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Berndt, R.M. (1951). Subincision in a Non - Subincision Area. Am. Imago, 8(2):165-179.

(1951). American Imago, 8(2):165-179

Subincision in a Non - Subincision Area

Ronald M. Berndt

In our “Preliminary Report of Field Work in the Ooldea Region, Western South Australia”, I observed that no comparison was made in that area between the letting of blood from the penis incisure and the menstrual flow, and that no common word referred both to the penis incision and to the vulva.1 Mythological references and traditional songs there seemed to substantiate Basedow's therapeutic theory.2 Earlier than this, however, Doctors Géza Róheim and M. F. Ashley Montagu had discussed the possible origin and meaning of male subincision in Aboriginal Australia.3 They contended that subincision was originally instituted in order to cause in the male a parallel to the occasional effusion of blood which is naturally a characteristic of the female, and possibly, also, to produce some feminization in the appearance of the male organ.4 Dr. Róheim, in his book The Eternal Ones of the Dream,5 extends the significance still further on the basis that the subincisure is termed “vagina” or “penis womb”.6

In re-reading my data for the Macumba area of northern South Australia,7 I feel that there is little doubt that Dr. Róheim's assumptions are correct when he says that the incisure is identified with the vulva (or womb), and that the incisure, being a symbolic vagina, may indeed be a substitute for the maternal vagina.8 This concept has become clearer to me after my field work in northern parts of the Northern Territory; and in a review of Dr. Róheim's book (The Eternal Ones of the Dream)9 I realized that such an interpretation could be made after more data were available.

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