Flora Lu, Brandie Fariss, Richard E. Bilsborrow


This article reports inter- and intra-ethnic patterns of time allocation for five ethnic groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon—the Huaorani, Quichua, Shuar, Cofán, and Secoya—to test for general cross-cultural differences as well as the idea that females and males occupy the private and public sphere, respectively. The concept of public versus private spheres posits that women have less economic and political power and occupy the domain of domestic and individual affairs, while men occupy the public sphere that correlates with civic affairs and work at higher social scales and in spaces outside the home. The research team collected almost 24,000 spot-check time allocation observations in eight indigenous communities from February to June, 2001, representing a large cross-cultural data set. Unlike many previous studies of time allocation, which use standard significance testing to detect differences in means, our description of time allocation among these ethnic groups utilizes confidence interval graphs to interpret the statistical significance of differences observed. We find remarkable consistency in time spent in categories such as “social,” “individual,” “domestic,” and “subsistence” among these groups, despite the variation in their social organization, histories of contact, integration into the market, and population size. A few consistent gender divisions of time use were found that support the private/public sphere characterization, namely that for all groups, females spent significantly more time in domestic activities, and males spent more time in commercial production (except in the case of the Cofán). However, other time-use categories corresponding to the private (i.e., individual and subsistence) and public (i.e., social and outside the community) spheres did not support a gender division, nor was support found for the hypothesis that the relegation of females to the private sphere would be more apparent for gender hierarchical groups and less so for more egalitarian groups. We posit that dichotomies of male/female, public/private, and political/domestic oversimplify boundaries that are varied, dynamic, and often indistinguishable.


Time allocation, gender, indigenous peoples, Amazon, Ecuador

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