Gender Division in Pedi Society

Male Superiority

©Dr Peter Magubane
A Pedi man overseeing male initiates during the initiation ceremony.
Pedi culture traditionally distinguished sharply between the sexes at all levels. This affected every sphere of their lives, from the knots to tie their clothes with men using reef-knots and women granny-knots — to initiation, status in the family and community, and division of labour. Women did agricultural work, and men and boys work related to cattle. Male superiority was reinforced in daily life: for example at meals men and initiated boys sat together and were served first, and women ate with the other children.

Legally women were, and often still are, perpetual minors, and had to remain under a male guardian. When women married they assumed their husbands' status. Thus a woman born a commoner could become a noble on marriage and attain a superior status to her elder sister, who then had to serve her, A could never rise above the level of her brother. Inheritance and succession were passed down through the male line, and women lived at their husbands' homesteads. This is, sometimes, still the case today, Many families, however, prefer to allow their daughters rather than their sons to inherit their fields and residential stands, since daughters - especially those undistracted by the obligations of marriage — are thought to be able to look after their parents better than sons can.

Traditional Pedi culture was more extreme than most other male-orientated societies in distinguishing between the sexes, tending to attribute amoral qualities and asocial behaviour to women. The inherent compulsion to do evil - witchcraft 'of the night' was associated exclusively with women, and was passed from mother to daughter. Witchcraft 'of the day', however, was learnt, could be acquired by anyone, male or female, and was used only occasionally to harm someone.