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“Young Seniang children publicly simulate adult copulation without being reproved; older boys masturbate freely and play sexual games with little girls, but the boys are warned not to copulate on the grounds that this behavior would weaken them” (Ford and Beach, 1951:p189). “On Malekula girls are married at six or eight” (cited by Sumner, 1906:p382)[1]. Prepubertal male masturbation and heterosexual play were “common” (Deacon; see also Herdt, 1984:p12)[2].


“Sexual intercourse before puberty is strongly condemned by parents as being weakening. Nevertheless, masturbation and “playing” with the other sex are common among young boys. Homosexuality among boys, on the other hand, is apparently very rare. One boy at Benaur tried to make another his boy-lover, but the latter retorted: “Do you think I’m a woman!” and gave him a thrashing”.


Parental intercourse is shielded from the child’s eye:


“For sexual intercourse the parents will wait until the children are asleep, and then the woman will cross over to her husband’s mat. Unlike boys, who leave the house and go to sleep in the amel when they are about twelve years old, girls remain living and sleeping at home until they are married and go to their husbands. […] If it is at night-time, the parents wait until the children are asleep, and then the wife goes across the room to her husband’s sleepingmat. If they wish to have relations at any other time each of the children is told to go off on some distant errand, so that their parents may be left alone. It is considered bad for children to see any man or woman in the act of coition, and in the normal course of events this would never happen. A man is ashamed, too, should his son see his penis through some mischance, such as his nambas slipping down. After a girl is married it is indecent for her father to see her genitals, for only her husband now has the right to do so, and should any other man see them, through her having exposed herself indecently, it is her father’s duty to reprimand her severely. The line drawn between decency and indecency differs greatly from our conventions. A small boy will give a realistic imitation of copulation in public without being reproved[3], but it would be regarded as indecent and suggestive were he to point out to a woman that there was a cockroach or a piece of mud on her skirt” (Deacon, p155).


“If, as is very general, a marriage is contracted before the girl has attained puberty, it may not be consummated for some two or three years”. Nelaai signifies marriage in the legal sense, and may be used of the marriage of girls before puberty, when the consummation of the marriage is postponed for some years. Imi signifies to consummate a “child” marriage, and it is used also for performing the ritual of the “legal” marriage together with its subsequent consummation in adult marriage.

The expression Iap (to have intercourse with a woman) is an indecent word, used only by men, and it cannot be used openly except among men; it is never spoken in the presence of a woman or of small boys and girls.












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

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Sumner, W. G. (1906) Folkways. Boston [etc.]: Ginn & Co. Citing Austral Assoc Adv Sci, 1892, p704

[2] Herdt, G. H. (1984) Ritualized Homosexuality in the Male Cults of Melanesia, 1862-1982: An Introduction, in Herdt, G. H. (Ed.) Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press, p1-81

[3] This would seem to contradict the statement made above, that normally a child would not see a man and woman in the act of coition. It is probable that in Seniang, as in our own society, the actual knowledge of small boys concerning sexual matters is very much greater than what is theoretically supposed.—C. H. W. [eHRAF addition]