Childhood (Explaining Human Culture)

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Exercise ID: 1.27
Class size: Any
Level(s): I II
Source: Produced by HRAF

Learning Objectives

Does the exercise compare 2 or more cultures? Yes
Subject selection: Multiple subjects specified by teacher
Subjects/OCMS, if applicable: Childhood
Region selection: pre-selected
Region, if applicable: Various
Culture selection: Student chooses from pre-selected list
Cultures/OWCs, if applicable: Wogeo, Tongans, Kpelle, Gusii, Turkana, Libyan Bedouin, Ingalik, Mbuti, Guarani, Pawnee, Tewa Pueblos, Oijbwa, Rwala Bedouin, Ifugao, Tiv, Saami, Copper Inuit
Samples: SCCS

Classroom Guide

Instructions for navigating eHRAF included? Yes
Assignments for students to complete in groups? Yes
Assignments for students to complete on their own? Yes
Instructions for Microfiche version? No

Erik Ringen, Carol R. Ember, Emily Pitek, Human Relations Area Files

These eHRAF exercises are designed to accompany the module Childhood in Explaining Human Culture. This module gives a general picture of what we have learned from cross-cultural research about childhood, including kin relationships, socialization practices, and gender differences in child behavior.  At the end, the module briefly discusses what we do not yet know.

The first set of exercises is Level I; the second set Level II. The Level II exercises may be best done as group exercises by assigning each student a few cultures each and then tabulating the results.

Level I

  1. Prior to reading the module Childhood, students should reflect on these questions individually, in groups, or as a class; be sure to write down ideas and question answers. After reading the Childhood module and completing the subsequent exercises, revisit your initial reflections and examine your predictions, assumptions, and expectations.

Note: The major topics that you are about to explore are caretakers of children (mothers, nursing and weaning, co-sleeping, fathers, alloparents, grandparents and siblings) infant/child mortality, childhood socialization (gender differences, subsistence and economy, punishment), and behavior and activities (aggression and cooperation, child’s work, child’s play).

1.1 Picking a few of the topics mentioned above, how similar or different do you expect childhood to be  in nonindustrial societies compared with industrial societies?

1.2 What type of factors might influence cross-cultural variation and similarities regarding these topics?

1.3 Reflect on or discuss how your own childhood experience would be similar to or different from the experiences of children in other societies that you will read about.

  1. Typical patterns of child-care in nonindustrial societies are identified in the Childhood module, but not all cultures will conform to these patterns. Identify the cross-cultural research findings discussed in the module regarding child-care. In particular, focus on mothers, nursing and weaning, contact, and co-sleeping.

2.1 Read the following excerpts, which provide examples of maternal child-care in four nonindustrial societies

Wogeo: Hogbin, Herbert Ian, “A New Guinea infancy: From conception to weaning in Wogeo” Pg. 298

Tongans: Lee, Helen Morton, “Becoming Tongan: An ethnography of childhood” Pg. 60

Kpelle: Erchak, Gerald Michael, “Full respect: Kpelle children in adaptation” Pg. 108

Gusii: LeVine, Robert Alan, “Infant care: Cultural norms and interpersonal environment” Pg. 145

2.2 How do these examples align with the cross-cultural research findings that you identified from the module?

  1. As discussed in the Childhood module, some child-care patterns vary by subsistence type. For example, pastoralist cultures are generally thought to have lower paternal involvement than hunter-gatherers. For this exercise, identify what cross-cultural research has found regarding child-care and subsistence type, as discussed in the Childhood module.

3.1 Read the following passages about the Turkana (pastoralists), Libyan Bedouin (pastoralists), Ingalik (hunter-gatherers), and the Mbuti (hunter-gatherers).

Turkana: Gulliver, P.H. “A preliminary survey of the Turkana: A report compiled for the government of Kenya” Pg. 188-A

Libyan Bedouin: Peters, Emrys L. “The Bedouin of Cyrenaica: Studies in personal and corporate power” Pg. 204

Ingalik: Osgood, Cornelius. “Ingalik Social Structure” Pg. 177 & 178

Mbuti: Turnbull, Colin M. “The Mbuti Pygmies: An Ethnographic Survey” Pg. 178-D

3.2 Do the excerpts on the Ingalik and Maori confirm the findings of cross-cultural research on hunter-gatherers? To what extent do the Turkana and Bedouin confirm the findings on pastoralists?

3.3 Is there a difference between the hunter-gatherer and pastoralist cultures?

  1. Grandparents are typically warm and indulgent towards their grandchildren across cultures. However, there is still a large amount of variation. Read the following excerpts for descriptions of grandparent’s relationships with grandchildren among three different cultures:

Guarani: Watson, Virginia Drew. “Notes on the kinship systems of the Cayua Indians” Pg. 14 (last paragraph)

Pawnee: Dorsey, George Amos “Notes on Skidi Pawnee society” Pg: 94.

Tewa Pueblos: Jacobs, Sue-Ellen. “Being a grandmother in the Tewa world” Pg. 71-73

4.1 Compare and contrast the relationship children have with grandparents among these cultures.Are there any similarities or surprising differences? Be sure to incorporate the following subjects in your comparison: child socialization and education, punishment, and child care.

Level II

  1. Cross-culturally, corporal punishment of children is associated with greater “social complexity,” a characteristic that includes social stratification, population size, and degree of dependence on agriculture. In this exercise, you will read excerpts regarding punishment in six cultures, and then assess the social complexity of each culture.

5.1 Read the following passages from eHRAF World Cultures regarding punishment of children, and record the relevant information (e.g., presence/absence of corporal punishment, frequency of punishment) in the table provided below:

Note: See the Browse Cultures section of the Practical Guide to Using eHRAF to find out how to locate the culture summaries.

Ojibwa: Hilger, M. Inez (Mary Inez) “Chippewa child life and its cultural background” Pg: 58

Rwala Bedouin: Musil, Alois “The manners and customs of the Rwala Bedouins” Pg: 255-256

Ifugao: Villaverde, Juan. “The Ifugaos of Quiangan and vicinity” Pg: 245

Tiv: Bohannan, Paul. “Three source notebooks in Tiv ethnography” Pg: 382

Saami: Pelto, Pertti, J. “Individualism in Skolt Lapp society” Pg: 98-100

Copper Inuit: Jenness, Diamond “The life of the Copper Eskimos” Pg: 169-170

Culture Corporal Punishment Social Complexity











Copper Inuit



5.2 Now that you have a complete table, do your findings conform to the cross-cultural finding that more complex societies have more corporal punishment? Did you notice any contradictions or additional subtleties?


Don’t forget to look back at your reflection from the beginning of this exercise!