Richard Goulden


It is readily apparent that many Melanesian societies maintain a distance between men and women. Some ethnographers working in Melanesia have posited reasons for this dichotomy, for example, fear of contamination from menstrual blood, or the importance of male solidarity in social organization. These theories do not adequately explain gender concepts and the range of social interaction between the sexes. By focussing on the belief surrounding male homosexual behaviour in initiation ritual, this paper attempts to demonstrate that gender concepts in Melanesia, like attitudes towards homosexuality, cannot be explained in terms of Western categorizations of male and female, or in terms of Western concepts of sexuality. A comparison of the correlation between homosexuality and gender beliefs among North Americans and among Melanesians indicates that the apparent separation of the sexes in Melanesia is not due to the inherent distinctness of male versus female, as reflected in the Western dichotomies that colour such ethnographic descriptions of gender. It is suggested that in Melanesian societies men must be differentiated from women, and that mutable gender categories must be maintained by social sanctions that delineate the sexes during the reproductive years.