Sexuality

Prior to European contact, sex was explicitly taught and was inextricably tied to other valued interpersonal activities (e.g., singing and dancing). Parts of the body considered sexual (mostly genitalia) were covered during everyday activities but were exposed during ritual performances. Quite young boys and girls engaged in sex, and non-monogamous and extramarital sexual activity was frequent and institutionalized. That is, marriages sometimes involved multiple partners and pekio "secondary spouses;" and ikoa "name" relationships between men entailed an exchange of names and rights, including access to each other's wives. Additionally, 'Enana openly engaged in homosexual activity and cross-gender identification, the term mahu being used to refer to biological males who adopted the domestic roles and semiotic styles of vehine (Ferdon, 1993; Handy, 1923; Suggs, 1966).

While Catholic strictures have suppressed or driven some of these practices underground, Western mores have enlarged on others. Thus, Catholicism required that much more of the body be covered in public, outlawed dancing and sex at festivals, and instilled shame for most indigenous sexual activities. Nonetheless, other Westerners introduced sexual institutions (e.g., prostitution) that flourished in the new social order of sin and forgiveness. The result is that sexual ability is still much valued, although the transmission of skills has been inhibited and the exhibition of sexual ability muted in veils of circumspection. Thus, though more covert, youthful experimentation with sex and extramarital sexual relations are still the norm.

The mahu category now appears to be merging with that of the raerae—the cosmopolitan homosexual transvestite found in Tahiti. Thus, for instance, raerae 'Enana are more specifically homosexually oriented by contrast with older mahu who have cohabited with wives and conceived children while retaining noticeable female mannerisms. Homosexual activity among non-mahu males is also common (Kirkpatrick, 1983; Riley, 2001; Suggs, 1966).

Female homosexuality may be as prevalent but is discussed with more shame, and identification as a "lesbian" appears to be almost nonexistent. By contrast, the label employed for girls who dress and act like boys is the French term garçon manqué, used much like "tomboy" to indicate a harmless if slightly odd "stage" in life. I met only one adult woman who dressed and acted in this way; she was a well-educated social worker and was treated almost like a hao'e "foreigner."2

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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