three pairs of lovers with space



American ethnologist Hubert Howe Bancroft (1832-1918)’s The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America was published in five volumes in New York in 1875-6.  

Bancroft described this monumental work in the Preface as a “delineation” of the aboriginal inhabitants of “the western half of North America”, an “immense territory bordering on the western ocean from Alaska to Darien, and including the whole of Mexico and Central America.” He began researching for it in 1859 and writing it up in 1869, “having accumulated some sixteen thousand books, manuscripts, and pamphlets, besides maps and cumbersome files of Pacific Coast journals.” (Preface in I pp. vii-viii). 

Much of the homosexuality described by Bancroft was of the gender-differentiated variety, according to which the passive partner behaved as a woman and his age, not being critical, was sometimes obscure. The passages extracted here include all those which refer clearly to sex between men and boys. Three short passages which refer to homosexuality without indicating whether or not it was pederastic are included with introductory caveats. Two short passages (volumes  II p. 337 and III pp. 505-6) mentioning “young men addicted to unnatural lusts” or “sodomy” being allowed to “solicit custom” at a festival in pre-Spanish Mexico are excluded.   


Volume I.  Wild Tribes 



Bancroft defined the Hyperboreans as “those nations whose territory lies north of the fifty-fifth parallel.”

The first relevant section of this chapter concerns the Koniagas, who “derive their name from the inhabitants of the island of Kadiak, who, when first discovered, called themselves Kanagist. The Kaviaks mentioned were one of the nations into which they were divided, who inhabited the Norton Sound.” (pp. 69-70)

                                                          The Alaskan island of Kodiak, homeland of the Koniagas

The domestic manners of the Koniagas are of the lowest order. In filth they out-do, if possible, their neighbors of the north.[1] Thrown together in little bands under one roof, they have no idea of morality, and the marriage relation sits so loosely as hardly to excite jealousy in its abuse. Female chastity is deemed a thing of value only as men hold property in it. A young unmarried woman may live uncensured in the freest intercourse with the men; though, as soon as she belongs to one man, it is her duty to be true to him. Sodomy is common; the Kaviaks practise polygamy and incest; the Kadiaks cohabit promiscuously, brothers and sisters, parents and children.[2]

Hunters of the Alutiq, to which ethnic group the Koniagas belonged

But the most repugnant of all their practices is that of male concubinage. A Kadiak mother will select her handsoment and most promising boy, and dress and rear him as a girl, teaching him only domestic duties, keeping him at woman's work, associating him only with women and girls, in order to render his effeminacy complete. Arriving at the age of ten or fifteen years, he is married to some wealthy man, who regards such a companion as a great acquisition. These male wives are called achnutschik or schopans.[3]

In [the Koniagas’] own eyes, their abhorrent practices are as sinless as the ordinary, openly conducted avocations of any community are to the members thereof. [pp. 81-7] 


The next section concerns the Aleuts, “the inhabitants of the Aleutian Archipelago.” (p. 87)

Wives are exchanged by the men, and rich women are permitted to indulge in two husbands. Male concubinage obtains throughout the Aleutian Islands, but not to the same extent as among the Koniagas.[4] [p. 92] 




In the section on “Southern Californians whose territory lies south of the thirty-fifth parallel” is the following passage included only because the transvestites mentioned took up their “unnatural” role in “youth”:

When the missionaries first arrived in this region, they found men dressed as women, and performing women's duties, who were kept for unnatural purposes. From their youth up they were treated, instructed, and used as females, and were even frequently publicly married to the chiefs or great men.[5] [p.415]  




               H.H. Bancroft, the author

In the section on Apaches, to whom “no accurate boundaries can be assigned” occurs the following, which may or may not imply pederasty:

Even sodomy and incestuous intercourse occur among them. [p. 515] 


In the section on the Northern Mexicans, “spread over the territory lying between parallels 21° and 33°  of latitude” appears the following passage whose relevance depends on the unknown age of the concubines:

The Sisibotaris, Ahomes, and Tepehuanes hold chastity in high esteem, and both their maidens and matrons are remarkably chaste. The standard of morality elsewhere in this vicinity is, in general, low, especially with the Acaxées and Tahus, whose incestuous connections and system of public brothels are notorious. According to Arlegui, Ribas, and other authors, among some of these nations male concubinage prevails to a great extent; these loathsome semblances of humanity, whom to call beastly were a slander upon beasts, dress themselves in the clothes and perform the functions of women, the use of weapons even being denied them. [p. 585]




In the section on “The Isthmians, by which name I designate all the nations occupying the territory lying between the San Juan River and the southern shore of Lake Nicaragua on the north, and the gulf of Urabá, or Darien, and the River Atrato on the south.”

Sodomy was practised by the nations of Cueba, Careta, and other places. The caciques and some of the head men kept harems of youths, who, as soon as destined to the unclean office, were dressed as women, did women's work about the house, and were exempt from war and its fatigues. They went by the name of camayoas, and were hated and detested by the women. [pp. 773-4]  


Volume II.  Civilized Nations 

To reduce drastically two extremely long chapters on what Bancroft means by “civilized nations”, one may say it is in effect “the incipient civilization of the Mexican and Central American table-lands (pp. 81-2).  



In Mexico, those who committed sodomy were hanged; in Tezcuco, the punishment for unnatural crime was characteristically brutal. The active agent was bound to a stake, completely covered with ashes, and so left to die; the entrails of the passive agent were drawn out through his anus, he also was then covered with ashes, and wood being added, the pile was ignited.[6] In Tlascala, the sodomite was not punished by law, but was scouted by society, and treated with scorn and contempt by all who knew him.[7] From the extreme severity of the laws enacted by the later sovereigns for the suppression of this revolting vice, and from the fact that persons were especially appointed by the judicial authorities to search the provinces for offenders of this class, it is evident that unnatural love had attained a frightful popularity among the Aztecs. Father Pierre de Gand, or, as he is sometimes known, de Mara, bears terrible testimony to this; he writes: "Un certain nombre de prêtres n'avaient point de femmes, sed eorum loco pueros quibus abutebantur. Ce péché était si commun dans ce pays, que, jeunes ou vieux, tous en étaient infectés; ils y étaient si adonnés, que mêmes des enfants de six ans s'y livraient.” [translation for this website: “A certain number of priests had nothing to do with women, but abused boys in their place. This sin was so common in the country that, young or old, all were infected by it. They were so devoted to it that even children of six were engaged in it.”] [8] 

  An Aztec boy chastised with spicy smoke, by Pierre Joubert

Las Casas relates that in several of the more remote provinces of Mexico unnatural vice was tolerated, if not actually permitted,[9] and it is not improbable that in earlier times this was the case in the entire empire. Inexpressibly revolting as the sin must appear to a modern mind, yet we know that pederasty has obtained among peoples possessed of a more advanced civilization than the Aztecs. In ancient Greece this unnatural passion prevailed to such an extent that it was regarded as heroic to resist it. Plutarch, in his Life of Agesilaus, cannot praise too highly the self-control manifested by that great man in refraining “from gratifying a passion he had conceived for a boy named Megabates, which Maximus Tyrius says deserves greater praise than the heroism of Leonidas; Diogenes Laertius, in his Life of Zeno, the founder of stoicism, the most austere of all ancient sects, praises that philosopher for being but little addicted to this vice; Sophocles, the Tragic Homer, and the Attic Bee, is said by Athenaeus to have been especially addicted to it. Moralists were known to praise it as the bond of friendship, and it was spoken of as inspiring the enthusiasm of the heroic legion of Epaminondas. The defeat of the Romans by Hannibal at Cannae was said to be caused by the jealousy of Juno, because a beautiful boy had been introduced into the temple of Jupiter. Las Casas tells us that pederasty was tolerated because they believed that their gods practised it.[10] In precisely the same manner did the ancient Greeks make the popular religion bend to the new vice and by substituting Ganymede for Hebe as heavenly cup-bearer, make the head of all Olympus set an example of unnatural love. [pp. 467-9]  




   The title page of the 1st volume, 1875

In Guatemala, Las Casas tells us that the men never married until they were thirty, notwithstanding he has previously made the extraordinary assertion that the great prevalence of unnatural lusts made parents anxious to get their children wedded as early as possible.[11] [p. 664]  


All the old writers appear anxious to clear the civilized aborigines from the charge of sodomy, yet the fact that no nation was without strict laws regarding this unnatural vice, combined with the admissions reluctantly made by the reverend fathers themselves, seems to show that pederasty certainly was not unknown. Thus Las Casas says that sodomy was looked upon as a great and abominable sin in Vera Paz, and was not known until a god,[12] called by some Chin, by others Cavil, and again by others Maran, instructed them by committing the act with another deity. Hence, it was held by many to be no sin, inasmuch as a god had introduced it among them. And thus it happened that some fathers gave their sons a boy to use as a woman; and if any other approached this boy he was treated as an adulterer. Nevertheless, if a man committed a rape upon a boy, he was punished in the same manner as if he had ravished a woman. And, adds the same writer, there were always some who reprehended this abominable custom.[13] In Yucatan, certain images were found by Bernal Diaz which would lead us to suppose that the natives were at least acquainted with sodomy,[14] but here again the good father[15] takes up the cudgels in behalf of his favourites. In Nicaragua, sodomites were stoned to death.[16] [pp. 676-8]   


Volume V.  Primitive History 



The following statement may not refer to pederasty:

Another great cause of offence [to the Nahuas] was that the Quinames were addicted to sodomy, a vice which they refused to abandon even when they were offered the wives and daughters of the newcomers.” [p. 198]  




                                   Olmecs, by Pierre Joubert

The southern coast region of Chiapas, between Tehuantepec and Seconusco, was occupied by a people whose origin is involved in some mystery. … Torquemada identifies them with the Pipiles of Guatemala and Salvador, … These coast people were an industrious, frugal race, and for a long time they held peaceable possession of their territory, and prospered exceedingly. But their happy life was destined to be rudely and suddenly changed to one of bondage and oppression. A horde of fierce Olmecs invaded and conquered their country, and immediately reduced the vanquished to a state of miserable slavery. Not only were they forced to pay excessive and ruinous tribute, but they were compelled to yield up their children of both sexes to gratify the unnatural lusts of their masters. [p. 606]   


[1] ‘They will not go a step out of the way for the most necessary purposes of nature; and vessels are placed at their very doors for the reception of the urinous fluid, which are resorted to alike by both sexes.' Lisiansky’s Voy., p. 214.

[2] 'Not only do brothers and sisters cohabit with each other, but even parents and children.' Langsdorff’s Voy., pt. ii., p. 64.

[3]‘Der Vater oder die Mutter bestimmen den Sohn schon in seiner frühsten Kindheit zam Achnutschik, wenn er ihnen mädchenhaft erscheint.' Holmberg, Ethn, Skiz., p. 121.  'Male concubines are much more frequent here than at Oonalashka.' Langsdorff's Voy., pt. ii, p. 64.  They 'are happy to see them taken by the chiefs, to gratify their unnatural desires. Such youths are dressed like women, and taught all their domestic duties.' Sauer, Billing’s Ex., p. 176.  'Ces peuples sont très adonnés aux plaisirs des sens et même à un vice infame. Choris, Voy, Pitt., pt. vii, p. 8.  'Of all the customs of these islanders, the most disgusting is that of men, called schoopans, living with men, and supplying the place of women.' Lisiansky’s Voy., p. 199. This shameful custom applies to the Thlinkeets as well.' Quelques personnes de L’Equipage du Solide out rapporté qu'il ne leur est pas possible de douter que les Tchinkitânéens ne soient souillés de ce vice honteux que la Théologie immoral des Grecs avoit divinisé.' Marchand, Voy. aut. du Monde, tom. ii., p. 97.

[4] 'Objects of unnatural affection.' Sauer, Billings’ Ex., p. 160. 'Their beards are carefully plucked out as soon as they begin to appear, and their chins tattooed like those of the women.' Langsdorff’s Voy., pt. ii., p. 48.

[5] ‘Pero en la Mision de S. Antonio se pudo algo averiguar, pues avisando á los Padres, que en una de las casas de los Neóñtos se habian metido dos Gentiles, el uno con el traje natural de ellos, y el otro con el trage de mugger expresándolo con el nombre de Joya (one dicen llamarlos asi en su lengua nativa)  fué luego el P. Misionero con el Cabo y on Soldado á la casa á ver lo que buecaban, y los hallaron en el acto de pecado nefando. Custigáronlos, aunque no con la pena merecida, y afcaronles el hecho tan enorme; y respondió el Gentil, que aquella Joya era au mugger … Solo en el tramo de la Canal de Santa Bárbara, se hallan muchos Joyas, pues raro es el Pueblo donde no se vean dos ó tres.’ Palos, Vida de Junípero Serra, p. 222. ‘Así en cata rancheria como en otros de la canal, hemos visto  algunos gentiles con traje de muger con sus naguitas de gamusa, y muy engruesadas y limpias; no hemos podido entender lo que significa, ni á qué fin.’ Crespi, in Doc. Hist. Mex., serie iv., tom. vi, p. 325. See also Boscana, in Robinson’s Life in Col., pp. 283-4;  Mofras, Explor., tom. ii,p. 371; Torquemada, Monarq. Ind., tom. ii, pp. 427; Fages, in Nouvelles Annales des Voy., 1844, tom. ci., p. 173.

[6] Torquemada, Monarq. Ind., tom. i., p. 166, tom. ii., p. 380; Las Casas, Hist. Apologética, MS., cap. ccxv.; Veytia, Hist. Ant. Mej., tom. iii., p. 423; Ortega, in Id., v. 224; Vetancurt, Teatro Mex., pt ii., p. 33; Mendieta, Hist. Ecles.,p. 137; Ixtilvochitl, Hist. Chich, in Kingsborough’s Mex. Antiq., vol. ix., pp. 245. Carbajal Espinosa differs from these in saying: 'Al pasivo le arrancaban las entrañas, se llenaba su vientre de ceniza y el cadáver era quemado.’ Hist. Mex., tom. i, p. 603.

[7] Camargo, Hist. Tlax., in Nouvelles Annales des Voy., 1843, tom. xcviii., S. 198. Carli is therefore mistaken in saying this crime was punished with death. Cartas, p. 122.  

[8] Lettre, in Ternaux Compans, Voy., série i., tom. x., p. 197.

[9] Hist. Apologética, MS., cap. ccxiii. Clavigero writes: ‘Appresso tutte le Nazioni di Anahuac, fuorche appresso i Panuchesi, era in abbominazione si fatto delitto, e da tutte si puniva con rigore.' This writer is very bitter against M. de Pauw for stating that this pederasty was common among the Mexicans, and adds: 'Ma della falaità di tal calunnia, che con troppa, ed assai biasimevolo facilità addottarono parecchi Autori Europei, ci conata per la testimonianza di moltri altri Autori imparziarli, e meglioo informati.’ Clavigero does not, however, state who these ‘more impartial and better informed writers ' are. That the crime of sodomy was prevalent in Tabasco, we have the testimony of Oviedo, who writes that among the idols that the Christians saw there 'dixeron que avian hallado entre aquellos çemís ó yolos, dos personas hechas de copey (que es un árbol assi llamado), el uno caballero ó cabalgando sobre el otro, en figura de aquel abominable y nefando pecado de sodomia, é otro de barro que tenia la natura asida con ambas manos, la qual tenia como çircunçiso … y no es este pecado entre aquellas mal aventuradas gentes despresçiado, ni sumariamente averiguado: antes es mucha verdad quanto dellos se puede deçir é culpar en tal caso.' Hist. Gen., tom. i., p. 533. Zuazo, speaking of the Mexicans, says: * Estas gentes tienen la tria peccatela que decia el Italiano: no creen en Dios; son casi todos sodomitas: comen carne humana.' Carta, in Icazbalceta, Col. de Doc., tom. i., p. 365. 

[10] Hist. Apologética, MS., cap. ccxiii.

[11] Las Casas, in Kingsborough’s Mex. Antiq., vol. viii, p. 135.

[12] A demon, Las Casas calls him, but these monks spoke of all the New World deities as 'demons.'

[13] Las Casas, in Kingsborough's Mex. Antiq., vol. viii., p. 138. Before this he writes: ‘Y es aqui de saber, que tenian por grave pecado el de la sodomia como abajo dirémos, y comunmente los padres lo aborrecian y prohibian á los hijos. Pero por causa de que fuesen instruidos en la religion, mandavanles dormir en los templos donde los mozos mayores en aquel vicio á los niños corrompian. Y despues salidos de alli mal acostumbrados, dificil era librarlos de aquel vicio. Por esta causa cran los padres muy solicitos de casarlos quan presto podian, por los apartar de aquella corrupcion vilissima aunque casallos muchachos contra su voluntad y forzados, y solamente por aquel respeto lo hacian.' Id., pp. 134-5.

[14] Cogolludo, Hist. Yuc., p. 180.

[15] ‘Otro acerrimo infamador de estas naciones, que Dios Nuestro Señor haya, en cuya historia creo yo que tuvo Dios harto poca parte, dixo ser indicio notorio de que aquellas gentes eran contaminadas del vicio nefando por haver hallado en cierta parte de aquella tierra, hechos de barro ciertos idolos uno encima de otro. Como si entre nuestros pintores ó figulos no se finjan cada dia figuras feas y de diversos actos, que no hay sopecha por nadie obrarse, condenarlos todos por aquello, haciendolos reos de vicio tan indigno de se hablar, no carece de muy culpable temeridad, y asi lo que ariba dije tengo por la verdad, y lo demas por falsos testimonios dignos de divino castigo' Las Casas in Kingsborough’s Mex. Antiq., vol. viii, p. 147.

[16] Oviedo, Hist. Gen., tom. iv., p. 51; Squier’s Nicaragua (ed. 1856) vol. ii., p. 343.