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The Baiga People

( Originally Published 1957 )

The Baiga people inhabit the Central Provinces of India. Hardly touched by Hindu civilization, they are described as barely above the hunting stage of primitive culture. The children are raised in little restraint. The attitude toward erotic play is generally indulgent, and sex experience begins in child-hood. The Baiga "have no fear of deflowering virgins, for there are no virgins. Each little girl has slowly . . . had her vagina enlarged, and by her wedding-night, she is already an experienced lover." (12) Verner Elwin, in discussing the "quality of love" among the Baiga, considers the question of whether the continual free indulgence of the sexual urge changes the character of amorous experience. He quotes Malinowski's comment on the effect of the direct sexual approach upon the "romantic frame of mind" and finds that it would apply equally to the Baiga. Yet, as among the Trobrianders, fixations develop, and "... over and above . . . fleeting memories of delight or frustration, nearly every Baiga seems to have had one or two experiences of a much deeper character. One girl has above all others caught and held his imagination; one girl has filled his memory so that for years afterwards his body will quiver . . . as he thinks of her. And these are the experiences that have left their mark on the songs ... "

The songs, Elwin thinks, "breathe the very breath of love." He quotes: "Oh my love, when I see your beauty, I laugh aloud for joy." He cites native poetry containing references to love's longings, the "desire to make it lasting and eternal"; once he has found "real love," we are told, "a man is utterly and unfeignedly happy. His gifts have borne fruit; those meetings by the river or in the forest were not merely transitory; the girl he loved has come to him and will remain." Despite the manifest expressions of the sexual impulse, the examples offered by Elwin are certainly suggestive, at the least, of emotions by a quality differing from sensual feeling.

It may be significant that the position of women is high among the Baiga. They enjoy marked freedom and considerable authority. They choose their mates and enjoy the power to change them. Their status is strongly supported by a reputation for witchcraft. Socially, there is a high degree of equality between the sexes.

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