IndexPacificsMelanesiaSolomon IslandsTikopia

Tikopia, Kurtatchi, Shortland Isl., Siuai




Firth (1936:p474)[1] states that young Tikopia children try to have intercourse with one another, yet “no actual copulation occurs, but they go through the motions. One young man told me how he saw a little boy of the Kafika family go to a little girl of the same household. It was at Muriava, on the reef when the tide was out. She lay on her back and attempted to copulate with her, made the movements, then rose and went away. He was about three and she the same age”. Another said: “The children who go about there they are termed children, but no. They know, they look at women[2] who are seated together and they go and do this – ” (illustrating the gesture of the fingers which imitates the sexual act). “The young men instruct them to go and act thus towards the women as a joke. So they go and do it”. In should be noted that female seduction is reported:


“Apart from ordinary sexual intercourse there are other methods by which people obtain satisfaction. An adult woman, attracted by a young boy, will look round to see that no one is observing, then cover the child and herself with a blanket and insert his penis in her genitals. She lies on her back, holds the child on top of her and with her hand works his loins (p494)”.


Tikopia boys receive superincision some time before puberty; the initiation (pu) does not include moral education, said Firth (1933)[3]. Later (1936) he is more exact:


“One of the basic functions of the initiation ritual emerges from the examination of its relation to education. The value of these ceremonies as a factor in primitive education cannot be denied, if by education is meant the process of adapting an individual to the community in which he is to live, inducing him to accept its discipline and norms of conduct. But of explicit instruction in tribal fore and manners there is usually, I think, less than is imagined, and what is given is by no means a primary feature of the institution. In Australia, it is true, totemic myths are taught at this time, and as in Africa, certain moral rules are inculcated. Frequently a little sex knowledge of a rough and ready kind is imparted, but this is apt to possess a purely formal value, since the lad is often cognisant already of such facts as the result of practical experiment. In Polynesia there is hardly any of this teaching, and in Melanesia it is perfunctory”.


After initiation, the boy “is no longer specifically forbidden sex intercourse” (p467).


“My information regarding the sex life of children is inadequate. I have no data of value on the question of a possible latency period in childhood. My impression is, however, that for some years before the age of puberty, boys display little interest in the opposite sex, but busy themselves with their fishing, forest wandering, dancing, dart-throwing and other pursuite in their own bands. There is no formal segregation of the sexes for any period, as in some communities. What has been said so far applies to young children only. The practice of masturbation may perhaps be correlated with this absence of heterosexual interest. Immature girls do have intercourse at times, particularly with men older than themselves”.












Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology, Berlin

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Firth, R. (1936) We, the Tikopia: A Sociological Study of Kinship in Primitive Polynesia. Boston: Beacon Press. See also Whiting, J. & Child, I. (1953) Child Training and Personality: A Cross-Cultural Study. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, p81; Fox, J. R. (1962) Sibling incest, J Sociol 13:128-50, p144-6

[2] “A practice sometimes adopted by boys is to climb a tree and to overlook women who are bathing. After obtaining excitation in this way then they proceed to masturbation either in the branches or on the ground” (p494).

[3] Firth, R. (1933) Initiation Rites and Kinship Bonds in Tikopia, Man 33:117-8