Abisi Gender Relations
Abisi Cultural History has shown how they have managed biological differences with innovative ideas.
They have defined basic roles of persons using differences of age and sex. Gender relations is the way a society distributes responsibilities between men and women and establishes their relative powers.
Abisi gave men’s “muscle power” a whole realm of responsibilities: hoeing, hunting, war. Men’s monopole of Political Offices resulting from their control of these powers.
Women also had multiple tasks of their own, from childbearing and raising to housework, agricultural tasks and participation in some men’s ritual.
But they were also at the foundation of Abisi society thru their marriages.
A Man Cannot Beat Another Man’s Wife.
These marital conditions limited men’s use of physical force on women.
In 1973, no physical violence against married women by their husband was heard about. If this was possible, violence used to control breaches of conduct would be dangerous because a man’s spouse is also another man’s wife!
Since there is no divorce, a husband always has the hope that his wife will come back to him. He surely would use his wife’s conflicts with one of her husbands to argue for her return.
He could also protest to her violent husband and this would be very dangerous because it would bring men of the two sections to be confronted. Such a large-scale conflict was avoided at all costs.
This is why, even if relations between co-husbands can be very tense they prevent any overheating in public encounters by staying away from each other and the husband with his wife at home, will send a pot of beer to his co-husband as a sign of recognition and peace.
In Abisi, children, women, and men, support psychologically stressing marriage conditions when changing husbands, fathers or losing a wife.
But with the Bori, women have a privileged way to decompress from the psychological dimensions of their human condition as women in relation to men.
A study of Bori like ceremonies in Irigwe proposed that :
…Irigwe usually gives vent without castigation to their repressed feelings of anguish arising from their repeated separations from loved ones, separations first occurring in infancy and childhood, and later a major part of married life, especially the married life of women. (Sangree W.H. (1969, p. 1055)
Can it also be the case in Abisi? Maybe, because all types of marital rules find their limitations in the daily conditions of life.
Bori: husband’s duties
There is a Bori song about an Abisi man married to an Amo woman.
She left her Amo husband for the Abisi one when he offered her a Bori ceremony to cure her ills.
The expenditure required for these ceremonies often puts women in a situation of dependency on their husbands who control the most important part of wealth.
But at the same time, a man who wishes to retain his wife will have to give her the ceremonial occasion to express herself.
Otherwise, the woman can move to another husband to find a provider. Especially her Riner husband, her first compulsory one, who retains his obligation to take care of her if she is in need of a cure.
Bori may lend support to alleviate married life tensions, women expressing their concerns thru powerful spirits who do not leave anyone indifferent, especially her husband.
Bori ceremonies seem to go right to the profound cause of women’s psychological problems by discussing the impact of their own place in gender relations.
Men have retained a certain male supremacy complex that has resulted in a particular view of femininity, of womanhood.
They often refer to their superiority to women, using expressions, insults or explanations to distinguish themselves in a favorable way from women.
This behavior is doubled by a women’s critical view of masculinity, the manhood.
This ends up with a form of sexual antagonism (opposition between the sexes or genders) that is not only the result of conflicts and frustrations arising in a couple’s everyday life but of something deeper deriving from the feeling that men and women belong to two different worlds that they must bring together for life to be meaningful.
But what is difficult to discuss between husband and wife in their privacy becomes possible between the spirits and the whole community in the public space.
The Uganiŋ Days
Sexual antagonism is a subject of non-bori Abisi rituals like the /uganiɲ/.
On September 1 , 1973, it was the /usamu/ period that marked the end of the rainy season, the end of hard farming labor and the hope of getting a good harvest.
Uganiŋ is to ask Barᴈ for good crops and for health during the coming dry season
Abisi would remember their celebration of Uganiŋ, a nightly feast when sexual antagonism was stigmatized by salacious jokes that are strictly forbidden outside this period.
Men dressed in their hunter outfit and women wore men’s hats.
Women sang : Men have big testicles and smell /juda/, a stinking wild civet cat.
Men sang : What are you going to give us for the seed we put in you?
Women: Boys start to visit our daughter…
Men: Your vulva smells bad
Women: Come here, we will throw you rocks …
In each house, women gathered to dance to hand clapping rhythms with men turning around them. Women spun around and suddenly dropped backward to be caught by men who put them back up before they would hit the ground.
In each house, men and women would dance to celebrate that from now on they will have plenty to eat with all their crops.
For example, for one of these songs men and women would respond:
Women sang : Mara and his wife, both know how to cook.
Men responded :
“Women are robbers; let them return to their father’s house. When we give them something to cook, they only give a little to their husbands and they eat everything” .
If Mara knows the magic medicines to cook well let him go get it!
In this example, food preparation is a sexual specialization subjected to disputes. This song expresses how men and women deal with breaches of conduct.
Mara’s cooking shows how men are ambivalent about their dependence on women. They doubt women’s honesty but need them because the penalty would be the even greater risk of being publicly ridiculed as was Mara!
On the last day, each Abisi section would go to their ceremonial place on the Hill for a final dance.
Since Abisi left their Hill , this last uganiŋ dance is not done.
They moved from dancing place to dancing place.
After their dance, Igallik went dancing at Agiram place and then both went to the Nigertin and at last everybody went to Imagan. This section was living on a Hill on top of the Ribam neighbors living down the plain.
Looking down everybody would sing:
“It is the end of the rainy season, take your hunger and your sickness and send them down to the Ribam!”
Old time Uganiŋ shows that Abisi were conscious of the impact of gender relations on their life.
The following Bori choreography will illustrate the depth of this consciousness, especially in the realm of the sexual division of labor in hunting and farming.