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Sambia Sexual Culture

Essays from the Field

Few cultures have received as much attention in the study of erotic desire, sexuality, and gender as the Sambia of Papua New Guinea. Here, for the first time, is a collection of groundbreaking essays and a new introduction on the Sambia’s sexual culture by the renowned anthropologist Gilbert Herdt.

Over the course of 20 years, Herdt made 13 field trips to live with the Sambia in order to understand sexuality and ritual in the context of warfare and gender segregation. Herdt’s essays examine Sambia fetish and fantasy, ritual nose-bleeding, the role of homoerotic insemination, the role of the father and mother in the process of identity formation, and the creation of a "third sex" in nature and culture. He also discusses the representation of homosexuality in cross-cultural literature on premodern societies, arguing that scholars have long viewed desires through the tropes of negative western models. Herdt asks us to reconsider the realities and subjective experiences of desires in their own context, and to rethink how the homoerotic is expressed in radically divergent sexual cultures.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Sexual Cultures, Strange and Familiar
1. Songs in the Key of Life
2. Sambia Sexual Culture
3. Fetish and Fantasy in Sambia Initiation
4. Sambia Nosebleeding Rites and Male Proximity to Females
5. Semen Depletion and the Sense of Maleness
6. Father Presence and Ritual Homoeroticism: Paternal Deprivation and Masculinity in Melanesia Reconsidered
7. Developmental Discontinuities and Sexual Orientation across Cultures
8. Mistaken Sex: Culture, Biology, and the Third Sex in New Guinea
9. Representations of "Homosexuality": Cultural Ontology and Historical Comparison

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