The ethnography I chose to do my reaction paper was called ‘Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People’ written by Thomas Gregor. This ethnography is about Thomas Gregor and his wife’s visit to the Mehinaku Village in 1967. Gregor was a graduate student of anthropology and decided to take a field trip there to further his studies and better understand the Amazonian people. I could only read a select few pages from this ethnography so it was a little tricky to put down my reaction of it in writing. Becoming aware of how other people around the world think about or view sexual activity was very interesting, although there were definitely a few things that surprised me about their culture and how they view sex.
Thomas Gregor did not initially go there to study the sexuality of the Mehinaku but he thought in order to get the full understanding of their culture it was pretty vital to do. The Mehinaku are very open about sex. They have little embarrassment of their sexual desire and even their children will recall the names of their parents’ many lovers. In my opinion I found that a little too much for a child to know, even though it is how they have been brought up their whole lives and that is the way their culture is. At same time I would like to try not to be so ethnocentric and judge them by how they do certain things, but some of the things they do are honestly quite shocking and makes it harder to understand.
I found it interesting when I learned that a new father is put under certain restrictions for his son and if he eats forbidden foods or participates in sexual relations it will violate the prohibition and his child will become sick. They have the village shaman come in and help cure the child by sucking out the disease that has somehow made its way into the child all caused by the father’s carelessness. This was fascinating to me because we Americans would not think that eating a “forbidden food” or having sex would actually cause a child to fall ill, it just seems a little superstitious in my opinion. Another part of this book I came across that caught my attention was that the boys of the village who are around seven or eight years old are taken from their mothers for “initiation” where they are told some pretty disturbing things.
For example, the young boys are told that semen is the basis of life and growth and in order to develop into men they must consume semen by partaking in oral sex with the older boys. Basically the children do not want anything to do with that so they are then forced into oral intercourse with other younger boys, and after being forced to do this for so long they end up enjoying it and continue to do it with more and more boys so that they can rapidly grow into manly warriors.
This is appalling to me because for one the children are still so young and it makes me think that as these children get older they would become very confused with their sexual orientation. Even though I still have a pretty ethnocentric view of all of this and think some of it is quite disturbing it still interests me and I still enjoy learning about different cultures and how much they vary all around the world. I am sure that if the Mehinaku were to come to America and see the way we do certain things here they would be pretty shocked as well. As I continue to learn more about different cultures across the globe I hope to become much less ethnocentric and more understanding.