Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Same Sex Behavior In Indigenous Culture

The differences between the European and Indigenous perspectives on homosexuality have always been glaring.  For the Europeans, it was a gross sin, something to be hidden away and denied with your very dying breath.  The various indigenous tribes around the world not only embraced it, but they often exalted it.

When the Spanish arrived in the "New World" after Christopher Columbus's infamous voyage, they encountered a culture drastically different than their own.  Of all the strange habits that the Spanish encountered in their explorations of this new land, they were least prepared for the wide practiced custom of homosexuality.  Not only was homosexuality widely accepted by every social class, it was also glorified in objects that served as temple art as well as being depicted on jewelry.  Even Montezuma, the Aztec god-king, was said to have sexual relations with the young warriors who were about to be ritually sacrificed.

In his first report to Emperor Charles V, Cortés wrote that the Native Americans of Mexico "are all sodomites and have recourse to that abominable sin."  Another writer, López de Gomara, called the indigenous people "sodomitic like no other generation of men."  A Catholic priest said that sodomy was virtually universal among the Aztecs.  He ran into numerous male prostitutes as well as unmarried temple priests engaging in sodomy while visiting the area in question.

As the European conquerors made their way across the North American Continent, they were continuously horrified by the sexuality they encountered.  La Salle's expedition in the upper Mississippi Valley in the 1690s found Native American men were even more fascinated by young boys more than they were by women, and this fascination engendered an effeminacy in those young boys, which only further inflamed the European hatred.  In 1702, the French explorer Pierre Liette wrote that the Illinois Confederation put all other nations to shame in regards to the "sin of sodomy."  "The young men, Liette continued, didn't seem satisfied by women alone, so 'there are men who are bred for this purpose from their childhood."

Homosexual behavior was not limited to what Europeans considered effeminate males, either.  The Native Americans were so uninhibited about homosexuality, in fact, that a masculine warrior could take the passive role in sex with another warrior without it having any effect whatsoever on his gender identity.

The Institution of what our modern scholars have called "the Two-Spirit" amongst the Native Tribes of the Americas was perhaps the most perplexing piece of Native American sexuality for the Europeans.  The respect that these individuals were shown within Native culture baffled the Europeans.  They were honored socially and given premiere standing within religious ceremonies and institutions.  Because of the spiritual connection that the Native Tribes ascribed to the Two-Spirit individuals among them, there is often a strong connection between Two-Spirits and medicine men and women.  (Due to the robust nature of this institution among the various native tribes, it is better to only skim the surface here and address this topic at another time in its own post.)

Homosexuality was treated in much the same way by other indigenous peoples around the world as it was by the native tribes of the Americas.  For the native peoples of the Pacific, homosexuality was the standard sexual outlet for unmarried men within a large number of tribes.  In the Bangala of the Congo sodomy between men was not only common, it was regarded without shame.  Homosexuality was also reported as being commonplace between men of the Tutsi and Hutu tribes of Rwanda.

Whether you're talking the Americas, Asia, Africa, or anywhere else for that matter, homosexuality appeared in one form or another and served various functions from social regulation and releasing sexual tensions to indications of an individual's calling towards a sacred duty within the spirituality of the tribe.

All quotes and much of the information from this post come from James Neill's book: The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Society.  If you enjoyed the information relayed here, consider purchasing his book for yourself.  It's a wealth of information!

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