Royalty, Gender Roles, and Social Structure

The Great Zimbabwean Ruins - the largest sight of ancient ruins in Zimbabwe. It belonged to the Shona people until its abandonment in the mid-sixteenth century. Though initially the tourist is blind sighted by all historically fascinating elements of the site, the theme of gender supremacy becomes blatantly obvious alters perspective of the scene.

The ruins are divided into three sights, the king's palace, the queen's palace and the concubine's quarters. In the photo, the king's palace is in the background towards the left, on top of the mountain. The kings palace is integrated with geographic landmarks. The king's palace is located above the rest, physically and metaphorically. The king, the protector, was considered godly. From his elevated stature he called upon his subjects and women to serve him in his palace.

The queen's palace, the one partially pictured in the foreground, was the king's main wife. She was part of crucial decisions, and the leader among the Shona women. One of her main areas of influence was fertility, which researchers have deducted through the variety of phallic and fertility symbolism throughout the site(not pictured).

The queen ruled over the king's concubines, who lived in a village behind the queen's palace. Researchers estimate near 1000 concubines, who would each visit the king at his disposal. The king referred took these women as wives, not just concubines, and these women were regarded with respect. They built a complete community for women at the foot of the king's palace.

So what does a king do with one thousand wives? The first wife is meant to ensure an heir and provide support for the king, but one person does need one thousand wives... It seems, the king used these unions in order to create a social order.

The king would take one daughter from each household in his kingdom, and provide her with a comfortable life. This "ward-ship" created a forced loyalty among the king's subjects. While a family knew their daughter would be protected, they also remained loyal to the king and his wishes.

This social structure created a clear hierarchy of order within the subjects. This phenomenon is not completely unique to the Shona kingdom as the trading of wards often kept peace among early kingdoms of the time. The practice is still relevant today, though not with usually with family members.

Today, nations send ambassadors to attain temporary residence in another nation, and these representatives speak on behalf of their nation. However, the modern more liberal use of this institution is far more flexible; it does not hold people hostage in their role.

In many ways, our modern institutions are reminiscent of institutions of the past. We build social webs with our peers, we find ways to keep them attached to us by creating social obligation, and thus build relationships. Through the institution of "mass marriage", the king kept his people in order.

Commentary on Rachel Tanur's Works: African Hut 01

In the following commentary on Rachel’s photo, African Hut 01, I will refer to the hut’s influence on familial structure. Since the photo’s location is ambiguous, I will describe the social structure and ethical dilemmas of the Himba people, a culture who lives in huts in Namibia. The Himba familial structure inside the hut is of a mother and her dependents, usually children. The father, while still considered part of the family unit, is gone for most of the year, grazing the sheep and returning seasonally, usually once every several months but at times being gone for a year. Couples are generally monogamous but have been known to exchange partners. This trait is more common among the men then the women. Males who stay with their wives, are considered less worthy because they are unable to herd the cattle, and they become dependents to their wives. The women are the homemakers in this society. They cook and care for the children, and they build a community of women. Today, Namibia struggles to incorporate these more primitive people into society. They are uneducated, lack access to infrastructure and live the poverty line. The dilemma the government has is one of an ethical nature: at what cost should the government try to preserve this lifestyle? On one hand, it is unethical to force someone to concede to the rules of the society of others, yet on the other hand, they have a responsibility towards these people living within Namibian borders who lack basic necessities. Their herding nature has affected other Namibians, most commonly farmers. In the last decade, a wealthy man purchased a large plot of land as a reserve for the Himba to, in order that they may maintain their lifestyle without protruding into the well being of other Namibians. This dilemma plagues many governments with a range of communities, Namibia has one of the most advanced African economies living alongside bushmen, who maintain ancient traditions. Should the government invade the lifestyle of the Himba in order to give the Himba a better life? What do the Himba people want? What are the limits of government interference? These are critical questions the Namibian government must answer.