Wood, Water and Gender: Secrets of the Village Water Jug

Written by  Larry Frolick August 10, 2009

The ubiquitous blue-striped plastic water-pot sells in Guatemala’s markets for 15 Quetzales, about $2.  Made locally, the 15-litre version weighs 35 lbs when filled with water.

A smaller 5-litre version is made for little girls to carry on their heads.  They use plastic mesh baskets to carry wet laundry back from the rivers.

The young boys, on the other hand, carry stiff things like tree branches cushioned with rags wrapped around their shoulders, and use their backs to haul huge bundles of tough grass for animal feed.  In Guatemala’s countryside, labour is gender-specific.

It may be that women are allowed to join the Jalapa Mechanical Well Diggers Association because fetching water is traditionally a woman’s task.  In contrast to the male representatives, who all wear baseball caps or sombreros to the weekly meeting however, the two female delegates appeared bareheaded.  This indicates they are working, their heads uncovered and ready to carry a load of water.

The tinaja, as the traditional water jug is known, plays a key role in village courtship.  When she is first courted by a suitor, the young girl drops her jug in innocent shock at the mere idea of a romantic relationship.  Now, of course, these jugs are made of plastic, not clay, so they bounce, rather than breaking into the thousand pieces of a lost childhood.

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