Jun 25, 2013
Happy Gay Pride everyone! For more information, visit http://www.londongaypride.co.uk/.
In the spirit of Gay Pride, we’ve included here a short extract from our new book, A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World by R.B. Parkinson (British Museum Press, paperback, £9.99).
“In the early eighteenth century, European explorers recorded sexual practices between males in the eastern Pacific region. European missionaries and colonial officials in the following centuries strongly discouraged such activities.
In many parts of the eastern Pacific or Polynesia, same-sex acts were tolerated only between a gender-crossing male and a socially accepted man. Polynesian languages have terms such as mahu (Tahiti) and fa’a fafine (Samoa) that define men who act and dress as women and who, as in many areas of South-East Asia, represent a third gender between man and woman. However, not all man on man sex involved such individuals: in Hawaii, aikane were young masculine men who had sex with the king. David Samwell (1751 – 98), a Welsh surgeon on Captain Cook’s ship the Discovery, noted in 1779 with some surprise that
It is an office that is esteemed honourable among them & they have frequently asked us on seeing a handsome young fellow if he was not an aikane to some of us.
Above: This ‘treasure box’ was designed to be stored, not on the ground, but suspended. New Zealand, late eighteenth century. Wood and shell, H. 9.4 cm; L. 43 cm; D. 9.8 cm.
This box from eighteenth-century New Zealand is made of wood and decorated with shell. It is a so-called ‘treasure box’ that would contain the powerful personal ornaments of a high-ranking Maori person, such as a chief. Every surface (including the underneath) of this prestigious box is covered with designs which show fourteen highly stylized figures, intertwined and linked in various types of sexual union, several showing an embrace between two males.”
Text and images © The Trustees of the British Museum.
New this week is the first-ever British Museum audio recording on the subject of A Little Gay History, featuring British Museum curators, Simon Russell Beale and Maggi Hambling discussing a number of objects in the British Museum collection. A free guide to objects from A Little Gay History on display is also available from the British Museum website.
A Little Gay History: Desire and Diversity across the World is available from all good bookshops and from the British Museum shop online.