The Sexual Life of Savages


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The child [of the Trobriand Islands], accustomed to little or no interference with most of its whims or wishes, receives a real shock when suddenly it is roughly handled, seriously reprimanded, and punished whenever it makes any friendly, affectionate, or even playful advances to the other small beings constantly about in the same household. Above all the child experiences an emotional shock when it becomes aware of the expression of horror and anguish on the faces of its elders when they correct it. This emotional contagion, this perception of moral reactions in the social environment is perhaps the most powerful factor in a native community by which norms and values are imposed on an individual’s character.

The circumstantial arrangements and set customs which preclude any possibility of intimate contact between brother and sister are also, of course, very important. Brother and sister are definitely forbidden to take part at the same time in any childish sexual games or even in any form of play. And this is not only a rule laid down by elders, but it is also a convention rigorously observed by the children themselves. . . .

When a boy grows up and when there is a sister of his living in the parental house, he has to sleep in the bachelors’ hut. . . . In her love affairs the girl must most rigorously avoid any possibility of being seen by the brother. When, on certain occasions, brother and sister have to appear in the same company—when they travel in the same canoe, for instance, or participate in a domestic meeting—a rigidity of behavior and sobriety of conversation falls upon all those present. No cheerful company, no festive entertainment, therefore, is allowed to include brother and sister, since their simultaneous presence would throw a blight on pleasure and would chill gaiety.2

2Malinowski, B.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 2: 519 (London: George Routledge and Sons; New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company. By permission).


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Chicago: "The Sexual Life of Savages," The Sexual Life of Savages in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed February 23, 2024,

MLA: . "The Sexual Life of Savages." The Sexual Life of Savages, Vol. 2, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 23 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: , 'The Sexual Life of Savages' in The Sexual Life of Savages. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 February 2024, from