The Unusual Women of Mpimbwe

The Pimbwe live in the Rukwa Valley of present day western Tanzania. Impacts from German, Belgian, and British colonial escapades in this central African region were indirect (Tambila 1981), but colonial wildlife policies had more severe impacts, effectively displacing Pimbwe from parts of their traditional chiefdom (Borgerhoff Mulder et al. 2007). In the socialist era (mid 1970s), Pimbwe families were settled in government villages, but many have now returned to ancestral lands that lie outside areas protected for wildlife. Modern Pimbwe rely primarily on a mix of subsistence and cash crops, supplemented by foraged resources and poultry keeping. Small enterprise activities, such as trading, traditional medicine, hunting, fishing, honey production, carpentry, and beer brewing supplement farm income for men and women. Livelihoods are unpredictable because of highly seasonal rainfall that creates critical periods of food shortage and labor demand (Wandel and Holmboe-Ottesen 1992; Hadley et al. 2007), poor infrastructure that makes cash cropping risky, and very poor health services. Between 40 and 50% of households in the district fall below the basic needs poverty line (United Republic of Tanzania 2005), and development initiatives are seriously jeopardized by prevalent beliefs in witchcraft. These and following general observations are based on intermittent fieldwork between July 1995 and February 2008, as well as previous studies in the area.

The traditional marriage pattern, reported as clan controlled, monogamous, and accompanied by bridewealth (Willis 1966), must have been seriously challenged by the high rates of labor outmigration in the colonial period (Tambila 1981). Marriage is now effectively characterized by cohabitation, initiated with a facultative transfer of bridewealth and a celebration (Fig. 4.1). Polygyny appears never to have been common. Nowadays, marriage can be defined as sharing in the production and consumption of food and shelter, with the expectation of exclusive sexual relations. Divorce is permitted and, like marriage, can be defined by the physical movement of one or both partners out of the house, requiring no legal or formal procedures. Divorces occur often when one spouse starts an extramarital relationship, with both sexes tending to claim responsibility for abandoning the relationship. At divorce, children under the age of 8 are supposed to stay with the mother (or the mother's kin), whereas older children should stay with their father. In practice, the fate of children is quite variable. Sometimes fathers "kidnap" very young children from

Fig. 4.1 A longterm monogamously married husband and wife sitting outside their house in Mirumba

their mothers, sometimes mothers leave a recently weaned child with a divorced husband; older children may live with a range of maternal or paternal kin.

Given these residence patterns, parental care is highly facultative. Wives typically take primary responsibility for the direct care of their own small children, with some assistance from older children and/or other kin, including their own mothers or husband's mothers. Regarding indirect care, the bulk of farming is done by husbands and wives, but there is considerable variability within marriages as to how the fruits of joint farm labor are allocated among family subsistence needs, joint family benefits (like health and education), individual cash purchases, or capital for individual economic enterprises (such as using maize for beer brewing). These allocations prompt frequent spousal arguments, and one spouse may even place locks on the family granary to exclude "inappropriate" use of resources by the other spouse. There are no significant heritable resources in this population; men and women get access to land and houses opportunistically from maternal or paternal relatives (or from unrelated individuals) who happen to have unused land or living sites available in the village. Commonly they clear land and build houses anew, such that there is very little to inherit in the way of bequests.

Basic demographic data were collected in all households of a single village in seven different study periods between 1995 and 2006 (for details see Borgerhoff Mulder 2009a) and analyses include only individuals who are assumed to have neared completion of their reproduction (>44 years), yielding 138 men with a mean age of 60.3 years (range 45.3-92.7) and 154 women with a mean age of 59.2 years (range 45.0-86.8) dropping younger men (<55 years), produced statistically equivalent results. Variables used in the analyses presented here are age, sex, number of livebirths, reproductive success (measured as the number of offspring surviving to

+1 0

Post a comment