SHIPIBO (Eastern Peru)


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Also featured: Sharanahua, Machiguenga, Amahuaca, Cashinahua; ®Aymara)


Bergman (1980:p80)[1]:


“Parents often arrange marriages for their children in infancy or early childhood. Traditionally a man of 25 years marries one or more wives of from 8 to 10 years of age, but it is said that sexual relations do not begin until the wife reaches puberty. In Panaillo there is now only one recent marriage of this type. The husband is about 30 years old and the wife a rather childish twelve. They seemed to get along well. Recent practice still includes parental arrangement, but eighteen-year-old men marry girls of fourteen or fifteen years. Villagers say that at this age the girl is better able to assume wifely duties. A young man’s prime qualification for marriage is his skill as a fisherman”.


Roe (1982)[2]:


“One thing [Tessmann] probably was correct about, however, was that the ceremony did not serve as a public demonstration of the girl’s virginity: That the circumcision is a “Sacrifice to the Moon” or an ascertainment that the girl is a virgin […] is incorrect. This is the interpretation of the settlers, who have naturally tried to explain the meaning of this striking custom. Every Tschama [Chama] knows that none of the girls were virgins before the circumcision because of the free sexual intercourse between children (1928[3]:p211, transl. [Roe])”.


“After her fifth menses had passed the girl’s mother invited the women and a few old men of the village to a feast. The day was spent in singing songs, dancing, and feasting. At the end each guest received a present. Her long stay in the dark cell was now over. But her companion remained with her constantly, and she continued her daily baths. She was now regarded as eligible for marriage, and ordinarily did marry within a short time” (Olson, 1936:p105-6)[4].


Eakin (1980/1986)[5] stated that “[p]uberty rites for girls […] were conducted soon after the first menstruation, as preparation for marriage. After the girl had been tired out from dancing and stupefied with drink, she was subjected to a genital subincision, which involved the penetration of the hymen [[6]] and in many cases included a clitorectomy or labioectomy. The operation was performed by one of the older women, using a bamboo knife”[7] (p79-80). DeBoer (1979)[8] speaks of a ceramic object used for [vaginal?] insertion[9].


Karsten (1955)[10] contributes that in the tribes of the Ucayali, the body is seen as particularly exposed to “the invisible enemies who the savage fears”.


“The first sexual relation of the girl, or the defloration, is particularly full of dangers; the wound thus caused can serve as an entrance to malignant demons, and the definite elimination of the hymen and other parts of the genitals mysteriously acts as a precaution to protect the young person from these dangers. According to the affirmations of some travellers, the elderly who perform the operation not only rubbed certain medicinal grass onto the severed parts, but after a little while introduced an artificial penis, made of clay in the vagina […], of the same dimensions of the girl’s orifice. The Indians whom I consulted in detail denied the existence of such a practice, and perhaps it does not happen on a regular basis, at least in our days, but if it still existed it would indicate clearly the true intention of this rite” [transl. D.J.][11].


Hern (1977)[12]: “The early age of cohabitation does not seem to be the result of culture change, since many women in their later reproductive years reported having been entregada (betrothed) to their husbands before puberty. Sexual activity customarily began shortly after the first menses. Surely the missionaries did not approve of this custom”.


“Marriage and pregnancy occur early, at about 14–15 years of age, a fact that many women bitterly resent. Barely freed from babysitting for their siblings, a job that has consumed much of their time between ages seven and fourteen, girls are, or at least feel, thrust into the responsibilities of adulthood without ever having really been children themselves. […] Women also complain of being forced to marry an “old man”. A few women refused to marry a particular man because he was too old, or because he beat his first wife” (Abelove, 1978)[13]. “Formerly, a girl two or three years of age might be promised for marriage and might be made to live with her husband as early as age seven or eight. Today, child marriages are rare, and most girls marry between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, although a few marry as early as eleven or twelve. The marriage age for young men covers a wider spread, and may be anywhere from seventeen to thirty with the nineteen to twenty-five bracket as the most common” (Eakin). “The mean and median reported ages at first marriage for females were 14.6 and 14.2 years, respectively” (Hern). The proposing by a boy was often done through a male intermediary when the intended was but a small child (Karsten 1964:186). Karsten (1964:p192) maintained that after the bride was handed over to her groom all those assembled watched the consummation of the marriage, but Roe could get no confirmation on this from his informants (p41).



Additional reading:





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] Bergman, R. W. (1980) Amazon Economics: The Simplicity of Shipibo Indian Wealth. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Published for Dept. of Geography, SyracuseUniversity by University Microfilms International

[2]Roe, Peter G. (1982) The Cosmic Zygote. New Brunswick, N. J.: RutgersUniversity Press

[3] Tessmann, G. (1928) Menschen ohne Gott: Ein besuch bei den Indianern des Ucayali. Veröffentlichung der Harvey-Bassler-Stiftung Völkerkunde. Vol. I. Stuttgart: Verlag von Strecker & Schröder

[4] Olson, R. L. (1936) The Quinault Indians. Seattle, Wash.: The University of Washington. Yet: “Young men ordinarily did not contemplate marriage until the all-important supernatural power had been acquired, but girls were regarded as fit for marriage as soon as they had completed the five months of seclusion. From that time until marriage the girl was closely watched lest she have affairs and become pregnant. Marriage was largely regulated by the parents, yet the wishes of the young were seldom violated”. CF. Storm, op.cit.: “Having gone through her rituals of several months, the girl was ready for marriage”.

[5] Eakin, L. (1980) Bosquejo Etnográfico de los Shipibo-Conibo del Ucayali. Lima: I. Prado Pastor; Eakin, L. (1986) People of the Ucayali: The Shipibo and Conibo of Peru. Dallas, Tex.: InternationalMuseum of Cultures

[6] “The travellers Reich and Stegelmann state that only the hymen is severed from the labia minora so that the clitoris is set quite free. It would be most natural to assume that the “circumcision” in question consists only of this operation. Tessman, however, is positive that not only the hymen but also the labia and the clitoris of the girls are severed, which seems too cruel an operation” (Roe, p324-5; cf. Karsten, p157-8).

[7] “[…] los ritos de pubertad para la muchacha se practicaban hasta hace poco. El rito se cumplía poco después de la primera menstruación, y era considerado como una preparación para el matrimonio. El aspecto físico del rito consistía en una subincisión genital y la penetración del himen; en muchos casos incluía una clitorectomía o una labioectomía”.

[8] DeBoer, W. R. (1979) The making and breaking of Shipibo-Conibo ceramics, in Kramer, C. (Ed.) Ethnoarcheology. New York: Columbia University Press, p102-38

[9] “[…] the shërvenante, is a solid object, rectangular or oval in shape, which is inserted in the vulva [sic] of a young girl after she has undergone the clitoridectomy which is part of the traditional puberty ceremony. The shërvenante is made for the ceremony and discarded in village midden […] after a short period of use by the girl”.

[10] Karsten, R. (1955) Los indios Shipibo del rio Ucayali, Rev Mus Nac Lima-Perú 24:154-73

[11] “En las tribus del Ucayali, la circuncisión de las jóvenes puede ser explicada esencialmente como un preliminar del matrimonio. Los órganos de generación forman parte crítica del cuerpo que están particularmente expuestos a los enemigos invisibles que el salvaje teme. La primera relación sexual de la muchacha, o la defloración, está particularmente llena de peligros; la herida que se provoca puede servir de entrada a los demonios malignos y la eliminación del himen y de ciertas otras partes de los genitales es una precaución para impedirle a la joven misteriosos peligros. Según las afirmaciones de algunos viajeros, la anciana que realiza la operación no sólo frotaba ciertas hierbas medicinales en las partes heridas, sino que después de un momento introducía un pene artificial, hecho de arcilla en la vagina de la doncella, de las mismas dimensiones del órgano del prometidc de la muchacha. Los indios a quien pregunté este detalle negaron la existencia de tal práctica, y tal vez no ocurra en forma regular, por lo menos en nuestros días, pero si aún existiera indicaría claramente el verdadero propósito de este rito”.

[12] Hern, W. M. (1977) High fertility in a Peruvian Amazon Indian village, Hum Ecol 5,4:355-68

[13] Abelove, J. M. (1978) Pre-Verbal Learning of Kinship Behavior among Shipibo Infants of Eastern Peru. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International. 2000 copy