The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea

Trobriand Sexuality

The Trobriand culture values caring and generosity. When a Trobriand gives, he or she is also conveying this person’s personal intentions toward another and their future. Giving yams, for example, is said to “sweeten the thoughts” of another person, who then becomes attracted to the gift barer. However, because gifts of material wealth (like yams) are only given by adults, teenagers instead use their sexuality to give.

Premarital sexuality is not looked down upon in Trobriand culture, but is encouraged. In Trobriand customs, the father is very interested in his son or daughter’s marriage partner. He wants a woman who is not lazy and will work hard. Young Trobriand men and women fin an appropriate wife or husband by having several premarital sexual partners.

Because women’s wealth and political power are valued in Trobriand society, adults pay close attention to young lovers and their potential of giving back to the village. Like a birth control patch most often signifies a sexually active person, Villagers look for the sign of lost eyelashes and a scratched back that implies a person is sexually active.

Because arrogance is frowned upon, young men and women rely on magic spells to carry through town in an independent and fearless manner. Beauty magic is chanted into coconut oil that is then rubbed all over the body and accessories on clothing or in hair. The method of taking control over someone else’s feelings can be feared as a form of governance, yet the Trobriand also value both sex and beauty; therefore young Trobrianders learn to be careful when using love magic to only influence attraction from another, and not gain control.

It is tradition that when a young Trobriand woman becomes serious with a man, she doesn’t leave her lover’s house at the first rooster’s crow. They eat yams together in the morning. If their request to marry is approved by her matrillineage, this newly married couple must abandon their multiple sex partners and remain monogamous to each other. This politically binds the couple.

The Trobrianders do have a rule against incest, a known custom throughout their villages. A Trobriand woman may not have sexual relations with her father, or her brother. However, Trobrianders stress not having sex with a brother more so than with a father. Many jokes are cracked over the occurrence of a father becoming attracted to his daughter.

The Trobriand govern sex through power of magical seduction, sexual partners belonging to a different clan, and incest taboos. In the Trobriand culture, it is customary to sexually experiment with several partners before marriage, and to use love spells to appear beautiful and seduce each partner. Trobrianders value the exchange of betel nut and tobacco as gifts for young lovers that will eventually lead to the exchange of yams in marriage. It is crucial to learn the difference between governance and routine, the difference between influence and control of someone. All of these rules belong are Trobriand cultural values that direct their sexual behavior.


Student essays are stored at each department or sometimes departmental library of the University in which it was submitted. No part of this text may be reproduced in any form without written permission from Jennifer M. Hartsock. Every effort has been made to ensure that credits accurately comply with information supplied.

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4 thoughts on “The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea

  1. Hi Jennifer,
    doing a paper on the trobrianders and I appreciated your article. It also helped me with my assignment. thank you.

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