The Corn Mother: Women’s Roles in Native Agrarian Societies

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.

American Corn Belt Farmer

American Corn Belt Farmer

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.

The Corn Mother

The Corn Mother

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.

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One thought on “The Corn Mother: Women’s Roles in Native Agrarian Societies

  1. I really like the idea of re-remembering the women of history. Food is one of the objects that is usually associated with female, out of it come many different stereotypes, yet the simple act of re-remembering unshadows women’s contributions in society.

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