Growing Up Sexually





Index AfricaCongo Mbuti

Also: Zaire

Featured: Lega, Mangbetu, Lalia-Ngolu, Bahuana, Batetela, Nkundo Mongo, Mbuti, Bala, Lele, Bangala



Specific prohibitions on prepubertal coitus are noted by Schebesta (II, p345)[1] in his study on the BambutiPygmies: “Magutu, die geweckte Mombutin vom Oruendu, sagte aus, dass den Mädchen der Geschlechtsverkehr vor der ersten Menstruation verboten sei, doch kümmerten sich die Kinder wenig darum, wenn nicht die Mütter auf die Töchter achten würden”. He communicated this before (1936:p97)[2]: “Magutu versicherte, daß dasUrobo” [free premarital intercourse] under Kindern (vor den Pubertät) verpönt wäre, und geandet were, leider trieben auch solche Kinder ohne Wissen der Mutter Unzug”.


Turnbull (1965:p134)[3] on the West Central African Mbuti:


“[…] the bamelima spend most of their time either inside the hut or else off with an instructress, in the forest. Inside the hut they are taught the songs of the elima by any older women who care to take part in the instruction. In the forest, I was told by a number of women, young and old, the girls are instructed in the arts of motherhood. This presumably includes such aspects of sexual life as are still unknown to them, which are probably few, but also use of the various herbs and treatments that a woman must know to insure fertility, an abundance of milk, easy childbirth, and abortion if necessary”.


Mbuti children play house, wherein “[…] the young couple lie [sic] down together and pretend to make love”. In the bopi (children’s territory) (Turnbull, [1961] 1962:p128-30)[4], Mbuti children explore every possibility of adult social organisation. “Adult activities are learned from an early age by observation and imitation, for the Pygmies live an open life. Their life is as open inside their tiny one-room leaf huts as it is in the middle of a forest clearing, and so the children have no need of the sex instruction which forms so large a part of the teaching given to village boys during the nkumbi” (p226). “They do not merely confine themselves, dutifully, to building miniature endu and “playing house”, nor does imitating adult activities such as the hunt or the gathering of nuts and roots and berries, or the making of bark-cloth, or even copulation, interest them long. These are mere techniques […]. More fascinating, as pastimes, are imitations of how the wide diversity of territorial, kinship, age, and sex roles are played” (Turnbull, 1978:p185)[5]. Thus, “[a]lready in the bopithey will be aware of the nature of sexual relationships between boys and girls and will have imitated and ridiculed an extraordinary number of variations on this theme, working their way through every kind of interhuman relationship […]” (p189). At menarche the girl may have intercourse in the elima or Alima hut (1965:p132-40; 1957:p208; for a specific note on the elima, see Turnbull, 1960)[6]. “Sexual experimentation is certainly a major element in the elima, but it is combined with a very definite move to widen the social horizons of the girls, and to redirect their attentions into what the parental and grandparental generations consider proper horizons. There are also certain rules about intercourse in the elima hut. The senior girls, or instructors, and the “mother” guide the bamelima in all this”.


“Parents were constantly complaining of the noise their children made while engaged upon amorous expeditions; they preferred being able to turn a deaf ear. One youth went too far when he called out from inside his girl friend’s hut to the group outside (which included her parents), and begged them to continue singing because “it is so sweet to [make love] to song, just like in the elima hut”. His phrase for lovemaking was somewhat intimately descriptive, and brought eries of protest and his immediate ejection from the hut. […] By and large all that the parents can complain about in the sexual life of their children is the noise. If the noise becomes too much, however, it then becomes a matter for the band” (W.S., p203, 204).


To legitimise adolescent freedom, “[…] the Mbuti simply denied the fact and said that although youths could have sex whenever they wanted (within minimal bounds of privacy and respect for others) children would never be born until the youths were married” (1983:p43)[7]. According to Putnam, this would actually be true.

During boy’s initiation rites (nkumbi), “[s]ex instruction takes place spasmodically, but at no time is it either given or taken seriously” (Turnbull, 1957:p199)[8]. Boys aged two to eight play nkumbi, coached by their theoretically ignorant mothers (p202). Mbuti practised infant betrothal[9].


[Additional refs.:

¨Hallet, J.P. & Relle, A. (1973) Pygmy Kitabu. New York: Random House;

¨Heymer, A (1979) [Bayaka-Pygmies (central Africa) - hetero-sexual social grooming (delousing) between adolescent girls and boys], Homo 30,3:202-11]








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] Schebesta, P. (1938-1950) Die Bambuti-Pygmäen vom Ituri. Bruxelles: Librairie Falk & Fils. Vol. 2

[2] Schebesta, P. (1936) Die Urwald Ruft Wieder: Meine Zweite Forschungsreise zu den Ituri-Zwergen. Salzburg: A. Pustest

[3] Turnbull, C. M. (1965) Wayward Servants: The Two Worlds of the African Pygmies. Garden City, N.Y.: The Natural History Press

[4] Turnbull, C. M. (1962) TheForest People. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. New ed.

[5] Turnbull, C. M. (1978) The politics of non-aggression, in Montagu, A. (Ed.) Learning Non-Aggression. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press, p161-221

[6] Turnbull, C. M. (1960) The Elima, Zaïre 14:175-92

[7] Turnbull, C. M. (1983) The Mbuti Pygmies: Change and Adaptation. Orlando, Fla.: HarcourtBraceJovanovichCollege Publishers

[8] Turnbull, C. M. (1957) Initiation among the BaMbuti Pygmies of the Central Ituri, J Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 87,2:191-216

[9] Schebesta (1952:p233), op.cit.