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Gathered from the Internet:

Members of the Huichol tribe in Mexico view childbirth as a time of great pain and pleasure that must be shared by both men and women.At the time of childbirth, the fathers balls are tied and the mother can pull them.

This image inevitably accompanies the text:

enter image description here

However, other netizens claim that this claim is derived from a "spiritualist" named Adele Getty and that Huichol women give birth alone. So, a trio of questions:

  1. Where did this claim come from?
  2. Is it accurate?
  3. What does this image actually depict?
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  • 12
    No woman experiencing birth pain is going to gently pull on the rope. This seems like an almost certain method for guaranteeing that she'll never give birth a second time (at least not by her now docile and useless husband). Aug 1 at 18:11
  • 4
    @RayButterworth Why would an infertile man be docile and useless?
    – Prometheus
    Aug 2 at 1:18
  • 4
    @Prometheus, he'd be more than infertile (men with vasectomies are infertile, but have no other symptoms). Without his testosterone, he'd be an ox (docile) rather than a bull (aggressive); and he'd be useless as far as even going through the motions of producing another child. Aug 2 at 1:30
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    @RayButterworth I get that "men without balls" is a common joke, but not having balls doesn't actually make you dosile, I can attest to that first hand. I hope I'm not useless either. You clarified that you ment "useless" in the context of fertility, but tbh it's a common and fairly unkind joke that a man is nothing without a dick/balls. My infertility is not equivalent to general uselessness.
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 2 at 6:59

1 Answer 1

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The work of art is The Husband Assists in the Birth of a Child by Guadalupe de la Cruz Rios (a Huichol), painted some time between 1960 and 1974.

The painting is inspired by Ramon Medina Silva.

The painting is owned by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Older references say the title is "How the Husband Assists in the Birth of a Child" and that the artist was the widow of Ramon Medina Silva.

According to American Indian Art Magazine (2000):

In this work, perhaps the first feminist yarn painting, Lupe originated one of the most popular yarn painting themes — the woman giving birth. It shows the man in the rafters of a house with a cord tied to his testicles. As the woman goes into labor, she pulls on the cord "so that her husband (can share) in the painful, but ultimately joyous experience of childbirth" (Berrin 1978:162)

The 15 May 1981 Washington Post article Pre-Columbian Medical Art presents the testicle pulling as factual:

Among the Huichol Indians of Central Mexico, a father would climb into the rafters with a rope tied around his scrotum -- to be pulled by the mother while she delivered: Together they shared the pain and ultimate joy of childbirth.

The 1978 Kathleen Berrin (editor) reference, Art of the Huichol Indians mentioned above has a black and white depiction of the artwork and says:

According to Huichol tradition, when a woman had her first child the husband squatted in the rafters of the house, or in the branches of a tree, directly above her, with ropes attached to his scrotum. As she went into labor pain, the wife pulled vigorously on the ropes, so that her husband shared in the painful, but ultimately joyous, experience of childbirth.

Page 311 footnote 8 of Huichol Women, Weavers, and Shamans disagrees with Berrin's statement that this was an actual tradition:

The caption on a yarn painting depicting childbirth published in Art of the Huichol Indians (Berrin 1978:162, pl. 25) refers to a supposed birthing tradition ... Neither Eger Valadez nor I have heard of such a couvade-like tradition or of a myth pertaining to it. However, Peter Furst (personal communication 1995) has suggested to me that the tradition might be based on an old but now only dimly remembered trickster tale that he heard from Ramón Medina, which has to do with the sexual misadventures of the culture hero and divine messenger Kauyumarie, when he was still “half-bad.”

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  • Thank you for this. The citation goes to: "Berrin, K. 1978. Art of the Huichol Indians." I doubt this will have any further information, but just in case, I will try to remember to check out this book next time I visit a library that has it.
    – Avery
    Aug 1 at 1:27
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    @Avery you can view it from the archive.org link if you log in and borrow the book
    – DavePhD
    Aug 1 at 1:36
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    @Avery Page 311 footnote 8 of Huichol Women, Weavers, and Shamans disagrees with Berrin's statement that this was an actual tradition google.com/books/edition/Huichol_Women_Weavers_and_Shamans/…
    – DavePhD
    Aug 1 at 1:43
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    The repeated use of the phrase "ultimately joyous" suggests these writers all used the same source, rather than being independent verification. Aug 1 at 9:28
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    I think the footnote you found goes most of the way to solving this mystery. A comment from another artist: "Kauyumarie's eyes become various types of plums hanging from pink vines. His tailbone rests near a vine. An arrow issues from his loins and his strength transforms into a bow. His testicles (two spheroids) become small calabash gourds for carrying wild tobacco and his penis becomes a whistle" pmmarketing.com/huichol/32x48
    – Avery
    Aug 1 at 11:18

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