The Sambia Tribe (of Papua New Guinea)

Type of WorkEssay
Publication LanguageEnglish


            The primary focus of the initiation ritual is to transform boys who are considered feminine persons of women houses into fierce, strong, male warriors. This process of initiation from boy to man is also known as masculinization. In actuality men are ‘reborn’ from men and are taught many important things such as that woman are dangerous and emasculating. Strangely enough the women are placed in a situation where they are isolated by their husbands, who are much older than them.

The youths are now the targeted ones who the women want to use to fulfill their sexual desires. The men however, are not concerned about falling for these women. They have been taught well about how women can be dangerous to men, especially the younger adolescent men who can even die from heterosexual intercourse.   

The isolationism they encounter not only prevent[s] the youth from having any sexual activities with women, but also from seducing, or being seduced by married women – which would later create chaos by enemies. This certainly teaches the boys that they can indeed live without their mothers and certainly without any females around them.What the boys need is semen in order to mature.

In some cultures such as this one in Papa New Guinea a homosexuality ritual takes place. Ironically the homosexual practice is not a feminizing ritual, but rather the beginning of a fierce and brutal warrior.

The Sambia initiatory cycle starts when the boy is between the ages of 6 and 10, and proceeds to 6 stages until he becomes the father of one child, some 10 to 15 years later.

The following six initiations take place over time where the boys are isolated from women. They are ‘killed’ as boys and ‘reborn’ as men.

First-Stage Initiation     

The first stage is when the boys are removed from their mothers and are then inducted into the men’s cult. This ceremony last for seven days, 18 rituals, or ordeals, to which these young boys are subjected. They are being harden[ed], tested, and united into a group of leaders as well as being started on their way to becoming fierce warriors soon after they reach puberty.

On the first day they are taken from their mothers, they are then walked for several hours to the dance grounds of the last friendly hamlet, also known as a “small village.” These boys are about to go through arduous and painful rituals.  

  • A crowd of men hem the boys in beside a pool in the brook. A war leader picks out a sharp stick of cane and sticks it deep inside the boys nostrils until he bleeds profusely into the stream of a pool, an act greeted by loud war cries. (Herdt, p. 85)

The men repeat the war chant for each boy. Here if the initiate tries to escape he will be treated worst then the others – this brutality is certainly overwhelming and astonishing. Older men now tell the boys that the bachelors are going to copulate with them orally in order to make them grow. The whole purpose of this is because several elders testify that boys are unable to mature into men unless they ingest semen and that all men have, ‘eaten the penis’.

After formal ceremonies end, the bachelors make erotic advances to the boys and homosexual activity takes place outside on the darkened dance ground.

  • Not all initiates will participate in this ceremonial homosexual activity, but in about five days later several will have perform fellatio several times. (Herdt, pp. 87-91)

It is quite astonishing to see the men who are known to be so prudish to participate in homosexual activity so openly and welcoming. Boys would even seek out their favorite bachelors by openly stimulating their genitalia. There is no doubt that the first and second stage initiates have developed an erotic attraction toward their inseminators.

Second Stage Initiation

The second stage does not change the boy’s status at all. It is in a way a continuation of the first stage. The boys continue to take in as much semen as possible which will later make them strong, fierce warriors and leaders. All of the foods that the initiates were now supposed to eat are not severed in a wonderful feast, which the boys gather around and eat.

This is a time to reward the boys of their efforts to of becoming men while still not being able to be around women because they are considered emasculating in several ways.

The second stage has no great significant difference from the first initiation other than the reward that is given to the boys from the food taboo.

  • They are certainly beginning to get the hang of what is going to happen to them in the future and hopefully they will be able to continue the process and hold on for this crazy ride from boy to man. (Herdt, p. 96)

Third Stage Initiation  

The third stage, in contrast, brings about a very important change in the youth’s status and activities. It is a puberty rite that marks adolescences. The boys become bachelors and shift from being inseminated to becoming inseminators.

The adolescents are severely beaten and nose bled. They are taken to certain trees where they are whipped and purified from any female contamination that could have possible taken place between the times that they left.

  • After the boys are thrashed with quill bones and are violently and unexpectedly subjected to another nose bleed, another step in this initiation is to capture a women foe in the hamlet and kill an enemy warrior. After the warrior must ingest his semen, the semen in essence of the masculine spirit, would transfer to the enemy and slower and strengthen the dying enemy. (Herdt, pp. 97-98)

Fourth Stage of Initiation    

The forth stage occurs when he is married, usually to a bride obtained by his father or older brothers. A youth will not start living with this bride until short before or after her menarche, the first menstrual period, occurring during puberty.

However, he is now told how to protect himself from women’s genital odor. While having intercourse he must not penetrate too deeply because if it enters her urethra it might make him ill.

  • A ceremony now links the youth’s growth, strength, as that of a specific tree. This is where the youth is now exposed to the women after he has been forewarned about every dangerous thing that a women can posses against a man. (Herdt, p. 98)

The Fifth Stage of Initiation

The fifth stage of initiation now takes about at the time of his wife’s menarche. His nose is now bled once more by himself and he learns in great detail how to protect himself from his wife’s pollution in greater detail. In certain cases he must place mint leaves in his nostrils and chew a certain branch while having intercourse will this wife so he will not smell his wife’s genital odor.

After this, he must bathe in a bath of mud and bleed his nose each time his wife menstruates. He begins to be hostile with his wife because he is upset that he has to nose bleed each time she menstruates because she pollutes him and endangers his life.

  • The initiate is now a man who has been isolated from women for a 12 years; he has practiced homosexual fellatio, and has even had the dangers of vaginal intercourse readily. His young wife has been taught to practice fellatio before they even attempt to vaginal intercourse. She must ingest the semen given to her by her husband to later be able to provide from her child while producing breast milk and strong bones. It is believe that breast milk is transformed semen and therefore it is the men who indirectly nourish the baby. (Herdt, pp. 98-99)

The Sixth Stage of Initiation

The sixth stage of initiation bestows the full rights of manhood and takes place after the man has proven that he has achieved masculinity by having a child, and preferable two.

  • The man is instructed to refrain from any intercourse with the new mother and keep away from the child until it is weaned, a matter of several years. He does not need to bleed his nose anymore unless he has another wife to attend to. (Herdt, p. 100)

He must keep all his secrets of the male cult and be sure never to tell anyone about it, not even his wife because if that was to happen he will be castrated and killed.

This is certainly a very tough and long initiation process that takes place in Papa New Guinea. Unfortunately many boys have gone through this and have not been able to survive this tedious initiation.Those who have, are considered great warrior and are then the initiators of the next generation of initiates.

The Sambia tribe is a very strict tribe when it comes to male masculinization. Most of the time the male’s life is spent in his ritual of initiation where he dies as a boy and is reborn as a man in a society where feminization is a degradable characteristic.        

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