Rituals of Manhood: Male Initiation in Papua New Guinea essay

The following research deals with rituals of manhood in Papua New Guinea, exploring the cultural relativism in regard to the inhabitants of the area. The research gives a small summary of the article about the rituals of manhood and provides a clear explanation of its plot.

The author of the article gives details on the inhabitance area of Sambia people, stating that they are a mountain-dwelling people. The author gives information about the origin of Sambia people, which is traced to the Papua interior. As for the male activities, they are basically based on hunting, as meat is the only source of protein for Papua inhabitants. On the other hand, the work of women deals with cultivating crops. Sambia people settle in small groups and usually stay in their predecessors’ hamlets. When it comes to fighting or rituals there is formed a certain group of warriors, dealing with these matters. An important thing stated by the author of the article is that, as a rule, marriage takes place by the sister exchange or infant engagement. It is necessary to mention that in regard to the culture of Papua inhabitants, the infant engagement or prearranged marriage is more preferable. It is one of the examples of cultural relativism.

Another important point of the article is a difference between male and female lives. Sambia people are known for their nuclear families, where all members live in one hut. Children live together with their parents until the marriage age. As stated in the article, there are also cases of polygony, when a man has several wives, and all of them live in a single residential area, which deals with cultural relativism. While girls may live with their family until marriage, boys move to the men’s clubhouse at the age between seven and ten. Such an early removal of boys may be explained by the fact that they need to get ready for future life with adult men, and learn to fight. There are also some severe restrictions, according to which male and female representatives have to sleep and eat separately.

Despite the fact that hamlet members are usually intermarried, they initiate their sons together, and fight cohesively against their enemies. The article also provides details on the importance of strength in the life of Sambia men. Strength is viewed as manliness, and it is sometimes related with the battlefield. The fact that Sambia people initiate their sons is clearly explained by the author in regard to previous wars with enemy tribes, stating that everything a Sambia boy has is his masculinity. It is an important part of cultural relativism.

The article provides full information on the initiation rituals of Sambia people. The author underlines that there are several stages of initiation. The first one takes place at the age of seven to ten, the second ”“ at the age of ten to thirteen, and the third ”“ at the age of thirteen to sixteen. There are also three more stages of initiation, which are clearly described by the author. Unlike the first three stages, the other ones are a symbol of the maturing femininity and a female life-crisis. Thus, the first birth of a child is greatly celebrated by the hamlet members, while all the other births do not require such rituals. A family receives the title of adulthood when two children are born. Thus, the author points out that a man gradually proves himself to be able to reproduce.

Another important part of cultural relativism stated by the author is that male representatives feel superior over their wives, both in physical appearance and social position. All this represents the behavior of men towards women and their attitude to them. Sambia people are also convinced that maleness is acquired, while femaleness is biological. Girls are born with all necessary things for reproduction, while boys have to go through the process of initiation in order to become real men. There are certain male ritual cults which help boys to grow up into men, as masculinity is something that must be achieved, not a naturally acquired thing. Besides, boys are separated from their mothers in early childhood; while girls get everything they need from their mothers in order to become women.

Summarizing the points of cultural relativism in the article, it is necessary to say that the idea of cultural relativism is the most important part of the idea of culture, along with plurality and equality of cultural types in a geographical location and historical period. Although, some researchers of cultural relativism emphasize that tribes of Papua New Guinea live in peace and harmony, it is clearly seen that it is not so. Most of the relations between tribes are unnaturally vicious. Another example of cultural relativism is that men and women live separately, where men occupy a superior position, and women are not as important as men. The sexual act is mechanical for both Sambia men and women, where men are afraid to get contaminated because of closeness to their wives. Thus, the importance of cultural relativism may be explained by the fact that the understanding of culture is acquired only through the culture’s own terms. It may not be explained in relation to any other cultures. All this comprise the uniqueness of each culture.

In conclusion, the above research deals with the main points of the article and draws a line between the plot of the article and the importance of cultural relativism. The research touches the problem of masculinity in Papua New Guinea and the relations of male and female representatives of Sambia hamlets.


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