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Aspects of the Naven Ritual

Conversations with an Iatmul Woman of Papua New Guinea

Florence Weiss and Milan Stanek

Rituals are analyzed in anthropology as non-personal cultural structures, embedded in the overall behavioral patterns and semantic networks that are typical for a particular cultural group. This article focuses on the Iatmul people of Papua New Guinea and their ritual, naven, which features transvestite behavior and ritualized social roles. The authors discuss the ethno-psychoanalytic approach, which focuses on the psychodynamics of the relationship between two persons, the foreign researcher and his or her local counterpart, that develops in the course of a series of conversations. The narrative shifts to a case study involving Weiss and an Iatmul woman, Magendaua, which took place over three months. Their conversations particularly illuminate the meanings of the naven ritual. The use Magendaua made of the naven can be characterized as a transformation of the tensions in the relationship with her Swiss ethnographic-interlocutor and interpreted as a general feature of the rituals of this type.