By Thomas Gregor
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Extra resources for Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People
As of my last visit to the Mehinaku, the thirty-seven adults were conducting approximately 88 extramarital affairs. This figure is only an estimate because the relationship is noncontractual, and opinions vary within the village as to who is having a genuine affair, and who is engaging in an occasional liaison. To put this number in perspective, it would be possible for the villagers to pair off in 340 extramarital (heterosexual) partnerships if they were unrestrainedly promiscuous. If affairs that are in violation of in-law avoidances, the incest taboo, and the respect owed older persons are eliminated, 150 theoretically possible pairings remain.
On occasion, the suitor may sweeten his offer with a gift, such as a bar of soap, a comb, or a small handful of beads. If the girl accepts, they will have sexual relations immediately in the bushes; or, fearing her husband, she may suggest that her lover come "alligatoring" (aiyakatapai) later in the day. "To alligator," in the vernacular of the Mehinaku men, means to summon women to assignations from small areas behind the houses known as "alligator places" (yaka epuga). The use of the alligator (actually the cayman, Caiman crocodilus) as a sexual metaphor derives from Mehinaku mythology, which describes the alligator as a libidinous animal who in ancient times had repeated assignations with two village women.
Whatever potential remains for romantic attachment is further diluted by coresidence with many kinsmen and an elaborate network of extramarital affairs. In this setting, only a new couple (autsapalui) is permitted anything more than a low-keyed expression of affection. Typically, a newly Mehinaku Men and Women 27 married husband and wife sleep together in the same large hammock and spend much of the day in each other's company. As their marriage matures, however, this degree of affection seems foolish.