip, which shortened the travel from Kathmandu to Khumbu from two weeks to forty minutes, and eventually brought tourists into Khumbu. Also, creation of Sagarmatha National Park in 1975 effectively ended several centuries of regional political autonomy.

Work Cited
Shostak, Marjorie. Nisa. The Life and Words of a !Kung woman. New York, , First Vintage Book Edition, 1981

Napoleon, Chagnon. Yanomamo.Fifth Edition. Harcourt Brace, Santa Barbara, 1997

Fisher, James. Sherpas:Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal. University of California Press. 1990

Newman, Kathrine. No Shame in My Game. New York, Alfred A.Knopf and The Russell Sage Foundation, 1999

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Gender Differences of San, Sherpas and Yanomamo Communities. (2018, Sep 27). Retrieved from