Section 5: Social and Gender Aspects of Stone Tool Use

Summary | Social aspects | Gender | Children | Ownership of objects

5.1 Social aspects

The manufacture and use of stone tools is not a social activity among the Wola and is undertaken as and when necessary, normally by an individual working alone. Raw material collection is carried out in a variety of ways, either by one person alone, often a man returning from his garden, or a child sent on an errand, or by a few individuals, usually members of a family. Knapping takes place in quiet spots, away from mainstream working or walking places, for reasons of safety. The use of chert tools, which was an everyday occurrence, happened wherever and whenever necessary.

Although little social interaction was observed among the Wola during their stone working, White et al. record a visit to a quarry to see four Duna men working. They observed that men sat alone or near each other but 'facing in such a way that flying bits of rock would not strike anyone'. None of them talked very much and 'the sinkhole echoed with the sounds of hammering and sharp reports as flakes were struck off their cores' (White et al. 1977, 390). They did, however, stop occasionally and show each other especially good flakes. Whether this was normal behaviour is unclear as this quarry visit was instigated by the archaeologists.

Chert tools are embedded in a wider cultural context, which it is necessary to understand to appreciate them fully. Though people on the whole appeared to take chert and chert tools for granted, their presence in at least two mythical stories suggests that the cultural significance of chert is more complex than it initially appears and the Wola can conceive of other uses for it. In the first myth, stone flakes save two siblings from their monster brother:

There were once two brothers, one black-skinned and the other fair-skinned. Whenever the fair-skinned brother caught a marsupial he ate it whole and raw. One day, his dark-skinned brother, suspicious of his strange behaviour, decided to follow him and watch. He saw the fair-skinned one find a marsupial in a trap, take it and eat it raw, fur and entrails and all. He returned to his sister, and fearing for their safety, thinking their fair-skinned brother was some sort of malignant forest spirit, they decided to make a home for themselves high up a goiz palm (Gulubia sp.), a very tall tree with erect smooth trunk. They dug out a hole like a marsupial's nest to live in. They collected many vegetables from their gardens and also marsupial meat they had cooked and took refuge in the hole. Before retreating to the hole the black-skinned brother chopped nicks into the trunk of the palm and set into them razor sharp aeray chert flakes, so that the trunk bristled like an echidna. Later, as they feared, the fair-skinned brother came looking for them, intending to tear them apart and eat them raw. He saw their tree-hole home up the palm and started to climb the tree to get them but the sharp chert flakes cut his feet and hands, ripped open his body and he fell.

In the second myth, by using a stone flake, a man gave women their vaginas, in a prototypical aggressive act that could be interpreted as a commentary on male-female relations in contemporary Wola society. (For further information about the interpretation of myths such as these, see Sillitoe (1998).)

Long ago, there was a man and a woman. The woman had no vagina and as she was unable to urinate, she had an overwhelming urge to scratch herself between the legs. A favourite place she did this was on a certain tree trunk, such that she had rubbed the trunk completely smooth. The man found the tree and sat in hiding to see what the woman did there, being curious as to why the tree was so smooth. He saw her rub herself frantically up and down against it. When she had gone, he chopped a split in the tree trunk and set a sharp aeray chert flake in it. The next time the woman rubbed herself up against the tree it cut her open between the legs. Ever since this time women have had vaginas and been able to urinate and bear children.

Summary | Social aspects | Gender | Children | Ownership of objects


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003