Chapter 29: Sex and Marriage among the Wautogigem

According to the Wautogig creation story, Yəhələgɨr left Yomunihi because he resented his brother Suonu’s covetousness for his wife Swagien. In some versions of the story, Yəhələgɨr went further and slayed his brother. This story suggests a high degree of lust among people, with execution as the ultimate consequence. But sex only for pleasure was not something Wautogigem practiced as a way of life. Sex was related primarily to procreation and marriage.

The general approach to sex in Wautogig is that it takes place between two consenting adults, one male and female. If both are single, marriage will be assumed. The man should take the woman into his household and pay the brideprice for the woman.

Brideprice is a symbolic recognition of the woman and her family. The woman is a valuable member of her family. Upon marriage, she leaves her family and joins the family she marries into. She becomes the yamo, the mother. She will give birth to children who will strengthen the husband’s family. She will increase the wealth and prosperity of her husband’s people. She is the creator, comforter, and a bridge between two tribes or villages that may not be friendly. In that case she is also the peacemaker. The payment of brideprice to the woman’s relatives honours these qualities. It recognises the woman’s value and dignity.

In Wautogig society, marriage between a man and a woman goes beyond union between those two individuals. It is a union between two families and two clans or villages. An in-married woman is fully accepted into Wautogig society. The extent to which she is integrated to the clan and the village is dependent on her own ability to recognise and adjust to the husband’s family and that of the Wautogig nation as a whole. There are no formal rules or ritual for acceptance. The man pledges to take care of the woman and she pledges to be a wife and a mother to his children. If the man should assault his wife or become cruel to her, she will run away to her parents’ house and the man will have to pay pigs or yams to get her back. This is so whether or not brideprice has been paid. This custom helps to prevent cruelty to women.

Marriage creates partnerships for life. The man is expected to be the head of the family and to take leadership. The family uses his or his family’s land for gardening, hunting, and fishing. They have no right to use the wife’s land. In parts of PNG where men marry and live with the woman, they will use the woman’s family land. In this case, the man is subsumed by the wife’s clan or family.

Marriages are often but not always arranged. Sometimes a young man will find a suitable partner from Wautogig or a neighbouring village and take her as his wife. If she agrees to the marriage, she will go with the man to his house or to his family’s house. If the parents accept the girl, they will welcome her and arrange to pay brideprice to her family. If they do not like the girl, they will do everything they can to reject her. Sometimes, the parents might not like the marriage, but the boy and girl insist on marrying. In most cases, the parents will yield.

In some cases, a girl’s maternal uncles and brothers will oppose the marriage. In such cases, open fist fights might ensue. Sometimes this is done to test the man’s will. If he likes the girl enough, he will accept the challenge and after the fight, the man will marry the girl. Or, if the girl has been persuaded or pressured to go with the man but does not really like him, she will use the occasion to return to her family. But once a girl and a boy have had sex, that is enough for them to be considered married.

It is true that there have been cases of women having children outside of marriage. There are also cases of men who have fathered children by women not their own wives. Children from those relationships may be accepted by the mother’s husband if he chooses, or he may choose to leave or divorce his wife. If the other man takes the adulterous woman as his first or subsequent wife, then he should refund her first husband’s brideprice, so that he will be free to remarry.

In recent times there have been some cases of young men sleeping with other men’s wives. Other alarming practices include men leaving their wives, grandfathers taking advantage of young and innocent granddaughters, and first cousins having sex with their own first cousins. Previously in Wautogig society sex within prohibited degrees of relation was unheard of. Today it is becoming common. The events are rarely if ever reported. They are considered shameful and left to be sorted out in the fullness of time. Or nothing is done and the offender goes unpunished.

Homosexuality and lesbianism are unknown in Wautogig society. However this practice was undertaken during plantation days, before the Pacific War, when men were uprooted from their families and made to live together in compound shelters. Strong men often took younger or weaker boys as “girls” or “wives”. They made them cook for the stronger men and accept subservient roles.

There was a ritual for men in adulthood that required the release of blood. This was undertaken by experienced adults. The practice was done not as masturbation, but to release contaminated blood in order to make the men strong and vital.

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