Abstract In spite of the fact that the very earliest ethnographers who paid any attention to children took note of the “precocity” displayed by children in both learning the household (e.g., caring for a younger sibling) and subsistence (harvesting and processing grain), tasks characteristic of the societies under investigation, the first synthesis and cross-cultural compilation of this large body of descriptive material is quite recent.
This first, introductory, article in this collection reviews those efforts to systematize the study of children’s work and leads the reader through a catalog of the major conclusions or generalizations that have emerged from this analysis. To take a single example, the ethnographic record shows clearly that the work children do, whether differentiated by age, gender, or competence, serves, in large part, to shape their emerging identity.
The Introduction then proceeds to forecast the following three articles, all of which advance significantly beyond our current understandings. A finer-grained analysis reveals significant cross-cultural variation around many of the generalizations made earlier regarding how children become helpers and workers. [child development, childhood, childrearing, community, cultural models, ethnography] Paying Attention to Children’s Work Contrary to Hirschfeld’s (2002) claim that “Anthropologists Don’t Like Children,” childhood was an early interest of psychological anthropologists (DuBois 1944; Malinowski 1929; Mead 1928; Whiting 1941).
This interest has continued and even increased recently (Lancy 2015). The growing volume of anthropological research on childhood notwithstanding, the lack of comparative analyses and theory development (conceded largely to the discipline of psychology) has provided some justification for Hirschfeld’s argument.
However, this omission is now being addressed (Lancy et al. 2010). As interest has grown, and research expanded on the varied cultural contexts for child development, lacunae have been revealed. Prominently, these include the study of children’s work (Nieuwenhuys 1996) and, by extension, the processes underlying children’s acquisition of critical work skills. This neglect may be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that the majority of childhood scholars, regardless of discipline, operate within one particular—even “WEIRD” (Henrich et al. 2010)—culture.
In Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic (WEIRD) society, children are prohibited from “laboring” for wages and contribute little to the maintenance of the household (Klein and Goodwin 2013; Ochs and Izquierdo 2009).1 Rogoff (2014) and colleagues (Alcala et al. 2014) have documented the transition from indigenous Mayan ´ ETHOS, Vol. 44, Issue 3, pp. 202–222, ISSN 0091-2131 online ISSN 1548-1352. ⃝C 2016 by the American Anthropological Association All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/etho.12132 CHILDREN’S WORK AND THE DOMESTIC ECONOMY 203 communities where modernization and acculturation have been minimal to “cosmopolitan,” urban communities nearby. In the former, children eagerly do chores; in the latter, they are actively prevented from helping. In WEIRD society, children’s “work” is nested within the tasks associated with schooling (Qvortrup 1994:36) and within adult-directed, extracurricular activity, such as music lessons and sports (Kremer-Sadlik et al. 2010).
This “work” serves to foster the child’s own development and, far from relieving others of their burdens, it adds to the parents’ workload in several respects. A prototypical case that illustrates this reversal (parents working for children rather than the reverse) comes from a study of middle-class Scottish families where “Mum cleaned it (the pet), I just played with it (Muldoon et al. 2015:201). “There was a widely held belief that young children lacked knowledge of how to look after animals properly and needed to be taught or ‘trained’ [hence] . . . children . . . were ‘not allowed’ to do certain things for the animal” (Muldoon et al. 2015:210).
Outside WEIRD society, children are typically engaged in an extremely wide range of activities that could be labeled “work.”2 Tasks like fetching water, caring for younger siblings, cleaning, gardening, and taking care of livestock are the necessary adjuncts of domestic life (Whiting and Whiting 1975:84).
Chores may be adopted voluntarily by children or assigned by a parent (Stieglitz et al. 2013). From toddlers to teenagers, children are expected to help out according to their capacity and skill. Scholars have taken care to designate “children’s work” as the tasks that are incorporated into family life and are “developmental,” where children are learning while helping. In contrast, “children’s labor” for wages, or to work off a family debt may involve removing a child from its family, exposing him or her to arduous and unhealthy conditions, and may not include opportunities for learning and advancement. In short, “labor” is usually detrimental to children, at least in the long term (Bourdillion and Spittler 2012: 9).
How Children Become Workers The question of how children learn the foundation skills (or, more broadly, their culture) in order to make a significant contribution to their family’s resources has received increasing attention. In deductive lab studies with chimpanzee and Euroamerican children as subjects, psychologists have identified the evolved mechanisms that even very young children deploy in this process, such as imitation and emulation (Konner 2010:720–722). Psychological anthropologists have utilized cross-cultural comparisons, spot observation, elicitation of parental ethnotheories, and ethnography (e.g., Keller 2007; LeVine 2007) to derive, inductively, models of the learning process. Summarizing the “Six Cultures” studies undertaken in the mid–50s, the Whitings claim that: . . . skills are more likely to come from observation than from instruction. It should not be assumed that parents play an entirely passive role in the socialization process.
It is in the assignment of tasks and the punishment of disobedience rather than in either deliberate instruction or rewarding and punishing specific behaviors that they have the greatest effect. (1975:180) 204 ETHOS One of the most thoroughly studied and influential models of children learning their chores has been developed by Barbara Rogoff and her colleagues—characterized as “learning by observing3 and pitching in,” or LOPI. LOPI includes both intense, wide-angled, yet passive observation (Gaskins and Paradise 2010) and learning through participating as a novice in cooperative or joint-work activities. For example, the Yukaghirs’ (Siberian foragers) “model of knowledge transferal could be described as doing is learning and learning is doing” (Willerslev 2007:162).
Rogoff notes: “[LOPI] seems to be widely used in Indigenous-heritage communities of the Americas and may be common in other parts of the world” (2014:71). Ethnological surveys encompassing the corpus of ethnographic studies of childhood (Lancy 2015) would generally affirm this latter generalization. However, recent studies suggest LOPI may not be universal or is attenuated compared to Rogoff and colleagues’ indigenous American communities. The articles in this collection all reflect a careful analysis of children learning and working in specific, relatively unacculturated communities, and all reveal this attenuation.
The following article by Medaets is based on her fieldwork in the Lower Tapajos River ´ of Brazil. These communities subsist on a mix of foraging, including hunting and fishing and horticulture. Economic support is also provided by the government. Medaets focuses her attention on children exhibiting the skills commonly employed in the aforementioned subsistence processes and their movement from incompetent novice to helpful practitioner. As in the indigenous American communities, Tapajos villagers do expect their children to ´ pitch in and be helpful. However, children cannot always depend on opportunities to observe and pitch in.
With respect to the former, aspirant hunters must learn largely on their own with some input from older peers because their fathers spurn their accompaniment on hunting forays. With respect to the latter, adults seem to have little patience with clumsy novices who are as often ridiculed as encouraged in their fledgling attempts. Hence, in order for Tapajos children to become full, appreciated members of the domestic labor unit, they ´ must strive to learn independently, relying mostly on observation and discreet practice which may include unauthorized “borrowing” of adult tools. The Mongol herders studied by Michelet move between communities of two types, remote family clusters of yurt-dwelling herders (varied stock, including camels) and communities with at least some permanent facilities such as clinics and schools but no animal herds. So, in the latter, children learn and help out with animal husbandry during holiday periods and also are expected to contribute to maintaining the home year-round. The family unit is two to three generations, and grandparents may participate in child care.
As is true across the spectrum of traditional small-scale societies (see the general discussion below), Mongol children are not impeded from observing everything and everyone at home, in the community, corrals, and pastures. Children readily volunteer to help out, but they may be rather sharply rebuffed by their elders with the expression “chi chadahgui!”or “you can’t do it.” The injunction might be interpreted as a warning to the child to observe, practice, and become competent in a particular skill before volunteering. It also might act to motivate the child to try harder. Conspicuously, the adult does not immediately respond by assisting CHILDREN’S WORK AND THE DOMESTIC ECONOMY 205 the child or trying to “scaffold” his or her efforts.
Motivation becomes a problem also with older children who, although fully competent, may become reluctant to shoulder routine chores and thus become the targets of adult exhortation. In documenting this early decline in children’s work, Michelet highlights a society that departs somewhat from the indigenous American pattern as documented by Rogoff and others (Rogoff et al. 1993).
In Kramer’s studies of Mayan peasant children, for example, she finds that they continue to provide critical support for the family until their late teens when they marry: “Without the contributions of their children, Maya parents would have to double or triple their work levels beyond observed values” (Kramer 2005:168). In the concluding article in the collection by Little and Lancy, these themes are addressed as well as the question of data collection and analysis.
Several recent studies probing the processes through which children acquire critical work skills claim that this happens largely via deliberate instruction of children by parents (e.g., Kline et al. 2013)—quite different from the LOPI model. But serious doubts have long been raised about the use of retrospective interview data in making inferences about behavior. For example, LeVine recalls that the use of retrospective interviews in the Six Cultures studies from the 1950s “came under devastating empirical critique in the psychological literature” (2010:518).
Our critical analysis of the exclusive reliance on interview data is based primarily on Little’s work with Asabano parents and children. The Asabano—sweet potato and pig growers and foragers from the remote Telefomin District of the PNG Highlands— are, certainly, the least acculturated of the three societies, which are the focus of this collection. Little, whose intent it was to study the contributions of children as increasingly skilled helpers, was struck with a paradox. Interviews with parents suggested unequivocally that they were wholly responsible for teaching children all the necessary skills to become a competent Asabano adult. On the other hand, Little’s ethnography and further questioning of adults and children regarding their work showed that no such explicit teaching occurred.4
In fact, similar to the Tapajos communities, ´ parents did not show much recognition let alone appreciation for their children’s useful and competent services—learned autonomously. And, again, fathers and adults, generally, play almost no role in the socialization of young hunters. The article concludes with a general discussion of the need for a solid ethnographic base that takes into account local discourse patterns, social relations, ethos, and acculturation, among others, in order to create a robust context within which interviews may be meaningfully designed and used as data. In the sections that follow, I provide a broad survey of research on the development of children in societies where they play important roles in the domestic economy.
Work as the Locus of Children’s Development As ethnographers have paid increasing attention to children’s work and their roles in the family and community, the archive of cases in cultural and psychological anthropology (Bolin 2006; Greenfield 2004; Orellana 2001; Rogoff 2003; Spittler 1998) as well as history, (e.g., Clement 1997) have reached the level where we can begin to hazard some generalizations.5
In this introductory essay, I will review those generalizations and the basis for drawing 206 ETHOS them. This will include a focus on children as well as on their parents, who are both role models and taskmasters. To that end, the parental ethnotheory (set of beliefs or moral assumptions) that frames children’s work will be explored.
The “cultural models” concept proposes that societies incorporate templates or models to guide members (Quinn 2005:479; Strauss 1992:3) that include customary practices, sanctions for following or not following those practices, and an ethnotheory that organizes these ideas and provides an overarching perspective (Super and Harkness 1986). The Hindu ethnotheory of infancy, for example, recognizes three distinct stages characterized by the child’s diet and change in diet over time (Keller 2007:111). Ethnotheories have “directive force,” meaning that they direct behavior (Harkness et al. 1992) and identify and correct (or sanction) misbehavior.
For example, most societies embrace the notion that children should willingly volunteer to do chores. The Giriama of Kenya assert that a child learns to respect others and develop responsibility by working. A mother “who does not expect her children to help is remiss, even neglectful” because her children will grow up without the support and respect of the community (Wenger 1989:93).
As the Little and Lancy article in this collection shows, however, parental ethnotheories are subject to change in response to larger social changes that occur, and there may be a fairly wide gulf between theory and actual practice. Little Helpers Anthropologists often note, with some degree of awe, just how young children are when they begin to “pitch in” (Paradise and Rogoff 2009). On Raroia, a four-year old equipped with a suitably sized container, may make as many as 10 trips per day, carrying water from the community cistern to his home (Danielsson 1952:121). I have often observed youngsters (Lancy 2015, Figure 21:255) no older than five, carrying and looking after infants (see also Ottenberg 1968:80).
On Samoa “the tiniest little staggerer has tasks to perform—to carry water, to borrow fire brands, to fetch leaves to stuff the pig” (Mead 1928:633). These examples can be readily multiplied (Edel 1966:178; Gottlieb 2000:87; Marlowe 2010:198; Ohmagari and Berkes 1997:206; Rival 2000:116), and it seems clear that, regardless of geography, culture, or subsistence type, we can expect to see children volunteering to assist with household tasks.
This assertion was supported by a psychology experiment in the United States that simulated a home environment where mothers and fathers were carrying out various tasks with young children in attendance (and more recently replicated in Germany: Warneken and Tomasello 2006:1301). Children as young as 18 months of age: spontaneously and promptly assisted the adults in a majority of the tasks they performed.
Furthermore, the children accompanied their assistance by relevant verbalizations and by evidence that they knew the goals of the tasks, even adding appropriate behaviors not modeled by the adults. (Rheingold 1982:114) In most societies, work is as prominent as play in children’s lives, and systematic study of Kpelle children working led me to posit the existence of a “chore curriculum” (Lancy 1996:144). The term “curriculum” conveys the idea that there is a discernible regularity to the process whereby children attempt to learn, then master, and finally carry out their CHILDREN’S WORK AND THE DOMESTIC ECONOMY 207 chores.
The academic or “core” curriculum (of Math, English, Science) found in schools is formal and imposed on students in a top-down process. The chore curriculum, by contrast, is informal and emerges in the interaction of children’s need to fit in, and to assist and emulate those older (Bandura 1977; de Waal 2001:230–231), with their apparent drive to become competent and feel efficacious (White 1959:329), their developing cognitive and sensorimotor capacity (Lancy and Grove 2011), the division of labor within the family and, of course, the nature of the tasks (chores) themselves. But, even before children are mature enough to be accepted as “legitimate peripheral participants” (Lave and Wenger 1991), they may begin the process of learning their chores through play. The Play Stage One important conclusion we can draw from the literature on children’s work is that it is almost always foreshadowed in play. In fact, the play stage is finessed only when the child is assigned a chore, such as caring for a baby brother, even before they’ve begun to play with dolls (Broch 1990:110) or permitted to participate in animal care (at three years of age) without doing it first in make-believe (Michelet, this issue).
Ethnographic descriptions of work activity replicated in make-believe are rich and varied. In the domestic sphere, we see children playing at food preparation, building houses, and making mats and furnishings (Hogbin 1969:38; 1970:137). Mayan weavers in Nabenchauk had nearly all done play weaving when they were little (Greenfield 2004:37). Inuit girls make dolls and clothe them out of scraps of skin.
“Their mothers encourage them, for it is in this way that they learn to sew and cut out patterns” (Jenness 1922:219). While parents are almost never observed playing with children postinfancy (Lancy 2007), instances of parents giving toddlers cast-off or miniature tools to play with are legion (Tayanin and Lindell 1991:15), but not by any means universal, as the Medaets’ article following demonstrates.
The presence of crudely made or small-scale artifacts, such as flint points, offer a rare glimpse of childhood in archaeological work (Kenyon and Arnold 1985). The smooth transition from the play stage to more productive work is evident in Hadza children. Children spend most of their time in mixed-sex play-groups in camp or just outside . . . watching 3–4 year-olds playing a while, one eventually realizes that [they] are not just playing but are actually digging small tubers and eating them . . . foraging simply emerges gradually from playing and involves very little teaching. It involves a natural interest on the part of the young child watching older people forage and imitating them. Girls 4–8 years old bring in 361 daily kcals, which is about 25% of their requirements.
Boys [somewhat fewer]. (Marlowe 2010:156) Not only is the transition from play to work seamless, children engage in their chores with a playful demeanor. For example, “one of the most striking aspects of [Sudanese] children’s lives was the fusion between the activities of work, play and learning” (Katz 1986:47). 208 ETHOS While children are generally expected to begin learning the suite of skills associated with particular domains of work, often starting with running errands (Lancy 2012a:29–30), through carefully watching competent actors and playful imitation of what they’ve observed (Chick 2010), many societies support what has been referred to as “intent community participation” (Paradise and Rogoff 2009:104). These are situations where children are welcome to join collaborative work routines, involving one or more others, and where some piece or component of the routine falls within their capabilities. Learning in the Family Circle A key factor in the ease with which children learn socially is that “culture” is largely an “open book.” The “curriculum” confronting a child in the village is not concealed behind doors, in books, or in people’s heads. For the most part it is made freely available: “No [Tallensi] would inhibit his conversation or actions because children are present (Fortes 1970:37).”
Similarly, Biyaka children who must learn a mix of foraging and gardening skills: have almost ubiquitous opportunity for observational learning of adult subsistence behaviors. Furthermore, “watching” a behavior that is necessarily the commencing act of any visual observational learning, was a very high-frequency activity across all age groups. (Neuwelt-Truntzer 1981:109) Another aspect of this openness and ready access to learning opportunities is that traditional, small-scale societies, unlike WEIRD society, incorporate economic or subsistence activity within the family circle. Production is rarely separate.6 From the earliest habitation sites found to date, we see a pattern of humans working in a public setting with multiple participants and onlookers including, especially, children. Studies of the stone scatter from sites where stone tool production occurred show incomplete or poorly made tools and debris consistent with a mixture of skill levels, including beginners (Dugstad 2010:70).
At two Magdalenian sites in France, “highly skilled knappers occupied places closest to the hearth, the less skilled knappers and the novices sat further back from it” (Shennan and Steele 1999:375). In a contemporary village scene, Matsigenka “infants and young children are embedded in the middle of quotidian activities where they are positioned to quietly observe and learn what others are doing” (Ochs and Izquierdo 2009:395).
Medaets describes a Breugelian tableau in an Amazonian village (see Figure 1 in Medaets’ article, this issue) where a family of mixed ages, with no fewer than eight children aged 4–15, is busily working in a sociable cluster around the house. Everyone, including the youngest, has a task drawn from the component parts of manioc processing or clean-up (Medaets 2011:3). Ingold characterizes this kind of activity as follows: In the passage of human generations, each one contributes to the knowledgeability of the next, not by handing down a corpus of disembodied, context-free information, but by setting up, through their activities, the environmental contexts within which successors develop their own . . . skills. (2001:142)
CHILDREN’S WORK AND THE DOMESTIC ECONOMY 209 West African girls learning to hull or pulverize grain in a mortar and pestle will first play at the task using grass or some other expendable material. Once the child can be trusted not to spill the grain while hulling it (Bock and Johnson 2004), she will be given a scaled-down mortar and pestle and partnered with an older expert who, while not explaining or instructing, will adjust her rhythm and stroke to the child’s (Bril 1986:325). This minimalist “scaffolding” by an adult is quite characteristic of nonindustrialized society (Medaets, this issue; Odden 2007: 501; Odden and Rochat 2004:47; Polak 2013). In contrast, the Vygostkian model of development (e.g., Wertsch 1985:161) applies much better in WEIRD society, where scaffolding within the zone of proximal development is far more frequent and extensive. Conversation in the family circle freely passes among adults, but children are expected to quietly observe (Lancy and Grove 2010:153; Martini and Kirkpatrick 1992:203; Penn 2001:91; Polak 2012:88).
As children work and learn, no one offers verbal instruction, rather “conversation and questions . . . usually occur for the sake of sharing necessary information” (Paradise and Rogoff 2009:118). Aka Pygmy children “seldom ask questions about how to do things . . . parents are proximal and very available for social learning, especially before age five” (Hewlett et al. 2011:1173). Young children can expect some attention from family members as long as they are focused on the task at hand (Weisner 1989:78). Indeed, merely by approving/disapproving children’s early attempts, older family members can dramatically improve their efficiency as social learners (Castro and Toro 2004). This thumbs up/down may be the most common form of “instruction”6 provided to the child (Michelet, this issue).
Little describes a six-year-old Asabano girl emulating her mother’s construction of a string bag. If uncertain where to put the next knot, the girl asks “Here?” and the mother “would respond with a grunt indicating ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ [if the child were] tying a knot at the wrong place, her mother would preempt her [by saying] nothing more than ‘no’” (Little 2011:154). The Michelet and Medaets’ articles in this issue (see also Polak 2012:104, 2013) introduce yet another dimension to the comparative study of parental ethnotheory regarding children’s learning and carrying out chores. In these studies, we see parents systematically erecting obstacles in the path of child novices (Maori-Metge 1984:7; Ngoni-Read 1959:78). Bamana, Mongol, and Lower Tapajos River adults, respectively, offer somewhat different goals for ´ this strategy, and the three societies are distinctive in other aspects of their interaction with young helpers.
But the finding that children may be, at least initially, thwarted, even teased in their attempts to participate in adult work are in accord with recent experimental work in the United States, which shows that children who have experienced some ostracism are more diligent at copying a model (Watson-Jones et al. 2014). Work and Identity As the child builds its repertoire of useful skills and finds his or her niche in the family ecology, he or she is simultaneously constructing his or her identity (Lave and Wenger 1991:55).
For example, Tchokwe “children are identified through the roles they assume . . . ´ kambumbu are children . . . who help parents in the field” (Honwana 2006:41–42). 210 ETHOS In the Giriama language the term for a child roughly 2 through 3 years in age is kahoho kuhuma madzi: a youngster who can be sent to fetch a cup of water . . . A girl, from about 8 years until approximately puberty, is muhoho wa kubunda, a child who pounds maize; a boy of this age is a muhoho murisa, a child who herds. (Wenger 1989:98) There are also many examples of adults sponsoring minor rites of passage to acknowledge the child’s movement through the chore curriculum. Such celebrations include: a Kaoka boy’s first pig (Hogbin 1969:39); Wogeo families assigning a child their first garden plot (Hogbin 1970:139–140); and a Vlach six-year-old being given his first shepherd’s crook (Campbell 1964:156). “When an [Mbuti] boy kills his first “real animal,” he is immediately acclaimed as a hunter . . . [and honored by cicatrization] . . . an operation performed . . . by one of the ‘great hunters’” (Turnbull 1965:257; see also !Kung-Howell 2010:35). In the article by Michelet, we get a glimpse of three-year-old Batuhan’s first acknowledgement as a “hardworking person” (this issue).
Chores also play an important role in the differentiation of gender, especially before the appearance of secondary sex characteristics. Goats are tended by Touareg boys and girls, but only boys tend camels (Spittler 1998). The Tarong equivalent of the camel is the carabao, or water buffalo, tended only by boys (Whiting and Edwards 1988:224). Weaving is the province of women among Akwete Igbo, but for the Baule, only males weave (Aronson 1989). ` As for most hunter-gatherers, Hadza girls gather and boys hunt (Marlowe 2010). Almost universally, girls are preferred as caretakers for younger siblings, while sons are conscripted for this chore only when a daughter is unavailable (Ember 1973:425–426; Stieglitz et al. 2013:6). Another frequent observation is that girls consistently spend more of their day doing chores, including sib-care, housework, and gardening.
Boys spend relatively more of their time playing. Indeed, boys, in many societies, are defined as much by their freedom from work (relative to girls) as by the specific work they do (Little and Lancy, this issue; Stieglitz et al. 2013:7–8). “These differences are seen from age three onwards” (Edwards 2005:87). Boys range farther afield, running errands, patrolling distant fields, and hunting in the bush.
In my observations, boy’s “work” often looks more like play, while girl’s work seems more focused and purposeful. Hadza children’s foraging illustrates the way in which girls “get serious” at an age when boys are acting rather frivolously, with significant consequences. From the age of 10, girls are gathering more food than they consume. Boys, on the other hand, concentrate on more exotic foods such as honey and small game, but their yields are low (Blurton-Jones et al. 1997:291). Development in the Chore Curriculum A developmental perspective reveals change over time in children’s involvement and competence. Children are usually permitted to learn at their own pace and numerous ethnographers have noted that play is frequently infused into the work.7 To use a modern expression, “learning should be fun.” Children’s foraging for the Zafimaniry is seen as CHILDREN’S WORK AND THE DOMESTIC ECONOMY 211 an adventurous but not a serious form of activity . . . a form of play. Consequently the product of such activity, although it is very important nutritionally and economically it is not, nor in their evaluation should it be, taken seriously.8 (Bloch 1988:28)
The child’s engagement and progress is often facilitated because tasks or projects can be broken down into smaller, child-sized fragments, creating a staged or stepped curriculum. There is usually a good fit between the child’s developing abilities and some subset of the overall task inventory. Children eagerly pursue more challenging undertakings without prompting. They provide their own motive power. Because they are in company with, and supervised by, somewhat older siblings (Weisner and Gallimore 1977:170), young learners have access to excellent role models whose competence (speed, strength, pacing) may be only slightly more advanced than their own (Lancy and Grove 2010:156–157; Maynard and Tovote 2010; Polak 2003).
Agriculture offers tasks as simple as chasing birds from the ripening crop (Grindal 1972:29; Lancy 1996:146) to leading a team of oxen (Polak 2012:105). The child is integrated into the chore curriculum at the appropriate stage. One sees a Guara trio working in the garden: “While the man makes holes with his digging stick, and his wife places seeds carefully in each hole, the child follows, using the feet to push the earth back over the hole” (Ruddle and Chesterfield 1977:71). Fore (Eastern Highlands, PNG) girls’ [make-believe] gardening is followed by clumsy and even destructive attempts to emulate the gardening activities of their elders. Gradually, these efforts “more and more resemble the . . . sustained gardening [that is] the basis of the Fore way of life” (Sorenson 1976:200).
Kwoma (Sepik Region, PNG) parents go further by actually setting aside an area of the garden for the child to work on their own, thereby protecting their own gardens from harm. Likewise, the child may be given their own scaled-down collecting calabash, hoe, or machete. Any produce from this mini-garden is “put in a separate bin in the family storehouse as the child’s private property” (Whiting 1941:46; Hogbin 1969:39). Note in the following transcript from the Bamana how the chores in a family bean-harvesting project can be matched to children’s skill and persistence: Three-year-old Daole . . . begins to pluck beans from the tendrils.
After he has filled the lid with a handful of beans, his interest fades [and he] carelessly leaves the lid with the beans lying on the ground and goes looking for some other occupation . . . Five-year-old Sumala . . . looks out for a corner not yet harvested and picks as many beans as will fill his calabash . . . [he] keeps on doing this for more than one-and-a-half hours . . . Eleven-year-old Fase has been busy harvesting beans . . . since morning. He works as fast as . . . his father and grown-up brother . . . and only takes a rest when they [do] . . . Fase . . . even takes on the role of supervising his younger brothers and checks their performance from time to time.
(Polak 2003:130, 132, emphasis added) The Bamana illustrate Weisner’s notion of “chains of support” in which each member of the family work group supports and guides those who are slightly less advanced on the competency scale (Weisner 1996:308). Children not only improve their skills, they assume greater responsibility for supervising the less skilled. Excellent examples of the stepped nature of the chore curriculum can be found for hunting (Goodwin and Goodwin 1942:475), 212 ETHOS handling a canoe (Lancy 2012a 26–27), herding (Spittler 1998), running errands (Nerlove et al. 1974:276), and weaving (Dilley 1989), among others.
In spite of the fact that most children are permitted to develop work skills, and a worker’s mindset, at their own pace—with many playful digressions—there is a great variability across the ethnographic record in expectations for the child’s progress towards adult levels of competence and productivity.
Tibetan children of six or seven are expected to be fully competent to herd livestock in distant pastures (Gielen 1993:426). !Kung children, in contrast, must be left behind in camp and may not begin their foraging careers until their teens (Hames and Draper 2004:334). The !Kung homeland in the Kalahari desert is extremely difficult to navigate, and foragers face the threat of predation.
Children cannot accompany their parents and learn from their example because of the burden their care and provisioning would impose on the foragers. With the Amazonian-based Huaorani, the terrain is somewhat more benign, and even young children are welcome on foraging expeditions (Rival 2000:116).
On the island of Mer in the Torres Straits, unsupervised, untutored children can collect edible marine life from the shoreline and shallows. They can be seen “spearfishing with toddler-sized spears as soon as they begin walking, using them at first to spear sardines along the foreshore for bait” (Bird and Bliege Bird 2002:262). A survey of children’s contribution to subsistence in 16 communities across the spectrum of subsistence types showed great variation from approximately one-half hour of work/day (!Kung) to 9.6 hours (Ariaal pastoralists) (Kramer and Greaves 2011). The variability within subsistence types was also wide: Forager children show both high and low participation in economic activities, suggesting that children’s work effort varies with factors other than whether a child is a forager, agriculturalist or pastoralist per se.
(Kramer and Greaves 2011:308; see also Hewlett 1996) Another source of variability arises from contrastive ethnotheories that guide parents in their interaction with children. In some cases, children are not seen as making much of a contribution to the larder and parents grant them great freedom and leisure. !Kung children, for example, often “pitch-in” to fetch water or firewood, process Mongongo nuts and animal hides, and prepare meals, but “it is well understood that children do these chores only if they feel like it” (Howell 2010:31). In other societies, the family’s survival and prosperity are materially affected by children’s work, and “parents exercise a considerable amount of coercive control over [their] time” (Bock 2002:211; Stieglitz et al. 2013).
Children’s Contribution to the Domestic Economy Across the spectrum of societies, we can detect two evident clusters around the issue of children’s contribution to the family economy. WEIRD societies expect little or no contribution to the family economy. Children are indulged and dependent. A handful of foraging societies where children’s development is never rushed and infants wean themselves (Lancy 2015:66–70) also form part of this cluster. Children may be valued “for their ability to make life more enjoyable” (!Kung-Shostak 1981:179), rather than the Biblical view where children are seen as resources to be used by adults “like livestock or crops” (Horn and CHILDREN’S WORK AND THE DOMESTIC ECONOMY 213 Martins 2009:43).
Societies where children are free to be children are highly egalitarian, and the idea of trying to influence another—by teaching them, for example—is unthinkable (Lewis 2008). “The Yequana do not interfere with children’s pursuits believing that “the child’s will is his motive force” (Gray 2009:507). Punishment for failing to do one’s chores is unknown (Endicott 1992:286). Youth gradually acquire the necessary skills to survive, but they are not relied upon to any degree as “providers” until their teens.
At the other extreme are societies where the developmental span may be compressed. Developmental milestones such as weaning (Hewlett et al. 2011:1172) or walking (Super 1976:290) may be accelerated. Children may be threatened with all sorts of terrors to discourage them from nursing (Williams 1969). The weaned and “rejected” toddler (Weisner and Gallimore 1977:176) can expect some attention from family members as long as he or she is focused on the task at hand (Weisner 1989:78). That is, the primary means by which the child may now satisfy its need to fit in is by being helpful. Clearly societies where LOPI is the model for children’s behavior fit this cluster. How high the bar may be raised, and how quickly, may vary, but the child readily settles into a routine of providing reliable services such as carrying water or firewood, tending livestock, and looking after a younger sibling. This is particularly true for girls, who become valued assistants to their mothers.
The transition into middle childhood (Lancy and Grove 2011) is frequently marked by the recognition of greater maturity or sense of responsibility and diligence. Many of the qualities that are attached to native terms for intelligence (Lancy 2012a:34) suggest that the child is much better at perspective taking and can better anticipate another’s intentions and desires. They contribute appropriately without bidding or guidance (Lancy 2015:201). The distinctiveness of these two patterns has been significantly advanced by the work of Barry Hewlett and his colleagues with systematic comparisons between Central African children growing up as (Aka) foragers and those born into neighboring villages of (Ngandu) farmers. While Aka infants wean themselves, and are largely free to manage their own lives, the Ngandu are weaned early, and adults exert control over how they spend their time (Hewlett et al. 2011). At six, an Ngandu child’s chores include washing clothes, fetching water, preparing food, sweeping the house, and field-work. To accelerate the transition from playing to working, a parent may instruct the child: “she took . . . a big piece of maize and she showed me, holding my hand, how to plant the corn” (Hewlett 2013:69).9 An older Ngandu woman recalls: I remember . . . when I was young and I went to the river to fish with my friends and we caught fish to eat. When I got back my mother said to me, “Why did you go fish? You do not work here at the house when I need you, and go play with your friends instead, so go away and live somewhere else.” (Hewlett 2013:75)