ISSN 1188-603X

No. 490 April 1, 2015 Victoria, B.C.
Dr. A. Ceska, 1809 Penshurst, Victoria, BC, Canada V8N 2N6


From: Katerina Sam(1,2) , Legi Sam(3,4), , Jan Lepš(2,1)

1-Entomology Institute, Biology Centre CAS, České Budejovice, Czech Republic; 2-Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia, České Budejovice, Czech Republic; 3-Binatang Research Centre, Madang, Papua New Guinea; 4-Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia

Accompanying plates:

The penis sheath (also known as the koteka, horinm, or gourd; note we refer to gourd as to specific sub-category of sheath) is a phallocrypt traditionally worn by male inhabitants of New Guinea to cover and protect their penis. Interestingly, the penis sheath also acts as a "purse" to store change, cigarettes and other small belongings. Locals have used various plant materials to make sheathes. Sheathes have attracted the attention of travelers for a long-time, resulting in several publications. For example, Ucko (1969) showed that similar sheathes can be found in various parts of the globe. Also, Gell (1971) presented a detail description of sheath uses in a West Sepik village of Papua New Guinea, including a distribution map of the various types of gourds.

In Papua New Guinea, men hardly wear sheathes in everyday life, unlike villages in Indonesian New Guinea. Nevertheless, one is likely to come across sheathes at various cultural shows. And for a price sheathes can be bought at various local markets. In the plates, we present examples of dancers with penis sheathes from cultural shows, and penis sheathes bought at various markets, and identify their plant materials. These include the gourds (Lagenaria siceraria (Mol.) Stand.), coconut shells (Cocos nucifera L.), and bamboo sticks (Bambuseae; described in detail by Haddon and Layard, 1916). Decorating gourds sometimes with shells and with strings made of the fiber of Gnetum gnemon L. is also common.

Interestingly, gourds used in New Guinea are more similar to those found in America and Africa (Lagenaria siceraria (Mol.) Stand. subsp. siceraria) than gourds found in Asia and other Pacific regions (Lagenaria siceraria subsp. asiatica (Kob.) Heiser; Heiser 1973). Achieving customized shapes and sizes, requires tying stone weights to the bottom of the gourd to stretch it out as it grows. Also, achieving a curved tip involves using strings to control growth in whatever direction the user desires.

There are many myths surrounding penis gourds. It is worrying that the most detailed statements about social status and wearing of particular gourd types are found in a popular book on New Guinea (Davies, 1969). It mentions women of an unspecified tribe having exclusive control of cultivating, choosing, and correctly fixing gourds on to the penis of their men. Ucko (1969) contradicts almost every specific point (e.g. on importance of size and shape of gourd) in gourd account in more serious literature. Miklucho-Maclay (1878) also said the Unkia of New Guinea urinate through their penis gourds. Alternatively Karius & Champion (1928) claim that gourds are always removed before urinating, as not all the gourds used have an open end.

Le Roux (1948) summarizes the position for New Guinea by stressing that there is some regularity in the fashions of penis confinement in each tribe, but that these fashions often overlap. In many societies (i.e. Gell, 1971, Le Roux 1948), there is clear contrast between phallocrypts for everyday use, and those for special occasions. The most elaborate phallocrypts are however sold to tourists as souvenirs.

Sheathes available in town markets or in cultural shows are often made to match tourist taste. For example, real penis sheathes always have space to house the penis. In contrast, many sheathes sold or seen at markets or cultural shows have no (or minimal) space inside, and are usually worn over some skirt (usually from grass or ragged palm leaves). These are a modern innovation, but recently, they prevail in cultural shows. It is likely perhaps, to fulfill the new modesty standards, because in traditional gourds, the testes are left outside uncovered. Similarly, various decorations (including shells, or knitting from Gnetum gnemon strings) are probably modern innovations, at least in part aimed at fulfillment of tourist and visitors taste.


Davies, D. M. 1969.
Journey into the Stone Age. London: Hale.
Gell, A. F. 1971.
Penis sheathing and ritual status in a West Sepik village. Man, N.S. 6 (1971): 165-181.
Haddon, A.C. & J. W. Layard. 1916.
Report made by the Wollaston Expedition on ethnographical collection from the Utakwa River, Dutch New Guinea. In: Reports on the collections made by the British Ornithological Union Expedition and the Wollaston Expedition in Dutch New Guinea 1910-13. Volume 2, Part 19. London: Francis Edwards.
Heiser, C. B. 1973.
The Penis Gourd of New Guinea. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 63: 312-318.
Kariaus, C. H. & I.F. Champion. 1928.
Report of north-west patrol. Papuan Annual Report 1926-7.
Le Roux, C. C. F. M. 1948.
De Bergpapoea's van Nieuw Guinea en hun Wongebied, (Vol 3) Leiden: E. J. Brill.
Ucko, P. J. 1969.
Penis sheaths: a comparative study. Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 1969 (197O): 24-67

Send submissions to

BEN is archived at