Religion and culture have a direct impact on how people in a given society relate to each other. The rules and regulations of engagement are defined by these two institutions. Women appear to be the most affected individuals as far as religion is concerned. The reason is that there are several issues that affect this group about their religious faith.
The current paper revolves around this issue of women and religion in society. To this end, the author examines some of the factors related to Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache women. According to Barr, this population is part of the ethnic minority groups found in Native America (7). The issues discussed in the paper will explain the minority status of this group.
The paper revolves around one major thesis statement. To this end, it is noted that religion has a direct impact on the social welfare of women in the Chiricahua and Mescalero community. Various social elements affect this group. They include, among others, gender roles, marriage, property rights, myths revolving around mortality, and beliefs on female anatomy. Barr suggests that gender-based violence and divine perceptions in the community are determined by religion (12). A number of these factors are outlined in this paper to support the identified thesis statement.
The Social Factors Associated with Chiricahua and Mescalero Culture and Religion
The religion practiced by the Apache community assigns distinct roles to male and female members of the society. The allocation of tasks is based on gender. Barr indicates that gender rules are not rigidly enforced (45). Today, women continue to gather food as they did in the past. Also, they are involved in the construction of houses.
Marriage and divorce are pertinent issues among the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache people. According to the religious doctrines, the man is expected to pledge allegiance to his wife. Interestingly, the mother-in-law remains a revered figure within the marriage set up. Divorce is still practiced in the community because it is relatively easy to execute it.
Another controversial issue in the community is property rights for women. Banda and Chinkin maintain that men were the historical custodians of the community land (13). Women were seen as mere caretakers of this important resource. The trend is changing in modern society. Within the community, there are doctrines that address the limitation of human conditions, which is brought about by the supremacy of the Creator. The doctrines regulate the way of life in this society.
Violence against women is a common occurrence in many societies today. The Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache community is no exception. According to Barr, there are situations under which gender-based aggression is sanctioned (34). A case in point is the form of violence meted out on women in the event of infidelity (Barr 34). It is also important to note that women are still regarded as religious specialists in this community. The practice of charisma and shamanism relied on the fertility of these individuals.
With regards to the divine concepts associated with this society, it is noted that there are no references to goddesses. Barr points out to the fact that the Apache affirms the existence of a Creator (32). However, this Creator does not assume any gender (Barr, 32). In present times, the woman remains a revered figure in the community. According to Barr, some communities even tend to associate the resilience of this group with the divine (32). However, such associations are not a common occurrence.
In many societies, rituals are carried out to affirm rites of passage and other activities. In the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache community, women are required to undergo several rituals that mark their transition from girlhood to womanhood. Barr refers to the puberty rite among the Apache women as the only ritual carried out to affirm ascension to womanhood (55).
The ritual was carried out immediately; the girl experienced her first menses. The rite had various objectives. One of the main goals was to ensure that the woman retains her virginity until marriage. In most cases, the ceremony was completed when the girl was married off. The ritual is still practiced in modern times where it has turned into an annual affair.
Women Equality in Chiricahua Mescalero Society
The issue of women equality is a major concern in many contemporary and traditional communities. Palmer suggests that in traditional Apache community, gender roles were seen as a way of delegating roles (104). The leadership structure in the society had its roots in the house. It is the man who assumed leadership over the household. The roles allocated to women were seen to promote gender equality, given that these individuals were not coerced to carry out pottery and other economic activities. On the contrary, their duties were seen as a way of supporting the roles carried out by men.
In terms of marriage, a ‘subordination perception’ was created by the cultural norms that existed. Barr refers to the issue of fidelity in a marriage set up and how it was seen as a way of terminating the union (45). The requirement for marital purity was specifically meant for women. Cultural records among the Apache do not make any reference to cases of infidelity committed by men. Consequently, the punitive measures meted out on women support the notion that they are subordinate or junior members of the marital union. Similar indications are made evident in the community’s practice of polygamy. The practice promotes the marrying off of girls at a very young age.
As already indicated in this paper, the religious perceptions among the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache affirm the existence of a genderless creator. Barr argues that such a notion creates a sense of equality (62). In some religions, the Supreme Being assumes a distinct male or female identity (Barr 62). Under such circumstances, the prevailing perceptions support the idea that individuals who are of the god’s gender are superior to the others that are not.
Furthermore, equality is shattered by the introduction of negative views about the female body. Palmer is of the opinion that the fertility associated with the female anatomy elevates the role of women in the spiritual realm (112). It is one of the reasons why females are required to remain pure in the marital setup. According to Palmer, the requirement can be seen as one way of elevating women over their male counterparts (112).
Equality in a community can be defined by the punitive measures taken against an individual who is at fault. As already mentioned in this paper, the women who break the fidelity rules of their marriage are punished through violence. Banda and Chinkin suggest that this gender-based aggression is perceived as an action that is carried out against the weaker group of people in the community (76). In light of this, the communal punishment of women who are guilty of infidelity can be seen as a form of gender inequality.
Women are regarded as healers in the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache community. Palmer suggests that the perception of this group as spiritual healers is meant to complement the warrior role played by the men (65). The two roles (healing and maintaining security) are not in competition (Banda and Chinkin 56). To this end, charisma and shamanism are seen as ways through which the female gender is given a ‘grand’ role that is similar to that of men in the community.
The existence of matriarchs among the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache family setups is another indication of efforts at gender equality. The egalitarianism is evident, given the fact that women can still lead the community regardless of the fact that men are considered to be the head of the family unit. In essence, life in this community is a blend of different cultural roles. The situation is aimed at bringing about gender parity.
Historical Challenges to the Wellbeing of Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache Women
Women face several problems in any social set up. The primary challenge affecting the welfare of this group in the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache community is the issue of marriage. According to Amnesty International, early marriages and communal punishments are some of the crude and oppressive punitive measures carried out against women in many societies (20). The wellbeing of the Apache woman was affected by the discriminative marital regulations they were expected to adhere to. The emphasis on early marriages impedes the efforts made by the female members of the society to advance economically. Such practices promote the oppression of this group over time.
For the longest time, females in Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache communities engaged themselves in trade. According to Barr, trade-in pottery and other artifacts were carried out by this group in a bid to supplement their husband’s hunting activities (45). However, the occupation of their native lands by white settlers brought about wars. Consequently, their economic activities were destroyed. As a result, the female members of the community were forced to live in poverty on land that was historically theirs.
Some people regarded the rites of passage that women were subjected to as oppressive. According to Palmer, there is no denying the fact that virginity is a virtue (45). However, forceful rituals meant that the girl had no say over matters pertaining to her future (Palmer 45). The situation was compounded by the fact that the girls got married at a very tender age. Such scenarios illustrate the gender-based marginalization of women in the Apache community.
The absence of a gender-based deity explains the abuse of women by their male counterparts. Palmer is of the opinion that most incidences of violence and forceful subordination are associated with the desire of men to impose themselves as the de facto leaders of the community (89). As a result, the roles carried out by women, including spiritual healing, are negatively affected by this battle between the genders. It is noted that chiefs, who were mostly men, would interfere with the spiritual roles of the women. Such intrusion affected the legitimacy of these positions in the society.
The historical challenges faced by female members of the Chiricahua and Mescalero tribes are similar to the ones encountered by women in other cultures. Palmer holds that such historical injustices are largely attributed to the influence that religion has on culture (91). They are also associated with some deep-rooted cultural practices (Palmer 91). Based on this, one may argue that the wellbeing of the Chiricahua and Mescalero community depends on its ability to resolve these historical imbalances.
Present Day Challenges
The modern society is significantly different from traditional communities. The current social framework of the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache attests to this. Banda and Chinkin argue that societies need to respond to changes taking place around them (73). The problems facing women in these tribes are aggravated by the alienation of the entire community. Most of the clans are presently relegated to reserves. As a result, their freedom of expression is drastically reduced. Their cultural influences are similarly diminished. Consequently, this society is facing extinction.
Education is another challenge that women in this society have to contend with. In the past, education was tied to the spiritual aspects of the community (Barr, 98). However, modern society is moving away from these religious innuendos. For example, mothers used to teach their daughters how to hunt together with their brothers. Skills like making huts were also passed on to girls by the matriarchs. However, modern education is slowly erasing these practices. The girl child is increasingly taught about equality, something that conflicts with traditional perceptions about the place of the woman.
The influence of the woman in the tribal setting is gradually diminishing. The spiritual roles of female members of the early society elevated them to the league of chiefs (Barr 67). However, the onset of modern medicine and other forms of science has made many people shun the curative sessions of traditional spiritual healers. Consequently, the influence of such women in the society has become uncertain, increasing gender inequalities in the community. Lack of interest in religion among members of the community implies that past injustices like gender discrimination can be resolved. However, the practices that enhanced the status of the female gender are gradually getting eroded. It is the responsibility of the community to come up with proactive solutions to address the current challenges.
Religion affects the social ties existing in a given society. Barr argues that the situation is brought about by the need to observe a certain hierarchy within a social setting (14). The status of the Chiricahua and Mescalero Apache women supports the thesis statement advanced in this paper. Religion has affected such social issues as gender roles, rites of passage, and marriage.
Religion and culture regulate how people relate to each other. However, society must constantly find ways through which it can use these institutions to overcome the challenges faced by individual members. The author of the paper recommends further research on the subject of religion and social interactions, especially in modern societies. Such studies will ensure that people better understand the relationship between these two elements.
Amnesty International. Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Sexual Violence in the USA, New York: Amnesty International Publications, 2006. Print.
Banda, Fareda, and Christine Chinkin. Gender Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, London: Minority Rights Group International, 2004. Print.
Barr, Juliana. Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007. Print.
Palmer, Jessica. The Apache Peoples: A History of All Bands and Tribes Through the 1880s, London: McFarland, 2013. Print.