Although Ariwari is only about 4 years old, he has already learned that the appropriate response to a flash of anger is io strike someone with his hand or with an object, and it is not uncommon for him to give his father a healthy smack in the face whenever something displeases him. He is frequently goaded into hitting his father by teasing, being rewarded by gleeful cheers of assent from his mother and from the other adults in the household.
When Kaobawa's group travels, Ariwari emulates his father by copying his activities on a child's scale. For example, he erects a temporary hut from small sticks and discarded leaves and plays happily in his own camp. His sisters, however, are pressed inio more practical labor and help their mother do useful tasks. Still, the young girls are given some freedom to play at being adults and have their moments of fun with their mothers or other children.
But a girls' childhood ends sooner than a boy's. The game of playing house fades imperceptibly into a constant responsibility to help mother. By the time a girl is 10 years old or so, she has become an economic asset to the mother and spends a great deal of time working. Litlle boys, by contrast, spend hours playing among themselves and are able to prolong their childhood into their late teens if they so wish. By that time a girl has married, and many even have a child or two. 'Huyas' (young men, usually unmarried) are a social problem in almost all Yanomamo villages and are often the source of much of the sexual jealousy since they try to seduce young women, almost all of whom are married.
A girl's transition to womanhood is obvious because of its physiological manifestations. At first menses (yobomou), Yanomamo girls are confined to their houses and hidden behind a screen of leaves. Their old cotton garments are discarded and replaced by new ones manufactured by their mothers or by older female friends. During this week of confinement, the girl is sparingly fed by her relatives; her food must be eaten by means of a stick, as she is not allowed to come into contact with it in any other fashion. She speaks in whispers, and then only to close kin. She must also scratch herself with another set of sticks. After her puberty confinement, a girl usually takes up residence with her promised husband and begins life as a married woman.
Female students often ask me, 'What do the women do when they have their menstrual periods? What do they "wear" for sanitary napkins?' The Yanomamo word for menstruation translates literally as 'squatting' (roo). and that fairly accurately describes what pubescent females (and adult women) do during menstruation. They simply remain inactive during menstruation, squatting on their haunches and allowing the menstrual blood to drip on the ground. Yanomamo women do not use the equivalents of tampons or sanitary napkins. And here lies an important difference between the 'environment' we live in versus the one one they live in. Sanitary napkins might be a useful invention if and when they are regularly and repeatedly needed, but Yanomamo women menstruate relatively infrequently, for they are either pregnant ot nursing infantsm uch of their lives.