PhD Dissertations: Diane Elaine Lyons, 1992

Men's Houses: Women's Spaces -- An Ethnoarchaeological Study of Gender and Household Design in Dela, North Cameroon

This is an ethnoarchaeological examination of household design in four socio-cultural groups living in the village of Dela in northern Cameroon. These groups are the Mura, the Urza, the Wandala and the Shuwa. In particular, the study explores the relationship between household styles and cultural perception of gender roles and relationships. The theoretical approach to the study is strongly influenced by Ian Hodder's contextual archaeology and Anthony Giddens' theory of structuration. This approach presents individuals as active participants in the production and reproduction of social structures through the meaningful manipulation of material culture in the course of daily practice. Men and women's capacity or power to act is realized through the economic and social resources which they have the authority to manipulate in the negotiation of self-interests.

The construction of gender is examined through the distribution of social and economic resources of men and women in each group. All four groups are male-dominated in terms of values placed upon and control of particular resources. One resource controlled by men in all groups is household design. On the basis of interviews with household heads, ideal internal spatial orders are drawn. These ideal household plans are compared to maps and histories of the informants actual compounds. It is suggested that men represent their interpretation of the dominant perception of gender roles and relationships in internal household design.

An important consideration is that household style is part of two contexts of interaction and consequently of two design strategies. Internally visible design forms the domestic context in which co-resident men, women and children interact. Externally visible design is part of the community context. In Dela, the community is characterized by a hierarchy of male-dominated interest groups.

Of interest is the design and spatial placement of features and house furnishings controlled by women. These features draw visual attention to activities women perform in the compound which are not explicitly valued by men. It is suggested that these objects are ordered and designed by women to negotiate their value and contributions to the material and spiritual well-being of the household with their male relatives. Consequently, household design is actively engaged in the construction and reconstruction of gender in these four groups.