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I can only relate this narrative now, since Rupert died last winter and my own professional career is some years past and beyond damage. Thomas Rupert left no family, and my own contributions to the discipline are said and done. But the singular nature and explosive excitement of that expedition — my first fieldwork — and the subsequent disruptive personal events, at last merit a proper hearing.
It was late in Easter term, early June, over forty years ago. Rupert asked to speak to me after seminar, and my initial jolt of worry was for my academic performance, although I thought I had been suitably attentive. But my fears, on that score at least, were groundless.
‘What will you be doing this summer, Gerald?’ He peered down at me over the oval spectacles resting on his long narrow nose, tie knotted closely, brown hair thinning. His appearance, as always, expressed a quiet composure.
‘I expect I will work in Father’s finance office in London, as I have the past two summers.’
He regarded this in silence for a moment. ‘Are you perhaps game for a greater challenge than the wilds of London?’ His eyebrows arched.
I knew Rupert had fieldwork upcoming in Melanesia but did not know the specifics.
‘I realise this is frightfully short notice, also that you may perhaps feel insulted at the fact that you are not my first choice. Jonathan has only just informed me of his unavailability, despite committing to the project months ago, but at least that explains my execrable timing.’ He looked for my reaction but I displayed none.
‘I shall have need of an assistant this summer. For two months. I cannot offer you much of a stipend but all expenses are funded, and it is not unlikely that this endeavour may provide a lifetime opportunity for a scholar with some ambition.’
‘You are aware of the drawbacks of fieldwork?’ he asked softly. The query was quite unnecessary. Of course I was. Tropical hardships are not difficult to imagine. I was acquainted with the relevant anthropological literature and had heard enough first-hand anecdotes in seminar to list them quite well: insects, snakes, oppressive heat, rain and mud, uncomfortable quarters, almost inevitable tension if not actual hostility from natives, dodgy food, and no guarantee of arriving home in good health, if at all.
‘Where, sir? I should like to hear more.’
‘A remote valley in highlands Papua New Guinea. You recollect the Baruya?’ I nodded. ‘This would be their nearest neighbours, the Warana, just over the ridge. Barely a generation removed from initial contact with Europeans.’ He paused. ‘And head-hunting.’ I found myself trying to imagine Father’s reaction. Predicting my mother’s was rather easier.
We talked. He mentioned some remarkable sexual customs that merited study. I found some of the details at the limits of credibility. My duties would not be inconsiderable, keeping notes, writing accounts, attending to supplies and equipment, acting as his right-hand man, although he wryly noted the fact that I was ‘left-handed’.
It was a three-month study, but funds allowed my participation for only the first two, he had another associate coming for the last four weeks. I asked for a day to think it over and he agreed. I little expected that events would bring us to the boundaries of the discipline’s ethics.
‘Of course. Do sleep on it.’ He patted my shoulder, the first time I recollect he had ever touched me, then turned and walked diagonally across Second Court. I watched the movements of his angular frame, the precision of his stride, the self-contained focus of his academic presence. At the time I envied his freedom to set foot on the hallowed grass, a privilege only offered to fellows of the college, certainly not first-year MPhil students like myself.
So it was that I found myself three weeks later stepping off BOAC Flight 106 onto the tarmac of Port Moresby, nine degrees of latitude south of the equator, the air smiting my face like a steam towel from the barber. It took a another long, hard week’s slog by small boat and foot into the hills, Rupert alternately threatening and cajoling porters while we ferried ourselves and our supplies to the hamlet of Niguru.
The first sight of the village was not encouraging. The bamboo and grass houses looked sturdy enough on the outside, but the piles of refuse stacked at the village edge, including quite a few animal bones with bits of rotting flesh still attached, were not cause for great confidence.
The headman Talu, skin smeared with reddish pigment, greeted us warily. Rupert had indicated that they were known to each other, but I detected no sign of great friendliness. The other men, quite naked save for dried gourd-skins covering their genitals, stood behind Talu. Their skin was dark, their hair woolly.
None were taller than myself at five-foot ten, but all were well-built, from lean and sinewy to quite muscular. Various piercings filled with bone ornaments were present in noses and ears. I would not have relished a scuffle with any one of them. There was no sign casino oyna of women or male children under the age of eight or so.
My knees were sore from the last steep ascent up the muddy hillside, wet from the late afternoon rainstorm. I would have given a month’s wages for a proper pint of cool bitter, but I knew that that was pure dreaming on my part.
We were given a small corner of the village, which was just a clearing in the forest with a few crop fields adjacent, to set up our tent. My hardest adjustment for the next few days was the complete absence of privacy. Every action I took was scrutinised, from lacing boots to teeth-brushing to the use of the latrine itself.
Eyes followed our every move, and Akum, the interpreter Rupert had employed, was kept busy translating the villagers’ questions. Why did we need to scrape our faces with sharp knives every morning? Why did we cover our skin with cloth so completely? Did we have brothers? Wives? What manner of weapons did we possess?
We took our time settling in, despite our impatience to quickly make friends and initiate our information gathering. But establishing relationships is time-consuming even in optimal conditions, and we needed to move deliberately.
We spent many hours in the men’s long-house, perhaps forty feet in length, made of lashed bamboo with a palm-frond thatched roof. The sexes in the village were divided quite explicitly. Rupert had cautioned me not to look too closely at the females, as unclothed as the men save for short woven-bark skirts.
Unattached men and older boys all slept in this one main hut. Married men had their own small huts with their wives, but also spent a good part of the day in the men’s communal dwelling. ‘Predominantly patrivirilocal’ Rupert had indicated. The men’s long-house was a dank, uncomfortable place for me, debris and dried vegetation littered the floor, often fruit peelings cast aside, and the smell of urine from underneath the vegetal litter was unmistakable.
It became quite apparent that the male hierarchy was strict and complex. When the older men wanted to speak of anything sexual or warlike, they would order the younger boys out on trivial errands, cutting bamboo, repairing a fence. The youngsters went grudgingly, they knew they were missing ‘adult’ talk.
I had wondered what Rupert would be like in camp. He treated me well, although he made it clear I was his subordinate. At university his shirts were always ironed, his flannels impeccable. He still wore white shirts, although of rougher fabric, and of course they stayed neither clean or unrumpled. I marvelled at his confidence when dealing with the villagers however, alternately amiable then quite definite in his requests.
Two weeks into our stay Rupert was roused from sleep one night. I looked at my watch, it was past midnight. He conferred with Akum outside. I heard Talu’s raised voice. There was arguing, the pitch and intensity of the discussion rose and fell.
Rupert entered the tent. ‘Gerald, gather yourself. Our first ritual to observe.’ As I grabbed clothes and boots he explained more. ‘They were only going to permit me to come, but I insisted you be allowed, you must be trusted as much as I. You will be sworn to secrecy, no one must know.’ He paused. ‘But our field-notes will surely be enriched.’
We travelled half an hour on jungle trails, full moonlight streaming down on us through the leaves. We entered a hut in a clearing on the top of a knoll. Odd brightly-coloured woven strips of fabric of a pattern I had not noted in the village hung from the rafters.
A dozen men stood in a group, the youngest perhaps twenty years old. This was Tiga, beardless and wiry, whose hair had decorative bird feathers woven into it, a very different look than all the others. He had no penis-gourd. A smoky fire at one end of the hut provided a dim light.
We squatted on the floor and chewed betel nut and smoked for perhaps half an hour, no words exchanged. The air inside the hut was heavy with smoke, dank with sweat and the smell of the warriors. I was beginning to wonder what the event would involve, whether we had been coaxed out of bed for nothing.
A young man named Adu rose and stood at the centre of the hut. He was of middle height, with sinewy arms and legs, a distant distracted gaze on his face. A long series of speeches were made by Talu and other older men. Two of them untied the restraining cord holding Adu’s penis-gourd in place. The removal of his penis-gourd exposed him completely, even though he was already all but naked.
The younger man I had noted at our arrival, Tiga, approached Adu on all fours, like a forest animal, his penis dangling down and swaying underneath him, and circled Adu seven times.
Talu gave a short speech. I sought to catch Rupert’s eye, trying to gauge his understanding, but his gaze avoided mine.
The young man approached Adu at crotch height and stared silently at his gourd-less penis.
To my astonishment, he leaned forward and extended his tongue, tickling the canlı casino tip of Adu’s penis.
I held my breath. For several minutes Tiga’s tongue teased Adu’s member, then his lips slipped over the head and a slow fellation commenced. Adu’s penis grew erect until it stood out straight, a long and narrow member, and Tiga withdrew. The warriors showed their teeth and made approving noises.
Two men held Adu’s arms out, as if to place him on a cross, and lowered him until he was squatting on the balls of his feet, spreading his knees wide so his erection protruded forward.
Again I tried to catch Rupert’s attention, again I failed. All eyes were on the initiation, for indeed that was what it appeared to be.
Still on all fours, Tiga crept forward and began to suckle Adu’s erection energetically. I was reminded of the eagerness of new-born lambs seeking milk from their mother. No hands did he use, only his mouth and tongue, until Adu’s hips were pushing forward, his handlers straining to hold him in place.
Tiga relinquished his mouth over Adu’s penis, and, rather awkwardly it seemed to me, began to lick Adu’s testicles, needing to turn his head and lower it quite far to reach underneath Adu. Adu’s dark penis, pink cock-head exposed, bobbed with the attention underneath, stiffly, rod-like, jerking up and down, swaying side to side. The warriors looked pleased and murmured amongst themselves.
Several cycles of this I witnessed, I do not know how long it all went on, but it was clear that Tiga sought a full charge of semen from Adu and deliberately strove to prolong proceedings.
Finally Adu, clearly on the verge of ejaculation, was moving frantically. Tiga went to work, sucking hard, his dark urgent lips moving up and down Adu’s penis, suctioning, closing about the head of Adu’s member, until Adu held tensely still, his hips began to quiver and it was clear he was discharging.
The men whooped while Tiga swallowed, I could see his Adam’s apple contract multiple times. Several strong thrusts Adu offered while his attendants held his arms, his hips curling upwards and into Tiga’s mouth of their own volition, his arse-cheeks squeezing tight. So violent were his hip-thrusts he would have toppled over if not held.
Tiga nursed at the penis, cleaning with his tongue the tip, the head, all along the shaft while the erection rapidly diminished. The head grew quite small and retreated into the foreskin, until finally it just dangled, wet and spent.
Tiga backed off and sat on his haunches perhaps five feet away, eyes on Adu.
Talu made a speech, there were many nods. Tiga stood. One of the older men fastened a woven, reddish-coloured bark bracelet around Tiga’s left wrist. I noticed then that all the other men had one as well.
A million questions flooded my brain. Were these two warriors now somehow united? What threshold had been crossed and what did it mean for the future? Clearly the initiation was for Tiga, but perhaps it meant something for Adu as well? What did it all signify? I looked to Rupert whose gaze finally met mine and indicated ‘later’.
Back at our tent, Rupert spoke to me quietly. ‘We’ll talk tomorrow. But I am glad you came tonight. There is much to this and we were most fortunate to be invited.’
He paused. ‘It is all quite extraordinary.’ He sighed and turned to his cot.
The next day he provided a little more context.
‘The boys are separated from their mothers at around seven or eight years and then come to live in the men’s house. The idea is to toughen them, the separation their first step towards warrior-hood. This is true for many societies, but rarely so drastically. But in this village there is another wrinkle.’
He looked at me closely. ‘Body fluids of course play a major part in most cultures. Taboos, practices, cleanliness, purity, on and on. But the curious notion here, quite unusual, is that a boy will not be able to become a proper warrior — a father — without nourishment. Semen is the fluid that serves to masculinise a young warrior. Without being “seeded” one cannot become a full adult male, capable of marriage and fatherhood.’
He peered at me. ‘That is what last night’s ritual was about, a warrior’s penultimate stage to manhood. Tiga drank jerungdu, semen, from another full male, an already initiated strong, virile warrior, so that his own male strength would grow.’
‘Will he do so again?’ I asked.
‘Yes, many times. Most likely only with his designated older ally Adu, in private, but not uncommonly with others. Of course the other part of the equation, which makes just as much sense if you accept their premiss, is that many males are reluctant to release their own semen, as they are then depleting their own stores. They regard semen capacity as a zero-sum game. So you end up with a strange dynamic, a young warrior who seeks to ingest as much semen as possible against a male group trying to conserve their own male vitality.’
I shook my head. ‘Amazing.’
‘The most sought-after males are those who are kaçak casino newly married, like Adu, who have inseminated their wives, but before the birth of their first child. They are recognised as fertile, but are not yet committed to fatherhood. They become the premier supply of semen.’
I stared at Rupert, and wondered how we would represent this in our accounts.
A week or so later I was writing notes outside our tent. Tiga appeared, looking a bit anxious to me. He wanted Rupert and I sent him inside the tent.
They both reappeared shortly and left the village.
A few days later, after the midday meal when village life typically slowed to a halt in the heat, I was out on one of the jungle trails. I had wanted to see if I could get a better look at the initiation hut and the unusual woven decorations hanging from the rafters without anyone around.
I had found it a relief sometimes to walk alone in the jungle, despite the dangers, most of them having to do with my vast inexperience and overall ignorance of a hostile environment. But taking a walk was also one of the few times when I was actually capable of being alone, a condition I sorely missed in camp.
The density of vegetation varied quite a bit in the valley, but the forest could get quite thick with trees, vines and under-brush. I went around a corner in the trail and heard voices to my left, some distance off the path.
Of course curiosity is the stock-in-trade of anthropologists, and while it has done in its share of felines, I could not resist an investigation. I crept quietly towards the sound. The sight that greeted me ahead, in a slight thinning of trees and under-brush, some forty feet away from where I crouched behind a tree, could not have surprised me more.
Rupert and Tiga were speaking in low voices. Rupert had removed his trousers and boots, and his penis was sticking out quite stiffly in front of him. It looked astonishingly white in the early afternoon light. It was a long, skinny article, the head exposed, curving upward. Tiga motioned him back against a tree trunk, and Rupert slowly sank into a squatting position, back supported by the trunk, with knees quite widespread.
I held my breath. Tiga approached on all fours, once again he had removed his own penis-gourd and so was quite naked. I saw his testicles from behind, his half-erect penis waving with his motions. His taut brown-skinned arse, his anus a small dark button.
He sought Rupert’s erection and began to suckle him. Again I witnessed the ritual fellation, minus the group attendance and the other accoutrements of the initial initiation, although in far better light. Tiga again did not hurry, seeking a long, large, sperm-delaying build-up of jerungdu.
I was troubled. Anthropology has ethical guidelines in place, the notion of ‘non-intrusion’ into native customs and practices is a primary one. Of course much depended on the interpretation of what was considered ‘intrusion’ and as observers we often had to partake in various rituals and ceremonies in order to chronicle them, but it was widely viewed as a violation to cross the boundary from ‘witness’ to ‘actor’.
Tiga, his nose buried in Rupert’s sparse, light-brown pubic hair, was suckling his testicles, drawn up tightly. Rupert’s penis was pointing skyward, the head red and angry looking. It bobbed stiffly about, banging into his navel, while Tiga worked his tongue magic. Rupert’s head was tilted back against the tree trunk, which he gripped tightly with his arms, there was no question of his enjoyment of the event.
Tiga’s tongue returned to Rupert’s penis, lips sliding, gliding. I was struck by the ways in which Tiga sought to prolong the fellation, the various alterations of timing in the suckling, the tempo of moving his lips up and down Rupert’s shaft, the tongue attention to various areas of Rupert’s cock-head. Tiga’s eyes were closed, he focused by touch and taste.
Rupert’s legs began to tense, his hips to quiver. Tiga continued his onslaught, lips tight around Rupert’s cock-head, sliding along his shaft. Rupert threw his head back and his hips began to thrust. Six or seven heaves he gave, Tiga engulfing his penis, swallowing eagerly.
Fearful of discovery, I elected not to linger to the very end, but stepped quietly away and off down the path. The sudden thought in my mind was to be back at the tent before Rupert returned. My head whirled. I confess my own penis had grown erect in the watching, the first quarter-mile along the trail was not a comfortable walk until excitement subsided a bit.
I was writing in my notebook when Rupert returned. He took it to be the regular field-notes book, but it was another, one that I never showed to him. He gave me a look but I concentrated on my writing and he retired to the tent. My hands were almost shaking.
Two days later Rupert was again gone. It was early afternoon, I was sitting down outside the tent, restless. Rupert’s actions could be highly damaging to our research. Intrusion was a principle anthropologists had always struggled with, how our presence could alter the normal life of our subjects of study, affect our observations and analysis. Yet he was the leader, my own role subordinate. I did not know what to do, how to proceed.
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