IndexPacificsPolynesia French PolynesiaTonga Isl.


Featured: Pukapukans, Ra’Ivavae, French Polynesia [Marquesans, Cook Islands [Tahiti, Aitutaki, Mangaia], Samoa, Tonga Isl.]; Santa Cruz Isl.



Martin[1] speaks of early betrothal. According to Morton (1996)[2], rough play between boys and older males “often involves an element of sexual joking- grabbing roughly at boy’s genitals or making jokes about their uncircumcised state. Other jokes about uncleanliness and scatological and sexual jokes are also very common. Boys are given more freedom to go naked as babies and toddlers, and people will touch or make joking reference to their genitals”, and these parts are also touched (p105-6). In girls, “sexual joking” includes “shaming rather than tacit approval”, in tune with a strict modesty code (p106, 134). “As the child grows up, she soon realises that her genital area is forbidden […]. As soon as a child is seen with her hands in this forbidden area, she is soundly smacked and threatened with worse punishment if she is caught doing it again […]. [T]he Tongan woman emerges confused, ignorant and very shy about this important part of her anatomy […]” (Ikahihifo and Panuve, 1983:p40)[3]. Although earlier observers mentioned that Tongan children learn about sex at an early age, because the one-room houses offered little privacy (Lovett, 1958[4]:p35; Spillius, 1958:p62)[5], most modern houses now have separate bedrooms, and “children are unlikely to observe [parental] sexual behavior” (p83, 107). Rather, “many now see naked bodies and some sexual behavior on videos”. Videos may be fast-forwarded, but there is “generally no attempt to prevent children from watching these videos, nor is any explanation given to them about what they are seeing”. In general, sexual matters are not discussed (p46), except perhaps on the occasion of menarche or boy’s circumcision (p114).













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] Martin, II, p167; Westermarck ([1901:214])

[2] Morton, H. (1996) Becoming Tongan: An Ethnography of Childhood. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press

[3] Ikahihifo, T. & Panuve, M. (1983) Report of a Preliminary Study of Traditional Medicine and Practices in Relation to Obstetrical and Gynaecological Conditions and Disorders amongst two Communities in Tonga. Suva: Centre for Apllied Studies in Development, University of the South Pacifics

[4] Lovett, I. (1958) A Study of Tongan Children with Special Attention Given to the Pre-Adolescent Age Group. Dip. Ed., AucklandUniversity

[5] Spillius, E. (1958/1960) Report on a Brief Study of Mother-Child Relationships in Tonga. MS, Nuku-‘alofa, Tonga