Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Something About Iquitos

Okay, so someone on a forum I occasionally write on posted something to the effect that Iquitos is a patriarchal society. I begged to differ. I think it's interesting, so here is what I wrote:
Slightly off topic but need to respond to Hazle-ra regarding the culture in Iquitos. He calls it patriarchal. I beg to differ. Very very matriarchal society. Women rule the roost. Even with sexual advances, at least among Peruvians. Enter gringas, or women of other cultures and yes, the men can seem grabby, and probably are. But then that is their culture and it is the women who let it happen and only on their own terms.
This culture, you've got to remember, didn't even exist 140 years ago. Iquitos was basically a trading post for the tribals that lived on different rivers. Many were fueding, and that was exacerbated a great deal with the advent of the rubber boom to the area--when large groups such as the Shipibo--I know we all love them, butttt--chose to offer a lot of other indigenous people to the slave trade at the time rather than be enslaved themselves.
So what you see is a city that grew up around the rubber boom, where forced slaves intermingled with one another, with Irish indentured servants, German fortune seekers, Black slaves who'd escaped eastern Brazil and even some Brazilian tribals who followed the rubber boom west from Manaus.
At the root of the culture of Iquitos is tribal life: Mostly hunting and gathering and fishing with a little agriculture thrown in during the rubber boom era. Births of girls severely outnumbered births of boys. To that, add that as hunters, men tended to die off in the jungle faster than women. Which made the disproportionate number of women even greater. As a result, men frequently had multiple wives. In Peru, a headman who had several--generally four or more--is called a curaka--a name still used by the women of Iquitos when talking about a playboy type.
It was important in tribal communities to have more than one wife. The simplest example I can give is my now-dead Matses headman friend, Pablo. He had four wives when I met him, though he had sons old enough to suggest he'd had earlier wives as well. Each of the four had their own duties: MaShe, the primary wife, ran the camp. Amelia breast fed all the babies of all the wives and kept the camp clean. Marta went hunting with Pablo and carried the meat back to camp (leaving him free to hunt any additional animals he saw along the way; the fourth, whose name escapese me, was the primary tender of the chacras, the yucca fields they had.
All of the women interchanged roles, but over several years, what I'm describing would best describe the situation.
MaShe couldn't have run the camp, taken care of babies, carried meat and tended fields alone. So she welcomed the other wives. And the wives, in turn, enjoyed each other's company. So much so that Pablo wasn't really needed. His job was to hunt, provide the food, then get out of the way. Not that the women didn't enjoy his company now and then--they did. But not all day, every day. That was women time when chores were done.
Now that model remains the model for Peruvian households in Iqiutos. Not the several wives, but the man's role. And any gringos married to Iquitenos will know what I'm talking about. Your role as the male is to hunt--these days that is probably a job, but still, it's to provide the food. After that you will be looked after, but you're not otherwise needed. The sisters, their mothers, the aunts, they will sit all day making food, washing clothes, doing their chores together; the man is not really included or invited into that circle very often.
And when you marry, chances are very good that your wife will pick your lover. Might be a sister of hers, a friend who has no man, but your lover will be given to you by your wife. And you are expected to take care of her, both intimately and financially--which might mean an entire second extended family. And if the man chooses more lovers, well, I've rarely known the women to care very much so long as the man continues to hunt--provide--for the primary family and extended primary family and the amante and extended family. If you can do all that and have more lovers, you are a curaka and that's admired by an awful lot of people. Means you can shoulder your burdens, take care of things. You're strong.
And while the hunter who cannot hunt any longer might well be fed poisoned soup by his wives--particularly if they are young enough to get new husbands--a man who cannot support his family will lose all respect of the women--from grandma to the aunts, to the wife, the amante and so forth. And if they can possibly move on to another man, particularly as a group, they will.
So I'm seeing that as a matriarchal society, not a patriarchal one. On the surface, men are allowed to walk around with their chests puffed out, but they know who runs the show. And they are so far outnumbered as a rule, that there's little they can do about it.


Devon said...
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Devon said...

awesome read peter. well done