Female dormitories, creation and conception: cultural construction of gender among the Dongria Kond (India/Orissa)

Hardenberg, Roland
April 2005
Zeitschrift für Ethnologie;2005, Vol. 130 Issue 1, p69
Academic Journal
This paper presents and analyses ideas about creation and conception among the Dongria Kond in Orissa, India. Its main aim is to understand a complex cultural system in which women are ascribed all creative power while men are expected to be active in order to facilitate and uphold creation. Using analytical concepts as redefined by Carol Delaney ( 1986, 2001) I argue that Dongria Kond do not have a concept o f "paternity", but of "maternity" since they ascribe all creative powers to women. Women are seen as the sole creators, yet their role in Dongria Kond society changes markedly with marriage. Before this event, young girls sleep in dormitories where they are visited by boys from other clans. Sexual encounters between boys and girls are controlled by the girls, who should avoid becoming pregnant. With marriage, women leave their parent's village and join the village of their husbands, where they have sexual intercourse that should result in procreation. Marriage can be seen as the culturally legitimate form for men to gain control over the creative powers resting in women and it takes two forms: either through exchange of one form of "life" against the other in marriages involving bridewealth prestations, or through violence involved in cases of bride-capture. Similar ideas about men's active role and the need to appropriate fertility associated with the female earth goddess are further identified in the buffalo sacrifices regularly performed by Dongria Kond.


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