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It Takes a Village - North American Cultures

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North American cultures have long thought of themselves as being leaders in every aspect of life. Often there is an arrogance presenting the assumption that the "American" way is not only the best way, but should be the only way. Yet one should wonder why a different view from our own should be considered better or worse. Why can't an opposing view just be considered different, all the while allowing various cultures to learn from one another? A close examination of different indigenous groups and their views on child rearing offer a fascinating view point when compared to the cultures predominant in North America.

The Forest People is Colin Turnbull's admiring study of the BaMbuti Pygmies where he details three years spent within their community. As an anthropologist, Turnbull studied all aspects of the Pygmies' lifestyle but had interesting observations specifically related to child rearing. Once a Pygmies mother has gone into labor the father is encouraged to stay away. The birthing process is not considered to be the business of men and is assisted only by women. After birth, when the mother and baby have returned to their leafy, dome hut, the father comes to them and asks for permission to enter. Children are such a commodity that it is not uncommon to see a Pygmies father weep for his child. While Pygmies fathers are considered very loving and attentive, the babies are not often separated from their mothers for the first year of life. Pygmies feel it is essential to maintain skin-to-skin contact, with the child naked against the mother's bare skin. If clothing is needed for warmth, the mother wraps a cloth around both herself and her child, not between them. This constant skin contact continues for at least the first six months. Thereafter, the mother continues to provide plenty of touching as well as baby-led nursing which may last up to five years. Close physical contact, nursing as often as the child feels the need, emotional warmth, and loving care are among the basic requirements of very young children, according to the Pygmies. Fulfilling these needs maximizes the child's potential to develop into a naturally sociable and responsible human being who can enjoy a good life.

The Pygmies' culture of child rearing also involves the entire community. Mothers are not the only one to suckle their children, as both lactating and women not lactating will lend a breast to a child desiring it. Also, children will often call their parents peers "mother" or "father" as well. While men and women equally show love to children, it is also notable that male and female children are treated equally. Turnbull's mention of the villagers trying to force their customs and ceremonies upon the Pygmies shows the lovingness of the Pygmies by their rejection of these ceremonies. The ritual of circumcision by the villagers is seen by the nomads as a form of torture. The Pygmies consider a boy to become a man upon his first game hunt, and menstruation by girls welcomes them into womanhood and is considered a time of happiness. Since the Pygmies have no laws, they have no formal rules for their children. The children learn by example, but according to Turnbull, both love and discipline are freely given. Children are taught that they should only have one lover at a time, but sex outside of marriage is not discouraged. Should a pregnancy occur, it is typically a joyous time since children are desirable. The couple may marry, but if a father chooses not to marry - another man would gladly take his place.

Just as Turnbull studied the Pygmies, Erik Erikson, who was actually a psychoanalyst, found his niche in Anthropology studying the Sioux Indians. In Childhood and Society, Erikson discussed his findings on the Sioux Indians. Just as the Pygmies, the Sioux babies are breastfed for an extended period of time. Typically Sioux mothers would nurse a baby on average for three years but it could last until the child was five. Child bearing in the Sioux, though, is of little importance, and just part of nature. Women care for the children and the children learn by example. There are no formal attempts to toilet train. Children learn to train themselves by watching other children and will begin controlling toilet habits when they are ready, much as they stop breast feeding when they choose.

In contrast to the Pygmies, there was a great difference between the treatment of male and female children. The male children were taught aggression and hunting skills early on, while female children were kept around women and taught "their place" as future hunter helpers and mothers. Males were taught how to masturbate and that if they find a girl outside of an area appropriate for her, rape is ok. Females were taught to guard their virginity for marriage.

Changes began to take place amongst the Sioux once "white men" arrived. It has been said that

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