Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 4 » Status of Older People: Tribal Societies - Longevity, The Cultural Construction Of Elders And Older Adulthood, Gender And Age, Old Age In Myth And Folklore

Status of Older People: Tribal Societies - The Cultural Construction Of Elders And Older Adulthood

age aging social elderhood social age persons

The construct of a stage of elderhood or of later adulthood appears to exist in all tribal societies and is largely based on combining social and functional definitions of one’s place in the life cycle. Often there is a distinction between elderhood as a marker of social maturity in relation to others in the community contrasted to boundaries of old age that can take some of the criteria of elderhood and combine them with how a person’s physical being and behavior reflects the biological aging process. Elderhood on the one hand is a relative status marker, accomplished by passing through ritual transitions, and is not necessarily tied to extended chronological years. Persons who do not pass these ritual markers will not be considered elders no matter what their age. Among Australian aboriginal tribes as well as in Africa, persons could enter the beginning ranks of elderhood in their early thirties and proceed over time and through ritual passage into different elder statuses.

Older adulthood on the other hand links changes in the persons physical being (reduction of work capacity, beginning of menopause) with social changes (such as the birth of grandchildren) to create a culturally defined sense of oldness, which like elderhood, can have various gradations that can even extend beyond the point of death. Steve Albert and Maria Cattell make a helpful distinction between old age, ancients, and ancestors. The first notion of old age typically begins in tribal societies between the fourth and fifth decades of life, with a change in social/economic role being the most common beginning marker (Glascock and Feinman).

Factors such as invalid status and senility are quite rare as primary indicators of a general designation of old, since tribal culture begins using such labels before such changes are likely. However, many tribal societies also recognize those truly ancient adults who show sharp declines in functional skills as a different category of old, which may lead to a dramatic loss of status and even neglect and actions that hasten a person’s death (Glascock).

Ancestorhood is another social category very common among tribal cultures. In such societies, whether in the Amazon or Sub-Saharan Africa, ancestral spirits remain part of the family system and have the ability to affect the lives of their descendants, both for good and evil. In some societies, such as the Tiriki of Kenya, ancestral spirits are perceived to be the mystical source of all human life and vitality (Sangree). Very old adults that are close to death are thought to have a special connection to ancestors and may ask them to intercede on behalf of their family, or even call upon them to curse a kinsperson who is acting badly.

Status of Older People: Tribal Societies - Gender And Age [next] [back] Status of Older People: Tribal Societies - Longevity

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