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Róheim, G. (1949). The Symbolism of Subincision. Am. Imago, 6:321-328.

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(1949). American Imago, 6(4):321-328

The Symbolism of Subincision

Gésa Róheim

In my book on The Eternal Ones of the Dream, Chapter VIII is on the ritual of Ngallunga. This ritual usually belongs to the kangaroo totem and consists in the older men (the initiators) running backwards and showing their sub-incision hole. The blood spurts forth from the subincision hole and the youngsters see the great mystery of initiation. It is quite clear that the aim of the rite is to separate the young men from the group of the mothers and to aggregate them to the group of the fathers. It is clear what is meant when they call the subincision hole a “vagina” or a “penis womb”. The whole subincised penis may be called a vagina in the sacred songs. The name of the ritual ngallunga was translated to me into Aranda as tjoananga, i.e., “we two are friends” — By we two the ritual evidently means son and father. They are offering an artificial vagina as compensation for the real one, i.e., the maternal vagina.

The ritual itself consists in running backwards and flicking the penis up so that the subincision wound should be visible to the boy. Moreover I have also suggested that the creek in which they run backwards (1) symbolizes the vagina.

The mythical song of the Pitjentara that goes with the subincision rite begins with the following lines:

Karunka tjiri wanka  
From the creek tj! tj! it sings  
Lalanpa palintjiri    
Appearing together (means the boys)    
Walka kulpangura    
Blood running down    
When they actually subincise the penis:
Tjitji ngura kuntana kuntana
Pipe crack cut it cut it
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