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.
Toward Multispecies Ethnography in Melanesia
Jack London in Melanesia
Why did London place his life and those of his crew at risk of imminent death when he voyaged to the Solomon Islands in 1908, a region he believed to be filled with cannibals and headhunters? Based on archival sources, the books London had read to prepare himself for the voyage, and recent ethno-history of the region, this article argues that London’s voyage did not occasion a more enlightened view of race, as some recent scholars have argued; indeed, his months in the Solomon Islands confirmed the racialist cast of his thinking. London undertook his journey into a region he perceived as dangerous as part of a sense of adventure that depended on demonstrating courage and manliness, and in the process he acted as a metaphoric headhunter himself.
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.
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.
A Reconsideration of the Pentecostal Gender Paradox
In this article I discuss ‘the Pentecostal gender paradox’, famously coined by Bernice Martin. I do so by comparing Melanesian and Pentecostal forms of egalitarianism. My argument centers on the contention that in order for this paradox to emerge, specific concepts of equality and gender have to be kept fixed across contexts where they may not necessarily be stable. Pentecostalism has a specific effect on the role of women in the church, such as giving them access to the spirit, while also impacting on the notion of equality and ideas about the nature of gender. I conclude that in Pentecostalism gender is seen as an individual quality and that gender relations are viewed as power relations.
'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.
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.
Reconfiguring Culpability in Melanesia and Africa
This article examines the significance of witchcraft accusations during the South African AIDS epidemic. In search of broader intercontextual understanding, I compare experiences of AIDS in Bushbuck ridge, where I have done fieldwork, with anthropological studies of kuru, a transmissible degenerative disease, in Papua New Guinea. Whereas scientists blamed the spread of kuru on the practice of cannibalism, those who were affected attributed it to sorcery. These dynamics resonate with the encounters between health workers and host populations during the AIDS epidemic in Bushbuckridge. Health propaganda attributed the rapid transmission of HIV to sexual promiscuity. In response, sufferers and their kin invoked witchcraft, shifting blame onto outsiders and reinforcing the relations that medical labeling threatened to disrupt. The comparison enables us to see witchcraft accusations as a means of reconfiguring culpability, cutting certain networks, and strengthening other existing configurations.
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.