EVIDENCE FROM THE RUNGUS SOCIOCULTURAL PROJECTIVE SYSTEMS
To discover further evidence on the degree to which the drives
of sex and aggression are individuated or interlinked, it is useful
to consider the various cultural projective systems (see Spiro 1965;
Spiro and D'Andrade 1958; Whiting and Child 1953; Whiting 1959,
1961; Whiting and Whiting 1978).
The lack of sexual aggression in Rungus projective systems, with
the exception of the material on the orang-utan discussed above,
is in marked contrast to the Iban. In Iban society sexual conflict
becomes overt in female mockery of men's genitalia and in the projection
of sexual aggression in the religious system (Freeman 1968; Sather
1978). There are sexually aggressive incubi, primarily forest and
river spirits, who seduce married women and, as a result of sexual
intercourse with them, "spoil" their wombs so that they
are unable to bear living offspring, or if they do, the child lives
only a short time (Freeman 1967; Sather 1978). And there are malevolent
ghosts of women having died in childbirth who attack and destroy
men's sexual organs (Sather 1978).
Dreams are an important source of material. But it is hard to get
information on Rungus dreams as they indicate the wandering of one
of the seven souls of the dreamer and usually involve its encounters
with spirits that cause illness. Talking about such spirits is equivalent
to summoning them and inviting sickness. Thus, if a male or female
dreams of intercourse it means that sickness may, but not necessarily,
follow as the dreamer has had an encounter with one of these spirits.
However, this is not a sexually aggressive encounter as may happen
in encounters with spirits among the Iban.
If a Rungus maiden dreams of a handsome man who wants to marry
her, it means that her guardian spirit wants to be in communication
with her. If a man dreams of marrying a beautiful woman, it means
that he will accumulate a lot of brassware, gongs, and jars, as
the woman in the dream is the soul of this property.
Joking and Teasing
The Rungus do not have formal jokes, but they are fond of making
joking remarks and teasing. In none of these with sexual content
did we find any evidence of sexual aggression.
In the religion, as far as we have been able to ascertain, there
is no mention of any action of sexual aggression among the various
spirits and gods in the long ritual chants that accompany sacrifices
to them. And there are no public performances in which sexual acts
are alluded to. Nor are women subject to sexual assault by spirits
or gods such as occurs among the Iban.
Myths, Folktales, and Legends
In the various myths and folktales there are sexual themes. But
aggression is not an integral aspect of them, at least in the ones
that we were able to collect, with two exceptions, one in which
antagonism is directed in a minor way towards the penis and one
in which a female orang-utan forces a man to have intercourse with
First, there are folktales about the mouse deer similar to those
found throughout Borneo. The Rungus versions only include what one
might call sly sex. That is the mouse deer tricks a female into
having sexual relations with him; he does not force her to do so.
For example, in one story the mouse deer tricks a woman into chasing
him through a hollow log, where she gets stuck with her bottom up
in the air accessible to the mouse deer.
Then there are two myths I collected in which there is a symbolic
linkage between the penis and a snake.
In the first myth a man is particularly good at seducing women.
The term used for this in the story is mangangkam. Mangangkam refers
to illicit intercourse that occurs when a person slips into the
bed of a member of the opposite sex after everyone in the longhouse
has gone asleep, usually with the connivance of the other. In this
story the man saw a beautiful woman in the forest, and she agreed
to have intercourse but only if he promised to tell her when he
was finished. He agreed. They had coitus, and he told her that he
was finished. As he withdrew, she cast a spell that resulted in
his penis being drawn out to an extraordinary length, similar to
a snake. All coiled up it would fill up one of the largest rice
carrying baskets. After that whenever he wanted to sleep with a
woman, he didn't have to go himself, he could send his penis. And
thus he had intercourse with women before they understood what had
happened, as his penis could sneak unheralded into their longhouse
apartment. Women would have a feeling (of it), but since they did
not see a man they were not sure what was happening. Finally, they
realized that they could tell when it was approaching from the noise
it made as it slipped along the floor boards. One woman poured boiling
water on the penis as it was leaving. It then lost its outer skin
from the scalding, and out came seven children. From then on it
was a normal penis.
This is the only folktale in which there is any indication of sexual
antagonism or aggression, and it arises as the result of the illicit
sexual behavior of the man. It is the product of the misuse of male
sexuality. And it is a female who expresses this antagonism towards
the penis, first in coitus and then when it bothers women. And it
is a woman which brings the penis back to its socially sanctioned
use, the production of children. This is very interesting in the
context of the expected behavior of virgins, who are supposed to
be disinterested in sexual matters and reject sexual advances. And
it shows what can happen to a man if he engages in fornication.
But it must be analyzed in the context of another story about a
In this story a snake appears and curls up around an infant girl's
sleeping hammock. He announces that he wants to marry her but he
is told he must wait till she is older, which he does. After the
marriage his wife's parents try to get rid of him as he can do no
work. But then he turns into a handsome young man who is a god.
These two stories may indicate the conflicted behavior of some
maidens in their first marriages (see below). But they do not include
strong antagonism or aggression. There does not appear to be any
pattern of sexual antagonism or aggression in the Rungus projective
There is a legend of forced intercourse in which violence is involved.
It is the story of a form of marriage that occurred long before
the British arrived, called monundikut. The father and brothers
of the young man wanting to marry dress up for a wedding ceremony
and carry all the bride-price and expenses for the wedding for both
the groom's family and the bride's family to the longhouse of the
maiden. They also bring the bride's sleeping robe. When they arrive,
they grab the maiden and put her in the sleeping robe. Then the
young man copulates with her in front of the wedding party. Beforehand
they have notified the headman of the village, so that he is ready
to placate the father and relatives of the girl and prevent a fight
breaking out with weapons. The parents of the bride accept the marriage,
as it could be attempted only by a wealthy father with a good-looking
and hard-working son. The male offspring of such a marriage are
alleged to be particularly brave and become village champions.
There are no names of historical figures or ancestors associated
with this story, and it cannot be ascertained whether or not this
is an account of an actual happening. And it is said that women
don't really know this story, but there are some men who do. This
story appears contradictory to Rungus cultural values as sexual
intercourse is a very private act and must not be observed, particularly
by close relatives for it puts them in ritual jeopardy.
The retired headman of the village when asked about this form of
marriage gave a different story in which the maiden was not touched
but instead the young man went into the apartment of the maiden
and immediately addressed her parents as "in-laws", thereby
forcing the issue. However, he had another story of a form of wiving
to force the issue. In this account the bachelor goes to the apartment
of the girl with a bridal sleeping robe. He quickly puts it over
her. She struggles, and he holds her till she stops. Then the parents
start the negotiations over bride-price. If the maiden's parents
do not accept the young man, then he brings action for compensation
for the bodily hurt that he has received from the maiden. Again,
no actual cases of this could be elicited.
Finally, there is a myth about sexual relations between a human
and an orang-utan related by a male informant. A man was working
in his swidden and an orang-utan grabbed him and took him up into
the canopy. She asked him to have sexual relations with her. He
refused. She then took him by the leg and dangled him from the tree,
threatening to drop him. He again refused. She did this three times
until he finally agreed. They had a child. The story becomes involved
at this point, but the relevance for our discussion is that at the
end the orang-utan turned into a beautiful spirit who had been banished
to earth because she had not yet married.
We obtained this story from a major and well-respected male informant,
but we do not know how widespread it is within the Rungus community.
Nevertheless, it is interesting that while we have stories in which
human females are sexually attacked by male orang-utans told mostly
by men, and that while we have stories of forms of marriage that
indicate forced intercourse, again by men, there is also a myth
about a female orang-utan, as a disguised spirit, forcing intercourse
with a male.