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Trobriand Islandsr

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Describes the cultures of the Trobriand Islands, including subsistence, chiefdoms, and the kula ring.

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Trobriand Islandsr

  1. 1. Trobriand Islanders “Argonauts of the Western Pacific”
  2. 2. Trobriand Islanders <ul><li>The Trobriand Islands are part of several chains of islands in the Southwest Pacific </li></ul><ul><li>They are best known for the kula ring, a system of trade involving two kinds of shell ornaments </li></ul><ul><li>Bronislaw Malinowski conducted a study of this culture during World War I </li></ul><ul><li>His Argonauts of the Western Pacific is an anthropological classic </li></ul>
  3. 3. Location of the Trobriand Islands <ul><li>The Trobriands (in red)are located 120 miles northeast of New Guinea (upper left) </li></ul><ul><li>It is a largely featureless chain of islands about 12 square miles (lower left) </li></ul><ul><li>Kiriwina is the largest; the official name for all the islands is Kiriwina Islands </li></ul>
  4. 4. Climate and Topography <ul><li>The islands have the usual dry and wet (monsoon) seasons </li></ul><ul><li>Kiriwina is a flat island with few areas of storage or streams </li></ul><ul><li>The only sources of water are wells and ponds. </li></ul><ul><li>Drought is rare, but occurs often enough to cause concern among the Trobrianders </li></ul>
  5. 5. Cultivating Yams <ul><li>Yams are the single most important food. </li></ul><ul><li>Overproduction of yams is commonplace </li></ul><ul><li>Partly to compensate for any year of drought in which no yams can grow </li></ul><ul><li>Mainly to make a display of wealth, particularly among the chiefs </li></ul><ul><li>Slash and burn technique is used </li></ul><ul><li>Fallow period is usually three to five years </li></ul>
  6. 6. Division of Labor <ul><li>Men clear the brush, burn the slash, and cultivate the soils. </li></ul><ul><li>Women do the planting, weeding, and harvesting </li></ul>
  7. 7. Subsistence Activities and Trade <ul><li>Fishing is done among coastal peoples; often trade fish for yams </li></ul><ul><li>Women gather shellfish </li></ul><ul><li>Imports from other islands: polished stone axes, pottery—there is neither stone nor clay in the Trobriands </li></ul><ul><li>Specialty foods, such as sago from Dobu </li></ul><ul><li>Internal trade is unorganized; external trade is directed by the chiefs </li></ul>
  8. 8. Sex and Gender: Childbirth Beliefs <ul><li>Traditionally Trobriand Islanders thought that pregnancy occurs </li></ul><ul><li>when women’s bodies are infused with ancestral spirits on Tuma, one of the islands </li></ul><ul><li>This was thought to be where one goes after death </li></ul><ul><li>One hypothesis is that yams contain chemicals with contraceptive properties (phytoestrogen) </li></ul><ul><li>So that the connection between sex and childbirth were not made </li></ul>
  9. 9. Sex and Gender: Sexual Behavior and Marriage <ul><li>Not surprisingly, sexual behavior is promiscuous during teenage years </li></ul><ul><li>Marriage involves no major ceremony; a couple shows up at the groom’s residence and announces the fact </li></ul><ul><li>If the man is of a chiefly lineage, the residence is that his mother’s brother </li></ul><ul><li>Otherwise they move to the man’s father’s hamlet </li></ul>
  10. 10. Marriage and Social Organization <ul><li>When a woman marries, large quantities of yams is given to her father- or brother-in-law </li></ul><ul><li>This compensates for the land she surrenders in her own clan </li></ul><ul><li>A chief with many wives gains numerous stores of yams </li></ul><ul><li>In a food-insecure environment, this give him leverage over many households. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Social Organization: Household and Village ( Dala ) <ul><li>Basic unit is the household </li></ul><ul><li>A matrilineal group called the dala owns the plots of land, making it a corporate entity </li></ul><ul><li>The head of the dala manages this property </li></ul><ul><li>The headship goes from a man to his eldest sister’s son </li></ul><ul><li>This successor joins his mother’s brother at age 6 and brings his wife with him upon marriage </li></ul><ul><li>This is a classical example of avunculocal postmarital residence </li></ul>
  12. 12. Village Group or Cluster <ul><li>Six or so villages comprise a cluster </li></ul><ul><li>These village clusters are endogamous: only women and men from within the cluster may marry </li></ul><ul><li>Warfare was not allowed within the cluster </li></ul><ul><li>Villages are ranked; the chief of the highest ranked village coordinates the entire cluster </li></ul>
  13. 13. The Kula Ring <ul><li>The Kula ring involves two kinds of shell ornaments </li></ul><ul><li>White armshells (mwali, upper left), which are exchanged for </li></ul><ul><li>Red necklaces (soulava, lower left) made of a string of spondylus shells </li></ul><ul><li>The partners trade a white armshell for a red necklace </li></ul><ul><li>As the map shows (next slide), the mwali always goes in one direction; the souvala always goes in the other direction </li></ul>
  14. 14. The Kula Ring: Geography <ul><li>The kula ring connects the various islands </li></ul><ul><li>The Mwali (white armshells) go in a clockwise direction </li></ul><ul><li>The soulava (red necklaces) go in a counterclockwise direction </li></ul><ul><li>The journey is a treacherous one for those plying seagoing canoes </li></ul>
  15. 15. The Kula Transaction <ul><li>Each kula valuable has a history, and so enhances its value </li></ul><ul><li>Therefore, when one partner gives the other an arm shell, the second partner must give a necklace of equivalent value </li></ul><ul><li>If the second partner cannot repay on the next visit, he give a small gift as a promise to repay at a later date </li></ul><ul><li>Upper left: two men in front of a kula canoe </li></ul><ul><li>Lower left: a kula canoe </li></ul>
  16. 16. Spheres of Exchange <ul><li>This is a formal relationship </li></ul><ul><li>A kula valuable may not be kept by any one trader for long </li></ul><ul><li>Except for Dobu, all kula transactions involve only chiefs </li></ul><ul><li>On Dobu, all men can participate </li></ul><ul><li>The kula ring is separate from trade of ordinary goods, called gimwali </li></ul>
  17. 17. Conclusion <ul><li>Trobrianders are a chiefdom </li></ul><ul><li>Power is derived from control over yams from the chief’s in-laws </li></ul><ul><li>The islands are interconnected via a kula ring, dominated by chiefs </li></ul><ul><li>There is an economic dimension: inter-island trade of gimwali (ordinary) products accompany the kula </li></ul><ul><li>The political dimension involves linking the island through this system. </li></ul><ul><li>Threatened droughts also enhances the chief’s power through control of yams </li></ul>

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