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The Term Matriarchy
Description of Matriarchy
Growing Up

The Yequana Way

The Patriarchal Paradigm

by Jean Liedloff*

And how do they grow up to be happy, confident, cooperative adults?! How do they do it? What do the Yequana know about human nature that we don't?

Since Yequana women usually live with their mothers as long as the latter are alive, and the husbands must leave their mothers and take a place in the wife's family - typical for matriarchal social structures - it is fairly common to find the wife taking the maternal position toward her husband in his crises.

The wife has her own mother to draw upon, but instinctively gives maternal support to her man when he needs it.
For orphaned adults, too, there is a custom that provides for adoption into another family. The strain on that family's resources is minimal, as the adult Yequana contributes more than he consumes in his or her family and receives from them a tacit guarantee of support if and when it is needed.

That assurance alone, even if it is never called upon, is a stabilizing factor. The requirement for emotional insurance is an accepted part of human nature among the Yequana, one that it is in the interest of society to honor. It is another safeguard against any of its members becoming antisocialized by the pressure that circumstance might bring to bear upon his natural sociality.


Film shows how little parents know of their teens

by Susan Reimer, December 2, 2003

THE NEW movie Elephant takes its name from the parable of the five blind men who come upon the giant pachyderm from different angles; each decides that it is something different depending on which part of the animal he is touching.

The elephant in this movie is teen-age violence, specifically the murders at Columbine High School in April 1999.

Director Gus Van Sant records a fictional day in a high school from the vantage point of a handful of students, including the two who will murder their classmates, and asks us to decide what he is touching.

Coming as it does so close on the heels of Thirteen, during which we watched the rapid descent of a sweet middle-school girl into the teen hell of drugs, sex, alcohol, crime and self-mutilation, Elephant could push any parent seeing it right over the edge into despair.

... Or into realization, that something is wrong in our patriarchal system, how we treat our kids and learn from such who do a better job with their children...

With the commencement of crawling, the baby begins to cash in the powers attained through his previous experience and the physiological development that renders the powers usable. In general, his first expeditions are short and cautious and there is almost no need for his mother or caretaker to take a hand in his activities. Like all little animals, he has a keen talent for self-preservation and a realistic sense of his capabilities. If his mother suggests to his social instincts that he is expected to leave his safe conduct to her, he will cooperatively do so.

If he is constantly watched and steered into moving where his mother thinks he ought to go, stopped and run after when self-motivated, he soon learns to stop being responsible for himself as she shows him what she expects. One of the deepest impulses in the very social human animal is to do what he perceives is expected of him.



Comics are a great way to learn about a culture - typical characteristics become obvious when shown as clich?s - and actually most are not really funny at second view...

His incipient intellectual abilities are slight, but his instinctive tendencies are as strong at the first as at the last moment of his life. The combination of these two powers, the reasoning one, dependent on learning, and the instinctive one, finely versed in the same sort of innate knowledge that guides other animals through their entire lives - the result of their interplay - is the human character and the uniquely human potential for intellectually refined, instinctive efficiency.

Besides his tendencies toward experiment and caution, the baby has, as ever, expectations. He expects the range his ancestors enjoyed. He expects not only space and the freedom to move in it, but a variety of encounters as well. He is more flexible now in what he expects.

  That is, in part, because Van Sant offers no hopeful explanation for the tragedy of Columbine - nothing to let us off the hook. This detached and haunting movie gives us no reward, nothing we can use to tell ourselves that such a day will never happen again.

Elephant, which opened in December at The Charles Theatre, is instead a kind of meditation on a high school day as seen through the eyes of several kids whose lives suddenly intersect in gunfire.

It has no story line, no unfolding, no climax, no coda. The movie just floats, and we are adrift as well, compelled to make up some kind of conclusion to which we can anchor our chaotic thinking.

The strict requirements of earliest experience have gradually broadened during the inarms phase, and at the crawling and creeping phases more and more become expectations of kinds of experience rather than of precise circumstance and treatment.

But there are still margins within which the baby's experience must fall if they are to serve him.

He cannot develop properly without the type and variety of opportunity and the kind of participation from others that he requires.

The objects, situations, and people available must be more than he can use so that he can discover and enlarge his capabilities among them; and of course, they must change to a suitable degree, suitably often, but not too radically or too often.
Suitability is, as always, dictated by precedent, by the character of our evolving ancestors' experience during their babyhoods.

In a Yequana village, for example, there are curiosities, hazards, and associations of more than adequate quantity and quality for a creeping baby. When his first forays are made, he is testing everything.
He is measuring his own strength and agility, and he is testing all he meets, forming concepts and making distinctions in time, space, and form.

He is also creating a new relationship with his mother, which moves slowly from direct dependence upon her to knowledge of her dependability, and counts on her for support in ever less frequent times of need.

Now, to a lesser degree, his confidence in himself will wax or wane according to her availability to him. Among the Yequana the attitude of the mother or caretaker of a baby is relaxed, usually attentive to some other occupation than baby-minding, but receptive at all times to a visit from the crawling or creeping adventurer.

She does not stop her cooking or other work unless her full attention is required. She does not throw her arms open to the little seeker for reassurance, but in her calm, busy way, allows him the freedom of her person, or an arm-supported ride on her hip if she is moving about.

Yequana Baby-CarryingShe does not initiate the contacts nor contribute to them except in a passive way. It is the baby who seeks her out and shows her by his behavior what he wants. She complies fully and willingly with his desires, but does not add anything more. He is the active, she the passive agent in all their dealings; he comes to her to sleep when he is tired, to be fed when he is hungry.

His explorations of the wide world are counterpointed and reinforced by his resort to her and by his sense of her constancy while he is away. He neither demands nor receives her full attention, for he has no store of longings, no ancient hungers, to gnaw at his devotion to the here and now.

  I'm not sure if a movie like this helps anything.

It is what might be called art for art's sake. Nothing is advanced, resolved or enlightened by this movie. As the credits roll, we feel only lost and sad. Van Sant has not even given us enough for the catharsis of rage.


Maybe it dawns with this comparison of cultures...

Consistent with the economical character of nature, he wants no more than he needs.

When he goes about on hands and knees, a baby can travel at a fair speed. Among the Yequana, I watched uneasily as one creeper rushed up and stopped at the edge of a pit five feet deep that had been dug for mud to make walls.

In his progress about the compound, he did this several times a day. With the inattentiveness of an animal grazing at the edge of a cliff, he would tumble to a sitting position, as often as not facing away from the pit.
Occupied with a stick or stone or his fingers or toes, he played and rolled about in every direction, seemingly heedless of the pit, until one realized he landed everywhere but in the danger zone.

The non-intellect-directed mechanisms of self-preservation worked unfailingly, and, being so precise in their calculations, functioned equally well at any distance from the pit, starting from the very edge.

Unattended or, more often, at the periphery of attention of a group of children playing with the same lack of respect for the pit, he took charge of his own relationships to all the surrounding possibilities.

The only suggestion from the members of his family and society was that they expected him to be able to look after himself.

Though he still could not walk, he knew where comfort could be found if he wanted it - but he seldom did.

  After seeing Elephant, I have no new insights into what caused Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris to snap. But I do have a few into the lives of high school kids.
If his mother went to the river or the distant garden, she often took him along, lifting him to her by his forearm and counting on his help to balance himself on her hip or hold on to the sling if she wore one to support his weight.  
Wherever she went, if she put him down in a safe place, she expected him to remain safe without supervision. A baby has no suicidal inclinations and a full set of survival mechanisms, from the senses, on the grossest level, to what looks like very serviceable everyday telepathy on the less accountable levels.

He behaves like any little animal which cannot call upon experience to serve its judgment; he does the safe thing, unaware of making a choice. He is naturally protective of his own well-being, expected to be so by his people and enabled to be so by his inborn abilities plus his stage of development and experience. But the latter is so meager at this age of six, eight, or ten months that it can contribute little in any case and next to nothing in new situations.

It is instinct which provides for his self-preservation. Still, he is no longer only a mammal turned primate; he begins to take on specifically human characteristics. He tends more every day toward learning his people's culture.

He begins at this time to distinguish between his father's and his mother's roles in his life. His mother's remains steadfastly what all people's roles have been until now: that of a giver and caretaker who expects nothing in return but the satisfaction of having given.

His mother cares for him simply because he is there; his existence is reason enough to guarantee her love.

Her unconditional acceptance remains constant as his father emerges as an important figure interested in his developing social behavior and his advance toward independence.

His father's approval is manifest when he earns it; his mother's love is unconditional. The father's constant love maintains the same character as the mother's but has an overlay of approval contingent upon the performance of the child.

Thus, nature insures both stability and incentive toward sociality.

  Van Sant used untrained actors from Portland, Ore., in the film and almost every scene and bit of dialogue was improvised after long discussions with the director, who was clearly listening as his young actors talked.

What I was left with, instead of any insight into the nature of adolescent violence, is a view of their lives at school, their lives away from home, their lives away from us.

Brothers, sisters, and other people all begin to take on differentiated places in his world. For some time to come there will be an element of the maternal, albeit a diminishing one, in all his associates.

He will need to be deferred to, helped, and protected while he grows in self-reliance. He will continue to signal according to his needs and the cues will continue to be irresistible to his elders until they fade away with his adolescence.

In the meantime, he will become susceptible to the tenderness cues in younger children and behave toward them in the maternal way while giving off similar sparks to the more developed children and adults upon whom he still depends for a measure of his life-support system.

  And I was left feeling that awful powerlessness that parents barely keep at bay after their children can no longer be heard outside the screen door, playing in the back yard with friends.

Once our children acquire cars and cell phones, we are in a free fall, and we know it.

Our teen-agers live this separate, secret life, away from us. And they are experiencing things and navigating troubles that they do not share with us.

Perhaps because they can't find the words to describe what they face each day. Perhaps because they don't think we matter anymore.


Or about Christmas and Santa...

Or whatever is convenient for adults...

  When we try to connect with our teens, it is based on some made-up idea of what their life is like. No wonder they dismiss us with monosyllables and retreat behind a closed bedroom door.
For boys, men will become the major inspiration and example in learning their part in the culture, as that is how things are done in their society.
Little girls will imitate women when their stage of development dictates that association should change to participation.

The tools will be provided if they are difficult to manufacture. For instance, it is within the capability of a child to paddle a canoe, or play at it, long before he can carve a paddle for himself. When the time comes, he or she is given a scaled-down paddle made by an adult.

Before they can talk, boys are provided with little bows and arrows that give valuable practice, as the arrows are straight and accurately reflect their skill.

I was present at the first moments of one little girl's working life. She was about two years old. I had seen her with the women and girls, playing as they grated manioc into a trough.
Now she was taking a piece of manioc from the pile and rubbing in against the grater of a girl near her. The chunk was too big; she dropped it several times trying to draw it across the rough board.

An affectionate smile and a smaller piece of manioc came from her neighbor, and her mother, ready for the inevitable impulse to show itself, handed her a tiny grating board of her own.

The little girl had seen the women grating as long as she could remember and immediately rubbed the nubbin up and down her board like the others. She lost interest in less than a minute and ran off, leaving her little grater in the trough and no noticeable inroads on the manioc.

No one made her feel her gesture was funny or a "surprise"; the women did, indeed, expect it sooner or later, as they are all familiar with the fact that children do join in the culture, though their approach and pace are dictated by individual forces within themselves.

That the end result will be social, cooperative, and entirely voluntary is not in question.

Adults and older children contribute only the help and supplies the child cannot possibly provide for himself. A pretalking child is perfectly able to make his needs clear, and there is no point in offering anything he does not require; the object of a child's activities, after all, is the development o f self-reliance. To give either more or less assistance than he needs tends to defeat that purpose.

Caretaking, like assistance, is by request only. Feeding to nourish the body and cuddling to nourish the soul are neither proffered nor withheld, but are always available, simply and gracefully, as a matter of course.

Above all, the child's persona is respected as a good thing in all respects. There is no concept of a "bad child," nor, conversely, any distinction made about "good children." It is assumed that the child is social, not antisocial, in his motives.

What he does is accepted as the act of an innately "right" creature. This assumption of rightness, or sociality, as an inbuilt characteristic of human nature is the essence of the Yequana attitude toward others, of any age.

It is also the keystone upon which the child's development is abetted by his associates, parental or other.

  Do you know that your son the photographer can't seem to relate to other humans without a camera in his hands? Or that your child's best friend has become the adult in the family, caring for his alcoholic father?

That your daughter is a vicious gossip who purges her lunch every day? Or that she is so ashamed of her body that she would rather fail a gym class than expose it to ridicule?

Do we know that our kids torment another child, pelting him with wads of soaking toilet paper? Do we know our boys are ordering automatic weapons through the mail?

These are all scenes that unfold in Elephant.

To educate, in its original sense, is to "lead out," but although this may have some advantage over the more widespread interpretation, to "hammer in," neither way is consistent with the child's evolved expectations.

Being led out, or guided, by an elder is tantamount to interference with the child's development, since it leads him away from his natural, most efficient path to one less so.

The assumption of innate sociality is at direct odds with the fairly universal civilized belief that a child's impulses need to be curbed in order to make him social.

There are those who believe that reasoning and "cooperativeness" with the child will accomplish this curbing better than threat, insult, or hickory sticks, but the assumption that every child has an antisocial nature, in need of manipulation to become socially acceptable, is germane to both these points of view as well as to all the more common ones between the two extremes.

If there is anything fundamentally foreign to us in continuum societies like the Yequana, it is this assumption of innate sociality.

It is by starting from this assumption and its implications that the seemingly unbridgeable gap between their strange behavior, with resultant high well-being, and our careful calculations, with an enormously lower degree of wellbeing, becomes intelligible.

  But there are other scenes in Elephant that will also haunt me, and they have nothing to do with its bloody conclusion.

As Van Sant follows these kids through their day, he gives each a slow-motion moment of pure joy.

The football star catches a pass while playing a pickup game with friends. The lonely loser turns her face to the sun and smiles in pleasure for a moment during the misery of gym class.

My heart, pounding fearfully as I waited for the violence to come, fluttered with shared delight at these moments, and I thought that this is something else we cannot know or share with our children.

Their days at school can be banal, and perhaps the only moments that interrupt the tedium are those of angst or jealousy or fear or loneliness.

But perhaps there are those moments of pure pleasure, too. If we can't protect our children from despair, at least we can wish for them those instants of joy.

Perhaps I am as blind as the next parent. But in the depressing portrait depicted by Elephant, that is the part of the elephant I will hold on to.

Sources and Links

* Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept

I added the texts in the red frames. The text in the left column is written by Jean Liedloff and the right column contains the text of Susan Reimer. I think highly of both authors, because they are both keen thinkers.

The Indigenous Peoples of the world are the exclusive guardians of the large wilderness habitats upon which modern societies depend  (plants, animals, climate, water). Their lifestyles are the only proven working models for the sustainable consumption of biological resources. Maintaining and understanding the earth's most biologically diverse areas is dependent on maintaining the cultural diversity and integrity of the Indigenous peoples who live there.
Jean-Philippe Soule




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