My other English class, When Corn Mother Meets King Corn, has often discussed Native women’s roles in the planting, growing, and preparing of food – specifically corn. But the United States’ 19th-century farming narrative puts men one the front line of the field rather than women. This contrast prompted me to think of men versus women according to agriculture.
Historian Colin Calloway examines the duties of women in pre-Lewis and Clark Native American societies in his book, One Vast Winter Count. Women were incredibly central to the production of food not in the “kitchen” per se, but instead, out in the fields. An ideology evolved that entrusted women to the role of cultivator. They were the ones planting the seeds and tilling the ground.
Calloway tells of the Caddoan people of the Arkansas River Valley who, tradition says, moved westward to a new world. The women “carried corn and pumpkin seeds; the men, pipes and flints” (Calloway, 105). Hunting and gathering, therefore, were generally the duties assigned to men.
Women’s nurturing and caring of children paralleled their nurturing and caring of corn. Singing fertility songs, like lullabies, was common practice to ensure the spiritual integrity and presence in the plants. This aspect of farming, in addition to the hands-and-knees planting work, was performed by women.