a venerated place

Many of the world’s cultures recognize more than two genders. The notion that there are those of us who do not fit precisely into either a male or female role has historically been accepted by several groups (excerpt from this article)

Among Native Americans, the role of third, fourth, or even fifth genders has been widely documented. Children, who were born physically male or female and yet showed a proclivity for the opposite gender, were encouraged to live out their lives in the gender role, which fit them best. The term used by Europeans to describe this phenomenon is Berdache.

Berdache found here

The berdache could adopt the clothing of women, associate and be involved with women, do the work normally associated with women, marry a man and take part in many spiritual ceremonies of the tribe. The Arapaho of the plains believe the role existed due to supernatural gifts from birds or animals.

image of Arapaho men (1898) found here

Parents would watch a child who seemed to have a tendency toward living as berdache and would assist him in pursuing it rather than discouraging him. Berdaches excel in weaving, beadwork, and pottery; arts associated almost solely with the women of the tribe. One notable attribute of the berdache is that the work of these people is greatly prized both within and without the tribe. 

image by Robert Freeman found here

Although there is much fluidity in alternate gender behavior, a berdache reaches some absolutes when it comes to adopting biological female roles. This limitation has not eliminated attempts at mimicking such female biological processes such as menstruation and pregnancy. The Mohave alyha were known to have gone to great lengths to simulate mock pregnancies. They would self induce constipation and then “deliver” a stillborn fecal fetus. Appropriate mourning rites and burial were performed with the involvement of the alyha’s husband.

Indian burial platform found here

One of the most entertaining stories associated with the adoption of female dress and attitude comes from a  famous berdache, We’Wha. In 1886, she went to Washington DC to meet President Grover Cleveland accompanied by anthropologist and debutante, Matilda Coxe Stevenson. Because she passed easily as a woman, she was allowed into the ladies rooms and boudoirs of the elite. She delighted in telling the Zuni upon arriving home that “the white women were mostly frauds, taking out their false teeth and ‘rats’ from their hair.”

image found here

There are some characteristics of the sexual practices of berdache, which differ from those of other same sex relationships. Berdaches almost always observe an incest taboo which involves the avoidance of sex with another berdache. One explanation for this is that sexual partner of the berdache must, by nature, be masculine. This belief is consistent with the emphasis on the gender aspects of the role rather than the sexual aspects. It also dovetails with the information on berdache marriages to masculine men. In these unions, the berdache is considered a wife and is valued by the husband not only for the domestic duties the berdache performs, but also for the socially acceptable homosexual relationship.

image found here

Berdaches frequently are available for sex with both unmarried adolescent boys and married men who occasionally seek out same sex partners. Because of this, female prostitution is not needed. Traditional berdaches were also available as sexual partners during hunts and in war parties. This was yet another reason why they were welcomed on these excursions.

Sioux War Party (1907) found here

Published in: on October 3, 2011 at 10:58 am  Comments (45)  
Tags: , , , , ,

duk duk if you see them coming

In Papua New Guinea there is a secret religious society known as the Duk Duks.


It represents a rough sort of law and order through its presiding god Duk-Duk, a mysterious figure dressed in pine branches down to its waist, with a leafy green helmet like a gigantic candle-extinguisher made of leaves. Women and children are forbidden to look at this figure – but shemales are permitted to do so.


The society uses male Duk-Duk and female Tubuan masks. Both types are cone-shaped and are constructed of cane and fibre, with short, bushy capes of pine needles. Traditionally the Duk-Duk was taller than the Tubuan and was faceless. The Tubuan had circular eyes and a crescent-shaped mouth painted on a dark background.


Only males could belong to Duk-Duk, the entrance fees often being 50 to 100 human limbs.

Below is an excerpt from The Western Pacific and New Guinea by H Romilly (1886)

This curious and interesting institution, by working on the superstitions of the rest, enables the old men of the tribe to secure for themselves a comfortable retirement and unbounded influence.  The appearance of the Duk Duk is announced well in advance by the old men. Great preparations of food are then made to appease them.

The day before the Dukduk’s expected arrival the women usually disappear, or remain in their houses. It is immediate death for a woman to look upon this unquiet spirit. Before daybreak everyone is assembled on the beach, most of the young men looking a good deal frightened.

At the first streak of dawn, singing and drum-beating is heard out at sea, and five or six canoes, lashed together with a platform built over them, are seen to be slowly advancing towards the beach. Two most extraordinary figures appear dancing on the platform, uttering shrill cries.


The outward and visible form assumed by them is intended to represent a gigantic cassowary, with the most hideous and grotesque of human faces. The dress, which is made of leaves, certainly looks much like the body of this bird, but the head is like nothing but the head of a Dukduk. It is a conical-shaped erection, about five feet high, made of very fine basket work, and gummed all over to give a surface on which the diabolical countenance is depicted. No arms or hands are visible, and the dress extends down to the knees.

Cassowary found here

As soon as the canoes touch the beach, the two Dukduks jump out, and at once the natives fall back, so as to avoid touching them. If a Dukduk is touched, even by accident, he very frequently tomahawks the unfortunate native on the spot.

NOT this kind of Tomahawk

In the evening a vast pile of food is collected, and is borne off by the old men into the bush, every man making his contribution to the meal. The Dukduk, if satisfied, maintains a complete silence; but if be does not think the amount collected sufficient, he shows his disapprobation by yelping and leaping.

When the food has been carried off, the young men have to go through a very unpleasant ordeal, which is supposed to prepare their minds for having the mysteries of the Dukduk explained to them at some very distant period. They stand in rows of six or seven, holding their arms high above their heads.

The Dukduk selects a cane, dances up to one of the young men, and deals him a most tremendous blow, which draws blood all round his body. There is, however, on the young man’s part no flinching or sign of pain. After the blow with the cane he has to stoop down, on the ‘tail,’ which must be most unpleasant. Each of these young men has to go through this performance some twenty times in the course of the evening. He will nevertheless be ready to place himself in the same position every night for the next fortnight. The time of a man’s initiation may and often does last for about twenty years, and as the Dukduk usually appears six times a year, the novice has to submit to a considerable amount of flogging to purchase his freedom of the guild.


Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 8:08 am  Comments (40)  
Tags: , , ,

a girl’s privilege and a boy’s duty

The Bechuana tribe of Southern Africa believe that someone who has recently had sex should not visit the sick, their polluting effect may be so strong that a sick person might not recover.

The most dangerous polluting effect is said to occur when the sick person hears the voice of a man or woman who has recently engaged in sexual activity.

If a married Bechuanan woman has committed adultery, a merciful husband may agree to a purification rite. The guilty woman sits on the ground opposite her husband, close enough that her knees are between his. A burning herb is placed between them for fumigation purposes, then they each make a small cut beneath each other’s navels. Their blood is mixed together with more herbs and then rubbed into the incisions. This is all that is needed to wipe out the stain of adultery and their life returns to normal.

In Central India some young people are educated the Ghotul way.

Anthropologists say that the Ghotul is an ancient institution. It is a living university. There are no books or tests, yet one is taught life’s education. Students are teachers here, and teachers, students.

image found here

Equality, simplicity, and freedom form the fundamental fabric of the Ghotul life. Members eat, play, dress, and sleep without any separation of males and females. They can even swim in the river together without clothes on.

In Ghotuls, no distinction is made between love and sex. Everybody is free and behaves responsibly. Since sex is considered a very natural phenomena at the Ghotuls, there arise no perversions. Sex is seen as natural as hunger or sleep. In some civilized societies, sex is considered to be a man’s right and woman’s duty, whereas at the Ghotul, it’s a girl’s privilege and the boy’s duty. Since partners are continuously rotated, every pair gets a chance sooner or later.

Although youngsters enjoy free sex at Ghotuls, they practice strict monogamy during married life.  Married people cannot enter the Ghotuls and the youngsters strongly protest any meddling in the Ghotul’s affairs by their elders.

Published in: on December 28, 2009 at 4:30 am  Comments (37)  
Tags: , ,