Puhngah/Men in Skirts: A Plea for History
Puhngah doesn’t just feature in this joke, which I have heard told many different ways while growing up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. It was also the name of a game I witnessed at the Catholic boys high school I attended. The first time I observed its enactment, I was 13 years old and had just joined the school’s photography club. Besides learning how to print photographs and possibly meet new friends, the big reward for membership was that the darkroom was a rare air-conditioned, private space at the school.
Three Christian missionaries leave Europe for Africa to spread their gospel. But soon after they reach land, the three young men get captured by members of a native tribe and are taken to their chief. The three young men plead their case and good intentions, and instead of just killing them, the chief gives them a choice: puhngah or death. The missionaries are relieved. None of them knows what puhngah is, but they think whatever it is must surely be better than death. The first missionary steps forward and says he chooses puhngah. The chief takes him aside and buggers him. The second missionary makes the same choice, and the same thing happens. Seeing what has happened to the other two, the third missionary decides he would rather face death than be sodomized and announces his choice. ‘I choose death,’ he says. ‘OK,’ the chief replies, ‘death by puhngah!’
KeywordsGender Identity Trans People Sexual Culture Bretton Wood Institution Postcolonial State
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