Identity is “a person’s sense of self and relations with others” (Miller, Van Esterik, & Van Esterik. 2010. p.148). Margaret Mead’s study of gender identity development between three geographically similar but culturally different tribes “indicated that gender [identity] is culturally defined and constructed” (Miller et al. 2010. p.149). Identity is formed by culture through the mechanisms of enculturation and rites of passage. This paper will discuss, in general, how culture is essential in forming identity through the mechanisms of formal and informal enculturation and rites of passage among the Xavanti, the Makuna and North Americans.
Enculturation, “the process of transmitting culture to infants and other new members of society” (Miller et al. 2010. p.148), can occur through formal and informal learning. Typically informal enculturation begins in the home, learning about kin and how to behave towards them (Miller et al. 2010. p.202). Play is another way children are enculturated as they mimic older children and adults, learning the cultural roles and relationships in their culture. Among the Makuna, a child assists his father in making masks for a Spirit dance (Millenium ep……) and might pretend he is the one wearing it, among the Xavanti the boys play with each other (Millenium ep……) and in North America children play with toy kitchens and guns.
North American culture is unique among the three cultures discussed in that there are more influences of enculturation. The Makuna and Xavanti children have limited exposure to cultures outside of their own village, their kin and the village are often the sole source of their enculturation. North Americans, however, are inundated with different cultures and ideas from a very young age through the media. Exposure to media increases as North Americans get older age and its effects can be pervasive with regards to identity formation. Media can be used to break down gender and racial barriers, or it can be used to reinforce negative cultural stereotypes (Miller et al. 2010. p.157).
Similar to media, schools have a profound effect on the formation of North American identities, and “have the potential for social progress as well as for social control and maintenance of conformity” (Miller et al. 2010. p.158). Schools are a formal form of enculturation and while the North American concept of school does not exist among Xavanti and the Makuna, there is formalized enculturation. It is the father’s responsibility among the Makuna to teach his son how to prepare a mask for the spirit dance and the rules of the ritual...