woensdag 9 oktober 2013

The Men's House

The ceremonial Men's House

The ceremonial Men's House is the sacred dwelling of the initiated men and of the spirits. This kind of building is found in many cultures around the world, these constructions can reach 25 metres in length and exceed 18 metres in height. They occupy a central position in the villages and are built in the area reserved for ceremonies.. As a whole the Men's House represents primordial woman. The fa├žade is her face and the building represents her body. In this way, all that belongs to men, that is to say the public, cultural and ceremonial sphere, is placed inside the body of a woman, so that the male/female conflict is overcome by a more profound integration between the two sexes.

"The men's house is usually the largest building in a tribal settlement. It belongs in common to the villagers; it serves as council-chamber and town hall, as a guest-house for strangers, and as the sleeping resort of the men. Frequently, seats in the house are assigned to elders and other leading individuals according to their dignity and importance. Here the precious belongings of the community, such as trophies taken in war or in the chase, and religious emblems of various sorts are preserved. Within its precincts, women and children, and men not fully initiated members of the tribe, seldom or never enter. When marriage and the exclusive possession of a woman do not follow immediately upon initiation into the tribe, the institution of the men's house becomes an effective restraint upon the sexual proclivities of the unmarried youth. It then serves as a clubhouse for the bachelors whose residence within it may be regarded as a perpetuation of that formal seclusion of the lads from the women, which it is the purpose of the initiation ceremonies in the first place to accomplish. Such communal living on the part of the young men is a visible token of their separation from the narrow circle of the family, and of their introduction to the duties and responsibilities of tribal life. The existence of such an institution emphasizes the fact that a settled family life with a private abode is the privilege of the older men, who alone have marital rights over the women of the tribe. For promiscuity, either before or after marriage, is the exception among primitive peoples, who attempt not only to regulate by complicated and rigorous marriage systems the sexual desires of those who are competent to marry, but actually to prevent any intercourse at all of those who are not fully initiated members of the community.


Among the Andaman Islanders there are three kinds of huts, for bachelors, spinsters and married couples, respectively. In their eleventh year boys and girts are subjected to various ordeals and in every case must participate in elaborate ceremonies upon passing from one age grade to another. Women participate in these mysteries as well as men. Most Australian tribes have initiation ceremonies at or near the time of puberty. In most cases these ceremonies are very severe; men only are admitted; and the rite appears usually to be a form of preparation for matrimony. The Masai divide their male members into three grades of boys, warriors, and elders; their ceremony is accompanied by circumcision. Among the Banks Islanders the males constitute a kind of triple secret society but this group is entered not by initiation but by paying a fee. Men live in the village club house, which is a lounging place and eating place by day and dormitory by night: they are divided into grades with power and prestige accordingly, and only men of wealth can reach the higher positions. This same people have "Ghost Societies" which are very secret in their nature and have headquarters in the most secluded places. Among the Pueblo Indians the Zunis had a "Mask Dancer" society, in which there were degrees, initiations, and much primitive mummery: each society had its own lodge building in which were apartments representing the four quarters of the compass, the zenith, and the nadir. The Hopi Indians had similar secret fraternities and so also the Crows, who had a "Tobacco Society" with initiation ceremonies, degrees, etc. The Hidatsas had many social clubs, entrance to which was gained through purchase: their women had similar organizations.


In most cases the initiation ceremonies are in the nature of ordeals and many times are so severe that death or permanent crippling is not unknown. "The diversity of the ordeals is most interesting. Thus, depilation, head biting, evulsion of teeth, sprinkling with human blood, emersion in dust or filth, heavy flogging, scarification, smoking and burning, circumcision and subincision, are some of the forms in which the ordeals appear, among the Australians alone.... Of all these ordeals circumcision has the greatest prominence..... Almost universally initiation rites include a mimic representation of the death and resurrection of the novice. The new life to which he awakes from initiation is one utterly forgetful of the old; a new name, a new language, and new principles are its natural accompaniment......... A new language is closely associated with the new name. The possession of an esoteric speech known only to initiated members is highly useful as lending an additional mystery to the proceedings......... The various ceremonies which take place on the arrival of girls at puberty are distinctly less impressive than those of the boys. As a rule there is no admittance at a formal initiation possessing tribal aspects and secret rites......... No doubt various beliefs arising from many different sources have united to establish the necessity of secluding boys and girls at puberty.

"Isolation from the things of flesh and sense has been a device not infrequently employed by people of advanced culture for the furtherance of spiritual life, and we need not be surprised to find uncivilized man resorting to similar devices for more practical purposes. The long fasts, the deprivation of sleep, the constant excitement of the new and unexpected, the nervous reaction under long-continued torments, result in a condition of extreme sensitiveness - hyper - aesthesia- which is certainly favourable to the reception of impressions that will be indelible. The lessons learned in such a tribal school as the puberty institution constitutes, abide through life.

"Another obvious motive dictating a period of seclusion is found in the wisdom of entirely separating the youth at puberty from the women until lessons of sexual restraint have been learned. New Guinea natives, for instance, say that 'when boys reach the age of puberty, they ought not to be exposed to the rays of the sun, lest they suffer thereby; they must not do heavy manual work, or their physical development will be stopped, all possibility of mixing with females must be avoided, lest they become immoral, or illegitimacy become common in the tribe.' Where the men's house is found in a tribal community, this institution frequently serves to prolong the seclusion of the younger initiated men for many years after puberty is reached." (Primitive Secret Societies, pages 36, 37, 38, 41, 45, 47.)

"Puberty institutions for the initiation of young men into manhood are among the most widespread and characteristic features of primitive life. They are found among peoples considered the lowest of mankind: among Andamanese, Hottentots, Fuegians, and Australians; and they exist in various stages of development among peoples emerging from savagery to barbarism. Their foundation goes back to an unknown antiquity; their mysteries, jealously guarded from the eye of all save the initiated, preserve the religion and morality of the tribe. Though varying endlessly in detail, their leading characteristics reproduce themselves with substantial uniformity among many different peoples and in widely separated areas of the world. The initiation by the tribal elders of the young men of the tribe, their rigid seclusion, sometimes for a lengthy period, from the women and children; their subjection to certain ordeals and to rites designed to change their entire natures; the utilization of this period of confinement to convey to the novices a knowledge of the tribal traditions and customs, and finally, the inculcation by most practical methods of habits of respect and obedience to the older men

These initiations differ strikingly among themselves, nevertheless they one and all have certain fundamental features in common
The formalities of initiation, whether its dominant function is magical or religious, present striking resemblances. Andrew Lang notes the following general characteristics: (a) mystic dances; (b) the use of the turndun, or bull-roarer; (c) daubing with clay and washing this off; (d) performance with serpents and other 'mad doings.' To these we might add: (e) a simulation of death and resurrection; (f) the granting of a new name to the initiated; (g) the use of masks or other disguises. In any case, we may say that initiation ceremonies include: (1) a series of formalities which loosen the ties binding the neophyte to his former environment; (2) another series of formalities admitting him to the superhuman world; (3) an exhibition of sacred objects and instruction on subjects relating to them; (4) re-entry or reintegration rites, facilitating the return of the neophyte into the ordinary world. These rites, especially those of the first three divisions, are found fulfilling a more or less important function in all initiation ceremonies, both savages and among the civilized."


Masked Quagyuhl (Kwakwiutl) dancers (Northwest Coast)

A Koskimo House

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