PILAGÁ (Gran Chaco, Argentina)


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Also featured: Mataco, Araucanians, Ona, Teheulche





The remarkable child sexuality in the Pilagá (Argentine Gran Chaco) is to some extent studied by the Henries[1] in the 1940s; regrettingly, few corroborating data exist. Reviewed (1945) and cited (1952:p540-1) by Róheim, their work was praised to be “the best and most extensive field work done on any group of children in a primitive society”, although clearly Róheim regretted their self-admitted impotence in psychodynamic interpretation.

The reader is told that the children “pass hours each day in violent sexual games […] in everyday life, there is a constant veering between sexuality and violence, and often the two are inextricably blended […] absolutely no prohibition is placed on child sexual activity by the adults, so that the children are at liberty to do what they please. Under such circumstances, the only limits to the child’s sexual activity are his physiological capacities and the tolerance of his companions ([1944 [1974:p55-9, 72]; 1948 [1953:p296, 299])”. The games include attempts at coitus (1949:p97). It must be said that the (spontaneously) genitalised dolls may have triggered the sexual phenomena, since sexuality was “completely absent when the girls played with their own dolls” (1944 [1974:p32]); also, native doll use was impersonal rather than externally personalised. The native sexual patterns, however, do not necessitate such explanation (ibid.):


“Young children are permitted absolute freedom. The adult sexual act is performed at night but without any attempt at concealment. Up to the age of five boys masturbate and practice pederasty unashamedly in broad daylight. The girls masturbate against one another in public, and at five years they start taking little boys to bed with them and attempting coitus. Open masturbation by rubbing against other children, games of snatching at genitalia, and open “coitus bees” in which groups of little boys and girls attempt coitus at night, continue until about the age of twelve. Children and adults joke constantly about sex, and sexual insults by children are common”.


Their discussion of doll-facilitated sexual phenomena ([1974:p72-9]) reveals that intercourse between the dolls was the prime symptom. The piling up of dolls, which the authors include in the phenomenon of “spreading” of sexuality, may, in some case, “be related to the habit young Pilagá children have of piling one on top of the other in a frenzy of masturbation”. Other positionings were significant for the “known homosexuality of little boys”, including the example of anal penetration by a four-year-old boy performed on a boy slightly junior his age.

Interestingly, the authors report a case of what could have been considered problem sexual behaviour by the Pilagá (no arguments are made in this respect) in an eight-year-old girl, who set out on a “raping rampage” involving little girls (p77). This occurred in an apparent identification with a maladjusted adolescent, who, according to local believes, could be expected to perform rape (being a “lunatic”).





Additional refs:


§         Henry, J. (1940) Some cultural determinants of hostility in Pilagá indian children, Am J Orthopsychia 10,1

§         Henry, J. (1947) Environment and symptom formation, Am J Orthopsychia, Oct.

§         Molina, A. I. (1978) La expresión de lo erótico en la cultura Pilagá. Buenos Aires: CAEA

§         Molina, A. I. (1981) Sexualidad Pilagá en Publicaciones, 36

§         Molina, A. I. (2000) Cuerpo e identidad étnica y social. Un análisis de las representaciones Pilagá, Boletín Antropológico 49:29-52 [http://vereda.saber.ula.ve/museo_arqueologico/publicaciones/boletin_49/cuerpo_identidad_etnica.pdf]














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] Henry (1941: [1964:p18,n]), op.cit.; Henry, J. & Henry, Z. (1942) Rorschach Analysis of Pilagá Indian Children, Am J Orthopsychia 12:679-712; Henry, J. & Henry, Z. (1944) Doll Play of the Pilagá Indian Children. New York: American Orthopsychiatric Association, Research Monographs  No. 4. Reprinted in 1974, Random House; Henry, J. (1949) The social function of child sexuality in Pilagá Indian culture, in Hoch, P.H. & Zubin, J. (Eds.) Psychosexual Development in Health and Disease. New York: Grune & Stratton, p91-101; Henry, J. & Henry, Z. (1948) Doll Play of the Pilagá Indian Children, in Kluckhohn, C. & Murray, H.A. (Eds.) Personality in Nature, Society and Culture. New York: Knopf. 2nd edition, 1953, p292-307; Henry, J. (1949) The Social Function of Child Sexuality in Pilagá Indian Culture. Paper presented at the 38th Annual Meeting of the American Psychopathology Association, NY.; Henry, J. & Whiteborn, J. (1952) Child rearing, culture, and the natural world, Psychiatry 15,3:261-72, see p265; Róheim, G. (1945) Book review: Doll Play of Pilagá Indian Children, Psychoanal Quart 14:549-51; Róheim, G. (1952) The anthropological evidence and the Oedipus complex, Psychoanal Quart 21:537-42; Kardiner, A. (1944) Book review: Doll Play of Pilagá Indian Children; Henry, J. & Henry, Z., Am J Sociol 50,3:256-7. See also Money and Ehrhardt (1973/1996:p139-41); Stephens (1962:p22-4, 26-8, 34-5); and Schwartzman, H. B. (1978) Transformations: The Anthropology of Children’s Play. New York & London: Plenum, p150-2