The Social and Sexual Roles of Hima Women which focuses on the leisured lovemaking of the Hima women of Ankole in Uganda examines and explains a set of practices which has never before been researched by any other writer. It is written in opposition to Veblen's statement in The Theory of the Leisure Class that in many tribal societies women are drudges and men form a leisure class. Hima women are denied access to cattle: this separation in a society which prohibits agriculture and small livestock rearing, places them in an occupationally neutralised position.
This separation results from a latent rivalry for cow-milk between calves and babies, the reproductive capacities of women being seen as a danger to those of cattle. The author examines the whole structure of Hima society and way of life in terms of this separation. He explains how it is necessary for men, since women are kept off the essential tasks of animal husbandry and defence, to collaborate in the performance of these tasks with members of their own or of other house holds who reside together in camps. Wives play an important role in this collaboration - their sexual favours are made available to camp associates and thus consolidate relationships within both the paternal household and the camp as a whole. In return for this a married woman is fed generously, defended and relieved of any hard work.
The author examines in detail the successive stages in the life cycle of women, each stage being shaped by the opposition between womanhood and cattle. His step-by-step description of the wedding ceremonies, illuminated by a section of fi ne photographs, provides a fascinating study of ritual symbolism, a symbolism which, being attached to items of everyday use among the Hima, is related to all aspects of their lives.
Yitzchak Elam is a professor in Social Anthropology in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.