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Gender and Ritual Power Among African Hunter-Gatherers

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In this talk, Camilla Power explores the relation of sex and gender among African hunter-gatherers. Egalitarian peoples like Khoesan Bushman, Congo Forest hunters and the Hadza of Tanzania have a straightforward sexual division of labour: men hunt; women gather. But gender does not reduce to a masculine/feminine binary. Instead, evidence from Bushman rock art, story and initiation ritual reveals a fluid and mutable gender transformative through time for men and women. Central religious concepts - the Moon, the Eland, Trickster - all show this gender transformation in relation to the lunar cycle. Rather than a hierarchical opposition of masculine over feminine, gender oscillates between a 'gender of power' which fuses features of the sexes, and a 'weak' gender which disambiguates the biological sexes. Evidence from Central and East African groups is compared.


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