“The principle of chastity,” said Forster, of his experiences in the South Sea Islands in their unspoilt state,
“we found in many families exceedingly well understood. I have seen many fine women who, with a modesty mixed with politeness, refuse the greatest and most tempting offers made them by our forward youths; often they excuse themselves with a simple tirra-tano, ‘I am married,’ and at other times they smiled and declined it with epia, ‘no.’ … Virtuous women hear a joke without emotion, which, amongst us, might put some men to the blush. Neither austerity and anger, nor joy and ecstasy is the consequence, but sometimes a modest, dignified, serene smile preads itself over their face, and seems gently to rebuke the uncouth jester.” (J. R. Forster, Observations made During a Voyage Round the World, 1728, p. 392).
Captain Cook, at Tahiti, in 1769, after performing Divine service on Sunday, witnessed
“Vespers of a very different kind. A young man, near six feet high, performed the rites of Venus with a little girl about eleven or twelve years of age, before several of our people and a great number of the natives, without the least sense of its being indecent or improper, but, as it appeared, in perfect conformity to the custom of the place. Among the spectators were several women of superior rank, who may properly be said to have assisted at the ceremony; for they gave instructions to the girl how to perform her part, which, young as she was, she did not seem much to stand in need of.” (J. Hawkesworth, Account of the Voyages, etc., 1775, vol. i, p. 469).
At Tahiti, according to Cook, it was customary to “gratify every appetite and passion before witnesses,” and it is added, “in the conversation of these people, that which is the principal source of their pleasure is always the principal topic; everything is mentioned without any restraint or emotion, and in the most direct terms, by both sexes.” (Hawkesworth, op. cit., vol ii, p. 45).
“I have observed,” Captain Cook wrote, “that our friends in the
“South Seas have not even the idea of indecency, with respect to any object or any action, but this was by no means the case with the inhabitants of New Zealand, in whose carriage and conversation there was as much modest reserve and decorum with respect to actions, which yet in their opinion were not criminal, as are to be found among the politest people in Europe. The women were not impregnable; but the terms and manner of compliance were as decent as those in marriage among us, and according to their notions, the agreement was as innocent. When any of our people made an overture to any of their young women, he was given to undestand that the consent of her friends was necessary, and by the influence of a proper present it was generally obtained; but when these preliminaries were settled, it was also necessary to treat the wife for a night with the same delicacy that is here required by the wife for life, and the lover who presumed to take any liberties by which this was violated, was sure to be disappointed.” (Hawkesworth, op. cit., vol. ii, p. 254).
Cook found that the people of New Zealand
“bring the prepuce over the gland, and to prevent it from being drawn back by contraction of the part, they tie the string which hangs from the girdle round the end of it. The glans, indeed, seemed to be the only part of their body which they were solicitous to conceal, for they frequently threw off all their dress but the belt and string, with the most careless indifference, but showed manifest signs of confusion when, to gratify our curiosity, they were requested to untie the string, and never consented but with the utmost reluctance and shame…. The women’s lower garment was always bound fast round them, except when they went into the water to catch lobsters, and then they took great care not to be seen by the men. We surprised several of them at this employment, and the chaste Diana, with her nymphs, could not have discovered more confusion and distress at the sight of Actæon, than these women expressed upon our approach. Some of them hid themselves among the rocks, and themselves among the rocks, and the rest crouched down in the sea till they had made themselves a girdle and apron of such weeds as they could find, and when they came out, even with this veil, we could see that their modesty suffered much pain by our presence.” (Hawkesworth, op. cit., vol. ii, pp. 257-258.)
In Rotuma, in Polynesia, where the women enjoy much freedom, but where, at all events in old days, married people were, as a rule, faithful to each other,
“the language is not chaste according to our ideas, and there is a great deal of freedom in speaking of immoral vices. In this connection a man and his wife will speak freely to one another before their friends. I am informed, though, by European traders well conversant with the language, that there are grades of language, and that certain coarse phrases would never be used to any decent woman; so that probably, in their way, they have much modesty, only we cannot appreciate it.” (J. Stanley Gardiner, “The Natives of Rotuma,” Journal of the Anthropological Institute, May, 1898, p. 481).
The men of Rotuma, says the same writer, are very clean, the women also, bathing twice a day in the sea; but
“bathing in public without the kukuluga, or sulu [loin-cloth, which is the ordinary dress], around the waist is absolutely unheard of, and would be much looked down upon.” (Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 1898, p. 410).
In ancient Samoa the only necessary garment for either man or woman was an apron of leaves, but they possessed so
“delicate a sense of propriety” that even “while bathing they have a girdle of leaves or some other covering around the waist.” (Turner, Samoa a Hundred Years Ago, p. 121.)
After babyhood the Indians of Guiana are never seen naked. When they change their single garment they retire. The women wear a little apron, now generally made of European beads, but the Warraus still make it of the inner bark of a tree, and some of seeds. (Everard im Thurn, Among the Indians of Guiana, 1883).
The Mandurucu women of Brazil, according to Tocantins (quoted by Mantegazza), are completely naked, but they are careful to avoid any postures which might be considered indecorous, and they do this so skilfully that it is impossible to tell when they have their menstrual periods. (Mantegazza, Fisiologia della Donna, cap 9).
The Indians of Central Brazil have no “private parts.” In men the little girdle, or string, surrounding the lower part of the abdomen, hides nothing; it is worn after puberty, the penis being often raised and placed beneath it to lengthen the prepuce. The women also use a little strip of bast that goes down the groin and passes between the thighs. Among some tribes (Karibs, Tupis, Nu-Arwaks) a little, triangular, coquettishly-made piece of bark-bast comes just below the mons veneris; it is only a few centimetres in width, and is called the uluri.
In both sexes concealment of the sexual mucous membrane is attained. These articles cannot be called clothing.
“The red thread of the Trumai, the elegant uluri, and the variegated flag of the Bororó attract attention, like ornaments, instead of drawing attention away.”
Von den Steinen thinks this proceeding a necessary protection against the attacks of insects, which are often serious in Brazil. He does think, however, that there is more than this, and that the people are ashamed to show the glans penis. (Karl von den Steinen, Unter den Naturvölkern Zentral-Brasiliens, 1894, pp. 190 et seq).
Other travelers mention that on the Amazon among some tribes the women are clothed and the men naked; among others the women naked, and the men clothed. Thus, among the Guaycurus the men are quite naked, while the women wear a short petticoat; among the Uaupás the men always wear a loin-cloth, while the women are quite naked.
The feeling of modesty is very developed among the Fuegians, who are accustomed to live naked. They manifest it in their bearing and in the ease with which they show themselves in a state of nudity, compared with the awkwardness, blushing, and shame which both men and women exhibit if one gazes at certain parts of their bodies. Among themselves this is never done even between husband and wife. There is no Fuegian word for modesty, perhaps because the feeling is universal among them.
” The women wear a minute triangular garment of skin suspended between the thighs and never removed, being merely raised during conjugal relations. (Hyades and Deniker, Mission Scientifique du Cap Horn, vol. vii, pp. 239, 307, and 347).
Among the Crow Indians of Montana, writes Dr. Holder, who has lived with them for several years,
“a sense of modesty forbids the attendance upon the female in labor of any male, white man or Indian, physician or layman. This antipathy to receiving assistance at the hands of the physician is overcome as the tribes progress toward civilization, and it is especially noticeable that half-breeds almost constantly seek the physician’s aid.”
Dr. Holder mentions the case of a young woman who, although brought near the verge of death in a very difficult first confinement, repeatedly refused to allow him to examine her; at last she consented;
“her modest preparation was to take bits of quilt and cover thighs and lips of vulva, leaving only the aperture exposed…. Their modesty would not be so striking were it not that, almost to a woman, the females of this tribe are prostitutes, and for a consideration will admit the connection of any man.” (A. B. Holder, American Journal of Obstetrics, vol. xxv, No. 6, 1892)….
“In every North American tribe, from the most northern to the most southern, the skirt of the woman is longer than that of the men. In Esquimau land the parka of deerskin and sealskin reaches to the knees. Throughout Central North America the buckskin dress of the women reached quite to the ankles. The West-Coast women, from Oregon to the Gulf of California, wore a petticoat of shredded bark, of plaited grass, or of strings, upon which were strung hundreds of seeds. Even in the most tropical areas the rule was universal, as anyone can see from the codices or in pictures of the natives.” (Otis T. Mason, Woman’s Share in Primitive Culture, p. 237)…