Growing Up Sexually




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Cook (1907:p58-9; 1909)[1] writes about the Bororó:


“The betrothal is consummated by the bridegroom-to-be, depositing at the entrance to the hut of the parents of the baby girl whom he desires shall one day become his wife, some much prized game that he has had the “good luck” to capture. The parents of course learn, either directly or indirectly, what his wishes are in making them this valuable present; and if they do not object to the nuptials, their little daughter is reserved for him. Again, some day, after the child has reached the age of ten or twelve years, the groom-to-be deposits at the entrance to her hut a highly prized fish or animal which he has had the good fortune to capture, then retires to his own hut. The father of the little maid now takes her by the wrist-- always the wrist-- conducts her to the entrance of the hut of her betrothed husband and delivers her to him, and she becomes his lawful, wedded wife without further ceremony. He may be forty or fifty years of age, and have already a wife and married children, though, nevertheless, allowed to have two wives because he has slain the jaguar, or performed some other feat of valor, or because he is a captain, having passed middle life” (1909).


“Even now the ideal marriage is one contracted between a grown man and a small girl. He contributes to the economy of the house, makes ornaments for his young wife, defends her from sexual assaults by other men, and, what is most important, he is the one responsible for the physical development of the girl. The Bororo believe that the growth of the breasts is the result of the man’s handling the sexual organs of his young wife. A good husband will try to enlarge the opening of the hymen with his fingers so that the first intercourse will be less painful, or, if he was particularly good and patient, without any pain whatsoever. Only then, after defloration, can the first menstruation be expected at the next moon” (Levak, 1973:p77-8)[2]. Werner (1986) as cited by Frayser (1994:p206-7)[3] also states that the Bororo of Brazil think that intercourse with a mature man causes menstruation to occur. This idea is in opposition to Bororó ideas on the formation of boys. After puberty, thus when boys are still “soft and incompletely formed” masturbation and sexual intercourse may deplore them of rakare, a life force slowly accumulating in childhood and adolescence (Crocker, 1969:p241)[4].


Baldus (1937:[p28])[5]:


“The father tells the son and the mother the daughter what people have to do during coitus”. When he hears what position is taken by the whites in this act, he is startled at first and later says with mild indignation: “But what weight!”


“Sometimes […] the Bororo make the children obey by threatening that some animals, owls or wolfs, will come and eat their sexual organs” (p103). Every descendant of the female sex has the right to live in the maternal home, not only before, but also after marriage; the one of male sex loses this right as soon as he reaches puberty (Colbacchini, 1942)[6]. Boys and initiated at ages 12-14, girls are not. At this initiation, the boy is referred to as the “wife” of the initiator, but no sexual connotations seem to be implied  (Levak, p98).


“The boy is given to his initiator by this announcement. “In the case of initiation the words do not have sexual implications but merely point out the structural similarity of the two actions. Just as a wife is given to her husband, who will then continue to care for her, provide food for her, and teach her, the boy is given to his initiator. The continuous companionship anticipated between the two yorubodare is parallel to that between husband and wife. When the Bororo were asked to explain this point, they repeated that the boy is the initiator’s wife, just as the initiator is the boy’s husband, his son, and his father--his yorubodare. The meaning is more apparent in other variants of the speech which do not start with akoredujereo but with aerubodareo, “this is your yorubodare”; or when akoredureo, “this is your husband”, is occasionally added. The rest of the speech refers to the new role the initiator will assume toward the boy”.


More references on this custom were provided by Martius (1844 :p111-31[7]; cf. Bloch, 1933:p105[8]; Greenberg, 1988:p26)[9].






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

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Cook, W. A. (1909) Through the Wilderness of Brazil by Horse, Canoe and Float. New York: American Tract Society. Cook, W. A. (1907) The Bororó Indians of Matto Grosso, Brazil. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution: “The girl is betrothed before reaching the age of eight or ten, and married at from ten to fourteen or even younger. She becomes betrothed by her would-be husband presenting to her parents a specially fine fish, or some animal whose flesh is much esteemed, he of course having made known in some way what he wishes in return for such a present. When he would take his betrothed to himself he makes a second similar present to her parents and they deliver her to him in his hut. Parents try to betroth their daughters while still young. We saw no large families, the largest number of children any one mother had being three. Extremely early marriage and the fact that the wife is driven to the baehytu whenever she displeases her lord may be reasons for small families”.

[2] Op.cit.

[3] Op.cit.

[4]Crocker, Ch. (1969) Men’s house associates among the Eastern Bororo, Southwest J Anthropol 25:236-60

[5] Baldus, H. (1937) The social position of the woman among the Eastern Bororo, Brasiliana 101:112-62, 323-30

[6] Colbacchini, A. (1942) The Eastern Bororo Orarimogodogue of the Eastern Plateau of Mato Grosso. Rio de Janiero,

Brazil: Companhia Editora Nacional

[7] Martius, K. F. P. von (1844) Das Naturell, die Krankheiten, das Arztthum und die Heilmittel der Urbewohner Brasiliens. Munich: C. Wolf

[8] Bloch, I. (1933) Anthropological Studies in the Strange Sexual Practices of All Races in All Ages. New York: Anthropological Press

[9] Greenberg, D. F. (1988) The Construction of Homosexuality. Chicago & London: Chicago University Press