News and Reviews
Nunatsiaq News reported last week that an Iqaluit filmmaker named Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has just produced a dramatic romance film about the abandoned Inuit practice of multiple spouses. The filmmaker told the paper that the practice ended with colonization, but it appears from her comments as if she has been able to gain enough information from elderly people to develop a story.
The drama, “Aviliaq,” is set in Canada’s Eastern Arctic in the 1950s. The term “aviliaq” referred to a spouse or a partner and was used commonly when plural marriages existed in Inuit society. “The root of the word is kind of like saying your other half,” she said.
She told the paper that she heard different things about the custom of multiple marriages from her various sources. Some informed her that plural marriages were founded on loving relationships, while others told her stories of second wives being abused or even treated as slaves.
The filmmaker herself was not trying to make a statement about plural marriage one way or the other—she simply wanted to explore the culture of the times that made them possible. She said she was also interested in probing how and why plural marriages were abolished. She wonders if the social changes of the mid-20th century could have been handled “a little more tactfully.”
Her website provides more of her thinking about the need for films about Inuit society. She writes that since the Inuit have had primarily an oral culture, written materials in the Inuktitut language have been slow to catch on. And perhaps worse, outsiders have been the ones to record the lives of the people.
She founded her company, Unikkaat Studios, as a way documenting, through the medium of film, Inuit culture. She feels that there is a great deal to do, a lot of records need to be made and traditions preserved, while elders are still alive who lived in a traditional fashion out on the land. “Filmmaking is such a natural and easy way for Inuit to do this important work,” she writes. It is an effective medium of communication for an oral culture.
She posted an appeal on July 25 on her website asking for assistance for the production of the new drama, which she had scheduled for shooting on August 1 – 4. She already had her main actors lined up, but she wrote that she needed a couple of adult supporting actors and a couple children to play minor roles.
She also wrote that she was looking for help with some of the decorative needs for the set: 1950s-era oil lamps, blankets, house dresses, hip waders, and other such pieces of clothing. She also needed to borrow three boats, two of which would be shown on the beach, but one of which would go briefly out into the water. She writes that she has a very small, local production company and was hoping for the free use of the boats for a few hours, but she could pay a small fee if necessary.
In one of her major works on Inuit marriages, Briggs (1974) emphasized the warm, affectionate nature of traditional husband wife relationships. Both spouses were convinced that the work of the other was indispensable—the camp could not survive without the hunting skills of the man, nor the cooking and sewing skills of the woman. And in the privacy of their homes, the anthropologist observed, couples frequently had close, companionable relations.
While Briggs (1974) does provide some information about earlier patterns of Inuit spouse exchanges and their taking of extra-marital lovers, it sounds from the news report last week as if Arnaquq-Baril, with her fictional exploration of plural marriages, is adding some important perceptions to our understanding of traditional Inuit relationships. And significantly, the filmmaker will bring an Inuit perspective to the discussion. Her 10 minute film will be premiered at the ImagineNATIVE film festival in Toronto, which is scheduled to open on October 22.
The Zapotec woman spoke insightfully: "I feel that we have deep roots as an indigenous town, which has changed over time, it's true, but [it] is still very rooted in our values, in solidarity, brotherhood, in community work.” Carmen Alonso Santiago, director of the Zapotec NGO Flor y Canto (Flower and Song) in Mexico’s Oaxaca state, added that their culture is transmitted through education, and that women are the major teachers.
Ms. Santiago was quoted extensively in a lengthy article last week in Truthout.org, the latest in their series of articles on the indigenous people of the state, with a special focus on the Zapotec. A piece last month described the ramifications of the traditional, indigenous social and political system in Oaxaca called “uses and customs.” The current article extends that analysis to explore the effects of emigration, primarily of male workers to the United States, on the people left behind in the indigenous communities of Oaxaca. That is, the effects on women of the absence of many men.
The figures the article opens with are startling. Oaxaca has a population estimated at 3.1 million; 2 million people from that state live in the U.S. The majority of the emigrants from the state come from indigenous communities and they work as laborers in industries such as agriculture, construction, restaurants, and domestic service. About 98 percent of the emigrants work in the U.S., especially in California, Arizona, and Texas.
The reason that the men leave is to find work so they can send remittances back to their home communities and support their families. Oaxaca is second from the poorest state in Mexico, and while migrants from the state have been moving north since the 1960s, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994, made matters worse for the indigenous communities. Imported corn became cheaper than the locally-grown grain, undercutting the local farming economy and resulting in the partial abandonment of the rural countryside.
The thrust of the current article is to explore the effects of this economic transformation on rural, Zapotec society, particularly on the social lives of the women with the men largely gone. Ms. Santiago argues that it is the cargos—the voluntary responsibilities assumed by citizens within the uses and customs system—which the women are assuming in the absence of men that is altering the gendered nature of their society. The departure of the men is forcing the women to assume greater obligations, but it is also offering them more opportunities to strengthen their roles in their communities.
Truthout interviewed Pastora Gutiérrez Reyes, a woman who has been a leader in the Zapotec town of Teotitlán del Valle for many years. Lynn Stephen devoted several pages in her book Zapotec Women (2005) to a portrayal of her, and the current news report provides an update on Ms. Gutiérrez Reyes’ perceptions of the roles of women in the community, which is very well known for its weaving.
Ms. Gutiérrez Reyes describes graphically how the women coped, as wives and widows of men who had emigrated, by forming a cooperative group called Vida Nueva. Even the boys were leaving as soon as they finished middle schools, she said. “Our group formed as a way to find options for work. That's how we started to work in the fields and to weave."
Gutiérrez Reyes describes how one thing led to another. At first, the point of the cooperative was to help the women get fair prices for their weavings but it led to their working together to promote other common concerns: opposition to drug use, health issues, sexuality, and self-esteem. She tells the journalists that a lot has happened in the 17 years since the formation of the cooperative.
At the beginning, the women received a lot of criticism from the men, just for organizing the cooperative. Her spunk comes through clearly in this current article: “Can you imagine a group of women organizing ourselves 17 years ago? Women couldn't even leave the town," she says.
She continues by relating how the women have gradually taken initiatives in Teotitlán del Valle, pressuring the male authorities to allow them to participate in the assemblies. As some women began to participate, others saw what they were doing and decided to try and take a more active role in the town also. She says that the women whose husbands are away, or deceased, tend to be the most active, and she seems proud that they are now invited to official or political events by town leaders.
Furthermore, women now can assume the voluntary cargos. More than that, the men in Teotitlán are seeing positive results of the growing activity of the women, and they are accepting it. Today, Gutiérrez Reyes concludes, “there is a little more equality.”
Ms. Santiago cautions that the situation in one Zapotec town should not be generalized to others, for the conditions of indigenous women vary widely. The reason is that the uses and customs vary from one town to the next. In some, women are still not permitted to run for political office, while in other they are. In some, women are not allowed to speak out in the municipal assemblies, but in others, they not only vote, they participate.
The investigation by the authors bears out her contention. A publication from the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico indicated that of the 361 municipalities in Oaxaca that governed themselves by the uses and customs conventions, 62.7 percent allowed women to vote, but 15.8 percent did not. In others, only married women, or only single women, or only widows could vote.
Truthout summarizes the situation: women are slowly taking roles in their communities, but more as members of committees than as leaders in official positions. One prominent exception cited by the article is Eufrosina Cruz Mendoza, the young Zapotec woman who was elected to a local political office in 2007 but the male authority figures in her town vetoed the election results because she was a female, an action that received widespread publicity. She is now serving in a prominent state office as the President of the Directive Body of the State Congress of Oaxaca.
This excellent Truthout.org article concludes with more wisdom from Ms.Santiago, who says that, within the well-defined cultural roles of the traditional Zapotec communities, “It is [the] women who are pushing a process to raise their level of participation."
Bessi, Renata and Santiago Navarro F. 2014. “As Men Emigrate, Indigenous Women Gain Political Opportunities and Obligations in Mexico,” translated by Mirriam Taylor. Truthout (Monday, 18 August).
News and reviews of publications relating to peaceful societies—and sometimes to related topics—are normally posted here on Thursday mornings (U.S. time) and are kept on this page for one week. Older news and reviews for 2014 are listed below, and ones from previous years are listed on the News and Reviews 2004-2005 page, the 2006 page, the 2007 page, the 2008 page, the 2009 page, the 2010 page, the 2011 page, the 2012 page and the 2013 page. All stories are also included in the News and Reviews Subject Listing. Recent ones are listed at the bottom of each society entry in the Encyclopedia of Selected Peaceful Societies, after the heading: Updates: News and Reviews. News and reviews about peacefulness in general are referred to from the bottom of the Facts page, while news stories about this website are linked from the About This Website page. News and Reviews can also be found with the Google search bar.
August 21, 2014. Violence in a Yanadi Community
August 21, 2014. Frog Woman and Her Moral Code [anthology chapter review]
August 14, 2014. San Hunters Versus Botswana
August 14, 2014. Conflict Resolution and Gender Equality in Lepcha Society [book review]
August 7, 2014. Amish Self Concepts—Prisoners Relate their Experiences
August 7, 2014. Inuit Self Concepts—Are They Satisfied with Life? [journal article review]
July 31, 2014. Conviction for Corruption Upheld against Flosse
July 31, 2014. Uses and Customs in Oaxaca [online magazine article review]
July 24, 2014. Schooling for the Semai
July 24, 2014. Political, Religious, and Community Tensions in Ladakh [journal article review]
July 17, 2014. Rural Thai Children Threatened by Absence of Parents
July 17, 2014. Official Concern for Birhor Wanes
July 10, 2014. Police Remove Yanadi before Modi Visit
July 10, 2014. Children Learn to Be Peaceful the Batek Way [anthology chapter review]
July 3, 2014. Amish Volunteerism
July 3, 2014. Birthday Wishes for Glenn Paige
June 26, 2014. Atlas of Inuit Trails
June 26, 2014. The Challenges of Lepcha Identity [journal article review]
June 19, 2014. Nubians Waiting for Fair Treatment
June 19, 2014. Homeless Fipa Children
June 12, 2014. Huarime Festival in a Piaroa Community
June 12, 2014. Soups and Such from Hutterite Kitchens
June 5, 2014. Zapotec Affected by Wind Project
June 5, 2014. Reports of Violence in Thai High Schools [journal article review]
May 29, 2014. The Birhor and the Bees
May 29, 2014. Traditional Ways on Huahine
May 22, 2014. Lancaster County Amish Consider Leaving
May 22, 2014. Rat Hunting Holiday on Tristan
May 15, 2014. Ladakh Makes the Effort to Vote
May 15, 2014. A Visitor on Ifaluk
May 8, 2014. Yanadi Abandon Traditions, Modernize
May 8, 2014. Inuit Sale of Game Meat Questioned—and Defended
May 1, 2014. Paliyans Proud to Vote
May 1, 2014. A San Complains about Rotten Treatment
April 24, 2014. Birhor Boycott National Elections
April 24, 2014. Kadar Boycott National Elections
April 17, 2014. Hutterite Colony in Japan
April 17, 2014. Raging Violence, Nubians Versus Arabs
April 10, 2014. Paliyans Exploited in Tamil Nadu
April 10, 2014. Storytelling Preserves Traditions of the Lepchas
March 27, 2014. Presentation on Tristan Coming to Toronto Area Library
March 27, 2014. Philippine Conference Promotes Indigenous Languages
March 20, 2014. Proposed Port Threatens Yanadi Villages
March 20, 2014. A Jewish Scholar Visits an Amish Family
March 13, 2014. Seminar Presentation on Rural Thai Culture
March 13, 2014. Ladakh Political Status Challenged
March 6, 2014. Inuit Languages Celebrated
March 6, 2014. Rules for Maintaining a Peaceful Society [journal article review]
February 27, 2014. Zapotec Linguistics Analysis
February 27, 2014. Schooling for the Lepchas
February 20, 2014. Endangered Species and the San
February 20, 2014. Drive-by Horse Shooting
February 13, 2014. Nubians Recognized in Egyptian Constitution
February 13, 2014. Inuit Sex Trafficking
February 6, 2014. The Semai of Pos Betau
February 6, 2014. New Dictionary for Ju/’hoansi Children
January 30, 2014. Preserving Lepcha Culture
January 30, 2014. Rural Thai Culture of Rice Farming
January 23, 2014. Hutterite Colony School Burns Down
January 23, 2014. Batek Suffering from Logging
January 16, 2014. The Tamaraw and the Buid
January 16, 2014. G/wi are Being “Treated Like Dogs”
January 9, 2014. Central California Zapotec Festival
January 9, 2014. Birhor Poverty Finds Relief in a Picnic
January 2, 2014. A Semai Christmas
January 2, 2014. Nubian Recognition in New Egyptian Constitution