EHP, ESP and NCD participants described penile bloodletting practices. Only in one village in the ESP was the traditional practice of inserting a blade of grass into the urethra still practiced while in other areas of the ESP, EHP and NCD participants described incising the head of the penis by cutting and or rubbing of objects in order to release blood. Both traditional and contemporary bloodletting practices were described in study communities. Penile bloodletting practices shared common underlying cultural meanings, significance and motivators based on constructions of maleness, masculinity and gendered societal roles, analogous to the practices and contexts previously described by in a variety of settings in PNG
[20, 22, 23, 43].
Sometimes, there are two kinds but this “kunai” [spear-shaped] grass is best. It is best. It has four edges…It is straight so when they push it inside and pull it just once and it cuts the inside of the cock. It does such and the blood comes out quickly. Sailor, M, ESP.
Respondents in EHP described the use of a short spear (with or without a broken piece of glass from a bottle on the end) or sharp slivers of bamboo to induce penile bleeding; and the use of the bark and/or leaves from specific trees or razor blades to induce bleeding of the penile glands.
The cultural significance and purpose of both traditional and contemporary forms of penile shooting were deeply embodied within notions of masculinity, male sexual and general health, and the need to purge ‘polluted’ maternal blood:
The first time we do this is because when our mother gave birth to us, this blood is in us. When we go to the men’s house, they shoot to release rubbish [blood] which our mother gave us at birth. Jason, M, ESP.
The natural way for girls to remove this blood, according to the men is menstruation while with boys in order to release a mother’s blood are required to induce a metaphoric equivalent of menstruation, a male menarcheal ritual:
When women have their monthly period they get rid of this waste and let it go out. For us men, this is the only way. Sailor, M, ESP.
In the absence of a physiologically induced system of blood loss such as menstruation, men’s creation of one, symbolically at least, is a male form of menstruation. While symbolic it is no less deeply cultural. For men this blood loss comes to signify the removal of contagion and facilitating in the creation of a boy into man. The ritual release is not only intended to remove bad or waste blood (blut nogut; pipia blut), but to create new, ‘good’ blood. As dirty or bad blood, it is imperative that men release this blood in order to maintain their health, strength, vitality, and their masculinity:
Okay, each man knows his body. If he is well, you will see that his body is strong, he can work, he can carry heavy things and when he has some kinds of sickness in his body in his blood system, you will see that he will not feel well. Valentine, M, ESP.
Now we grow to become healthy and it’s like you become a man now. Aime, M, EHP.
One informant from NCD also commented on the need to induce penile bloodletting in order to improve the look of a man’s skin; to make it beautiful:
Because women have a way of removing blood, they remove it through menstruation and you know, they get rid of it and their skin is bright all the time, and you know they become good flowers that go around and we desire. But we boys too, we are also flowers too and there is a way to make us become bright, and women will desire us. f
Enoch, M, NCD.
In addition to the references of maternal blood, health and masculinity one other reason for the need to release blood was offered in the contemporary context. Suggesting that the need to release blood is a regular, minor occurrence (‘It’s nothing’) Enoch from NCD, who originates from Madang, said that those men who have been ‘too sexually active’ must induce urethra bleeding every few weeks. From his narrative it appears that too much sex with women is linked with contagion in a way similar to maternal blood and therefore must be regularly released in order to prevent disease. This issue was also addressed by Valentine, a village elder from ESP:
It depends when he is sick. When he feels sick or has some kind of sickness in his body, alright he needs this sort of treatment [shooting]. He must go to this. Valentine, M, ESP.
One respondent who had heard of this tradition in his village in EHP reflected on the traditional transformation of penile shooting whereby, today young men were choosing to undergo dorsal slits for precisely the same reasons their ancestors had practiced penile and nasal bloodletting.
It’s like the practice of shooting the nose and such. Shoot a spear [arrow] at the head of the cock of the men, it is custom. It is a custom of the past which and still is now. Now we are here, it is a new time where similar customs are dying now and men are only going for the practice of cutting the foreskin. Harold, M, EHP.
Traditional penile shooting associated with ceremonial and cultural observances now appears to be rare, largely confined to tambunataim (the time of the ancestors):
I can’t tell you about this [penile shooting] because it is not done during our time. It was during our grandfather’s time and is already finished. Now, during our time, there isn’t any more of this practice. It ended during our father’s and grandfather’s time. Hadrian, M, ESP.
Although a few opinions were provided, it was unclear exactly why penile shooting in association with initiation had ceased in traditionally practicing areas. One elder spoke of the role of Christianity in bringing an end to penile shooting as it was deemed a ‘bad custom’. Valentine, another village elder in ESP, told us that penile shooting ceased in his village during the 1980s and that traditional knowledge associated with these practices have now largely been lost:
It’s finished now…it’s not really finished, it is there but we don’t have the elders here anymore who can do it. So we go to the other village’s style to do to prevent diseases. It is because the knowledge of penile shooting died with the ancestors…because the elders who have knowledge to do this thing have all died. They took away these songs with them. They no longer give to, transfer to, other people, elders and like will hold it [the knowledge] and when we grow up they give it to us. They don’t give these things unnecessarily, it’s against the law; forbidden. Like because we don’t know this songs, the magic words. We’re not sure now. Valentine, M, ESP.
Valentine did however believe that penile shooting would be revived with the repair of the village haus tambaran (men’s spirit house). While elders such as Valentine and Sailor believe that the traditional custom of penile shooting is dead, many young men in these communities continue to practice a contemporary form of penile shooting. One informant in particular, Xavier, had induced penile bleeding to treat an illness, a few days before our arrival in the village by cutting the head of his penis with glass.
Contemporary penile bleeding practices outside the traditional context of male initiation appear to be practiced in the Sepik, Eastern Highlands and Madang areas. Reflecting on the use of this practice to bring health, Franco, a university student in Port Moresby, NCD, reflected on his and his community’s practices:
Regarding the shooting of the skin, shooting the head of the cock… we use the bamboo skin… split a bamboo. The tip will be very sharp, so you will go and shoot its head [into the urethra] and blood will come down. So, there are people who know. It is like, lately, boys from the village are doing it. They did it and it has become part of their custom. Franco, M, NCD.