“Tribal Penis Gourd”
The traditional Papuan tribal penis gourd (also known as a “koteka” or “horim” or “phallocrypt”) is worn by Papuan tribesmen to hide their family jewels, coins and bills. Except for their gourd, the men go naked and have no pockets. But more importantly, their gourds preserve modesty and conceal prized masculine genitalia. Nevertheless, testicles are left exposed to full public view. No, the men don’t always sit in “lady-like” positions so prepare to expand your previous socially acceptable perceptions when visiting these remote tribes. Their villages are hidden deep in the interior reaches of the Baliem Valley located in the Indonesian state of Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya). Papua shares a rather huge island with the country of Papua New Guinea to the east where warring “pay back” societies abound to this day. When one tribe is “wronged” by another, someone must die to clear the debt.
The deceased is always buried with his penis gourd prominently displayed.
If you are wondering how the virile warrior men of Papua keep their kotekas erect all day, no, they haven’t yet discovered Viagra. Their feat is accomplished via simple laws of physics. The protruding tip of the gourd is tied with a thin fiber string that is looped around the upper abdomen. At the base of this elongated penile sheath a small hole has been pierced through which another fiber string is attached then looped and cinched rather tightly around a blatantly exposed scrotum. When all is firmly secure, you’ll hear the men begin to speak in rather high-pitched tonality.
Penis Gourd Envy
Peer group pressure defines how each tribe wears its gourds. Some prefer their gourds pointed straight out while others want them pointed straight up, or at an angle, or in various odd directions. Some rather kinky tribes prefer twisted, curlycue gourds. Often the men choose shorter gourds when working and longer, more elaborate painted ones for festive occasions or date night or whenever the mood strikes and the libido demands. Many of these “festive” gourds have feathers attached at the tip. One can’t be sure if this is for tease or temptation. And (contrary to popular belief) the size and erectness of a particular gourd does not signify wealth, social status, virility, natural endowment or stamina—or so they say.
(If you are doubting this description, please see the Wikipedia version for verification.)
In the early 1970s the conservative Indonesian Muslim government launched “Operasi Koteka” (“Operation Penis Gourd”) to encourage the Papuan men and boys to wear shorts and shirts, which were more “modern.” But the Papuan tribesmen did not have changes of clothing, did not have soap, and were unfamiliar with the care of such clothes so the unwashed clothing caused skin diseases. And there were reports of men wearing the shorts as hats. Eventually the official, yet ill-advised, government campaign was abandoned. Nevertheless, these days Western clothing is required in government buildings and children must wear Western clothing at school. In remote tribal villages the old men, virile male teenagers and young boys still cherish the grandiose display of their indigenous penis gourds while the women and girls seem indulgent while embracing undisguised smirks.
When tourists trek between Papuan villages, distant drum beats are often heard—a long distance audible cue for the next villagers to prepare their wares ready for sale, items to be strewn along the path. Most likely there will be a few gourds on display but beware of new versus used. A timely tip: If the gourd has a burnt tip, it’s a sure sign some warrior wore it while sitting close to the campfire one cold night during heated discussion when a half coconut shell filled with potent home brew was passed around and long tales of elongated, curvaceous gourds were told.
Most tourists and adventure trekkers don’t leave Papua without visiting one of the many tribal curio shops scattered around the Baliem Valley where the airport is located. (To this day no roads exist into such deep jungle. The only way in or out is to fly.) Naturally there are dozens of penis gourds on display to satisfy tempting visions of wild, inebriated masculine cosplay back home or at least a quick thrill in the mirror. Gourds of all sizes, shapes, curvatures and weird configurations to satisfy just about any proclivity are available but don’t ask for a fitting room.
This old tribal codger didn’t seem to be a happy camper.
Perhaps his mood is indicative of many fiercely testosteronic former tribal warriors in the Baliem Valley, who one day discover they can no longer get their gourds up.
PS: Rest assured that I laugh not about the traditional mores of this unique culure—only at myself and the cultural hangups of many modern Western societies. Let us celebrate the marvelous cultural differences found across the globe.
There’s a penis gourd chapter in this fun book of travel narratives, Penis Gourds & Moscow Muggings, which features humorous stories and poignant insight gleaned from adventures and misadventures during a nonstop, eight-year global marathon by renowned travel photographer, Glen Allison. During his journeys to more than a hundred countries he laughs not at remote tribal cultures but rather at the often laughable narrow mindset of ostensibly “more developed” Western societies that frequently have difficulty celebrating rich cultural differences.
Read snippets and see thumbnail photos from my previous Travel Blog Posts.
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I only use Lonely Planet guidebooks.