Growing Up Sexually







TUKANO (Colombia)


IndexAmericasSouth AmericaColombiaTukano, Vaupé 



More: Cubeo, Embera, Alkatcho, Aritama, Zorcas, Kagaba, Kogi





Da Silva (1962:p592)[1], on the Colombian Vaupés:


“[…] the precocity of the children, especially of the female sex, is remarkable. It surprises us to see how individuals who on the outside still look like children are subjected to the rite of the puberty initiation […]. How much they appear to know is an even greater surprise. Children still quite young know perfectly all the mystery of life, like any adult. The girls enter the mission schools at seven or eight years of age, and at this age they not infrequently reveal full knowledge of this subject. Sometimes the thought that already absorbs and preoccupies them is that of marriage, a Missionary Sister Superior revealed to us. They talk of that often, and perhaps they might already even know whom they are going to marry, according to the customs of the tribe and the desires of the parents”.


Da Siva also noted public mutual masturbation by boys (p181), although officially, homosexuality only occurs in the puberty rites for boys. The Vaupé “conceive the sexual relations between the two sexes as a normal pleasure for the individuals who have reached the legal majority by the puberty rite, and therefore such relations are practiced publicly, in front of their own parents of their own spouse […]”.


Initiation, more than marriage, means “passage from the asexual world of childhood to the sexual world of adults (Hugh-Jones, 1979a, 1979b:p110)[2], or “the beginning of the participation in the circuit of sexual energy” (H-J [1971]). “The rite marks the start of the public sexual life, because up to this time they can only practice it secretly” (Da Silva), which may also be true for girls (p671). However, “[b]oys approaching initiation are sometimes involved in homosexual teasing which takes place in hammocks in public [...]” (H-J, 1979a:p160). Arhem (1981)[3]:


“Between the first and second menstruations, a shaman performs protective magic for her. During this time, she is also taught the role and duties of an adult and married woman. After her second menstruation, the shaman starts to bless food in the usual sequence. The girl gradually returns to normal life and eating habits. When her hair has grown long again, she is considered an adult woman. She may now have sexual relations with men and is free to marry”.


“The male initiate is taught that physical strength, fierceness and sexual aggressivity are the essence of manhood. In fact, the period following upon the main Jurupari ritual at the culmination of the male initiation is considered the proper time for marriage among the Makuna. It is also during this period that the young men learn the male skills and crafts that are required of them in order to take a wife. In practice, young, initiated men are not considered entirely adult until they are married”.


“Male sexuality is so very much linked to ritual that it seems unjust to separate them. An example is the ritual of Yuruparí, in which the initiates are openly compared to menstruating women, ritually imitating the loss of menstrual blood, dying, and being reborn (Hugh-Jones, 1974)[[4]]. Menstrual and initiation rites are full of physiological sexual references. “The initiates’ potential role in sexual reproduction is stressed, but the low position and small size of their flutes emphasises the newness and immaturity of their adult physiology. The flutes have a phallic aspect (shown both in myth and in the rite itself where they are blown over the boys’ naked penises) and by using them the boys are opening their own penises” (Hugh-Jones, 1979a:p147).


During initiation, sexual intercourse is forbidden (Hugh-Jones, 1979b:p85)[5]. Girls should remain virgins till first menstruation and boys until after initiation (p201).


In one myth, “[t]he Daughter of the Sun had not yet reached puberty when her father made love to her. The Sun committed incest with her at Wainambí Rapids, and her blood flowed forth; since then, women must lose blood every month in remembrance of the incest of the Sun and so that this great wickedness will not be forgotten. But his daughter liked it and so she lived with her father as if she were his wife. She thought about sex so much that she became thin and ugly and lifeless. Newly married couples become pale and thin because they only think of the sexual act, and this is called gamúri. But when the Daughter of the Sun had her second menstruation, the sex act did harm to her and she did not want to eat anymore. She lay down on a rock, dying; her imprint there can still be seen on a large boulder at Wainambí Rapids. When the Sun saw this, he decided to make gamú bayári, the

invocation that is made when the girls reach puberty. The Sun smoked tobacco and revived her. Thus, the Sun established customs and invocations that are still performed when young girls have their first menstruation” (Reichel-Dolmatoff, [1971:p28-9])[6]. “[…] the adults stimulate the youths during puberty in their erotic games and are proud of their precociousness even when this is not expressed in heterosexual acts” (Amazonian Cosmos, p245).







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] Da Silva, P. (1962) The Indigenous Civilization of the Uaupés. Sao Paulo: Centro de Pesquisas de Iauareté

[2]Hugh-Jones, Ch. (1979a) From the MilkRiver.CambridgeUniversity Press

[3] Arhem, K. (1981) Makuna Social Organization.Uppsala; Stockholm, Sweden: Academiae Upsaliensis;

Distributed by Almqvist & Wiksell International

[4] Hugh-Jones, S. (1974) Male initiation and Cosmology among the Barasana Indians of the Vaupés area of Colombia. Ph.D. diss., CambridgeUniversity

[5] Hugh-Jones, S. (1979b) The Palm and the Pleiades. Cambridge & New York: CambridgeUniversity Press

[6] Reichel-Dolmatoff, G. ([1971]) Amazonian Cosmos.Chicago: University of Chicago Press. More myths refer to menarche: “Another aspect of Vaí-mahsë and, perhaps, the most important, is his sexual interest in human beings. Vaí-mahsë pursues women, especially those who have not yet reached puberty, and waits for an occasion to violate them. […] No young girl who has not yet reached puberty should go near these places because Vaí-mahsë will cause her to have a painful first menstruation. This is because the normal cycle will be interrupted by the influence of Vaí-mahsë. Women who go near the hills or walk alone in the forest risk the same danger”.