More: Ari, Banaro, Baruya, Binim-Kukusmin, Busama, Dani, Darabi, Dobu Isl., Eipo, Etoro, Foi, Gebusi, Huli, Jaquai, Kaluli, Keraki, Kewa, Kimam, Kiwai, Koko, Kwoma, Lesu, Manus, Marind Anim, New Britain, New Ireland, Normanby Islanders, Paiela, “Sambia”, Trobrianders, Vanatinai, Wogeo






Mead (1948, 1937:p26)[1] observed the Arapesh girl is betrothed at age 6 to 8 to a boy about 6 years her senior. Living with her husband’s family, the relationship “repeats the parent-child pattern” (p39). During the betrothal, there may be “overt sex expression” but not intercourse. About sexual activity in childhood, Mead appears inconclusive. The Arapesh seem not to fear sex play, but do believe that (pubertal) growth and sexual activity are mutually exclusive[2]. Particularly, the breasts would remain “small, stiff and inhospitable”, opposing the female ideal of pendulent mammae. Masturbation is said to be infrequent in benefit of a specific oral hedonism, and due to a taboo on even casual genital touching. Oral (labial) pleasure must not be mixed with genital life, and, despite its childish character, carries over into adult sexuality. Labial (oral) play is discouraged after initiation (boys) or after labour (girls).


At pubescence, “The ordeals consist of rubbing the boy’s penis and scrotum with stinging nettles (Falanga) and slashing the boy’s glans penis with a bamboo razor (Lefin). Both procedures are secrets not to be revealed to women, under pain of death”[3].



“According to custom, at the time of puberty a boy was no longer permitted to take sexual pleasure from his own genitals and was taught to perform the purification rituals with which to cleanse himself if he were to breach the taboos. The young boy is taught by the older boys how to use the stinging nettles to cleanse his penis and the fragment of sharpened bamboo to insert in his urethra to ritually cleanse himself through bleeding. He alone was responsible for monitoring his own adherence to the taboos. The result of any shortcomings would be evident for all to see by his failure to 'grow'” (Banks, 1993:p82)[4].


(see also Bumbita Arapesh)





Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Jun 2005


[1] Mead, M. (1948) Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.New York: W. Morrow Co. Mead, M. (1937) The Arapesh of New Guinea, in Mead, M. (Ed.) Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples. New York & London: McGraw-Hill Book Co., p20-50 See also Fox, J. R. (1962) Sibling incest, J Sociol 13:128-50, p143-4

[2] Cf. Banks, C. (1993) Women in Transition: Social Control in Papua New Guinea. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, p82, ch.4 []

[3] Tuzin, D. (2001) Social Complexity in the Making: A Case Study among the Arapesh of New Guinea. Florence, KY: Routledge, p29

[4] Op.cit.