Anthropology and History

Kotekas: Penis Sheaths Worn by the Tribes of New Guinea

The incredible tradition of penis sheaths as an everyday custom among tribal groups.

posted on 09/15/2010
Michele Collet
Scribol Staff

NambasPhoto: Charmaine Tham

There are a number of names for phallocrypts or sheaths – Koteka, Nambas, penis gourd and Horim, plus others that are purely used intra tribe. They are a traditional clothing with many purposes, used by tribesmen to cover the genitals either for protection when out hunting and in the bush, or simply to cover themselves, as many tribes have taboos on children seeing the penis – or single women for that matter.

Penis SheathPhoto: Lee

Above you see a phallocrypt made of leaves and vegetation, but very often they are made with gourds, specially grown for the purpose. The grasses seem to be used more in African tribes than in New Guinea where gourds are always the covering. In the top picture you see a group wearing sheaths made out of dried grasses, both boys and men.

KotekaPhoto: Billga

The gourd that is generally used to make phallocrypts is Lagenaria siceraria. Weights are used to keep the bottom down as it grows, and the curve is formed using string tied to various parts of the gourd to make it go in whichever direction is needed. Generally it is then waxed inside once dried and painted or decorated if for ceremonial use.

Yali man Baliem Valley PapuaPhoto: 710928003

Different tribes use different shapes and sizes; in fact there are two tribes on Malakula known as Big Nambas and Smol Nambas. Some sociologists and anthropologists had thought the size had to do with status but this theory has been proven wrong. Instead the different sizes of phallocrypt men within the tribe might wear has more to do with function. A shorter one is used when working while more elaborate versions are donned for festivals. As you can see from the picture above and below, they are tied on with a loop of string to the scrotum, and then a string is added to the top or the body of the koteka and tied around the waist or chest of the wearer, keeping it in the direction he wants it to point.

New Guinea Penis SheathPhoto: Ryan Somma

From the beginning of time, man has wanted to cover his genitals in public, partly because it is more comfortable than having them get in the way when working, running down prey during a hunt, chopping wood etc. and partly as an ornament. Loincloths were the simplest of all, of course, but essentially the kotekas are nothing more than male underwear with the same purpose – to cover the genitals. Just as we in modern times want our underwear to be decorative at times, the more elaborate phallocrypts are donned for festivals and ceremonies; in fact kotekas are deemed acceptable for church. The advantage with the kotekas is that they are a truly environmentally green underwear. Now I don’t think we will find this catching on any time soon, but if you grow your own gourds it might be something to consider.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Michele Collet
Scribol Staff