There is no doubt mankind has felt the impulse to the representation of genitals since remote times, but there are many doubts about the existence of eroticism before the modern era. Today the label eroticism is used only for profane literature and art. If erotic art is exquisitely profane, we must say that erotic art does not live in Indian America. Erotic art was born in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and found theoretical fathers in the 18th. In Japan it flourished in the shadow of the Tokugawa; in America it found expression only in some Pawnee and Eastern Sioux pipe bowls carved for white customers. If it is true that Europeans brought eroticism to America, it is also true they imported the idea of obscene.
A luxuriant, rich natural landscape, tasty food and hot sun did not give birth to the taste of eroticism. In the Precolumbian Codexes sexual features simply identify people; sex is usually feminine and connected either to childbirth (Codex Nuttal) or intercourse (Codex Borgia) where the coitus is exemplified but not represented. In Mesoamerican statues and pottery, male and female are represented by their sexual connotations, but even in Totonac and Huaxtec country the relationship between sex and eroticism is still circumscribed in the secret intimacy of the bedroom.
The Mochica culture of Peru (4th century B. C. – 7th century A. D) gave us a wide production of erotic pottery vases, connected with funerary rites. Rafael Larco Hoyle, the greates collector of Peruvian erotic potteries, classifies the themes in humorous, moralizing, religious-erotic and realistic.ones. These pieces are apparently contradictory, since they are related to death, and are different from the few fallic representations we find in Central and South America. The Mochicas are unambiguous in referring to sexual pleasure; the artist not only portrays “classical” man-woman’s behavior, but explores possible alternatives, independent from any negative moral feature. And there is some self-approval and some comical hint to the indefinite pleasure promised by huge phalluses and gaping, but not aggressive, vulvas. Of course, Mochica eroticism goes beyond sexual pleasure, since some scenes involve gods, thus founding reality through exemplifiyng acts. Yet positive sex as creative dualism is different from erotic freedom expressed by a metallic figurine with a mobile penis produced by the pre-Mochica Frias culture. This is a world far from the grey, dull description of the Inca culture, that Garcilaso de la Vega, “el inca”, left to us in his Commentaries. He mixes Spanish moral censure and demonized vision of his mother’s culture; thus sterilizing sex, which is always represented as wicked and beastly.
by Romolo Santoni
What did the Huaxtecs think and feel when they first saw the Spaniards? They were the outcasts of Mesoamerica because of their phallic cult and they maybe hoped to get rid of their Aztec dominators’ eagles following the Christian crosses. Unfortunately they were wrong: both their culture and the Aztec one were swallowed by the maëlstrom of slavery and persecution. The Spaniards despised the peoples they were subjugating so much that only few recorded the terrible years of the Conquest. So we know enough of the great and powerful peoples, the Aztecs, the Mayas, but very little about the Huaxtecs, geographically marginal and, after all, incongenial to most, because of their phallic cult. Tenochtitlans considered the Huaxtecs immoral and lustful and, when they were able to, they persecuted them. Aztec sexual morality was even stricter than that of the Spanish padres that vanquished them. The Aztecs had been nomads under duress for too long and sedentary by choice for too a short time. In their wonderful palaces they kept a nomadic mind, where saving goods and strength was the rule. If sex was a need, eroticism was a useless, depraved deviation. Most Mesoamerican peoples shared this point of view: Olmecs, Teotihuacans, Mayas and Mixtecs ignored sexuality but for its output, life. The naked “pretty ladies” of the Highlands reproduce the ideal mixture of woman and maize and their accentuated sex only synthetizes the symbols of fertility. Naked male children, on the contrary, were important to the Olmecs, but these asexual children did not dare to show the male sex as a symbol of fertility. The rare exhibition of genitals usually meant death. The Danzantes in Monte Alban and the Olmec representation in Chalcatzingo show doomed prisoners of war.
by Flavia Busatta
J. Paper observed acutely that scholars usually cannot find tracks of the female rites and cults in the Great Lakes area, which is matrilocal and materlinear and where women had an important economic, political and social role. Even if the Jesuit Relations do not speak of the female side of Indian religion, it signs are scattered in the sacred birch rolls of the Midewiwin Society and in boulders and caves of Iowa and Ontario. Contact with European militant religions, the fur trade and patriarcal agriculture provoked the fading of the goddesses and favored the messianic cults of the 18th century, when the prophets adjusted their religions to the new reality of patriarcal monotheism and economy. Before the predominance of the Great Spirit or Creator, Indians worshipped goddesses, asexual or bisexual gods. A female creator was common to many Eastern Woodlands and Pueblo peoples. Among the Pueblos, the Spanish religious and political rule greatly increased sexual asymmetry, but could not destroy women’s power totally. R. A. Gutierrez, analysing the Spanish colony in New Mexico, shows the balanced relationship between sexes among the Pueblos, symbolized by the gifts to the newborn: a flint arrow for the boys and a corn fetish for the girls. The relationship between sex and food, both promoting life, was expressed by women’s nourishing tasks. For the Pueblos any lifeform, material and spiritual, could be adopted as a relation through food. Women fed their blood relations, the Sun, kachinas, animal fetishes, scalps and the game men brought home. Sexual activity was of the outmost importance for the Pueblo women, because through sex they incorporated their husbands into the matrilineal clans, tamed the spirits of Nature and gave birth to children. Sexuality imbued also the landscape and many names of places are “sexual”. Sexual intercourse was the symbol of cosmic harmony and this was the reason why the winter solstice rites ended with a coitus in Acoma. The function performed by women as transformers of strangers into natives was visible in the women’s societies which, according to Parsons, were genetically warrior societies. Pueblo women performed a symbolic coitus with the scalps and the game, incorporating them in the village. One of the aims of the women’s societies was the strengthening of the relationship existing between agricultural and human fertility; this was exemplified by the dances of the Hopi women’s societies, Marau, Lakon and Oaqol. The old ritual coitus once performed has been substituted by a more caste symbolic basket, but the true meaning of the Lakon, Marau and Oaqol societies is expressed by a figure carved on a rock near Oraibi: a Marau girl showing an enormous vulva, ready to copulate.
by William. K. Powers
Before the reservation period, any young man who had made a reputation in hunting or warfare was eligible to look for a marriageable partner. The matter of love was very much analogous to the matter of war and ritual specialists were called upon to prescribe the appropriate rituals and procedures. The Oglala believed that such men were imbued with special powers derived from the bull elk, mule deer and pronghorn, the renowned polygamists ungulates. Aggression and success in love were not exclusively in the purview of the males. Promiscuous women derived their power to seduce men from the mule deer and sometimes from the female elk. Stories about these “deer women” are still told on the Northern and Southern Plains. These women, according to Oglala cosmology, ultimately received their power from the fabulous Anukite, Double-Face. In addition to ungulates, various kinds of birds played important roles in the courtship process: the redheaded woodpecker, sandhill crane and prairie chicken are associated with love, particularly with the courting flute. The Lakota term wiiyape (to wait for a woman) refers to the custom of a man’s hiding along a trail which he knows a young woman will take on her way to fetch water. Young women often strolled about the camp with a female companion and a would-be suitor could simply stop her and try to talk with her. Although apparently alone, the couple was never very far away from watchful eyes. The indispensable article of amatory behavior was the dress blanket, of which the most favored one was the blue trade cloth blanket decorated with a wide beaded strip interspersed with large beaded rosettes called “blanket with a backbone”. The pictographs show how the blanket was worn and how it was used to envelope the young woman during the tête-à-tête. A woman had to be mindful of the words she selected in these conversations. If she spoke thoughtlessly, the young man, particularly a jilted lover, might use her words as the basis for a love song. The young man sang as if it were his sweetheart talking, sometimes in an embarrassing parody of the lovers’ intimate words.
by Sandra Busatta
Indian knowledge of animal physiology had been favored by observation of game; war, torture and cannibalism had informed on human physiology and traditional medicine, curing broken bones and diseases through manipulation and herbs, had increased information. Living in multifamiliar dwellings gave the chance of witnessing the mechanism of sexual intercourse as well as ceremonies where the ritual coitus was performed. Yet did the Indians know the mechanism of fecundation, did they know it was the result of the union of ovum and spermatozoon?
Mythology helps us to understand what were Indian ideas about the origin of life. In a Wichita myth a pregnant woman is killed by a monster; her mother and her virgin sister ( the three of them represent the phases of the Moon) put a drop of her blood in a vase and after three days a boy comes out, the Sun. Grandmother Nokomish creates the Menomini cultural hero Manabush from some dirt transformed into blood in a bowl, while Skunk can save herself and her husband Badger creating a boy from a clot of buffalo blood in a pot in a Sweet Grass Cree myth. Skunk and Badger are important animal symbols of female genitals and childbirth, while the vase or pot has been a metaphor of pregnancy since time immemorial both in the Old and the New World. Mythical and physiological ideas on sex as a procreative act reflect more or less accentuated sexual asymmetry in Indian societies. This is marked among the Lakota, where sperm was considered more important in procreation; Indians did not know the existence of the ovum, but they were very different ideologically. The Lakotas had been subject to a profound patriarcal veer, showed also by their cosmological myth: Inyan, the stone, is male, but gives origin to the world as a woman, squeezing his blue blood from his body. In the materlineal societies of the Southwest, where women had grater power , Zuni couples prayed Mother Rock in order to have a girl as a child. Indian priests, who formed public opinion through myths, believed that the menstral blood, coming from the liver, was fecundated by the male semen and stopped flowing. This way it served as nourisment to sperm, which began to form a foetus. Many tribes thought women were more fertile when menstruated and Mead found the Omaha practised the menstrual tabu not only to proptect men, but also a supposed birth control. Many tribes believed that a baby could be formed only after many tries; some interrupted sexual intercourse during pregnancy and even until complete weaning, others interrupted only after the quickening, lest to give birth to twins. The Hopi and the other Pueblos, on the other hand, believed that a child had to be “irrigated” as a field of corn during pregnancy and that sex reinforced mother and child.
by Alfred W. Bowers
This classic excerpt on the Mandan and Hidatsa recalls the practice of exchanging supernatural powers through ritual coitus between the applicant (“son”)’s wife and the “father” owning ritual prerogatives. This model applied to the Red Stick ceremony and to most age graded societies. But not every “father” was above suspect: many old men, widowers or men abandoned by their wives offered their supernatural power to younger “sons” in order to solve their sexual needs. Also many white traders exploited this ritual custom for lay purposes.
by Giorgio Samorini Some Native American peoples associate in a special way sexual intercourse and the act of assuming psychoactive plants or drinks to get an alteration of one’s state of consciousness, a “revelation” or an “enlightenment”. The state of mind one reaches during the coitus is identified with that one gets through a hallucinogen and this identification is reflected in myths and beliefs. The payé of the Desana, a Tukano speaking Amazonian tribe, makes large use of the yajé, the hallucinogenic drink known as ayahuasca, extracted from the so called “dead man’s liane” or Banisteriopsis caapi. The visionary-emotional state provoked by the yajé and that of the coitus are considered equivalent and both states have the same color, yellow. The Desana cosmogonic myth referred by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff speaks of Father Sun’s “yellow purpose”, which refers to sexual intercourse, and the myth on the origin of the yajé tells of the incestuous relationship between Father Sun and his daughter, Yajé Woman, the first human being whose child is not a baby, but a liane. The association between coitus and hallucinogen is not peculiar only to the Tukano. In North America the Creek tell a myth where the first tobacco plant grows from a place where a young couple had a sexual intercourse. The Creek call the tobacco plant hitchi, but when they smoke it they call it haisa, the same name used for coitus. Also among the Hitchiti, neighbours of the Creek, tobacco is originated by a coitus. Only recently western scientists have recognized the psycho-biological affinity between the state of consciusness reached during the orgasm and altered states of consciousness provoked by different means. Some Indian peoples already knew that.
by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff
A short survey of the beliefs of the Desana, a Tukano speaking tribe of the Upper Vaupés, in Columbian Amazon, about sex.. They associate male semen and honey, even if they believe that woman’s secretion is a kind of female sperm and that fecundation is provoked by a mixture of the two. They believe that women’s sexual potential is stronger than men’s; that men have to help the birth of male babies, having sexual intercourse during the first three months of pregnancy, following dietary prescriptions and having their wives to eat honey, a “male” food. The Desana also have a complex symbolism of the womb, which is compared to a house, a hearth, a pot, a nest, a “shell” or a shelter: The placenta is a cloth, a shell compared to a bag, a hammock or a basket and also a spiderweb, while the spider and the bat represent the vagina. But the most common symbol of the placenta is the enormous anaconda snake.
by Fedora Giordano Thought Woman, Spider Woman, or Spider Grandmother is an androgynous cosmic principle for the Laguna Indians. There are numberless variants of the mythical tales, in which Spider Old Woman creates reality from herself and represents a protective, maternal image for the Pueblos, their neighbors, the Navajos, and also the Kiowas and Cherokees. She embodies the art of storytelling for the Pueblo writers and especially female storytelling. In Leslie Silko’s Ceremony Tayo’s dramatic search of his identity cannot leave out myth, that is the archetypical model. Spider Woman is also the glyph of the last, monumental book written by Silko, Almanac of the Dead. Paula Gunn Allen, Laguna Pueblo and related to Silko, is one of the most brilliant Indian feminists and a rare example of an Indian writer interested also in Western mythology. In The Sacred Hoop she reconstructs the hypothesis of a “ritual gynocracy” before European contact through the images of Spider Woman, Mother Corn and White Buffalo Woman. In her novel The Woman Who Owned the Shadows the myth of Spider Woman is pivotal not only as the archetype of storytelling and female creativeness, but also as one of the models of the main character’s life. This idea is expressed also in the anthology Spider Woman’s Granddaughters. Thought-Spider Old Woman is seen here as a worrior woman and around this image Gunn Allen collects mythical tales and short stories by 19th and 20th women writers. Interviews to the major women writers can be read in Laura Coltelli’s Words Made of Dawn.
Indian and AIDS A new disease threatens Indian health. The Indians are trying to find a solution conciliating money cuts and the research for prevention within neotraditional values. There is a contradiction between a new stress on chastity and traditional sexual freedom enjoyed by Navajo girls. There is also something new in the warning made to Sundancers to have their own lancet and plastic gloves ready avoid mixing blood.
“Scientific” occupation of an Apache religious site provokes protests; ambientalists and traditional Apaches protested against the building of a group of telescopes on Mount Graham, Arizona, by a pool of Universities, among which University of Arizona, the Observatory of Arcetri, Florence, Italy, the Vatican observatory called the Specola and the Max Planck Institute, Germany. If the various lay scientific associations may be charged of speculating and having a very concrete special interests (the ideal of “progress”, career for the partecipants, governments’ funds, etc.) the Vatican can be charged of having a religious interest in occupiyng the site because they know (though they deny it) it is an Apache religious place.