NEW IRELAND(Papua New Guinea)


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In New Ireland, girls of eight and nine were placed in narrow cages until the age of marriageability, somewhere after age 15 (Danks, 1889:p284-6).


Kingston (1998; cf. Kingston, 2003)[1] notes that from an early age [note: “The age seems to be debatable and increasingly of lessening severity, but certainly by puberty”] brothers and sisters must avoid each other, and may not mention each others names. Normally a boy would go and sleep in the men's house from around 12 (depending on the accommodation available), and if a girl was reaching puberty the father would sleep in the men's house (or alternatively the daughter would sleep with other female relatives)”. Genitals are within the realm of shame; thus, “[…] a child [who] saw their father or mother naked during washing, is [a fact] regarded as pial, a lowgrade betrayal of secrets”. “My impression was that girls became sexually active from around the age of 14 or 15 and boys from a little older. By all accounts, a fair amount of pre-marital sex goes on, and a moderate amount of discrete extra-marital liaisons”.


“Menstruation, variously known as rei kaben (seeing the moon), or samsilik (sick blood), is […] seen as caused by intercourse, the blood being discarded (or inadequately congealed?) semen. First menses are in fact meant to take place during the girls seclusion in the dal ritual (see Ch.6), during which spirits and suitors are attracted to her before she is married off. The moon (in whom Siar people, like us, see a man) is also seen as 'cutting' the girl, or being causative in some rather vague way. […] Singing of being made to bleed by being bitten or eaten by a sea snake, in a rite where girls are transformed into sexually active women and menstruation is 'produced', is very thinly disguised reference to a, presumably spirit, phallus deflowering the girl and, given the correlation the Lak make between the two, initiating menstruation. […] The most direct statements we have of the cause of the menstruation are the references to phallic sea snakes. They cause bleeding by eating the dal and uninitiated girls are encouraged to pull them to them. Earlier we saw how other 'sea-snakes', paloloworm, were similarly attracted to pregnant women. But other entities are also attracted to the dal in an analogous manner. There are various birds who come to her, and, amongst other actions, 'shake the goh'. We also have a succession of spirits, pidiks and men coming to her: from the inchoate and thoroughly inhuman sounds and otherworldly visions of the night pidiks, to the still pidik and ancestral, but visibly human and male malerra, to, presumably and eventually, an all too human suitor or husband. All these, the snakes, the birds and the various pidiks clearly belong to the same family of representations, most easily classifiable as spiritual, ancestral and male. Two things are clear about the selection of these images. Firstly, the most phallic form is most directly connected with menstruation, clearly linking it with physical as well as spiritual penetration. Secondly, the least human and least bound to form presentations were during the night and during the dals seclusion; the half-human malerra were presented in daylight when the girl herself was no longer in enclosed obscurity, but was still in the role of dal; and fully human men are subsequently taken as lovers when she herself is fully restored to the world of women”.


Dal, which, “[…] as a word, refers both to the girl or woman and the ritual they undergo. It also means a young, sexually attractive woman and is the name given to several such characters in various stories in which Suilik (the main culture-hero) or a wallaby (an animal associated with male display and decoration) attempt to take her as a sexual partner. Sexual attraction is a major theme of the dal ritual and the production of a gendered and sexual woman from a non-sexual and androgynous child attracts male spirits in a way similar to that predicted by Strathern’s ‘Melanesian aesthetic’ (1988)[2]. […] The dal is an idealized cultural image: all young women have breasts and menstruate, but not all are dal, some are kurmakmak and some, having only completed the exchange part of the rite, only nominal dal. The dal is an icon of a sexually attractive, fecund, ‘fat’ young woman who has developed breasts and started menstruating”.







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]Kingston, S. (1998) Focal Images, Transformed Memories: The Poetics of Life and Death in Siar, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Online PhD thesis, University College London, formerly at; Kingston S. (2003) Form, attention and a southern New Ireland life cycle, J Royal Anthropol Instit 9,4:681-708. Cf. Sean Kingston, Cognitive Aspects of Fertility and Reproduction in Siar, New Ireland. Fertility and Reproduction Seminars, Hilary Term 2002, University of Oxford, School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography

[2] This “aesthetic” entails that an androgynous child who is the product of cross-sex relations between her parents' groups must be rendered single sex to become an agent who can attract and combine with an opposite single-sex subject in order to produce a further androgynous product. [orig. footnote]