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OJIBWA (North-American Natives)


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See also: North-America Non-Natives




“All women once had toothed vaginas, and until Wisekedjak, by accident, discovered the pleasure of sexual intercourse, no one knew about it”[1][146].


Although listed as a “sexually permissive” society by Ford and Beach (1951:p188), ethnographic accounts are remarkably silent about Ojibwa childhood sexual freedom. Recent writings focus on sexual abuse. Landes (1937a:p14)[2][147] comments on sexual training, but it does not prove to be particularly permissive. Rather, “the moral sentiments are vigorous andeven little girls are drilled to know that it is forbidden to flirt with little boys of the phratry” (p36). The sexes tend to be avoidant of the other from about age eight. However, “Children saw their parents together, and then later they would imitate their parents. After a while, imitation was replaced by real experience. Still, at puberty, the mother tells her daughter, “Don’t let a man get near you” ” (p72). “However, the childhood habits [“During the summer, the children play together in mixed groups, and part of their play is the imitation of the intimate behavior of adults. Girls are supposed to be passive, and boys are supposed to pursue them. The game of love is a tremendous important preoccupation, and is enriched with songs, music, tales of ascetic and faithful devotion, of suicides, and even visions”], and the insistence of boys and men, nullify this caution, and almost every girl bears one or more illegitimate children” (Landes, 1937b:p122)[3][148].

“Sexual avoidance does not begin until about the age of eight” (Dunning, 1959:p99)[4][149]. Dunning speaks of “a fairly general practice of pre-marital sexual relations, from shortly after puberty” (p146). Sexual use of the children in church-operated residential schools by ministers, priests, nuns, and teachers was said to be widespread[5][150]. The Ojibwas felt that the vision fast should occur before the child engaged in any sexual activity (Vecsey, 1983:p125-6)[6][151], specifically not sexual intercourse (Hallowell, 1966 [1976:p464])[7][152] (one informant states it occurred first at age 13). A psychoanalytic account was offered by Merkur (2002)[8].


Shkilnyk (1985)[9][153]:


“The young people of the reserve have no role models to follow. They see their parents’ indifference to sexual taboos designed to protect the species from deformity and genetic weakness. They see the adults’ behavior during drinking parties. And they note that the old precepts of courtship and marriage are not relevant to social relations. As a result, the traditional Indian idea that a man and woman should constitute a “family unit” prior to consummating their union through sexual relations is no longer an operative principle. Today, the young girls desperately want to conceive, because a child gives them something to live for and someone to love; they don’t care about the conditions of its conception. Young people engage in sex at an early age, and girls just beyond puberty bear children”.


Hallowell (1949 [1955:p294])[10][154] observed that “[…] it is believed that any departure from culturally evaluated sex behavior provokes its own penalty- disease and sometimes death. […] The universe is simply constituted in such a way that disease automatically and inevitably follows sexual transgression. This means that ultimately no one can escape moral responsibility for his sexual conduct. He must contemplate it in that light”.


“Nothing of a sexual nature is systematically concealed from children as they grew up. The sexual side of life is an open book. […] it is impossible for children living in such close proximity to their parents, either in the old-fashioned wigwam or the more modern log cabin, to escape being aware of the “primal scene”. While I do not have sufficient information from which to generalize about the incidence of sex play among prepubescent children, there is no doubt that it occurs. Nonetheless, some phases of it are considered wrong. [This would be indicated by a grown man suffering from a urogenital affliction blaming this on a childhood sex game in a little mock wigwam where a girl put a thimble on his erect penis]. […] sexual references always go unmasked” (p296).


In former days a boy had to be pure (avoiding all heterosocial contact) for obtaining his vigil. Hallowell suggests that “[…] the motivation was strong enough to have reduced overt sexual behavior in the privileged period to a minimum”. Postpubertal premarital rendezvous were associated with dances, and were apparently “tolerated”.












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][146] Hallowell, A. I. (1991) The Ojibwa of Berens River, Manitoba: Ethnography into History. Fort Worth: HarcourtBraceJovanovichCollege Publishers

[2][147] Landes, R. (1937) Ojibwa Sociology. New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press

[3][148] Landes, R. (1937b) The Ojibwa of Canada, in Mead, M. (Ed.) Cooperation and Competition among Primitive Peoples. New York & London: McGraw-Hill Book Co., p87-126

[4][149] Dunning, R. W. (1959) Social and Economic Change among the Northern Ojibwa. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

[5][150] Lavalee, ‘M. A. (1968) Too Little Too Late, Arbos 5,2:[26–9, 35]

[6][151]Vecsey, Ch. (1983) Traditional Ojibwa Religion and its Historical Changes. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society

[7][152] Hallowell, A. I. (1966) The role of freams in Ojibwa culture, in Von Grunebaum, G. E. & Caillois, R. (Eds.) The Dream and Human Scieties. Berkeley: University of California Press, p267-92 eHRAF]

[8] Merkur D. (2002) The Ojibwa Vision Quest, J Applied Psychoanalytic Studies 4,2:149-70

[9][153] Shkilnyk, A. M. (1985) A Poison Stronger than Love: The Destruction of an Ojibwa Community. New Haven: YaleUniversity Press

[10][154] Hallowell, A. I. (1949) Psychosexual adjustment, personality, and the good life in a nonliterate culture, in Hoch, P. W. & Zubin, J. (Eds.) Psychosexual Development in Health and Disease. New York: Grune & Stratton. Reprinted in Hallowell, A. I. (1955) Culture and Experience. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, p291-305