three pairs of lovers with space

GREEK LOVE IN THE SOLOMON ISLANDS

Institutionalised Greek love in one of the Solomon Islands as practised in 1963-5 was described by the American anthropologist William Davenport in "Sexual Patterns and Their Regulation in a Society of the Southwest Pacific", published in Sex and Behavior, edited by Frank A. Beach, originally published by Wiley & Sons, New York, 1965, and reprinted by Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, Huntington, New York, 1974, pp. 164-207.

As explained below by his editor, Davenport disguised the identity of the place he was writing about as "East Bay" in one of the "X Group" of some unidentified Melanesian islands, but it has been revealed[1] as the Nabakaenga District of Graciosa Bay on Nendö (Santa Cruz Island), in the Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands, then governed as a British protectorate.

William Davenport (1922-2004), Professor of Anthropology

Davenport described the entire sexual culture of the Nabakaenga District, where he stayed for 21 months, but here are reproduced only the section "Homosexual Behaviour" and such of his other observations and findings as seem important for understanding the cultural context within which Greek love was practised.

INTRODUCTION

It is my purpose to discuss certain aspects of the patterning of sexual and associated behavior in an isolated but rapidly changing South Sea community. Where possible, the most obvious beliefs and social controls on actual sexual behavior are also presented. ...

The data reported here are from a group of Melanesian islands that will be called the "X Group." [Note by the editor: Because the author obtained and here reports information unavailable to the local administrative personnel, ad because of the possibility that publication of certain data might result in embarrassment of informants vis-à-vis this personnel, the precise time and locus of the field study have been withheld. Suffice it to say that the work is accurately described as "recent," and that it was carried out in Melanesia.]

In this group live several thousand people of different racial backgrounds, speaking several languages, and having a number of different subcultures; ... The data on sex pertain only to East Bay, a large district in one island of the group. They must not be generalized to other districts nor to islands where marked differences are known to exist.

East Bay consists of a number of small coastal villages, ... and has a total population of 636 persons. It is one of the most prosperous districts in all the "X Group" ... .

The material to follow was obtained in the following manner. For the first eighteen months of field work the writer and his wife made little deliberate attempt to elicit direct evidence pertaining to sexual behavior, although a great deal was accumulated through observations and conversations during this time. At the end of this initial period all of the sex data were assembled and carefully reviewed with a few key men informants so that the most obvious errors, omissions, and inconsistencies could be corrected. Out of this body of data a schedule of fifty-four items was prepared, and all the males of one village over the age of about six years (except one senile old gentleman), thirty-four in all, were interviewed ... .

GENERAL CONCEPTS OF SEXUAL PROPRIETY

                       Graciosa Bay, from Manu, Santa Cruz

At East Bay sex is an ordinary topic of conversation except with certain types of kin ... Sexual intercourse between husband and wife is assumed to be natural, highly pleasurable, and, for men at least, almost a physical necessity. ... Conversely deprivation is believed to be harmful.

Yet, despite this somewhat unconcerned attitude towards intercourse with a legitimate spouse, and formerly with a concubine as well, there is great concern for sexual propriety. Severe sanctions of several kinds are imposed on individuals who engage in what in English must be distinguished as fornication ... and adultery... . Social efforts to forestall, to discover, and to punish proven sex offenders are far more vigorous than any that occur even among the most Puritanical segments of our own society. ...

THE MARITAL RELATIONSHIP

[Davenport described at length the choosing of marriage partners, observing, amongst other things, that though parents had an important role in deciding their children's marriages, mutual sexual attraction between the parties was considered a vital condition. Men married at about the age of twenty.]

Rules of Modesty

Intercourse occurs in complete nudity, or with all clothing removed except for a belt. In fact, this is the only occasion when either person exposes his genitals to another individual. After early adolescence, by which time genital modesty is well learned, neither man nor woman ever undresses before another person, even of the same sex. East Bay adults are so modest that they can only be described as prudish.

                  Boys of Heuru, The Solomon Islands, 1906

 

SEX TRAINING AND BEHAVIOR IN CHILDHOOD

At the age of about seven or eight boys move into the final age-determined play group. This is composed of boys up to ten and sometimes twelve years, and these are the children that are most conspicuous in any village. They range about the village as a band. ... Boys in this age group show not the slightest interest in girls. All of their activities are very masculine ... (pp. 195-6)

Until early adolescence both boys and girls are completely naked most of the time, nevertheless they are learning about genital modesty... By ten or eleven years most boys and girls have completely mastered the rudiments of adult genital modesty and the fundamentals of the avoidance patterns directed towards persons of the opposite sex. ...

At some point between the ages of eleven and fifteen years, a lavish ceremony may be performed for a boy and occasionally for a girl. ... For a young man it indicates several things. He now knows how to observe all the proper avoidances of women including a slightly reserved behavior towards his sister. He is now mature enough emotionally to reside in the men's house without need of running home to be with his mother. Indeed, this ceremony marks the transition from the status of a boy to that of a young man. Henceforth the young man's life will be fully oriented around the male inhabitants of the men's house. ... (p. 197)

OUTLETS OTHER THAN HETEROSEXUAL COITUS

In East Bay society young men living in the men's house are the pride of the community, and the best of everything is reserved for them. ... In many ways this period of late adolescence and early adulthood is a golden interval ... It is realized they are sexually mature in many ways, but heterosexual intercourse is considered harmful to a young man until his beard is fully grown. At the same time there is a general recognition of the increasing strength of erotic desire during these years, and of the need for some source of sexual satisfaction. Masturbation is seen as an ideal, socially acceptable solution to this problem. (pp. 197-8)

                 Boys of the Nggela Islands in the Solomons

Homosexual Behavior

For men, homosexual relations constitute another important and socially approved substitute for heterosexual intercourse. At some time during his life, very nearly every male engages in extensive homosexual activities. Such experiences are readily and openly discussed for they are considered to be as normal as masturbation and marital intercourse. Homosexual activity usually begins with foreplay which consist of mutual or unilateral masturbation and ends with anal intercourse culminating in orgasm.

There are two categories of homosexual relationships: those between young single men of the same age group, and those involving older men and boys from seven to perhaps eleven years of age. With young men of the same age, homosexual interaction occurs between persons who are merely good friends, sometimes between brothers. One partner assumes the passive role when the other requests it, and subsequently the favor is returned. Men who behave thus are not regarded as homosexual lovers. They are simply friends or relatives, who, understanding each other’s needs and desires, accommodate one another thus fulfilling some of the obligations of kinship and friendship. The usual relationship between older men and young boys is quite different. The man always plays the active role, and it is considered obligatory for him to give the boy presents in return for accommodating him. A man would not engage his own son in such a relationship, but fathers do not object when friends use their young sons in this way, provided the adult is kind and generous.

Young men usually engage in homosexual behavior privately in the bush, or sometimes in the men’s house at night. These relations are not discussed openly, but neither are they concealed. They are treated as private, confidential, and privileged matters between friends. When young men leave the island to work on plantations, homosexual partnerships become more obvious and there is less attempt to keep them private, for life in the barracks or labor lines, as they are called on the plantation, is in all ways far less formal than it is back home in a men’s house at East Bay.

                           Boys of Nendö, the island studied

Older men who select young boys for sex partners always have contact with them privately in the bush, never in the men’s house. In any event, the boys usually are too young to be living there. Boys discuss their homosexual activities freely and without shame in the presence of their parents and friends. It is considered a kind of duty to obligingly accede to the demands of an older man, and boys consider themselves well rewarded if they are rewarded with a stick of tobacco or some other valuable article of trade goods they would not otherwise be able to obtain.

For the mature man, self-masturbation is considered an immature form of behavior representing a continuation of natural childish habits into adulthood. In contrast, anal intercourse is classified as adult behavior. Infantile masturbation without orgasm; then juvenile masturbation with orgasm and ejaculation; then anal intercourse with an age mate; and finally anal intercourse with a young boy are all seen as appropriate forms of sexual activity for males of different ages. Older men, and particularly those of high social standing, deny deriving any pleasure from masturbation. This type of sexual behavior is not befitting their position. For comparable reasons a young man does not engage a younger boy as his sex partner, for to do so openly would be presumptuous and not in keeping with his age-appropriate social position.

East Bay men know that Europeans disapprove of homosexual behaviour. Some are aware of the fact that it ranks in colonial law as a very serious crime. It is general knowledge that missionaries regard homosexual acts as a heinous moral offense. Most men in this society interpret this conflict of values as a basic difference between Europeans and Melanesians, but there are a few males who have known Europeans who were not so different from themselves. During one of our conversations two East Bay residents casually mentioned that when they had first gone out as contact labor years earlier they had served as passive sexual partners in relations with white plantation overseers. This statement evoked hearty laughter on the part of younger men who were listening. For our benefit  they explained that they had always assumed that "anus copulation" was something only Melanesians enjoyed.

   Another Solomon islander

All of our informants denied the occurrence of mouth-genital contact in homosexual relations. In fact, this variant seemed to be quite unknown to East Bay males. When they were told that this was a frequent homosexual practice among European men, the response was one of great hilarity. No one appeared to understand how such behavior could provide any sexual satisfaction.

Our information pertaining to the sexual behavior of young, single women is less satisfactory than it is for the men, but it seems reasonably certain that neither adolescent girls nor young adult women engage in homosexual activities. If such relationships do occur, which we doubt, they must be conducted with extreme secrecy. The only female substitute for heterosexual intercourse seems to be self-masturbation.

BISEXUAL BEHAVIOR

Masturbation and anal copulation have been discussed as substitutes for heterosexual intercourse, and, indeed, this is the way society tends to regard them. However, not all men become exclusively heterosexual at marriage. There is no doubt that some do, but most do not. It is expected that after marriage a man will desire and value intercourse with his wife above all other sex relations, and that he will give up onanism. However, he need not forego pederasty as long as this does not prevent him from giving sexual satisfaction to his wife. In other words, this is a society that quite frankly expects and accepts some bisexual behavior in most men, although there is nothing odd or deviant about an exclusively heterosexual male. As a result these people have no concept to compare with our commonly accepted stereotype of the "psychological homosexual." ... East Bay is a society which permits men to be either exclusively heterosexual or bisexual in their behavior, but denies the possibility of the exclusively homosexual man.

 

[1] See, for example, Pacific Homosexualities by Stephen O. Murray (San Jose, California, 2002), p. 254.