Dutch researcher Anna-Karina Hermkens has produced a description and analysis of the dynamics of gender and identity in the culture of the Maisin, an indigenous group from Papua New Guinea. She made this analysis by following the production and use of an object made by the women, painted barkcloth.
Maisin women and men perform their dances to mark a church festival. The dances and body decorations express not only religious identity, but also gender, clan and tribal identity.
Maisin women painting barkcloths. The red paint is applied warm and used to be associated with blood and taboo for men and children. Nowadays the painting of the barkcloths is no longer surrounded by taboos and has become a social occasion.
In her thesis Anna-Karina Hermkens provides insights into the life and culture of the Maisin from a previously undescribed female perspective. This reveals the importance of women and female objects in ceremonial exchange systems, which within traditional anthropology are always associated with and studied from a male perspective. However women and their goods were found to play a crucial role in both formal and informal exchanges.
The production and use of barkcloths was found to be related to ideas about gender and sexuality. The commercialisation of these cloths also has consequences for local relationships between men and women and for the position of women in general.
Dr Anna-Karina Hermkens | EurekAlert!
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