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

5.3 Children

Plate 25 25 Plate 87a 87a Plate 90b 90b Plate 91b 91b Plate 92b 92b
Cutting bamboo to make a cane headband, children looking on (25), Trimming the sedge of a skirt to size (87a), Splitting up a screw-pine leaf for netting spacers (90b), An apron prior to sewing the tib liy seam (91b), Netting the strap of a man's wide-strap bag (92b)

Among the Wola, children are regularly present when relatives work, and may take an interest (Plates 25, 87a, 90b, 91b, 92b, 102-104, 108) or be sent off on related errands such as collecting raw materials. The learning process, in general, is very informal. Sometimes an adult will show a child how to do something (e.g. if s/he sees a child struggling to do a task), and occasionally a child will ask to be shown (this is particularly the case with more complicated procedures such as weaving armbands, making pearl shell fillets etc.). Children may experiment at making things any time they wish though success, of course, depends largely on their age. Boys are likely initially to make themselves toy bows and arrows, and maybe items of clothing; they learn through experience.

The ability of boys to make things depends on access to an axe or bush knife, and an adult male relative may allow a competent teenager to borrow his axe/bush knife (although men are very possessive about these tools and careful with them; reckless use that is likely to blunt them will result in them being taken back).

Plate 102 102 Plate 103 103 Plate 104 104 Plate 108 108
Looking for chert along stream course

Girls tend to learn string making and the netting stitches by watching their mothers from an early age and so picking them up – for example a small girl may sit on a female relative's lap and do some stitches with her. A little girl may also help her mother/sister or other female relative make string, perhaps shredding up the bark fibre into thin strands initially (for subsequent rolling into string), and then trying to roll her own play string on her thigh. There is no formal teaching; children learn by watching and copying.

Children do not have many possessions; they own only a few items, a grass skirt and netted bag for girls and a small bark belt, a netted apron and probably a bag for boys. They may also have some toys, as mentioned above, but often do not; toys are disposable and do not have long lives. Children rely on their older relatives for things that they need; they share water gourds, bamboo knives and so on. As they become older (adolescents), children are increasingly expected to look after their own needs, or supply kin with things (especially those of the other gender, as enjoined by the sexual division of labour).

Archaeologically, the detection of children is something that has been relatively ignored, with a few exceptions (Moore and; Scott 1997; Sofaer Derevenski 2000). In more recent archaeological contexts identification of children can be made through retrieval of playthings, toys, small shoes and bone (e.g. Bang Anderson 1991; Jones 1980; Lillie 1997; Rega 1997). Further back in time, this becomes more and more difficult and when stone alone is present, as is often the case in earlier contexts, children are almost impossible to find.

There have been a few attempts to identify children specifically in relation to the lithics process (Finlay 1997; Pigeot 1990). On the whole, the identifications have been made on the basis that evidence of lower quality knapping techniques equates with children. This may be a correct assumption to a certain extent, while not forgetting that certain people were more adept at knapping than others. At the level of skill undertaken by Wola knappers, aptitude becomes irrelevant as tools made are crude and functional. However, in other cultures, in particular those in which flint knapping was a very skilled technique, individual ability was significant and Stout (2002) highlights the importance of aptitude in being accepted for apprenticeship as an axe/adze maker. Among the Wola, certain people were better than others at making things and this was openly acknowledged; these people are recognised as more able and are turned to for assistance by others. Everyone is entitled to learn whatever he or she wishes, within the defined gender boundaries. No status was afforded those who were more adept at making things; status among the Wola is based primarily on a man's ability to manipulate wealth in ceremonial exchanges (Sillitoe 1979a).

Hampton (1999) explains that among the Dani there are always some boys whose lack of interest led them to stop learning about stone quarrying and axe production. These boys did not becoming quarrymen and toolmakers, though Hampton does not expand on the social implications for these boys as they became adults, or how they obtained their axes.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 8 2003