Ol45-2134/90$3.00+.00 Copyright 0 1990 Pergamon Press plc
Ch,ldAhuw& N&Y./, Vol. 14, pp 265-271, 1990 Printed in the U.S.A. All nghts reserved.
A LAUGHING SHERRILL
Laboratoire des Sectes et des Mythes du Futur, U.F.R.A.E.S.R.. Universite de Paris, VII, 10 rue Charles V, Paris
Abstract-Although incestuous rape is considered to be the most prevalent and most devastating form ofchild sexual abuse being reported in the United States, a review of the most popular child sexual abuse prevention programs currently being marketed, purportedly for use with very young children, reveals that none ofthem explicitly deals with the subject. This lacuna is routinely justified on the grounds that the transmission of detailed conceptual knowledge of sexual violence violates the “innocence” of children, either frightening them or provoking precocious, possibly pathological behavior. The following analysis ofthe context and content of the Chulupi Indian myth, “The Man You Could Say Nothing To,” unmasks this attitude as a cultural bias which permeates child sexual abuse prevention programs. By maintaining the silence which surrounds incest, one potentially becomes part of the problem that one seeks to resolve. Key Words-Incest,
Culture, Sex abuse prevention.
INTRODUCTION OVER A HALF OF A CENTURY of ethnographic research has convincingly demonstrated that explicit social control over sexuality, notably, local specification of incest, is one of the defining characteristics of human culture (Levi-Strauss, 1949). Central to the identity of each culture is the radically unique set of sexual proscriptions that it endorses, as well as the specific methods that it employs to transmit and enforce those choices from one generation to another. While the choices of individual cultures differ dramatically one from the other (for example, the sexual partnerships which are preferred by one group may be condemned by its neighbor), still all human groups have had to address the problem of sexual socialization. One can easily lose sight of the fact that the recently elaborated concept, child sexual abuse, is itself the product of a specific sociocultural framework. The same holds true for the plethora of educational programs that have been devised during the past decade to allegedly combat the child sexual abuse epidemic. Sexual abuse prevention programs and the conceptual framework that sustains them are not neutral, scientific propositions. They are essentially cultural artifacts, and they invariably reflect the hidden parameters of the culture that spawned them. Although they may be our way of looking at things, they are assuredly not the only way. Furthermore, when they are extended uncritically across cultural barriers, they may even be destructive, reducing locally elaborated efficient mechanisms for transmitting social and sexual strategies to ethnocentrically biased gross categories. What follows is the presentation and analysis of one of the ways that the Chulupi Indians of Paraguay transmit information and approved social attitudes towards incest to members Presented at the 7th International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect, September 27, 1988, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Received for publication February 3, 1988; final revision received August 18, 1989; accepted August 24, 1989. Reprint requests to Sherrill Mulhern, D.E.A., U.F.R. Anthropologie, Ethnologie, Sciences des Religions, Laboratoire des Rumeurs, des Mythes du Futur et des Sectes, Universitd de Paris, VII, 10 rue Charles V, 75004 Paris. France. 265
of their culture. THE MAN YOU COULD SAY NOTHING TO is told at the request of anyone of any age as a recreational activity. The narrator is usually an elderly member of the tribe, who is well versed in tribal lore, and the audience is composed of all age groups. Occasionally adults and children, from the oldest to the youngest members of families, may find themselves listening to the story together. The content of the story is well known to all of the listeners with the possible exception of small children who may be hearing it for the first time. It is one of a group of myths which are told and retold whenever the Chulupi want a good laugh.
THE MAN YOU COULD
The story is of an old shaman who consistently mistakes the literal meaning of words for their sense in context so that, in the end, nothing can be said to him. At the beginning of the story he is seen as a buffoon in the eyes of the other Indians. At the request of one of his granddaughters, he undertakes a shamanistic journey with other shamans to find tbe soul of his sick great-grandson. The journey is a succession of burlesque, ridiculous misadventures which reveal the shamans’ total incompetence and their prodigious capacity to forget their mission. They hunt, they eat, they copulate with women that they find along the route. The old shaman, after barely succeeding to heal his great-grandson, engages in total debauchery. He abuses the kindness and innocence of his two unmarried granddaughters, seducing and raping one and attempting to rape the second. The incest sequence is told at the end of the story when the audience is already roaring with laughter. this old shaman had other granddaughters. They really enjoyed going out to collect the fruit of the algarrobo tree. The next day at dawn they came to find the old shaman. “Is our grandfather up yet?” “Oh yes, I’ve been awake for hours.” “Great, then let’s go!” And the old shaman went out to search for the black algarrobo with one of his granddaughters who was still unmarried. He led her to a place where there were many trees, and the young girl began to collect the fruit. As for him, he sat down to have a smoke. Already, little by little, the desire to have sex with his granddaughter had come over him. The session which he had had the day before with the women whom he had met during his trip had really turned him on. He began to imagine ways to tumble his granddaughter. He picked up a thorn of the algarrobo and stuck it into his foot. Then he pretended to try and stand up. “Aie! Aie! Aie!” “Poor grandfather, what’s wrong?’ “An accident! I have a thorn in my foot! And it feels like it is going up right to my heart!” The young girl, concerned, approached, and her grandfather said to her, “Take off your belt and bind up my wound. 1 can’t stand it anymore.” She did as he requested, and he asked her to sit down. “Lift up your skirt a bit so that I can put my foot on your thighs. Ei! Ei! Aie! Aie!” The most horrible moaning. He was suffering terrily. “Let me put my foot on your thighs. Ei! Ei! Ei! I’m in such pain, 1 can’t stand it anymore! Separate your thighs a little bit. Aie! Aie!” And the young, obliging girl obeyed. The old man had become exceedingly excited because now she was completely naked. “Hum! What beautiful legs she has, my little granddaughter! Can’t you put my foot up a little higher, my granddaughter?’ At this point he threw himselfon top of her shouting, “Ah ha! Now we are going to forget about your future husband!” “Ah, grandfather,” cried the young girl who didn’t want to. “I’m not your grandfather!” “Grandfather, I’ll tell everything.” “Well, 1’11tell everything, too.” He threw her back and put his penis in her. Once he was upon her, he exclaimed, “You see, you are taking advantage of my dregs! My very last drops! Really!” Afterwards they returned to the village. She told no one because she was so ashamed.
The old shaman had another granddau~ter. And now he really wanted to have her too. So he invited her to come with him to gather the algarrobo fruits, and when they arrived at the same place, he repeated the same act. But this time he was in a hurry. He showed the implanted thorn to his granddaughter and without further ado threw her to the ground and jumped on top of her. He started to penetrate her, but the young girl wrenched violently, and the penis of the old man ended up planted in a prickly weed. One of the spines of the plant lodged itself in his penis, injuring him slightly. “Aie! My granddaughter has stuck me in the nose!” (According to Chulupi etiquette it would be vulgar to call the penis by its name. One must say, “the nose.“) Again he threw himself on her. They wrestled on the ground. At the first opportunity the grandfather gathered up all his strength and lunged, missed his target, and unable to curtail his thrust, ended up uprooting the whole weed with his penis. He began to bleed, getting blood all over the stomach of his granddaughter. She gave a huge tug and succeeded in freeing herself from her grandfather. She grabbed him by the hair and dragged him over to a cactus and began to rub his face in its spines. He begged, “Aie! Have pity on your grandfather!” “I don’t want to even hear about my gmndfather.” “You’re going to lose your grandfather.” “I don’t care.” And she continued rubbing his face in the cactus. Then she grabbed him by the hair again and dragged him into the middle of a caraguata bush. The old man withstood the pain for a couple of seconds, then tried to get up. But she blocked him. The needles ofthe caraguata scratched his stomach, his testicles, and his penis. “My testicles! My testicles will be torn apart,” the grandfather shrieked. “Crr! Crr!” went the needles, cutting into him. At last the young girl abandoned him on his pile of caraguata. The old man’s face was completely swollen by the spines which were planted in it. The young girl picked up her sack, went home, and told her grandmother what her grandfather had tried to do. As for him, hardly able to see because of the spines which had pierced his eyes, he groped his way back and dragged himself into his house. There his wife took off her loincloth and with all her might beat it across his face. “Come and touch what I have here,” she screamed. And taking his hand, she put it in her b/am, her vagina. She fumed, “Yes, you love those things which beIong to others, but what belongs to you, you don’t want.” “Your blasu, I don’t want it. it’s too old! And nobody likes using things that are worn out.” (Clastre, 1972b).
DISCUSSION The Chulupi perceive intergenerational sexual desire as a fact of human nature, not as a disease. Since “desire” acknowledges no intrinsic boundaries, they appreciate that they can only achieve the social and psychological space which defines their culture by prohibiting certain individuals from acting on this desire. The shaman has broken the social contract which links specific adults and children into exclusive systems of rights and obligations. These sexual rules guarantee the subjective, psychological integrity of each group member. Incest is a private act, and as such, it must be publicly described if it is to be forbidden. Hiding the inevitability of incestuous desire and the details of rape behind a veil of shame and silence would be pointless. This notwithstanding, the Chulupi are fully aware that taiking about a behavior which is both inevitable and forbidden comports obvious risks. Talk titillates as well as warns. The humorous teaching myth manages to surmount this problem by incorporating the incest sequence within the larger framework of the shaman’s generally inappropriate social behavior. His violation of the incest taboo is perceived as symptomatic of his more comprehensive failure as a credible member of society. He is a fool, and through his antics the Chulupi are able to simultaneously transmit detailed information about and pronounce judgment on the act of incestuous rape. The incest sequence begins and ends with a clear description of the perpetrator’s sexual desires. The shaman’s unfettered sexual arousal is directly attributed to the adventures which occurred during his shamanistic voyage, not to any provocative behavior on the part of his granddaughter. This is presented simply as a fact and is never evoked to excuse him. His victim is clearly blameless and must be actively seduced. At the end of the tale the explanation
which the shaman offers for his behavior makes it clear that he was and, by implication, still is stimulated by the idea of successfully seducing a younger partner regardless of whom that person might be. In the narrative the shaman shrewdly manipulates his granddaughter’s kinship relationship as part of his seduction strategy. His cries of pain provoke an appropriate nurturing response. He appeals to her for help and gets her to strip off her skirt and to bind up his wound because he knows that she will not anticipate sexual seduction from her grandfather. He masks his increasing sexual arousal with cries of pain. Only at the end, as he gradually moves his foot up her thigh, does he introduce a compliment on the beauty of her legs. She is responding to him emotionally as her grandfather when he attacks her. Incapable of immediately dissociating herself from her established emotional state, she attempts to defend herself by crying, “Grandfather” in a desperate effort to persuade him to reinstate the interaction that she thought was taking place. In the tale, the actual rape begins with a description of the overt dissociative behavior of the grandfather. When the girl cries out, “Grandfather,” the shaman reacts by explicitly dissociating himself from their relationship declaring, “I’m not your grandfather.” The emotional constellation which underlies the kinship bond between grandfather and granddaughter is explicitly split off, blocked from consciousness, allowing the sexual act to take place. This passage underscores the sophistication and keen sense of observation which sustain the Chulupi tale. Contemporary studies of incestuous seduction, rape, and prolonged sexual abuse have often described psychological dissociation as being a privileged defense mechanism employed by trauma victims (Kluft, 1985). However, clinical research is just beginning to address the question of the dissociative processes which characterize the psychology of the violent perpetrator. The story continues with a detailed description of the perpetrator’s manipulation of the victim in order to ensure her silence concerning the forbidden act. When the granddaughter attempts to restore the kinship taboo with the warning, “Grandfather, I’ll tell everything,” he responds, “Well, I’ll tell everything, too.” The threat is clear: Just as he played on his kinship relation in order to seduce her, he will manipulate his kinship position in such a way that, in the absence of witnesses, the group will prefer to believe the authority figure and blame her for the rape. He reinforces his threat, as he rapes her, stating, “You see, you are taking advantage of my dregs! My very last drops Really!” suggesting to his victim that she is, in fact, the violator. The tactics are successful, and the girl is so ashamed that she keeps the secret. However, the story never suggests that the girl has any real reason to be ashamed. It simply gives the listener a clear picture of just how her violator tricked her into silence. The account of the attempted rape of the second granddaughter builds directly on this first episode. The sequence begins by asserting that the shaman is in such a hurry that he abbreviates the seduction. When he attacks, the second granddaughter is not involved in an emotional interaction with him. Consequently, she can respond directly to the assault. When the shaman repeatedly injures his penis and finally appeals to their kinship relation, she immediately recognizes the ruse and states categorically, “I don’t want to even hear about my grandfather.” When he cries out that she will lose her grandfather, she answers, “I don’t care,” physically confirming her attitude by rolling him in the cactus. Instead of feeling remorse for abusing him, she immediately runs to inform her grandmother who, in turn, confronts the impenitent old shaman, both verbally and physically assaulting him, as soon as he returns. By the end of the tale, the entire audience is engulfed in side-splitting laughter. Very young children, though they may not understand the whole story, beg to hear it again and again, and the socially approved attitude towards its content is reinforced with each repetition. Concomitantly, the spontaneous public release of emotion serves to keep the potential desires of adults
in check, for as was mentioned above, at any given telling of the story, potential victims as well as potential violators hear the story together. Recall that in Indian culture public derision and ridicule is used to simultaneously condemn and annihilate powerful and feared individuals or behavior. The shaman is the most feared and respected member of Indian society, being the one person who controls life and death. The cathartic effect of publicly describing such a person as a licentious fool can never be underestimated. Pierre Clastre (1972b), who collected this myth, described it and other similar humorous stories in the following way: When the Indians hear these stories, they never really think of anything else but laughing. Nevertheless, the comical quality of these myths does not in any way deprive them of their seriousness. The laughter that they provoke reveals a truly pedagogical intention. While they amuse all who listen, the myths contain and transmit tribal culture (p. 13 I).
While it would be naive to suggest that the traditional teaching techniques of the Chulupi can be lifted from their cultural environment and grafted directly into an occidental child sexual abuse prevention program, they must not simply be cast aside. They are part of the vast repertoire of creative local solutions to universal human behavioral concerns. If we suspend our ethnocentric bias and step briefly into their world view, they provide us with a surprising and often much needed perspective on the very unscientific cultural presuppositions which underlie popular prevention programs. As we have seen, the Chulupi tale is told in an informal group for entertainment which provides an ideal context wherein emotionally charged information can be transmitted in a controlled, nonthreatening manner. The laughter of the group not only derides the behavior of the incestuous shaman, but in addition, provides a sound screen behind which individuals can release their subjective emotions at any time according to their own needs. This setting sharply contrasts with the formal school or classroom environment where sexual abuse prevention programs, particularly those designed for very young children, are usually presented. As a rule, children are requested to maintain appropriate school classroom behavior. They are cautioned to be quiet during the presentation and to raise their hands if they want to ask or to answer questions. Unfortunately, individual embarrassment is much more visible in a formal context than in an informal one. Moreover, dealing with embarrassment in formal group situation introduces a whole range of variables which are avoided when the problem of embarrassment is effectively eliminated by the context itself. For example, training manuals advise program presenters that they can expect embarrassed laughter from their audiences. Generally, presenters are instructed to “put the children at ease” by admitting that the subject is embarrassing even for some adults. If the presenters themselves feel uncomfortable, they are advised to openly acknowledge it. Some programs even explicitly state that the subject is so embarrassing that some children may have to help their embarrassed parents talk about it. The goal appears to be to enable young children to talk openly about sex, in a formal setting, by neutralizing feelings, the multiple emotions (shame, desire, curiosity, etc.) that are usually evoked when sex is talked about. Specialists defend this attempt to dissociate talk about sex from affect as a healthy rejection of puritanical guilt. However, when we examine the content of programs, we find indications that this may simply be a cultural delusion. The fundamental dilemma confronting program designers is the fact that in occidental culture, particularly in the United States, conceptual ignorance is equated with innocence. This is especially true when one is referring to young children. For the Chulupi, explicit conceptual knowledge of sexual practices does not insinuate degenerate behavior. As Clastre and other anthropologists have pointed out, from a very early age, children acquire detailed knowledge of sexuality. However this freedom to know does
not lead to debauchery. On the contrary, intimate sexual behavior in South American native Indian cultures is characterized by restraint and modesty (Clastre, 1972a). Child sexual abuse prevention programs go to great lengths manipulating content in order to preserve innocence. For example, the euphemism “private parts” is generally used to describe the sexual organs in a heretofore unheard of and allegedly emotionally neutral way. Many programs inform young children that these problematic organs are to be found under their swimsuits. (Note the latter reference sexualizes the flat chest of young female children, a cultural preconception which is not supported by observable anatomy.) Another popular technique is teaching children correct anatomical terms such as penis, vagina, breasts, and bottom (sic) for their private parts. Child welfare specialists assert that this introduction of formal terms not only reduces embarrassment but, in addition, helps children to report sexual abuse accurately. The latter advantage is particularly important if the child is to be a witness for the prosecution in a court case. Perhaps the most prevalent technique for preserving innocence is through the manipulation of concepts. Most sexual abuse prevention programs for the very young rely on some version of the “Touch Continuum” as their basic conceptual framework (Deyound, 1988). Generally, children are given gross examples of good touches (those that feel good, e.g., hugs) and bad touches (those that hurt, e.g., slaps) and then taught about the rather ambiguous category of mixed up touches. This latter category may include those touches that feel good but which are in bad places (e.g., under the swimsuit) as well as those touches that feel “funny,” a sensation that is rarely ever defined. Invariably such programs conclude by telling children that no one, including their parents, has the right to touch them without their explicit consent. This concentration on touch is defended by specialists who argue that the contents and style of the programs must be “age appropriate.” Explicit description and graphic detail would shock innocent children and might overly frighten them. As a result, the motives of potential sexual aggressors are never evoked; seduction is generally portrayed as either an offer of candy or toys or some type of threatening behavior. The most frequently depicted actions are exhibitionism, voyeurism, and “inappropriate” touching. Although incestuous rape is one of the most frequently reported and psychologically devastating form of sexual abuse facing young children, it is rarely ever evoked and never described in detail. The profound difference which emerges when the context and the content of child sexual abuse prevention programs are contrasted with “The Man You Could Say Nothing To” suggests that the concept of age appropriate is primarily a cultural prejudice masquerading as a scientific proposition. It is notable that the concept of age appropriate is rarely evoked when researchers demonstrate that young children have a great deal of difficulty understanding and retaining abstract concepts such as the touch continuum.
CONCLUSION The equation of innocence with ignorance is not a scientific fact but a cultural concomitant. To paraphrase George Devereux ( 1977), the principal founder of ethnopsychiatry: Some of the scientific concepts which are dearest to our hearts concerning children in general. unfortunately participate in a perceptual error. Researchers, as adults. elaborate complacently what they call child development which is frequently nothing other than a codilication of that which, as adults, they desire to believe about children. Numerous objective discoveries made by experts in child psychology, when they are closely examined, reveal themselves to be scientific discoveries of certain puerile traits of children which our culture inculcates and even imposes upon children. We teach children to be puerile according to specific culturally determined models. and then award the pompous title of normal child development to the results of this artiticially created puerility.
Child sexual abuse prevention programs, by facilitating disclosure, have helped to expose the sexual exploitation of young children in occidental culture (Finkelhor & Strapko, in press). However, if their goal is to control or prevent sexual abuse, the persistent avoidance of explicit accounts of incestuous rape must be challenged. By continuing to shroud incest in silence, these programs may ultimately be reinforcing cultural attitudes towards knowledge, childhood, and sexuality which license rather than deter the most singular destructive form of child sexual abuse.
REFERENCES Clastre, P. (1972a). Chronique des Indiens Guayaki (pp. 149-l 52, 17 l- 172). Paris: Librairie Plon. Cl$re, P. (1972b). De quoi rient les Indiens? La Socit% confre I’& (S. Mulhem, Trans., pp. 113-136). Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. Devereux, G. (1977).La delinquance sexuelle des jeunes filles dans une societi “puritaine.” In Essais d’e~~rnopsycbia~r~e~e~era~e(S. Mulhern, Trans., pp. 181-2 14). Paris: Gallimard. Deyound, M. ( 1988, January-February). Thegood touch/bad touch dilemma. Child We&&e, LXVII( 1). Finkelhor, D., & Strapko, N. (In press). Sexual abuse prevention education: A review of evaluation studies. In Child abuseprevention. New York: Wiley. Kluft, R. ( 1985). Childhood antecedenls cfmultiplepersonality. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press. Levi-Strauss. C. ( 1967). Les swucfures t%?mentaires de Iu parent& Paris: Ecole des Sautes Etudes en Science Sociales.
Resume-Aux Eta&Unis on considire que l’inceste p&e-fille represente la forme la plus frequente et la plus devastatrite de &ices sexuels i I’egard d’enfants; cependant, quand on passe en revue les programmes de prevention des s&vices sexuels i l’igard d’enfants les plus utilis& et actuellement sur le marchi, programmes qui sont destines i de tres jeunes enfants, on s’apercoit qu’aucun d’entre eux n’aborde explicitement le sujet. On justifie cette lacune habituellement en d&ant que la transmission de connaissances detaillees sur la violence sexuelle viole “l’innocence” des enfants. Cela soit en les effrayant soit en prov~uant peut-itre des complements pr&oces et patholo~ques. L’auteur du present article analyse le contexte et le contenu d’un mythe des Indiens Chulupi, appele ‘THornme i qui tu ne peux rien dire”; il pense que l’attitude cit&e plus haut est un biais culture1 qui prevaut dans les programmes de prevention des &vices sexuels i I’egard d’enfants. En gardant le silence sur l’inceste ces programmes deviennent une part du probleme qu’ils pretendent rdsoudre. Resumen-Aunque la violation incestuosa de hijas por sus padres es considerada coma la forma mis prevalente y devastadora de1 abuso sexual de menores reportado en 10sEstados Unidos, un analisisde 10sprogramas mis populares de prevention de1 abuso sexual de menores, supues~mente destinados para ser usados con niiios pequeiios, revela que ninguno de ellos encara abiertamente este sujeto. Esta laguna se justifica rutinariamente a base de que la transmis ion de conocimiento conceptual detallado de la violencia sexual viola la “inocencia” de 10snines; o bien asustandolos o provocando conducta precoz y posiblemente patologica. Un anilis de1 mito de 10s lndios Chulupi “El Hombre a Quiin No se le Podia Decir Nada,” desenmascara esta actitud coma un prejuicio cultural que permea 10s programas de prevention de1 abuso sexual de1 menor. Manteniendo silencio con respect0 al incesto, 10s programas se convierten potencialemente en parte del problema que tratan de resolver.