Sexuality

Sexuality is considered a powerful energy that may be used for good or for harm. For example, following the death of a pregnant woman, other pregnant women dance nude to propitiate angry spirits and protect their own pregnancies; a traditional ritual remedy for drought involved old women dancing nude at midnight. It is taboo for men to observe these dances, on pain of death.

The power of sexuality is hedged by numerous rules and taboos. Certain categories of relatives may not discuss sexual topics with one another, including parents with children, and nephews/nieces with their maternal uncles. Many rules specify when, where, and with whom sex may occur. A central rule is that no couple may have sex in the forest, including in the fields; violation of this rule results in a shaming ritual in which the couple are required to have sex in front of jeering and fire-wielding male elders. A permanently polluted state (zozoa) results for both the guilty parties. If they are single, it will be difficult for either to find a willing spouse. Sex may legitimately occur only in villages in which a kapok tree has been ritually planted by a Master of the Earth (Gottlieb, 1992/1996). For traditional adults, sex is at least in theory forbidden between approximately 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., when dangerous spirits are said to travel through the village; if conception were to occur at this time, the spirits might cause a monstrous infant to be born.

After developing breasts, most young girls feel modest about revealing their chests and generally wear shirts or at least brassières. However, once they begin breast-feeding their first baby, young women breast-feed readily in anyone's presence and may walk around with no shirt—the breast is no longer a sexual body part but a nutritional one.

All adults must bathe every morning in case they had sex the night before; anyone (male or female) who violates this rule is said to be polluting (zozoa) the next day and risks making sick any infant whom they contact that day. Another sign of the dangerous nature of sex for both men and women is that during sexual foreplay, both partners may only use their left hands to touch the other's genitals (Gottlieb, 1990).

In theory, girls should be virgins when they marry. Girls who have sex before they are engaged/initiated are said to be "dirty" and it is said that they may cause illness in infants they contact. It is a sin for a girl to become pregnant before she is engaged; traditionally, if she violated this rule, the newborn would have been killed, although the mother would not have been punished in any other way.This practice is no longer common. Moreover, there is no virginity check on the wedding night, and no punishment if a bride is discovered not to be a virgin.

Despite such rules and taboos, Beng openly discuss and even joke about sexuality with friends, and some categories of relatives, especially grandparents/ grandchildren, and cross-cousins. There is a small repertoire of bawdy jokes (e.g., Gottlieb & Graham, 1993/1994, pp. 267-268) and a large repertoire of sexually oriented teasing insults (which, however, sometimes become more serious insults). Sex is considered a source of pleasure as long as rules and taboos are not violated in the pursuit of such pleasure. Old people may continue to be sexually active, although they may be teased if they make the fact known.

Rural Beng profess ignorance of homosexuality (both male and female). The only known instance of cross-dressing occurs during the funerals of some respected elders, when women may dress as men to the general hilarity of all present.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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