what gender is. In order to make this argument, I will take as a point of departure ethnographies of what I call ‘difference-based societies’ in Melanesia and set up a structural contrast to what I call ‘sameness-based societies’ (see also Rio and
A Reconsideration of the Pentecostal Gender Paradox
Jack London in Melanesia
. Since he had arrived at Nuku-Hiva in early 1908, London and his wife, Charmian, had been systematically buying artworks from various islands and then shipping them home, and during the five months he spent in Melanesia in the summer of 1908 he eventually
The Poetry and Relationality of Animal Bodies in Kilimanjaro
Knut Christian Myhre
This article extends Malcolm Ruel's notion of 'non-sacrificial ritual killing' to explore the mode of butchering and the sharing of meat among the Chagga-speaking people of Tanzania. It is argued that these processes are forms of elicitation and decomposition that can be illuminated by analytics developed from Melanesian ethnography. However, it is shown that these processes emerge as such only when the language use surrounding and pertaining to butchering is taken into consideration. On this basis, it is argued that butchering constitutes a poetic enunciation that both distorts and expands the mode of revelation and the relational form described from Melanesia. Finally, it is claimed that this entails an alternative relationship between language and life that recasts the relation between vernacular and analytical language, as well as between theory and ethnography.
'Luck' and Personal Agency in North Mekeo Social Change
Mark S. Mosko
Notions and practices known by the Tok Pisin term laki ('lucky' or 'luck') have for long been widespread across Melanesia. Previous studies have tended to concentrate on laki as 'probabilistic chance' and on its secular (i.e., economic, political, recreational) expressions, most notably in card gambling. Drawing on the perspective of the New Melanesian Ethnography, I focus instead upon the magico-ritual dimensions of laki in a single Papua New Guinean society, North Mekeo, where laki has been adapted to indigenous notions of 'dividual' personal agency that differ radically from exogenous ideas of success through 'pure chance'. On this evidence, I argue that the different perceptions of laki and 'luck' or 'lucky' by North Mekeo and Westerners are indicative of the divergent sorts of agency and sociality that are culturally compatible, respectively, with dividual and individual personhood.
Toward Multispecies Ethnography in Melanesia
This article reviews two strengths of Melanesian anthropology that could make a significant contribution to anthropological research on human-animal relations, specifically to multispecies ethnography. The first strength is an analytical approach to comparative research on gender developed in response to challenges from feminist theory in the 1980s; the second is a wealth of ethnographic detail on human-animal relations, much of it contained in texts not explicitly concerned with them and thus largely inaccessible to nonspecialist readers. The article sets up an analogy between the challenges faced by feminist anthropologists and those currently faced by multispecies ethnographers. It demonstrates how pursuing the analogy allows multispecies ethnographers to draw together analytically, and to reinvestigate a broad range of ethnographic resources containing details on human-animal relations, whose convergence so far remains hidden by divergent theoretical interests.
Local Knowledge and Universal Claims
In Vanuatu, where the revival of kastom (custom) has been pivotal in defining postcolonial identity, articulations of feminism(s) are offen met with ambivalence. The tension between discourses of individual rights and collective obligations and the tension between universal ideas of women's rights and local cultural practices such as kastom must be confronted. An engaged feminist anthropology, I argue, resists singular accounts of modernity by locating local knowledge and kastomary practices within a larger context that unsettles the boundaries of local and universal. Disentangling the ways in which contemporary critiques of kastom resonate with missionary and colonial representations of Melanesian violence and drawing attention to the structural violence of everyday life are also important tasks. Invoking the concepts of 'modest witness' and 'situated knowledge', I discuss what Strathern (1987) has called the 'awkward relationship' between anthropology and feminism and consider the possibilities of an engaged feminist anthropology.
The Mark of Ritual
Over time, anthropology has lost the notion of ritual within the framework of exchange and of the ‘total social fact.’ Sahlins as well as Mauss interpreted the Maoris’ hau as a paradigm of exchange in which any event comprising a circulation of objects is but an exchange. The notion of ritual thus vanished, leaving in its place a long chain of logically equivalent transitive exchanges. Drawing on Orokaiva (Papua New Guinea) material relative to the competitive attempt of several religious factions to establish a comparative view of customary and Christian ritual, the Maori hau is revisited. This reading shows a clear contrast between what we must call ritual, comprising a hierarchic and mediated form of exchange wherein gifts are equated by virtue of the ‘spirit of the gift,’ and exchange per se, constituted by a face-to-face transaction of goods wherein equivalence is posited between prestations.
Rights, Networks, and Ethnographic Comparison
Harri Englund and Thomas Yarrow
The relationship between theory and place has remained a central problem for the discipline of anthropology. Focusing on debates around the concepts of human rights and networks, specifically as these traverse African and Melanesian contexts, this article highlights how novel ideas emerge through sustained comparison across different regions. Rather than understanding places as sources of theories to be applied to other contexts, we argue that anthropologists need to recognize how new concepts are generated through reflexive comparison across different regions. This analysis leads us to question a widespread propensity to understand places as the sine qua non of anthropological theory, proposing instead that place emerges retrospectively as an artifact of comparison. We conclude that while it is therefore necessary to acknowledge the analytic construction of Africa and its sub-regions, there remain compelling reasons to recognize its analytic utility.
Material Religions in Melanesia and the West
In contrast to a strong tendency in recent studies of Melanesian religious and political movements that want to discard the term 'cargo cult' for reasons of analytical—and ethical—inadequacy, this article argues that the term remains useful to delineate an empirical field for comparative purposes. Further, it suggests that the central moral and existential crisis that underlies cargo cults has to do with pressure on the traditional exchange system and concomitant notions of personhood and fairness. Finally, it argues that the study of cargo cults provides a vantage point for a culture-critical approach to Western society, as it challenges the sharp distinction between religious and economic values that makes it difficult to understand contemporary moral paradoxes.
The Lottery of Babylon, or, the Logic of Happenstance in Melanesia and Beyond
Are such things as luck, chance, and fortune 'given' or original proper ties of the natural order of things, or are they perverse consequences of some misguided attempt to find out whether they exist or not? Does God play dice, or do the dice merely play God? How is that a sense of supernatural power, which often accompanies 'uncannily' good luck, is discovered, known about, or activated in a society that may not have precise equivalents for our ideas of chance and fortune? This article cites examples drawn from Mesopotamian notions of creation, from the Daribi of interior Papua and the Barok of New Ireland, that explain how this process might unfold. Luck and fortune have to do with any kind of strategy that destroys the opposition, most often through the underdetermination of thought.