Sexuality

Sexuality is considered natural and healthy under normal conditions. However, the bodily fluids of women may endanger or pollute a male's state of health. Premarital and extramarital sex are both widely practiced, yet they are always carried out with discretion and at a distance from the shared domestic areas (Chernela, 2002).

Some Tukanoan men may view women as divisive and chaotic influences, especially through their uncontrolled critical gossip. Tukanoans place extreme value on style of speech, and men distinguish between the eloquent decorous thought and speech of men and the undisciplined unthinking chatter of women. Lack of restraint, in the male view, extends to female sexuality: woman is the seductress, the seeker of sex, and, to use Murphy's phrase, "the reservoir of libidity."

Tukanoans appear to present an exception to the gender stereotype in which men are endowed with great, if not irrepressible, sexual appetites and, relatedly, are "natural sexual aggressors." Tukanoan models of sexuality are the opposite. Men view female sexuality as abundant and women as uncontrollably licentious. In contrast, they see themselves as rigorously protective of their own fragile chastity (Chernela, 1993, 1997, 2002).

Motives in myths suggest that woman's anatomy is seen by men as threatening. The ravenous female of an important myth devours a man's penis in her vagina. The literature on the Northwest Amazon mentions male purging rituals associated with cultural emphasis on strenuous mental and physical control, including control of sexual impulses. Woman's body endangers and defiles the intellectual rigor and spiritual discipline practiced by men. In short, the dominant male ideology associates men with the head and the cerebral functions of speech, intellect, and leadership. Women are associated with the body and the sensate.

Gender imagery is a subset of the larger ontological duality of self and other. Together, the two sexes constitute a totality, irreconcilably polarized by the fact that each confronts the other as object. There is therefore no single "conscious model" for gender; instead, men and women have different though complementary ways of representing gender.

Women do not see themselves as ravenous. As men claim to feel endangered by women, so women feel endangered by men. Women claim that the intelligence they once possessed was lost in ancestral times when a man disguised as a woman stole the powerful head ornaments (siompuli) from his mother-in-law, divesting women of their control over certain types of knowledge and authority. Women say that nowadays they do not "know" but that at one time they did (Chernela, 1997).

Complementing the male image of female as body is the female image of the male as expropriator of powers associated with the head. This opposition reflects the political relation of the sexes: males dominate descent— an ideology of reproduction—and fear loss of their reproductive powers. Females "speak too much"—exercise social sanctions through gossip—and fear loss of intellect and, ultimately, of political power. Each sex views the other as a dangerous usurper.

In fact, female sexuality is scarce to the extreme among Tukanoans. The extent of this scarcity rests on the simultaneous practices of linguistic exogamy and patrilo-cality, and on strongly restrictive, intensely enforced conditions for suitable marriage partners. For men, as we will see, the most proximate women are the wives of his uncles and sibmates. For an umarried woman, the most proximate males are sibmates with whom sexual relations are prohibited.

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