Kinship and gender as political processes among the Miskitu of eastern Nicaragua
This thesis is concerned with local concepts of kinship and personhood in a small Miskitu village named Kakabila in eastern Nicaragua, and examines how gender identities are organised around a culturally specific variant of the set of practices which anthropologists have glossed as 'brideservice'. Personhood in Kakabila is focussed on the establishment of a stable conjugal partnership. Men usually attach themselves to the households of their conjugal partners, and attempt to legitimate their claims to their wives by uxorilocal postnuptial residence and the practice of long term brideservice. The central concern of many Kakabila men therefore is with demonstrating that they conduct themselves with their affines harmoniously in accordance with village ideals. For many men, however, the eventual objective is to detach their wives from the influence of consanguineal kin, and this produces a tension between the need to project affinal harmony and the concern that actions may be construed in terms of elopement. Kakabila women, however, tend to be much more concerned with constructing networks of symbolic exchange and mutual assistance among themselves, particularly with their consanguineal kinswomen. In many cases, therefore, women resist the attempts of husbands and sons-in-law to disrupt these networks, and organise their actions around ensuring that errant husbands and junior male affines adequately supply them with sufficient symbolic capital to adequately maintain and cultivate these networks. This thesis, therefore, suggests a very specific formulation of the logic of gender identities in Kakabila, where brideservice is as much a style of distribution as it is a 'style of consumption' (Collier and Rosaldo 1981: 275), based on a particular disjunction between men's and women's motivations. This thesis also considers the changes in Miskitu kinship in terms of changes which have taken place among the Miskitu during the last three hundred years, particularly the marked trading and political imbalances brought about by long term contact with the English speaking Caribbean countries. The disappearance of the historically attested distinction between cross and parallel cousins and the serial exchange of offspring and siblings, and the emergence of uxorilocal postnuptial residence, are analysed in terms of a gradual historical reformulation of Miskitu notions of affinity which owes a great deal to these regional contacts. An ethnographically and historically informed analysis for these transformations is considered, which in turn is used to shed light on gender identities and the practice of brideservice in present day Kakabila.