Functional Value of Gender Schema

This gender schema serves a functional value for Mardu, even though Mardu marriage is quite patriarchal. First, children are treated pretty much as equals and learn about "the facts of life." Once they begin to mature they spend time more separated, of course this keeps potential "accidents" at a minimum. Females are promised in marriage at an early age by Western standards; however, in a culture where the survival of infants is relatively low and the lifespan is 50-60 years this maximizes their childbearing capabilities. Secondly, when they are older and unable to participate in food collection the females spend a good deal of time with infants and their earlier experiences and knowledge is cherished. The function of putting males through lengthy and painful maturation rites serves to keep them grounded in the band (young males typically are the ones that wander off or question traditional values), allows them to mature before starting families, and keeps the band cohesive. Also, by having males as the leaders in the religious services the males can satisfy their inherent need to dominate and be in charge by directing women in a nonthreatening environment.

The division of labor between men and women also serves a function, although not every hunter-gatherer population has females gathering and males to hunting, the norm appears to be this way. First, natural selection would thought to favor reproductive strategies that stress mating effort and this division has been explained in terms of mating selections, but most likely serves the function of having females aim at obtaining foods that will not conflict with reproduction and the care of the children, whereas the males aim for foods that females do not gather thereby adding variance in the diet and providing a broader diet for the family. Since the women are able to supply a reliable source of food the men can afford a higher risk of failure by hunting animals, but when these are procured they offer more protein and other nutrients (Bird, 1999).

Thus, for the Mardu everyone knows his/her role, expectations, and can predict where they are in their society. This keeps the nomadic culture of the Mardu stable, whereas their lifestyle is one of being able to adapt and being mobile in response to the environment.

Culture Comparison

Gender roles are very defined in the Mardu culture with a sharp definition of labor, but not all cultures follow such a sharply defined set of roles. This is in sharp contrast to Samoan culture where both males and females do not have a sharply defined set of gender roles for adults. In traditional Samoan society the goal of Samoan males is to be elected to head the extended family and receive the matai (chief) title. Then it is his duty to administer to the family lands and property, settle domestic issues, manage the household labor force, advance family unity, and maintain the family's prestige (Holmes & Holmes, 1992). A woman's role is to support her husband by maintaining the house and family as her status reflects his position (Holmes & holmes, 1992). The Mardu have no such status levels. Moreover, in traditional Samoan households both men and women may do heavy fishing, gardening, cooking, and sewing. Thus, in Samoan cultures strictly defined gender roles may not be applicable, whereas as the Mardu adhere to them. In addition, males may choose to adopt the female role of taking care of the family (the Fa'afafine) and not pursuing traditional male roles and duties, something that would not be tolerated by the Mardu.


Bird, R. (1999). Cooperation and conflict: The behavioral ecology of the sexual division of labor. Evolutionary Anthropology, 8 (2), 65-75.

Holmes, L.D., & Holmes, E.R. (1992) Samoan Village (2nd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Tonkinson, R. (1978). The Mardudjara aborigines: Living the dream in Australia's desert. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.





Needful Mixed Group


Lives Segregated

Assists Plays

Lives in Hunting Women Segregated

Bachelor Camp Gathering

Nose Bone


Circumcision Characteristics Promised

| for marriage Promised wife Gatherer Subincision Married |

Religious Indoctrination

Journeys to other groups Gatherer Mother Wife…