Papua New Guinea




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The Kwoma represents the only culture rated less restrictive for early female childhood, and one of the very few (4) in which this is the case for late childhood; apparently, there is also a reversal of the double standard after late childhood.

Whiting and Reed (1938:p198)[1] sketch the sexual atmosphere of the Kwoma:


“Sexual taboos, imposed early in the child’s life, underlie the later restrictions on marriage and philandering. A boy must not have an erection in public, particularly in the presence of his sisters, who will beat his penis with a stick if they observe it. A child of either sex caught fingering his genitals is told to stop, since the member belongs to its future spouse. The most important sexual restriction imposed at this time [childhood] is against looking at the genitals of the opposite sex. This is considered a sexual advance […]”[2].


When alone in the bush Kwoma boys scrape the penis with nettles.

Later, Whiting (1941)[3] would write on Kwoma sexual development in somewhat more detail. Infants finger their genitalia (p26-7), though masturbation is not observed.


“Kwoma boys frequently play a game with sexual connotations: one boy chases another, throws him down, and simulates copulation with him. Other boys in the group then take advantage of the aggressor and pretend to copulate with him until four or five boys line up in this way all laughing and yelling with enjoyment. Then, when the bottom boy has broken free and the chain disintegrates, there follows a hubbub in which each boy calls another his wife and claims to have impregnated “her”. Adolescents often join the game, and, when they do, the children have great difficulty defending their “honor”. When this game was the fad, one or another group of boys played it almost every day for a period of over a month” (p50).


The girl is reared more strictly, although “Kwoma culture defines [looking at opposite sex genitals] as immoral only on the part of the boy”, and both are punished for masturbation. Effectively so, the boys do not even seem to touch the genitalia in urination, and all denied the practice “with considerable embarrassment”. This pattern may be a prelude on adolescent restrictions.

“A girl’s menarche in itself removes her from the status of child and puts her into a class of “sexy” persons, children of either sex being considered both uninterested in sex and uninteresting sexually” (Williamson, 1983:p18)[4]. The Kwoma traditionally married at pubescence (Bowden, 1983:p754)[5]. Boys practice periodical penile blood-letting in order to ensure growth (Whiting, 1941:63-4). This is done collectively in boy’s initiation, Handapia Sugwia.










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] Whiting, J. W. M. & Reed, S. W. (1938) Kwoma culture, Oceania 9:170-216; Ford, C. S. & Beach, F. A. (1951) Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper & Row, p180

[2] Also quoted by Peet, M. (1960) Opvoeding bij Primitieve Volken. Tilburg [Holland]: Zwijsen, p72

[3] Whiting, J. W. M. (1941) Becoming a Kwoma: Teaching and Learning in a New Guinea Tribe. New Haven: YaleUniversity Press

[4] Williamson, M. H. (1983) Sex relations and gender relations: understanding Kwoma conception, Mankind 14,1:13-23

[5] Bowden, R. (1983) Kwoma Terminology and Marriage Alliance: The ‘Omaha’ Problem Revisited, Man, New Series 18,4:745-65