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three pairs of lovers with space



The Kaluli are one of the tribes living in jungle on the northern slopes of an extinct volcano, Mt. Bosavi (since 1949 in the Southern Highlands District (later Province) of Papua New Guinea), one of the remotest places on earth.  They were also one of the many tribes of New Guinea that practised institutionalised pederasty.

None of the tribes living near Mt. Bosavi had any contact with the outside world until the Papuan colonial administration sent an exploratory patrol in 1935. They were then still using stone tools. In the subsequent thirty years, the area was briefly visited by only eight government patrols and was declared pacified only two years before the arrival of American anthropologist Edward L. Schieffelin, who lived among the Kaluli from October 1964 to December 1968.

Professor Schieffelin’s book about the Kaluli, The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers, 1976,  2nd edition,  New York, 2005, is the source for everything stated so far, and what he had to say in it about their practise of Greek love is quoted below.

However, though only in passing, he elaborated significantly on some points concerning pederasty in an essay on their ceremonial hunting lodges "The Bau A Ceremonial Hunting Lodge: An Alternative to Initiation", in Rituals of Manhood: Male Initiation in Papua New Guinea, edited by Gilbert H. Herdt (New Brunswick, 1998) pp. 155-200. As pederasty was a particularly strong feature of life in the Bau A,  also presented below are not only what he had to say in this essay about their pederastic practices, but such of his other observations and findings as seem important for understanding its cultural context.

As explained by the editor of the latter work, Schieffelin stayed among the Kaluli for ethnographic fieldwork twice for a second time from 1975 to 1977, in order to study the “changes that have come about among them under the influence of missionization.” However, it is unfortunately not clear from what follows whether the apparently invariable insemination of young boys described earlier was amongst those changes.


The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers

Schieffelin first explained that Kaluli men were homosocial and did not apparently have any heterosex until up to a month or so after their marriages (pp. 61-2 and 122), then ...

While the female is enervating and debilitating, the male embodies the qualities of productivity, vigor, stimulation, and energy. This male influence is concentrated in semen. Semen has a kind of magical quality that promotes physical growth and mental understanding. A youngster going to stay in a foreign area may be fed a mixture of semen, salt, and ginger to stimulate him to learn the language quickly. By the same reasoning, frequent repeated sexual intercourse is felt to be necessary to invigorate a child in the womb. (When not looking to produce children Kaluli avoid sex, lest a man dissipate his energy.) Semen is also necessary for young boys to attain full growth to manhood. Kaluli men maintain that women attain maturity by themselves (first menses?) but that boys do not. They need a boost, as it were. When a boy is eleven or twelve years old, he is engaged for several months in homosexual intercourse with a healthy older man chosen by his father. (This is always an in-law or unrelated person, since the same notions of incestuous relations apply to little boys as to marriageable women.) Men point to the rapid growth of adolescent youths, the appearance of peachfuzz beards, and so on, as the favorable results of this child-rearing practice.

Despite its benefits, however, men’s homosexual relations with boys are a vulnerable point in the male image of strength and consequently a subject of considerable embarrassment in relation to the women. Men try unsuccessfully to maintain it as a secret that women do not know. It is regarded as part of the mystery of male and female. For their part, men profess (clearly falsely) that they do not know where babies come from. “This [pederasty] is our thing,” I was told uneasily by one informant. “What happens when women go to the forest and bring back a child is their secret. (p. 123)


The Bau A Ceremonial Hunting Lodge: An Alternative to Initiation


                      The Kaluli homeland

This essay concems the bau a, a bachelor men's ceremonial hunting lodge that was held periodically before European contact by the Kaluli, Onabasulu and Etoro peoples of the Papuan Plateau in Papua New Guinea. The bau a exhibited many features typical of a male initiation program, including the seclusion of the members, ritual activity aimed at promoting growth and enhancing manly qualities, and the teaching of secret lore. It also heightened the reputation of its leaders and of the sponsoring community, encouraged social integration and cessation of fighting over a wide area, and formed part of an ongoing, large-scale ceremonial cycle of food exchange.

I should mention at the outset that I have never witnessed a bau a. It was discontinued as an institution by the Kaluli people themselves under the influence of European contact in 1964, two years before I arrived to begin fieldwork. Most of my detailed information, therefore, comes from extensive interviews taken in 1968 with four senior Kaluli men who had attended a bau a sponsored by clan Bona at a place called Wɔgɔle in the early l940s. Later, in 1976, I arranged for the archaeological excavation of the Wɔgɔle site ... Some of my original informants participated in the dig, and the many memories it reawakened for them helped clarify numerous aspects of what they had told me eight years before.


The Kaluli people (numbering some 1200) live in about twenty longhouse communities scattered in the tropical forest of the southern portion of the Papuan Plateau just north of Mount Bosavi. The northem part of the plateau, bordered by the Karius Range, is inhabited by the Onabasulu (population 430, …) and the Etoro people (population about 400 …) who live to the northwest under the shadow of Mount Sisa.

The Kaluli subsist on a staple starch of sago supplemented by a variety of vegetables grown in extensive gardens cleared from the forest …. They obtain meat by fishing and by hunting or trapping small game in the forest. Kaluli also keep domestic pigs in small numbers but kill them principally for prestations and ceremonial occasions. Relations among longhouse communities are maintained principally by ties of marriage or matrilateral affiliation …


The bau a itself was an oval building constructed on the ground, in which the membership performed hunting magic and slept for part of the period of their ritual seclusion. The membership ranged from boys of eight or nine years old to bachelors of around twenty-eight. The period of seclusion was about fifteen months. The major criterion for admission, apart from being able to trace some kinship connection to the sponsoring community, was that the individual had never been sexually involved with a woman. The major activity of the bau a, to which most of the rituals pertained and to which all other benefits were in one way or another related, was hunting. The game, principally marsupials of moderate size, was smoked and accumulated in a smoking rack in the bau a in preparation for a large-scale distribution at the climactic ceremony that marked the young men's coming out of seclusion.

            Edward Schieffelin among the Kaluli

The bau a was plateau-wide in distribution. lt was practiced among  the Onabasulu and Etoro peoples to the north … and ranged from the Sonia people on the west to the Kaluli village of Wasu on the east. From the number of ancient sites that were pointed out to me, I would judge that it was of considerable antiquity in the area. The one available originlike myth describes it as being given to the Kaluli people by mɛmul spirits in the central Kaluli area near clan Felisa. The institution was not unchanging. … Some informants told me that the difference in bau a house styles was accompanied by differences in magic and ritual details, but the cultural themes of hunting and ritual seclusion were unchanged. …

A given longhouse community sponsored a bau a about once in thirty years (the shortest span I have recorded is about 14). Among the thirteen longhouse communities about which I have detailed information, between 1912 and 1964, at least one bau a was available every two to six years for youths and young men to attend. Sometimes more than one community would decide to sponsor a bau a, and, as a result, two might be in session at the same time. …


In conversing about the bau a, my informants‘ eyes would shine; their voices would become excited or drop to low, mysterious whispers. Clearly they felt their experiences in the bau a were among the high points of their lives.

A bau a was believed to promote the growth of the young boys (about ten to fourteen years old) and to induce strength and attractively light skin color for the youths and bachelors. It was also believed to ward off sickness and death by quieting the appetites of witches in the surrounding communities. In addition. it led to a general suspension of hostilities and revenge killings among longhouse communities during the time it was in session. Finally, it represented a special relationship between men and the mɛmul spirits of Mount Bosavi.

The Bau a and the World of Spirits

The group of spirits with whom Kaluli normally interact is called ane mama … Another group of spirits, known as the mɛmul, live away from human habitation on the tops of hills and high places, and especially on Mount Bosavi. Contact with the spirit world is established through spirit mediums. …

Kaluli man

There is yet another tradition, which emphasizes the significance of the bau a in relation to Kaluli ideology about male and female growth.

In the ancient times “when the world came into form," the mɛmul showed people how to hold a bau a and told them to send the women off to seclusion. As a result, the women hunted while the men stayed home and beat sago (a reversal of usual male-female roles). As they hunted, the women began to grow to enormous size, until finally they were taller than the trees and could look down upon the arborial marsupials from above. The men at the longhouse said, “This is no good," so they called the women back and sent the bachelors out instead. All went well for a while — the men hunted and became strong, boys grew without becoming oversized. When the mɛmul saw that they had been disobeyed, however, they descended in a fury on the bau a and killed all the youths and young men, throwing their entrails into a pit and covering them with water. This place, which is on the lands of clan Felisa, is called Iwalo-sɔnɔ-gɔm, which means, appropriately, “high-place-killed-guts." Subsequent to this flash of anger, the mɛmul resewed the bau a for males only, and the institution spread from Felisa to other places.

The myth refers to two important themes associated with the bau a, its reputed growth-enhancing powers and the fact that it is under the auspices of the mɛmul. Kaluli believe that girls grow to womanhood and achieve maturity by themselves but that boys cannot attain manhood without assistance. They must be helped by a special growth-stimulating procedure. In the myth, women, who hold their own growth potential, grow to monstrous size when overstimulated by the growth-enhancing effects of the bau a. Youths and boys, on the other hand, are merely enabled to grow to proper maturity in the same environment, which they could not do by themselves. The bau a was under the special tutelage of the mɛmul, who oversaw it and acted as its guardians. The way Kaluli put it, the bau a was the mɛmul‘s special gift to humankind, and they watched over it closely to see that everything was done properly. The members, made mindful (by the myth) of the consequences of angering the mɛmul, tried to observe closely the ritually prescribed behavior, of the bau a. The mɛmul, for their part, protected the participants from harm and responded to the bau a rituals performed every night by providing game for the hunt. …

Bau a Activities and the Development of Manly Virtues

While relations with the mɛmul spirits provided the sanction and motivation for proper behavior within the bau a and permeated the rituals and magic formulas the members repeated each day, my informants did not particularly emphasize this mystical element of their bau a experience. Instead they stressed the hunting activities, the promotion of growth and strength, and the social harmony of surrounding communities. … Bachelors and boys carried out grueling hunting expeditions from early in the morning until late in the afternoon most days. Hunting groups ranged considerable distances over the Papuan Plateau, made week-long expeditions to the forested slopes of Mount Bosavi, and traveled to the lands south of the mountain at the headwaters of the Turama river. Youths and boys thus developed extensive knowledge of the habits of animals and a familiarity with the forest geography over a wide area outside the confines of their own longhouse territories. Because of their ritual status, bau a youths always could pass through other longhouse areas safe from attack.

While the characteristics of endurance and knowledge of the forest were developed in hunting, self-control was encouraged within the bau a itself. Self-control was more than a matter of strict ritual avoidance of women (a stricture that was checked for each youth and young man periodically by divination). It also pertained to social harmony among the inmates. Argument and angry words between bau a youths were strongly censured, and if frequent, or if a fight erupted, the offenders would be expelled by the bau a leader and sent back in disgrace to their longhouses.

Kaluli boy

The growth of young boys who were around the age of puberty was encouraged specifically by pederastic homosexual intercourse with some of the older bachelors. Kaluli believe that girls attain full maturity as women by natural growth but that boys cannot do so without being given a "boost," as it were, by the semen of older men. This pederasty was considered a major male secret vis-à-vis the women, and it was generally regarded with embarrassment and lascivious humor among the men themselves. Homosexual intercourse for boys also took place in everyday life beyond the bau a context whenever a boy reached the age of about ten or eleven. At that time, his father would choose a suitable partner to inseminate him, and the two would meet privately in the forest or a garden house for intercourse over a period of months or years. Less frequently a boy might choose his own inseminator, although this was risky: if the man was a witch, his semen would turn the boy into one too. In the bau a, boys were inseminated "openly" (that is, they were inseminated by their homosexual partner after lights out in the close, crowded, smoky darkness of the bau a while the rest of the exhausted hunters were thought to be asleep). A few of the bachelors came to the bau a specifically to act as inseminators, and fathers sometimes assigned their sons to one or the other of them. Other lads chose their own inseminators from among the older bachelors (or bachelors chose them) and formed specific liaisons for a while. Side by side with the serious business of hunting, pederastic intercourse was a marked feature of the bau a which men chuckled over self-consciously in reminiscence.

The Bau a and Male Mystique

To nonparticipants, and in particular women, the bau a was presented as a mystically powerful and dangerous institution. This came across in the tense, rather frightening and portentous secrecy with which the men cloaked the institution. Women were told that their sons had gone off to become “like wild pigs“ (iko domɛni ane), and they were forbidden to know what went on in the bau a, to see or speak of its members, or to travel in its vicinity lest they become ill or die. Neither did they share any of the meat at the end of the seclusion period. Men used an elaborate vocabulary of esoteric code words (bali to) when talking about bau a activities among themselves in the longhouse, so that while women might suspect them of talking about the bau a, they did not know what was being said. The secretiveness, plus the men‘s dead-earnest anger and dismay at the thought that a woman might somehow transgress the bounds around the subject, conveyed a message of precarious power and danger; yet, at the same time, it was also made tantalizing. The bau a, though built at a secluded spot, was nevertheless sufficiently within earshot of the longhouse for the women to hear the whoops and animal calls of the youths in the distance (usually when they returned from a particularly successful hunt).

Kaluli of Didessa village, 1966

It is difficult to assess what women felt about the bau a. They publicly maintained the stance that it was an affair of the men and that they did not know anything about it. Actually, I discovered that many older women appeared to have a fairly good idea about what went on with regard to the more obvious hunting and homosexual activities (though not the secret ritual details). As audience to the whole performance, however, they went along with its disguises and pretended they knew nothing. The point here is that part of the importance of the bau a for the men lay in the way it was meant to frighten and mystify the women and to impress them with male mystique, a cultural ideal in which, to some extent, everyone believes. It is the same mystique and attraction that could cause a woman to lose her heart to a dancer at a public ceremony and elope by following him home …

Bau a and the Promotion of Social Harmony

The continual hunting over wide ranges of forest, the growth-stimulating pederasty in the bau a, the ritual discipline and unity of purpose, the vigorous manly ethos and mystification of women —all came together under the auspices of the mɛmul spirits to form a kind of sacralised paradigm of masculine productivity and the manly life. In this sense it expressed what men liked best about themselves, what they stood for and wanted to be.




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