Pagunan Lunar Calendar

Part Two: The Unique Society, Nature and Origins — The Pre-Contact Period

The masks in this collection are the products of the society that emerged out of the Great Cataclysm. It is reasonable to assume that there was an earlier mask tradition but no examples have survived and there are no references to it. We can assume that the new society that developed was radically different from what went before. The religious leadership, the priests, had been totally wiped out and Lizardism was discredited beyond any need for condemnation. The political leadership was similarly eliminated, at the most there would have been a few teenaged chiefs' sons who had joined the adolescent orgy. We do not even know if leadership was hereditary.

It might be thought that a society of adolescents, without any adult authority, would descend into anarchy, a Lord of the Flies scenario, but there is little if any evidence of this. Undoubtedly there would have been factions, if only based on personalities, and some squabbles, but potential conflict would have been reduced by the abundance of houses, food and fertile land. There would have been no need to fight over scarce resources in the early years. Any group that wanted to could occupy one of the smaller islands, which had been depopulated, but this did not happen for many years, not until after the population had increased dramatically. There are records however of occasional violent conflicts after the population had rebounded. Another factor would have been the monthly full moon day bacchanals when they celebrated and gave thanks for their survival. This was their main holiday. The great importance placed on it suggests that it may have replaced their former religion.

The victims of the Big Wave as they called it were hardly mourned, perhaps the tragedy was too overwhelming and their losses were fatalistically accepted. For a few generations after the Great Cataclysm, an annual, based on their thirteen-month, 384 day lunar year, trek was made to Sacred Pebble Beach in remembrance of those who perished. The thirteen month lunar calendar was used for formal and ceremonial purposes including the people's birthdays and other personal events. As will be explained later, prohibitions based on the lunar calendar had a profound effect on their society.

The early post-cataclysmic years were a heroic age, and the era became glorified in Paguanan folklore much as the Wild West did in America. It formed the core of the new Pagunan identity. The story of Lizard was not forgotten, in fact it became more elaborate and complex after the Great Cataclysm. Every child knew the story of Lizard and the priests, and no doubt drew a number of lessons from it. It was retold and embellished, and became the great epic or saga of Pagunan culture. The society that emerged was remarkably egalitarian, and to the extent the term applies, democratic.

The society was also extremely permissive in matters of sex and discipline, some would say libertinist. Yet it was also subject to very strict and extensive, and seemingly quite arbitrary, prohibitions based on a complex set of incest taboos. While the permissiveness may in part be due to the lack of adult moral guidance, the serendipity of promiscuity on that fateful full moon day cannot be ignored. Permissiveness may have been idealized as a kind of hippie-ism that they rationalized on the basis of situational ethics. The permissiveness outraged even the most jaded outside observers. Sex appeared too wide open, indulged in indiscriminately by all regardless of age or gender, and the subject of public display more flagrant than the copulatory exhibitions of Tahiti. What they saw shocked even the most depraved of the sailors and traders, and even the convinced atheists among them advocated bringing in missionaries to convert them. Part of the reaction may be due to the fact that while sex was seemingly without restraint among the Pagu, the visitors were often unable to avail themselves of the women.

Although it wasn't apparent to outsiders the widespread debauchery was subject to strict rules applying to sexual relations and even gestures of affection and certain personal services like body painting and grooming. In addition to common prohibitions based on blood relationships, which incidentally only applied to procreative acts, they had others based on their moon names which were much more extensive. Ordinary Pagunan names were usually descriptive like those of many Amerindians. Long Tongue, for example, probably talked a great deal. People were also known through "child of" the same sex parent, somewhat like the prefix "Mac" in Scottish names or the suffix "son" or "sen". However, the Pagu also had names taken from the particular lunar month they were born in. Children born from the day of a full moon to the eve of the next full moon share the same moon name. There are thus thirteen moon names, which I will not bother to list here. They are shown on a diagram of the Pagunan Lunar Calendar. The Origins of the Pagunan lunar calendar are probably tied in with Lizardism and its creation myth involving full moons. Moon worship may have been an important part of Lizardism and calculating the days of the full moon may have been a major role of the priests. Significantly, the Pagu's lack of "completion" was a result of inaccuracy, of Lizard not waiting until a full moon. The calendar regulated religious life, and with that festivals and names. The task was not simple, the full moon cycle, the synodic month, is 29.53 days which requires an extra thirty day month about every three years. The original reason for assigning moon names to the newborn is unknown but the practice almost certainly predated the Great Cataclysm. With the demise of religion they probably attained greater importance. One function may be to ascribe certain arbitrary personality traits, much like astrology's signs of the zodiac do in Western culture. However, the main function was to provide a basis, a seemingly irrational basis, for a rigid system of incest prohibition extending to what we would likely consider trivial concerns. Another question is why the Pagu chose a thirteen lunar month year instead of a twelve month one, like the Chinese and others, which is closer to the length of the solar year. We know the Pagu reset their calendar after the Big Wave. A pre-cataclysmic calendar found inscribed on a stone disk starts the year with a different month. The anniversary of the Big Wave became their New Year's.

Essentially a person could have no sexual or close physical contact with anyone having the same moon name, with one of the two adjacent moon names or the two opposite moon names in the cycle. Thus a person having, say, the seventh lunar month moon name could have no intimate contact with anyone having the sixth, seventh, eighth, thirteenth or first lunar month moon name. In addition there was a ban on procreative sex covering the fifth, ninth, twelfth and second lunar month names which would have left only those with four of the thirteen moon names available for the person's marital unions. The moon name prohibitions applied to all possible relationships whether it was teenagers courting, adultery or small same sex children touching each other. It could in theory at least lead to odd, if uncommon situations such as allowing a brother and sister with compatible moon names to engage in oral sex, or anything short of vaginal intercourse. In practice, considerations of taste would usually discourage these kind of relationships.

While no intended purpose can be discerned for these prohibitions, certain effects were postulated by Schwartz. By limiting opportunities for personal closeness, people have to go farther afield to find compatible friends and partners for a number of activities. This exogamous effect would tend to bind together the larger community. It would also require people to know a certain amount about others before proceeding with a relationship. Anonymous sex would, for example, risk violating the prohibitions. The prohibitions would also force people to regard each other differently. Young children would discover that they had to regard and deal with others in formal as well as personal terms. In the period following the Great Cataclysm the prohibitions may have served as an organizing principle. They were a rule, which required no ruler and helped stabilize Pagunan society.

The permissiveness probably served to limit population growth particularly in difficult times by condoning so many alternatives to procreative sex. This is something much of the contemporary world with its concerns about overpopulation and gender imbalance might benefit from. An inclusive permissiveness would seem to be a humane alternative to rigid family policies limiting the number of children. Teenagers would probably welcome the choices it allowed.

Within a few years of the Great Cataclysm, population began to increase rapidly, but the wide range of sexual options available and acceptable may have moderated growth to some extent. Adolescents may have preferred activities short of procreative sex or confined themselves to same sex relations, at least until they felt themselves ready to take on family responsibilities. Those who refrained from procreative sex probably would not have made the best parents in any case. There can be no doubt, however, that normal heterosexual liaisons were overwhelmingly preferred. It is estimated that for many years the population doubled in less than fifteen years, a rate comparable to that of colonial New France and some English American settlements. By the time of first contact there were probably as many people in Nullenesia as there had ever been.

Schwartz argues that the unique nature of Pagunan society was a result of the extreme situation the survivors and the first post-cataclysmic generation faced. The survivors were a uniquely isolated generation. Suddenly, perhaps a thousand adolescents who were probably not the most socialized of their generation to begin with, found that they constituted almost the entire society. There were practically no adults and no young children. They would have lacked skills, knowledge, experience, wisdom and would have absorbed only so much of their traditional culture which was now lost, except for what Long Tongue and a few others were able to convey. The usual range of traditional societies based on clan, activities and cultural property would not have survived. They would have to improvise.

Not only would the young survivors have to organize themselves to provide food and other necessities but they would also have to deal with the potentially traumatic stress of their devastating personal losses; family, friends, peers and community. It must have been a very difficult time. Material and economic losses due to ignorance, inexperience, ineptitude and lack of management skills would have been immense. The abundant fertile land would quickly revert to jungle and the buildings; boats and other infrastructure would deteriorate without maintenance.

Within months they would have to begin dealing with a new generation without the advantages of older relatives in extended families or older siblings who traditionally take care of the young. Something akin to open marriages of the late twentieth century may have developed bringing in additional people to share the task of raising children and providing emotional support. In the absence of clans, improvised communities would have made sense. Schwartz suggests that adultery may have been a constructive practice. He found out from his informants that adulterers were not punished but were expected to contribute towards raising the partner's children. Single men and women would often have been thus ensnared into supporting families. He speculates that this may even have been a factor in the prevalence of same sex liaisons. The egalitarian character of society and the lack of hierarchies would have made the question of paternity less important and allowed promiscuity to flourish. This would, of course, be within the prohibitions based on moon names. This would mean that within any promiscuous group, or at the bacchanals, there would be those with whom intimacy would be prohibited so that everybody would be different things, offer different opportunities, to different people.

The first members of the post-cataclysmic generation grew up without any older children as models and initiators. They would as Schwartz put it, "be pioneering childhood". They would have been unusually dependent on their parents and immediate peers. At the same time he speculates that parent-child and adult-child relations were strained because of the discontinuities in society and culture. Children and young people developed a high degree of solidarity vis-à-vis adults, probably on a scale that dwarfed the "generation gap" of the 1960's and 1970's. The general lack of authority in society, lack of respect, became institutionalized in the brat or so-called demon child. He speculated that the demon child institution originated in the early post-cataclysmic period.

Another mask he sees as originating at that time is the Surgeon's Mask, sometimes erroneously referred to as the circumcisor's mask. The Pagu did not practice circumcision or penile modification at the time of contact although it is likely that they practiced some form of it in the pre-cataclysmic times as did many Polynesian, Australian and Malay peoples. Both the nature and significance of such rites varied from a minor, almost hygienic slitting with no substantial social implications to a deliberately painful ordeal on which the boy's honour as well as that of his family depended. Amongst the Pagu the rite involved a small cut to produce sufficient blood for visual effect as part of a ritual intended to frighten the initiate. It was a test of courage, and perhaps gullibility rather than an ordeal of fortitude. Schwartz described the rituals he observed as an elaborate practical joke that men played on boys. The Great Cataclysm, he believed, had changed it from a real ordeal to a simple blood rite, which supposedly marked a boy's readiness for vaginal sex.

Schwartz's informants told him that young boys were encouraged to believe that mature girls would not have vaginal sex with them until they had experienced the rite. Similarly girls were told that after their first menses they were not supposed to have vaginal sex with uninitiated boys. Unlike the moon name prohibitions these were not rigidly observed. Girls did not have an initiation rite but their first menses was celebrated as a joyous event where they received presents from family and friends.

Circumcision and similar rites are typically performed in late childhood or early adolescence in non-Judaic traditions. It is likely that the boys who survived the Great Cataclysm would have included both those who had and those who had not undergone whatever rite they practiced. Those who had not would want to, if not for the reasons above, then to be the same as their older peers. In the absence of any traditional practitioners after the cataclysm, Schwartz theorizes that the older boys devised a milder rite to satisfy the demands of the uninitiated. To maintain its significance it was made into a scary experience and the surgeon's mask was part of this theatre. It was a secret rite, and although all boys went through it they experienced it as something out of the ordinary so that it remained a mystery, and the uninitiated boys regarded it with fear and apprehension. The secret was that it was not particularly painful, just scary.

In a formal sense passing through the rite meant several things to the boy. He could now expect to have vaginal sex with girls past their menses, even if he had not yet reached puberty. Henceforth he must dress and conduct himself modestly in public except at the bacchanals and study tribal lore. He could no longer perform as a demon or brat child.

Schwartz became aware of the rite on his first visit and wrote:

"I was familiar with the reports about circumcision rites in parts of East Africa and among the Australian aborigines but I had no idea what the Pagu rite entailed. It was obvious that it did not entail circumcision or a slitting of the foreskin for it appeared to make no visual difference. However, those who had been initiated swore that something had happened and believed that their penises had been made more powerful as a result. They spoke of a terrible sensation, it was not like pain but like nothing else they had ever known. A couple of boys who had been recently initiated showed me their penises; all I could see was a thin, scabbed cut about a quarter of an inch long which could not explain what they felt. I became determined to view this secret rite when and if I could get permission from the elders."

On his second field trip Schwartz mastered the local language so as not to be dependant on the missionary-educated interpreter whom he suspected of bowdlerizing the Pagunan myths and legends and changing or censoring the replies of his respondents. However, through the interpretor he got to know one of the missionaries and was able to obtain a copy of Werner's German-Pagu dictionary.

Not long after he was able to converse on his own he met a woman who complained about the missionary teacher beating her son. Schwartz knew that the Pagu never spanked their children and when he saw the severe bruises on the child's buttocks he was shocked even though he was from a vigorous spanking culture himself. He went to the teacher and told him firmly that beating had to stop, and it did. As a result of this he was able to meet one of the elders who after questioning him gave him permission to observe the secret initiation rites. One condition he imposed was that the three boys, one of whom was his nephew, were never to know about it. He offered to accompany him. On the day before Schwartz happened to meet the boys to be initiated and casually started a conversation with them. They were respectively eleven, thirteen and fourteen lunar years old. The oldest one was well into puberty and he and the youngest were clearly apprehensive, believing the initiation would be bloody and very painful. The thirteen-year-old was smug and chided his buddies for being afraid. Schwartz found out that the boys were friends with the youngest's moon name being compatible with the other two who shared the same moon name. The older boy wanted to be initiated because he planned to go on the Big Wave Moon day trek to the Sacred Pebble Beach. The thirteen year old told Schwartz that he also wanted to go, he was trying very hard several times a day and hoped to be able to ejaculate by then. The younger lad claimed that his girl friend had her first bleeding and he had to be initiated so he could continue to fuck her. She would be waiting for him after the rite.

The initiations were held in one of the lodges beside the village square. Schwartz, who seems more than professionally curious, writes:

"The elder accompanying me led me around to an opening at the far side of the lodge. On the way, we noticed about six young girls standing around where the boys would be leaving after their initiations, one of whom I assumed was the eleven year old's friend. Inside we found a narrow bench to sit on and it took a while for my eyes to become accustomed to the darkness. I found myself sitting with a few others behind a screen of hanging palm fronds, which allowed us to see into the main part of the lodge but not be seen. There was another partitioned area on the other side with a narrow corridor between. Beyond the partitioned areas in the main part of the lodge there was a huge throne-like bamboo chair with dozens of sharp red-smeared spikes fanning out from the ornate, high back. In front of it was a stone hearth containing a small fire and in front of that again a squat stool which I assumed was for the initiates. We had waited for some time in the hot, stuffy space before three men entered dressed in dark shaggy reed and feather capes that appeared to be stained with blood but which I suspected was betel juice. Two of the men had their faces painted with striking black and red designs and carried what I knew were a kind of noisemaker, while the third carried an enormous spike-topped mask with an expression of cruel indifference. The man put on the mask, sat impressively in the high throne chair, and made a signal with his hand.

"A flap at the other end of the lodge opened and the oldest lad, naked and nervous, was pushed in. We watched him make his way apprehensively towards the throne. The Surgeon, as I decided to call him, because the term circumcision was erroneous and misleading, ordered him, in a deep resonant voice, to sit on the stool with his legs apart. The boy sat down trembling and the noisemakers screeched loudly. The Surgeon held a sharp, gleaming bolo in front of the initiate and asked, "Do you want a powerful penis?" The boy gave a faltering yes and the noisemakers screeched again. The Surgeon announced somberly "If you are worthy you will be able to keep your penis." The boy, sweating profusely from the heat, could barely control his fear. Suddenly the fire blazed forth with incredible brilliance, dazzling the boy. He gasped and the noisemakers screeched again. The men with the painted faces grabbed the initiate from behind, one securely clasping his hands over his eyes. Then the Surgeon put aside his mask as the screeching stopped and rubbed his hands firmly around the initiate's groin. The boy gasped and gave a little shriek, squirmed and tried to control himself. After perhaps ten seconds the surgeon took a very small knife and nicked the boy's penis getting a good flow of blood, which they smeared over his thighs, belly, chest and cheeks. They waited a few seconds while the boy settled down and then they burst out laughing, my neighbours joining in, and before the boy could see them they thrust him out of the lodge and quickly closed the flap.

"I was much impressed by the rite, and the boy seemed to have a powerful experience without any real suffering. While I could see the brilliant blaze of light as some trick, I could not understand how the surgeon's hands had so startled the boy. I asked the elder who came with me about what I'd seen. The brilliant blaze used to dazzle the initiate was, he told me, very fine shavings of a pitch-soaked wood which when fluffed in the air burned with an almost explosive effect. The surgeon's hands, which had such an unnerving effect on the initiate, were simply cold, very cold. In this tropical land where lowland temperatures only rarely drop below sixty degrees and the sea is always warm, having cold applied to the flesh can be a disturbing experience. I gathered the surgeon had kept his hands in a slightly porous pandanus sack full of water which had been cooled by a bellows.

"The youngest initiate was next and appeared more fearful than the first and squealed briefly when caressed with the cold hands. My curiosity satisfied, I was able to enjoy the rite more and had a good laugh at the elaborate joke played on the boy. He recovered quickly and could be heard boasting to the girls that he could now fuck them.

"At the thirteen-lunar-years-old's turn he was confident, even cocky, as if he knew what to expect right up to the end. Then just before they were ready to eject him, the surgeon quickly applied something to his genitals which caused him to scream as he was pushed out. I heard the girls laughing. The elder beside me remarked that they didn't want boys spreading stories that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that the effects of the pepper would wear off by tomorrow."

Schwartz contends that the basic features and characteristics of Pagunan society came together in the first few years after the Great Cataclysm while it was still overwhelmingly adolescent demographically. Its extreme permissiveness he sees largely as a result of its egalitarian nature and the lack of any traditional authority. People, at the time essentially all young people, were able to do what they wanted with no one having much power to stop them. Ignoring adult admonitions and indulging their hedonistic desires had after all allowed them to survive.

With abundant land and resources and the need to reconstruct, management and cooperation rather than leadership, competition and violence was the logical approach. There was not much to fight over and society's permissiveness would reduce the reasons for violence. Yet there is a need for rules and order, if only for themselves without regard to some purpose that they serve. The moon name prohibitions almost certainly existed before the Great Cataclysm, they are not something a bunch of teenagers busy with a society to operate would invent. We cannot determine their origins or how and why they developed, nor can we know if they were more, or less restrictive before the cataclysm. Schwartz argues that they were weaker before but that in the absence of authority or a hierarchy, they provided for some sort of order and rules. The moon name prohibitions were clear; they affected everyone equally; they required people to be aware of and to know something about those they came into contact with; and perhaps be more thoughtful and careful in their daily lives. They did not limit what you could do but only with whom you could do it. They were not controversial and everyone could agree on them. And this agreement made them enforceable in a society with only social disapproval, ridicule and ultimately banishment as remedies.

He also sees the particular intergenerational dynamics as arising from the immediate post-cataclysmic situation. For some time after the Great Cataclysm there was no generational continuum. Schwartz emphasized that this in itself was probably an historically unique situation. The first generation had to pioneer itself without adjacent generations, traditional extended families or grand parents. They would be very dependent on their peers and this may have led them to developing independent, critical and often offensive attitudes which became formalized in the brat or demon child institution in which older children encouraged the younger to assert themselves. Parents and adults, beginning with the inexperienced and confidence-lacking survivors, resorted to discipline through fear or external threats rather than corporal punishment, or moral condemnation which might threaten affectionate bonds.

Even societies with normal demographics have generational markers or transitions delineating child and adult, or child, adolescent and adult. Early post-cataclysmic Pagunan society with its discontinuities would have faced this question when the oldest of the first generation approached maturity — the first new adults in well over a decade — needed to be recognized and integrated. Hence the secret initiation rite, which was probably derived from some previous puberty rite that may have included circumcision, served this purpose, at the least for boys. What about girls? Schwartz, a typical male chauvinist of his time, doesn't even consider the question. Perhaps he felt that they didn't need any. Studies of some African cultures have speculated that male initiation ordeals with their pain and blood, serve to remind them of the blood and pain that women suffer in childbirth. If that was the case it could be argued that the Pagu boys didn't suffer enough.

Copyright ©, Sam Palocson; Kalayaan Publications, Vancouver 2006

Mask Replicas carved by Rohban; Photography by Katie Scarlet

This work was made possible through the support of the Ford Mountain Institute.   |  2011 Webmaster