Semen-Eating in Papua New Guinea

image courtesy of wikimedia

This semester, I took an anthropology seminar called Anthropology & Sexualities. We spent each three-hour class meeting discussing various practices around the world that have to do with sex, sexuality, gender identity, and rituals. So, when Kate announced to us that we were jumping back into our theme weeks with a “Sex Around The Globe” theme, I was pumped! It took a pretty serious process of elimination to figure out what I wasn’t going to write about, and finally, I settled on the fascinating rituals of male rites of passage in Papua New Guinea.

The Sambia of Papua New Guinea are one of many cultures that practice rite of passage rituals. Though it’s easy to point out the “strangeness” of these rituals, who’s to say that our own rites of passage are any different (I can’t help but bring to mind images of throwing small gummy candies at my friends during their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs)? That being said, it’s clear that the Sambia do things a little differently than most cultures.

The Sambia are an extremely androcentric culture, with the male-only houses centered in the middle of the village, while the female-only houses lay scattered around the edges of the village. Women are considered to be dirty and dangerous to the strength and virility of men. Thus, the male coming-of-age process takes many of its cues from the desire to eliminate women from the equation.

During the first phase of the rite of passage, young boys between the ages of 5 to 7 are taken from their mothers and brought into the male houses. First they are subjected to a variety of painful rituals and procedures, including forced nose-bleeding in an attempt to rid the male body of female fluids that may have remained from birth. Semen-eating is also a part of this first phase.

Semen is considered vital to the transition from boy to man, as it represents strength. This is not just a Sambian notion; I recently wrote a term paper about sexuality/gender and body hair, and discovered that many symbolic anthropologists have concluded that semen is an almost universal symbol of male strength. Sambian boys are encouraged to drink this “male milk” as frequently as possible, so as to help further their transition to manhood.

It’s interesting that an act that westerners would instantly deem “homosexual” is a part of every day life for the Sambians, and is actually encouraged. This just further proves to me that constructions of gender and sexuality are very much dependent on culture. For more information about semen-eating in Papua New Guinea, check out the film Guardians of the Flutes, or Gilbert Herdt’s book.

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About Michaela

Michaela

Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.