Sexuality

Malinowski's book The Sexual Life of Savages shocked and fascinated the post-Victorian world. However, some of the passages in this work are less well founded than Malinowski's usually careful and accurate accounts of Trobriand life. It seems that, like many other before and after him, he fell victim, to the "South Sea sexual paradise" paradigm which had been started by Cook and other early explorers, and which was partially based on fact. Sexuality in Trobriand culture was probably less governed by taboos than was true for Europe when Malinowski was writing—today, the opposite is the case because Western sexual rules have become much less strict. Malinowski claimed that "children have real sex." This is a gross misrepresentation, most likely due to the fact that he, like many others, underestimated the physical maturation process. Girls and boys who look as if they are 10 years old to European eyes may already be 14 or 16; it is necessary to have proper birth dates or to carry out dental checks, as dentition follows a biological clock and is much less affected by environmental factors than is somatic growth, the development of secondary sexual characteristics, etc. Malinowski also claimed that adolescent sex is free from jealousy. We had a number of male patients in our long-term project who were seriously wounded because they had had alleged or actual sexual contacts with the girlfriends of the aggressors. As Bell-Krannhals found, there is a lot of indirect courtship going on, a fact which Malinowski also acknowledges. The sex expeditions that he described have probably always been, like female gang rape (katuyausi) of individual men, rather rare events. However, it is true that during harvest time girls and women take liberties, like publicly touching men in their genital area, which are normally taboo.

The most inexplicable extreme position adopted by Malinowski was his strongly defended belief that Trobriand Islanders were ignorant of the biological connection between sexual intercourse and pregnancy. This issue has been dealt with extensively (see Delany, 1986; Schlesier, 1979). It is sufficient to note here that the Trobrianders, who are pig breeders (young boars are castrated) and very intelligent observers of nature, have probably always known that intercourse is a sine qua non for pregnancy—in fact it is hardly conceivable that any society, past or present, was ignorant of this fact. However, it is true that Trobriand Islanders believe that the soul (baloma) of a deceased member of the matriclan must enter the conceived embryo to allow it to develop into a real child.

Sexual contact between unmarried people requires careful and sensitive courtship, often through (female) go-betweens and the employment of love magic. Intercourse (-ulatila-) is usually in a sitting position; the woman moves onto the man's lap. Kissing and some other forms of sexual contact were not very common; however, this has changed recently. Lack of sexual arousal and orgasm in women do not seem to be a common problem. It can be roughly estimated that the frequency of intercourse among the sexually active population is about twice weekly, similar to that in Western countries. Homosexuality was absent or extremely rare in traditional Trobriand culture; men who were not sexually interested in women stayed without partner. Lesbian intercourse was most likely equally rare. Today, homosexuality has been introduced by white men. The Trobriand Islanders know some basic facts about AIDS and are very worried that this deadly disease may be introduced—it is already responsible for most hospital death in the capital Port Moresby. Pedophilia was not an issue in the past; a person carrying out sexual acts with children would have been controlled by public disapproval. Taboos against incest (sova, kwe-suvasova) stipulate that sex between brother and sister is strictly avoided; sexual contacts between other members of the nuclear family are also forbidden, but may sometimes occur, as do sexual liaisons and even marriages between women and men of the same clan, which is violating a basic but somehow negotiable incest rule. Malinowski's account of incest taboos and their possible breaches is still basically valid today.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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