The Sambia people are a tribe of mountain-dwelling, hunting and horticultural people who inhabit the fringes of the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, and are extensively described by the American anthropologist Gilbert Herdt. The Sambia – a pseudonym created by Herdt himself – are known by cultural anthropologists for their acts of "ritualized homosexuality" and semen ingestion practices with pubescent boys. In his studies of the Sambia, Herdt describes the people in light of their sexual culture and how their practices shape the masculinities of adolescent Sambia boys.
The full initiation is reported to start with members of the tribe being removed from their mothers at the age of nine. This process is not always voluntary and can involve threats of death. The children are then beaten and stabbed in their nostrils with sticks to make them bleed. In the next stage the children are hit with stinging nettles. The boys are then dressed in ritual clothing and an attempt is made to force them to suck on ritual flutes. The boys are then taken to a cult house and older boys dance in front of them making sexual gestures. Once it gets darker the younger boys are taken to the dancing ground where they are expected to perform fellatio on the older boys.
Male rites of passage
- Maku: This is the first rite of passage for the boys. They are separated from their mothers at this stage, they participate in blood letting (process in which they stick long sticks up their nostrils to make them bleed, and therefore rid themselves of their mothers' presence in them. The Sambia people don't believe that males are born with semen and so, during Maku, the boys participate in "fellatio". They are also required to stick to a strict diet during this time period which is from age 7-10. This stage lasts for three years, from the age 10–13 years old.
- Imbutu: Imbutu is filled with camaraderie, male bonding, and rewards for making it through the first set of Rites.
- Ipmangwi: During this stage the boys begin to go through puberty, and they no longer need to participate in "fellatio". They also learn gender roles, and how to have appropriate intercourse. Once they have learned this they look for a wife and marry during this stage. It lasts for three years as well, during the ages 13–16.
- Nupusha: During this stage the men get married and have appropriate intercourse. This stage happens once the others are completed, however, they must be at least 16 years old.
- Taiketnyi: They undergo blood letting again during this stage, when their wives have their first menstrual cycle as married women.
- Moondung: This stage is when the women give birth to their first child. This is the final step, and signifies completion of the Rites of passage. They can now be considered full grown respectable men.
Gender roles and sexuality
The Sambia people believe in the necessity of gender roles within their culture. Relationships between men and women of all ages, within this tribe, are complex, with many rules and restrictions. For example, boys are removed from their mothers at age seven, to strip them of contact with their mothers. They even perform a ritual called "blood letting" on the boys who have just been isolated from their mothers to rid them of their mother's contaminated blood that has a presence within them. This separation is due to their fear of the women in the tribe, as men are taught at a young age about the women's ability to emasculate and manipulate men. The women possess what the sambia call tingu, through which they use their manipulation skills. To combat the women's sorcery, the men go through rites of passage, in which they learn to safely have intercourse with women without becoming metaphorically trapped. The women are also separated from the men when they go through their menstrual cycle. During this time they stay in the "menarche hut" because of the belief that the women's powers are strengthened during this time.
- Herdt 1981
- Herdt 1982
- Giles, James (August 2004). "Book Reviews Sambia Sexual Culture: Essays From the Field. By Gilbert Herdt. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1999, 327 pp., $20.00". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 33 (4): 413–417. doi:10.1023/b:aseb.0000029074.36846.30.
- Brettell, Caroline; Sargent, Carolyn (2016). Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Routledge. pp. 175, 176, 177. ISBN 978-0-205-24728-8.
- Herdt, Gilbert H. (1981). Guardians of the Flutes: Idioms of Masculinity. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Herdt, Gilbert H. (1982). Rituals of Manhood: Male Initiation in Papua New Guinea. Berkeley: University of California Press.