by Ron Meshanko

Male ritual transvestism occurs in Huli rituals at least four times: tege pulu initiation and Kelote rites, and the pelagua and tiri yagua dances. The pelagua dance, wherein males dress as females, ritually occurs at night at Kelote most likely signifying the creative forces of Hana, the moon goddess, and her fecund menstrual flow. Tiri yagua is a fertility and protection ritual using dancing and offerings to the trickster god Iba Tiri in order to cleanse the river waters. Two male dancers dressed as women wearing yellow gourd masks are the ritual actors. In the initiation rites, ten men dressed as women enter the hut and circle around the fire ten times, making advances to the initiates who are supposed to resist them.

These ritual practices seem to indicate that Huli males realize that they depend on females for life and sustenance, a point the exegetical analysis of the creation myth has already asserted. The males dress as women to re-enter piganengi (the beginning of time) and claim the female powers of fertility which created the world. This idea is seen in the tege pulu initiation rites wherein asexual males are reborn as fully potent men. All young boys are considered asexual until they are fully initiated and further, initiated men are not really full males until they father their first child. 1 The Huli also apply this notion to unmarried priests and religious who are considered asexual since they do not participate in the life-giving and transforming power of sexuality. This concept is also found in the Ni and Hana myth where Hana is depicted as being asexual until Ni gashes her with a stone to create her vulva. Thus, ritual transvestism

” is a coming out of one’s self, a transcending of one’s own historically controlled situation, and a recovering of an original situation, no longer human or historical since is precedes the foundation of human society; a paradoxical situation impossible to maintain in profane time, in a historical epoch, but which is important to restore, if only for a brief moment, the initial completeness, the intact source of holiness and power. 2

Huli males practice ritual transvestism in order to complete their development by claiming piganengi (from the beginning) the fertility powers of women, that of Honabe and the “unknown woman”, for they realize that all life came from females.

(Photo courtesy of Damien Arabagali)

  1. A couple Huli men stated that the actual sign of manhood is a full beard, but I cannot verify this. []
  2. M. Eliade, Mephistopheles and The Androgyne (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965) p. 113. []