The Men Who Swallow

The Men Who Swallow
Photo by Deco Kogoya / Unsplash

In an expansive valley perched high up on a mountain range in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea lived Anitelu. Fortunately or unfortunately—depending on how you look at things—Anitelu wasn't living up to his name.

Anitelu spent his time weeding, and what was at the time even more taboo–babysitting. The grown men in the village would often openly taunt the young boys, telling us, "Go back to your mother where you belong!" This hostile behaviour often galvanized them into doing the manly tasks required, but not Anitelu. Anitelu could not go 'back' to his mother because he never left her to begin with. For a while, he got away with helping our women cultivate taro gardens and pandanus nut groves. People were especially lenient towards his insubordinate behaviour because he'd go and find the delicious fruit when nobody else wanted to. Even when the Gods pissed and threw bolts of light from the heavens, he'd return home with Malay apples, mangos, pouterias, and other tasty fruit.

But one day, his father had had enough. In the middle of the night, he dragged Anitelu out of bed, and even though he kicked and screamed and hollered and yelped, his mother said nothing as she knew the time had come. In fact, it was long overdue—he was almost eight!

Once Anitelu's muscles grew tired of punching and kicking, his father managed to drag him to his second cousin's hut. The cousin had recently turned fourteen, and it was his turn to share his jerungdu. Jerungdu is the supreme essence of maleness.

"Hi, cuz," he said.

"Dad, I don't—"

Before Anitelu could finish his sentence, his father kicked the back of his knee, causing him to kneel in front of his cousin. As instructed, the cousin was already naked and fully erect—not out of attraction but out of duty.

I know, I know. Just bare with me, please.

"You have no jerungdu," screamed the father.

"I don't want any jerengdu."

"Yes, you do! Every man wants jerengdu," his father said.

"I just want a mango."

"Mango? No, no, no. You want jerungdu. Later, you can have a mango."

Anitelu stared at what was pointed his way. He was unimpressed, or a better word choice might be 'unconvinced' that it could do what our traditions claimed.

Anitelu's father crouched next to his son, put his hand on Anitelu's shoulder, and said, "Do you want to get married one day, son?"

"I think so."

"Well, no woman in this village will marry you if you haven't had your share. You will never reach Ipmangwi, and if you never reach Ipmangwi, you will never reach Nupusha, and if you never—"

"I understand how it works, dad. I just don't feel like it's me—"

Anitelu's father got up angrily.

"Stop being such a subversive little—"


Okay, let's stop the story before anyone unsubscribes.

Aside from the English language, everything was historically accurate—sort of. I don't know if there ever was a Sambian boy named Anitelu who refused to perform fellatio, but I do know Sambian boys had to do it multiple times as a sort of rites to passage. The cycle goes like this:

"Maku: This is the first rite of passage. Boys are separated from their mothers at this stage and participate in bloodletting (where long sticks are inserted up their nostrils to make them bleed), therefore ridding themselves of their mothers' presence in them. The Sambia people do not believe that males are born with semen and so, during Maku, the boys participate in fellatio. They are also required to undergo a strict diet during this time period, which is from age 7-10.

Imbutu: This stage is filled with camaraderie, male bonding, and rewards for making it through the first set of Rites.

Ipmangwi: During this stage, the boys begin to go through puberty, and they no longer need to participate in fellatio. They also learn gender roles and how to have appropriate intercourse. Once they have learned this, they look for a wife and marry during this stage. It lasts for three years as well, during the ages 13–16.

Nupusha: During this stage, the males get married and have appropriate intercourse. This stage happens only after the others have been completed, and they must be at least 16 years old.

Taiketnyi: The males undergo bloodletting again during this stage, as their wives have their first menstrual cycle as married women.

Moondung: This stage is when the women give birth to their first child. This is the final step and signifies the completion of the Rites of passage. They can now be considered full-grown, respectable men." Brettell, Caroline; Sargent, Carolyn (2016).

And this isn't some anomaly. In Melanesia, the Etoro boys do the same as the Sambia, except they receive their doses of cum through the anus.

What the actual fuck, you might be thinking. What kind of perverted, twisted pedophilia is this?

Is it, though? In my eyes, beauty pageants with nine-year-old girls are perverted, twisted, and pedophilic. Through your eyes, they might not be, and I'll do my best to understand that your opinion about child beauty pageants doesn't define who you are. It's also possible you think hairless genital areas are clean and sexy. Or maybe you find it disturbing that people want their private parts to look more like those of kids.

Now, I'm not defending the Sambian sexual culture. Sure, I can get behind the idea that sexual preference is fluid and that some cultures have people go through heterosexual and homosexual stages. Cool. But I will always condemn any sexual behaviour with children. Is that an innate, biological moral compass in me? Or is it a culturally learned moral stance? I don't know.

What I do know is that this shows how malleable our identities are. Nowadays, we spend so much time telling the world who we are through labels—gay, straight, black, white, cisgender, non-binary, rich, poor, and so on. This isn't to say that someone who identifies as gay wasn't born gay or who identifies as straight wasn't born straight, but there is a fluidity and spectrum with social constructs as complex as sexuality. These labels shouldn't dictate how you behave or the decisions you make. However, culture will inevitably influence your behaviour and, in return, how people come to understand those labels.

I'm not claiming to have the answers, but it seems the hegemonic classes use labels to divide and conquer. Whether it be wealthy racists hoping to marginalize and discriminate to uphold their power or the university elite hoping oppressors will check their privilege. By the way, I understand it's not only the university elite trying to get people to check their privilege, but if you have the financial means to study intersectionality at university (you can risk studying something that might not put food on the table), I urge you to think about where you fit in on The Wheel of Power. I might be wrong here, but labelling and categorizing people you disagree with and hope to cancel isn't much different from labelling and categorizing people oppressors wish to silence, even if the intent comes from a more benevolent place.

Putting so much onus on these labels regarding our sense of self is especially dangerous when it comes to identity politics. "Identity politics is a political approach wherein people of a particular gender, religion, race, social background, social class or other identifying factors, develop political agendas based on these identities." Heyes, Cressida (2022). In my view, identity politics are an insidious distraction. When these labels mix with politics, it becomes much more challenging to engage in a discussion because every attack on one of your opinions feels like an attack on your sense of self.

When our opinions become part of our identity, they become nearly impossible to change. If you say, "I think abortion should be illegal because I'm a Christian conservative" or "I think white men are oppressors because I'm an ally," changing your mind is hopeless. It will be much harder to have an open mind to address the issue because you've already identified with a label you used to form your identity. I'm not only talking about the political realm but everything. If you like stuffing gavage down a goose's gullet to make Fois Gras because you think it's part of your French identity, you'll take it as a personal offence if someone tells you it's animal abuse. By the way, I don't mean to single out the French. I love pork, and killing an animal as intelligent as a pig isn't any better than force-feeding a goose. If you identify as  A.R.M.Y (Hangul: 아미), how will you survive if something ever happens to Jimin? You won't. If you started rolling spliffs because it's part of your identity as a Newfie, it will—maybe those weren't the best examples, but you get the point.

We are all products of our culture—as you can tell from my references, which some of you found funny and some of you didn't. Luckily, we can reflect on our thinking. Sure, labels can aid methodologies in social sciences and give us a categorical way to describe ourselves, but they shouldn't keep us in boxes. We can stop attaching opinions to these labels to create an identity. Opinions are like buttholes; everyone has one; however, some are shittier than others, and if we find a way to clean that butt hole, why refuse the toilet paper? If something in another culture makes you uncomfortable, good. Getting outside your comfort zone is the best way to grow. But suppose something in our culture hurts and damages people, animals, and our earth. In that case, I hope we're open-minded enough to change our opinions, not as liberals, conservatives, gays, straights, Sambians, blacks, whites, Asians, or Karens, but as humans.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider becoming a paid member. The Without Borders podcast, youtube channel, and website can't exist without your support.