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The Chambri tribe of the Sepik - where gender roles are flexible

Crocodile scarification
Crocodile scarification is an age-old initiation ritual practised by the Chambri people

CHISOM NJOKU | The Guardian

LONDON - The Chambri people of Papua New Guinea are located in the Chambri lakes area of the middle Sepik River.

There are three Chambri villages: Indingai, Wombun, and Kilimbit. Together these communities contain only a few thousand people.

When the Chambri first came together, though isolated, they located communities close together so as to make it possible for cultural interaction and growth.

The Chambri people are more relaxed with gender roles as both their men and women fully engage in business and economic activities.

Chambri women are responsible for fishing which is the community’s major occupation and fish-for-sago barter markets are still regularly held in the Sepik Hills between Chambri and Sepik Hills women.

In addition, there is a market held twice a week on Chambri where foodstuffs are available for purchase with money, they also handle marketing, and food preparation while Chambri men, in addition to their ritual responsibilities, build houses, canoes, and carve artifacts.

Formerly, warfare and production and trade in stone tools were also important male activities but women have also begun to take on the responsibility.

Mothers also take responsibility for primary socialisation in the Chambri society although, they frequently leave their children with their sisters or with other women when they have work to do, particularly when they go out to fish.

Young children are rarely left with men who, although affectionate and indulgent, regard excrement and urine as polluting.

Chambri society is largely egalitarian with all patricians, except those linked through marriage, considered potential equals.

Gender relations are also of relative equality, with men and women operating in largely autonomous spheres.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I'm not sure what that line means Alex.

You're potentially equal to all clan chiefs except the chief of your clan or the chief of your spouse's clan.

And why potentially?

That aside, it's not something peculiar to the Chambri Lakes. It happens all over PNG. Women on Manus were in charge of a complex inter-tribal trading system for instance.

Alex Harris

What I found most interesting was this comment: Chambri society is largely egalitarian with all patricians, except those linked through marriage, considered potential equals.

So equal until married?

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