A Bargaining Theory of Menarcheal Responses in Preindustrial Cultures

  • Karen Ericksen Paige


The biological event of menarche is of immense social importance in all world societies. It is recognized everywhere as the best observable indication of a daughter’s biological capacity to produce offspring. The most dramatic indicator of the social significance of menarche is that of the large and elaborate puberty ceremonies held in a large proportion of tribal societies in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Polynesia, North America, and elsewhere. In these societies, preparation for the ceremony takes months with relatives and friends assisting the daughter’s family in making costumes and masks for special dances, weaving new mats for guests to sit on, and promising to contribute enough food for a large public feast. Ethnographic accounts of these elaborate rituals make clear that tribal peoples are well aware that the appearance of budding breasts and pubic hair precedes the onset of menstruation by a few months, since the appearance of these physical characteristics in a young daughter frequently marks the beginning of preparations for the forthcoming menarcheal rite (see, for example, Powdermaker, 1971; Blackwood, 1935). When the daughter begins to menstruate, she may be kept in seclusion for the length of the flow. When she emerges, her family entertains relatives and neighbors for days and even weeks. During these community celebrations, marriage plans that have been negotiated during childhood may be finalized or new marriage proposals considered. Although premenarcheal betrothals are exceedingly common among tribal and peasant societies, the onset of menstruation is almost invariably a prerequisite to marriage.


Female Genital Mutilation Bargaining Theory Marriage Contract Tribal Society Reproductive Span 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Ericksen Paige
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

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