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Devereux, G. (1947). Mohave Orality—An Analysis of Nursing and Weaning Customs. Psychoanal Q., 16:519-546.

(1947). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 16:519-546

Mohave Orality—An Analysis of Nursing and Weaning Customs

George Devereux, Ph.D.

While it is to be expected, since the Mohave Indians nurse their children for several years, that the oral stage of psychosexual development would be one of the most important determinants of the structure of their culture and personality, it is striking that the Mohave appear to be aware of the significance of nursing for the psychic economy of the infant.

Precisely because the culturally determined beliefs of the Mohave seem so modern, approximate so closely the findings of psychoanalysis, it is important that discussion of Mohave orality begin with a straightforward presentation of ethnological data—to avoid the appearance of forcing the data to fit psychoanalytic theory.


As the milk does not start to flow immediately after parturition, as a rule, the baby is not nursed until the day following its birth; however, if the mother has milk available, the child is nursed after it has been bathed. The mother believes she should handle the newborn baby as little as possible, lest it have a dark complexion. Care is taken to avoid injury to the child's soft face from crushing it against the breast; thus during the first days of its life, the infant's face is allowed to come into contact with the nipple only. No sticks are used to bring the nipple to the mouth of the child. Whether the child is carried on the mother's hip—with or without a cradle—or is sitting in its mother's lap, its head is kept above the level of the nipple and, as a result, it suckles by drawing the milk upward. This mode of suckling is relatively rare in Western civilization (1).

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