Sun, Sep 09, 2007 - Page 2 News List

FEATURE: `Aluba' stirs fond memories for some

RITE OF PASSAGE While most men may have warm memories of the popular schoolyard game, a urologist warned of the permanent damage it might inflict

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

It was Alex's 16th birthday, and he had just treated his classmates to a round of cold beverages to celebrate when it happened.

"A bunch of my friends hoisted me up in the classroom and gave me an aluba on an open window," said Alex, who declined to be identified by his full name.

Alex was not referring to a misspelling of the Caribbean resort island, but a schoolyard "game" that is popular among local high school boys, as well as those in military service.

In aluba, a boy is lifted off the ground by a group of his peers. His legs are forcibly parted, and the crowd shouts "aluba" as they ram the struggling victim crotch-first into any nearby upright object, such as a lamp post, an open door or a coconut tree.

Aluba has been a rite of passage for Taiwanese men "for generations," said Alex, who was born in 1973, although he doesn't know the provenance of the game or when it first became popular.

Although various theories can be found on the Internet about how aluba first got started, former gender studies researcher Kuo Yi-ling (郭怡伶) said she has found no conclusive answer during her research into the ritual for her master's thesis.

"What we can say for sure is, the game itself pre-dates the name aluba," Kuo said. "My oldest interview subject, who recalls playing the same game, was born in 1948. Back then the game had no name or was called something crudely descriptive such as `nailing the knob.'"

The game is also played under different names in other parts of the world that share a Chinese heritage, including Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

"In Hong Kong the game is called `happy corners,'" Kuo said. "Instead of shouting aluba, they sing the birthday song, with `happy corners' replacing the words `happy birthday.'"

Kuo said she chose aluba as the subject of her thesis because the study of male behavior is often neglected by researchers.

"Female rituals, habits and social dynamics are given a lot of attention in gender studies," Kuo said. "But to me, it's the male that is the mysterious sex."

Aluba in particular fascinated Kuo because of the ambiguous role it seems to play.

"Although it sounds brutal, aluba is both a bonding ritual, as well as a bullying ritual, but most `recipients' remember it warmly," Kuo said.

"If you're with friends, then you know they're just going to go through the gesture without hitting you hard," Alex said. "Perhaps that's why it's a fond memory for me ... it's that feeling of trust."

"But don't think it's perverted or anything like that," he added.

Those who are not popular might not get off as easily.

"We aluba'ed our annoying supervisor in the military service for real on the last day of our service," Alex said, "on a tree with spiky bark."

"Unlike women, men and boys are not comfortable with expressing their feelings," Kuo said. "Games like aluba gives them an outlet to to communicate how they feel about others."

Kuo said many men were dismissive, even hostile to aspects of her research that delved more deeply into aluba's popularity.

Although the quirky name suggests innocent fun, the game could be interpreted in a darker fashion, Kuo said.

"The person being aluba'ed is male, but forced into a female role by the crowd, using a giant phallic object to make contact with the genitals," she said. "It's hard not to see the homoerotic subtext, coupled with violence."

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