A Papuan Plutocracy
416 pages
English

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416 pages
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This book of classic scope is a monograph on a Melanesian society, an exploration of ranked exchange and a bold critique of anthropological exchange theory. John Liep unravels the complex society and exchange system on Rossel Island east of New Guinea. At centre stage is the famous 'Rossel Island money', a hierarchy of more than twenty classes of sea shells displayed in payment rituals such as bridewealth and pig feasts. High-ranking shells are monopolized by big men who control exchange and dominate social life on the island. Theories of reciprocity and gift exchange with their built-in utopian assumption of social equality, Liep finds, cannot account for a system of ranked exchange. Instead, exchange is unequal and money an instrument of distinction and power. Liep argues that ranked exchange has remained undiscovered as a general phenomenon. Still found in some Pacific societies it was formerly widespread in Oceania and beyond. The book will be essential to students of indigenous currencies and exchange theory and of interest to economic anthropologists and Oceanists.

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Date de parution 31 août 2009
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9788779346703
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 17 Mo

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John Liep · A papuan plutocracy
This book is an ethnography of a Melanesian island, an exploration of ranked
exchange and a bold critique of anthropological exchange theory. John Liep
unravels the complex society and exchange system on Rossel Island east of
New Guinea.
At centre stage is the famous ‘Rossel Island money’, a hierarchy of more than
twenty classes of sea shells displayed at pig feasts and kinship rituals.
Highranking shells are monopolized by big men who control exchange and
dominate social life on the island. Liep finds that theories of reciprocity and gift
giving are founded on utopian assumptions of social equality. They are
unable to account for a system of ranked exchange where participants are
unequal and money is an instrument of distinction and power. While stillJOHN LIEP born 1936, studied social
anthropology at the University of Copen- found in some Pacific societies, ranked exchange has remained undiscovered
hagen, receiving his M.Sc. degree in 1970.
as a general phenomenon, but Liep argues that it was formerly widespread in
In 1971 he went to Rossel Island in Papua
the Pacific and beyond.
New Guinea to solve the mystery of the
‘Rossel Island money’ discovered by
This lightly written and richly illustrated book will be essential for the study
W.E. Armstrong fifty years earlier and a
of indigenous currencies and exchange theory and should be of interest to allmatter of controversy among economic
anthropologists. The intricacies of Rossel Oceanists.
exchange has haunted him ever since.
He has done 25 months of field work on
Rossel Island in 1971-1973, 1980 and 1990.
From 1977 to his retirement in 2003 he has
been on the staff of the Department of
Anthropology, University of Copenhagen,
where he is now an emeritus lecturer.
ISBN 978 87 7934 446 4
A A R H U S U N I V E R S I T Y P R E S S ,!7II7H9-deeege! aA Papuan Plutocracy
Ranked Exchange on Rossel IslandDenne afhandling er af Det Samfundsvidenskabelige Fakultet ved Københavns Universitet
antaget til ofentligt at forsvares for den antropologiske doktorgrad.
København den 30. november 2007
Troels Østergaard Sørensen
DekanA Papuan Plutocracy
Ranked Exchange on Rossel Island
John Liep
Aarhus University Press | aA Papuan Plutocracy
Ranked Exchange on Rossel Island
© the author and Aarhus University Press 2009
Design and Cover design by Jørgen Sparre
Cover illustration: Big men around mortuary payments of ndap shells,
shell necklaces and ceremonial stone axes. Pw:ep:u, Morpa (April 1972).
ISBN 978 87 7934 670 3
Published with the fnancial support of
Te Danish Research Council for the Humanities
Velux Fonden
Lillian og Dan Finks Fond
Landsdommer V. Gieses Legat
Det Liepske Legat for værdigt trængende Forfattere
Aarhus University Press
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Svanemærket tryksagTo fello w anthropologists of the Massim –
they have waited thirty years for this bookContents
ix List of fgures
xiii AcknowledgmentsxviiNote on Orthography
xix Foreword by Stephen C. Levinson
xxv Preface
1 Introduction
27 Prologue
29 1 Massim T ransformations
part one
65 Te Setting
67 2 Rossel Island
93 3 Frameworks of Practice
125 4 Dimensions of P ower
145 5 Economic Domains
part two
165 Ranked Exchange
167 6 Shell Money and Valuables
211 7 Te Cycle of Social Reproduction
259 8 Te Pig Feast
283 9 Te Remaining Forms of Payment
297 10 Te Rules and Practice of Ranked Exchange
321 Epilogue
32 3 11 A Papuan Plutocracy
345 Glossary
349 Bibliography
365 INDEX
L i s t o f ix
List of maps
16 1 Te western Pacifc
31 2 Te Massim (Milne Bay Province)
59 3 Te Louisiades
74 4 R ossel Island
94 5 Wulanga Bay ward
99 6 Pum village
115 7 Pum subclan land areas
List of tables
78 1 R ossel Island population by wards
97 2 Wulanga Bay ward population 1972-1990
107 3 WBay ward. Residence of married male householders
116 4 Pum subclans and their members
172 5 List of ndap categories
174 6 Quantities of ndap categories. Pum, August 1973
196 7 List of kê categories
199 8 Quantities of kê categories. Pum, August 1973
206 9 Types of shell necklaces
254 10 Wulanga Bay marriages – structural choices
255 11 WBay marriage choices – social distance of wife
270 12 Terms for kê on a ‘rope’
293 13 Payments at Pum. January 1972 -September 1980
304 14 List of pledges for ndap categories
List of fgures
2 1 Simplifed model of a ceremonial payment
188 2 Illustration of ndaptiia
195 3 R ossel terms of kêa
209 4 Scheme of circulation of Rossel Island wealth
244 5 Basic arrangement of ndap and valuables at the mortuary
exchanges
245 6 Te social categories involved in the mortuary exchangesx a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
261 7 D ivision of meat at pig feast
265 8 D iagram of the mobilization of large kê
305 9 M obilization steps for ndap
305 10 Msteps for kê
List of genealogies
120 1 Nakawê’s descendants
214 2 Genealogy concerning Waa’s frst bridewealth
255 3 Gof a patrilateral marriage
List of plates
xxxi 0.1 James Dal:a recording at a pig feast. Ndawa Island
40 1.1 Chief’s yam house. Gumilababa, Trobriand Islands
43 1.2 Kula canoe. Okaisowa, Trobriand Islands
50 1.3 Kula necklaces. Sinaketa, TrIslands
60 1.4 Sailing canoe. Grass Island, Louisiades
70 2.1 Canoe under sail, Yongga Bay
76 2.2 Telekng:ââ village, west end, Rossel
81 2.3 Sacred place. Jinjo village
96 3.1 V iew of Pum valley and lagoon
98 3.2 Pum river
102 3.3 V iew of Chaambê hamlet
127 4.1 Big man haranguing at a mortuary feast. Kwemkpop
137 4.2 Women at a menstruation house. Vyemêchuu
139 4.3 Women peeling taro. Chaambê
141 4.4 Women heating stones for an earth oven. Dyodo, Jinjo
147 5.1 M en felling trees for a garden. Pum Valley
148 5.2 Taro planting. Pum valley
14 9 5.3 M ixed planting in a garden. Pum
154 5.4 M en knocking sago. Pum
1 55 5.5 Woman squeezing sago. Pum
1 58 5.6 Public food distribution. Tum:ubwy:e
17 7 6.1 Anêwê ndap, its ‘guardian’ and four ‘soldiers’.
181 6.2a Te dy:âm:andîî NotaatîL i s t o f xi
181 6.2b Te dy:âm:andîî Koopó
181 6.2c Te K:andanê
181 6.2d Te dy:âm:andîî Ndidiyu with two other high-ranking ndap
18 4 6.3a Types of low rank ndap. Drawing. Pum
185 6.3b Types of low rank ndap. DPum
192 6.4a Types of kê. Drawing. Pum
193 6.4b Types of kê. DPum
204 6.5 Types of shell necklaces bagi (). Drawing. Pum.
207 6.6 Fishing for bagi shells
208 6.7 D rilling of holes bagiin beads. Chaambê
2 15 7.1 First bridewealth. Presentation of dy:âm:andîîthe . Chaambê
220 7.2 First bridewSticking ndap in coconuts.
222 7.3 F irst bridewealth. Bride’s mother’s sister with kê-rope. a
Chaambê
227 7.4 Second bridewealth. Big men negotiating about kê. Pémi
229 7.5 SbridewRope kêof with food gifts. Pémi
242 7.6 Ceremonial attack at a mortuary feast. Wédikpênyede
247 7.7 M ortuary payment. Wédikpênyede
249 7.8 Te author recording a mortuary payment. Woy, Jinjo
26 3 8.1 Initiatorkêy and food gifts from a pig owner. Chaambê
268 8.2 Pig parts and pots of blood soup. Tum:ubwy:e
269 8.3 Witnessing of dy:aam:andîîa and its pledges. Wédikpênyede
271 8.4 Ndap payment for the main part of a pig. Wede
276 8.5 Big man directing the ‘cutting’ kêof -ra ope. Ndawa Island
277 8.6 R estoring kê sets from the rope after a pig feast. Ndawa
Island
278 8.7 R edistribution of a pig payment. Chaambê
285 9.1 House and canoe payments. Mdyo, Jinjo
290 9.2 W. E. Armstrong’s picture of ntóókêa
324 11.1 Corpse decorated with ndap. ChaambêAcknowledgments
I have been supported and helped by many institutions and individuals over
the years. My four feldwork expeditions were generously funded by the Danish
Social Science Research Council, the last jointly with the Research Council for
the Humanities. Te frst expedition was also supported by the Department
of Anthropology, Research School of Pacifc Studies (now Research School of
Asian and Pacifc Studies), Australian National University. At the latter - depart
ment our frst stay was facilitated by Professor A.L. Epstein and our second in
1972-73 by Professor Derek Freeman. I benefted greatly during this sojourn
from the friendly companionship of Paul Alexander and Donald Tuzin. I also
thank Professor James Fox, who facilitated my participation in the Austronesian
Project for four months in 1990; Michael Young, who let me use his ofce for
a while; and Ton Otto (now Professor in the department of Ethnography and
Social Anthropology at the University of Aarhus in Denmark), who shared an
ofce with me. My own department, the Institute of Anthropology, University
of Copenhagen, has allowed me several sabbatical periods for feldwork and
research. It has shown forbearance with my commitment to this -term long
project and has provided a lively and intellectually challenging research milieu.
Of the many colleagues with whom I have discussed my research, I thank
especially Michael Whyte, Susan Reynolds Whyte, Jonathan Friedman, Stig
Toft Madsen and Jens Pinholt.
On Rossel my heartfelt thanks must go above all to the people of Pum
village, who so generously allowed me to work there and helped my family
and I in innumerable ways. Tere are so many people in Pum to whom we
owe much gratitude that I cannot name them all here, but I want to thank
especially my closest collaborators, James Dal:a and Ken Kepe, who expended
so much efort in teaching me about their culture. Great thanks are also due
to the people of Cheme, where we frst stayed. I mention especially Gregory
Mgalim and his daughter Cecilia Ndowa, whom we have known from the
day of her birth. More generally on the island, I have been given much - hos
pitality and help from scores of people. I have lamented over my troubles in
feldwork with the Rossel language. I can hardly blame the Rossels for them: xiv a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
they must be entirely due to my own inadequacy. But apart from this I feel
that I have always met with acceptance and great tolerance of my sometimes
tedious questioning and recording. In this respect I could hardly have found
a more welcoming community.
James and Anne Henderson of the Summer Institute of Linguistics have
ofered us much hospitality, lending us their house and on a later visit their
boat and much other equipment. Tey also provided invaluable guidance - re
garding the language. Te late Father Kevin English, Sister Imelda (now Joan
Benbow) and others on the staf of the Catholic Mission at Jinjo, Father Kevin
Young at the Catholic Mission at Nimowa and Bishop Desmond Morris also
helped us in too many ways to detail. I also received help in Milne B-ay Prov
ince from District Commissioner Driver; the Acting District Commissioner
at Misima, W. Speldewinde; Patrol Ofcers Oto Rheeney and Victor Arme,
Misima, and Stephen Hallworth and his wife Claire, Samarai; and also from
Chris Abel, Alotau and John Linton, Misima. In Port Moresby we received
much hospitality from Jim and Kate Nockels, Nick and Debbie Webb, David
Bamford and Geof Tomas. I also thank Dr. David Frodin in the Herbarium,
Department of Biology, University of Papua New Guinea who identifed my
plant specimens and Dr. Jørgen Knudsen in the Zoological Museum, University
of Copenhagen who identifed the species of molluscs from which the Rossel
shell money is made. I am in great debt to Dr. Robert Parkin in the D-epart
ment of Anthropology, Oxford University, who did the English revision of
my manuscript. He improved my writing greatly. Nick Wigley, Department
of English, University of Aarhus applied the fnishing touch to my English.
I am grateful to Anton Liep who painstakingly restored my ageing photos,
and my editor Rikke Kensinger who steered the book through the pitfalls of
the production process. I thank Aarhus University Press and Narayana Press
for their willingness to meet my wishes with regard to the layout of the book.
Tanks also to Jørgen Sparre who designed the cover and readily accepted
suggestions from me and Anton Liep.
I have had the opportunity to discuss my material and work with many
international colleagues. I have had the honour of giving seminars chaired by
both Sir Raymond Firth and George Dalton. I also had a memorable conv- ersa
tion with Margaret Mead on my discovery of Armstrong’s feldwork errors in
the yard of the National Museum when she visited Copenhagen in the 1970s.
Te most intense inspiration I received came from specialist workshops, the
most fruitful of which were the two Kula Conferences convened in 1978 by
Jerry Leach and Sir Edmund Leach and in 1981 by Fred Damon and Roy A c k n o w l e d g m e n t s xv
Wagner; a workshop on Culture and History in the Pacifc organized by Jukka
Siikala at Helsinki in 1987; the Paris workshop the same year organized by
Marilyn Strathern and Maurice Godelier on great men and big men societies;
and an ASAO session on state and indigenous currencies in Melanesia - con
vened by David Akin and Joel Robbins in Hawaii in 1996. Te late Daniel de
Coppet generously invited me to Paris in 1993 to give papers on my research
at the ÉHÉSS. I thank all the organizers and participants of these meetings
for enlightening discussions.
Lastly I fnd it difcult to express how much I owe my wife Annette Liep,
who has accompanied me on all my feld trips. She assisted me with several
surveys, demonstrated much practical ability and a better capacity for - partici
pation and socializing than I, and was an always understanding and patient
companion. I am not particularly good with my hands, and apart from betel
chewing, I used to say that we maintained a division of labour where I observed
and she participated. She learned to weave all the types of Rossel baskets, and
when a curator at the museum in Port Moresby took out specimens for their
collection, he unwittingly selected several that had actually been made by her.
Our children Anton and Maja, who have each been with us on two visits,
easily made friends and did much to facilitate our acceptance on the island.
R ossel Island is now being studied by the linguist Stephen Levinson, who
began feldwork there in 1995, a few years after my last visit. He -has pub
lished articles on linguistic problems from Rossel but also a number of essays
of decided anthropological interest, for example on colour terms (Levinson
2000), on evolution and culture (2006a), on the kinship system (2006b)
and on landscape (2008). He will undoubtedly be able to correct some of
the mistakes I have made, as may even students from Rossel Island itself one
day. I am fully aware of my own shortcomings, especially with regard to my
linguistic skills, and know that I may only have scratched the surface of
Rossel culture. Stephen Levinson has read parts of my manuscript, and I have
benefted greatly from his comments. He has also generously agreed to write
a foreword to this book.Note on Orthography
In this book the orthography of the Rossel language Yélîtnye) ( established by
James and Anne Henderson (1987) is used. Tere are several dialects spoken
on Rossel. Te Hendersons have made the one spoken around Jinjo on the
northeast coast of the island the ‘ofcial’ standard. Te one spoken around Pum
where I stayed varies from the Jinjo one in some respects. In many instances
I follow the ofcial standard, but where diferent words are used or words are
pronounced diferently (as I heard them) I usually follow my own spelling.
Te phonology is very difcult so I may have misheard many words.
Te vowels are the following
i î u
é ó
e ê o
a â
All back vowels are rounded. Vowels may be short or long, the latter shown by
a double letter, for example aa. Vowels may also be nasalized. Tis is shown
by putting a colon in front, for example :aa.
Te spelling of some consonants needs explaining. Te ng sound as in
English ‘sing’ is spelled ng. A soft g is spelled gh. A prenasalized g, however,
is spelled nk. Prenasalizing is common, thus mb, nj, nt. Tere may be double
nasalization so that one says m and ng at the same time. Tere are stops
so that one says k and p simultaneously or t and p simultaneously. Double
stops may also be prenasalized so that a simultaneous m and ng is followed
by a simultaneous b and g. Tis is simplifed into mg.
Some place names that are more widely known outside the island such
as the larger bays and the ten wards have for a long time had a conventional
spelling. I have chosen to use this instead of the correct Rossel one.
With regard to individual’s names, there is a convention, established by
patrol ofcers who did not know that the society is matrilineal, to use the
Christian name followed by the father’s Rossel name as the surname. I do not xviii a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
follow this rule. I prefer to use the Christian name followed by the individual’s
most commonly used Rossel name. Often I mention only the Rossel name.
Tis was the name I usually used on Rossel.
Te Hendersons have preferred to split compound words up into their
components. I usually write them as one word.
Te Rossel people Y(élî yoo) I simply call the Rossels, an expression that is
now accepted by them.Foreword
Stephen C. Levinson
Director, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen
In this book, John Liep tackles one of the enduring puzzles of ethnographic
reporting, an indigenous money system, which is a peculiar concretion of social
value, backed up by elaborate institutions and rituals of exchange. No-one can
blame Armstrong, the frst ethnographic reporter on Rossel Island, who was
working at the dawn of systematic ethnography, for likening the Rossel - Island
ers to the bankers of the Pacifc, and seeing in their institutions the embryos
of Western capitalist institutions, with debts, interest, brokers, and specialized
markets. But he was wrong about nearly all the facts, as John Liep shows in this
book. It turns out that the economic system cannot be understood in terms
of an incipient western commercial system, but must instead be understood
in its own terms and in relation to indigenous institutions.
Tis, the second ethnographic monograph on Rossel Island, follo - ws Arm
strong’s account of 80 years ago which was based on just two months’ feldwork.
Despite the controversy that Armstrong’s account caused in the anthropological
journals and the college common rooms, no-one had gone back to check the
facts before John Liep frst set out 35 years ago for Rossel. Rossel Island has a
peculiar attraction: the last island, way out to the east of Papua New Guinea’s
foot, and inhabited by a people who are genetically and linguistically distinct
from the surrounding Austronesian peoples and who have a vibrant culture
of their own.
Although Rossel Island money and the indigenous economy is the focus
of this book, it is a wide-ranging monograph, touching on everything from
sorcery to horticulture.
Since John Liep has not had the opportunity to return since 1990, it is
worth saying something about the current situation in 2006, so readers can
judge to what extent the generalizations made here still obtain. I do so from
the vantage point of a linguistic anthropologist, whose work since 1995 is
based at Cheme village, staying in the very same house (or at least on the very xx a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
same site) that the Lieps used in 1971, before they concentrated on the more
western area around the village of Pum. Te population is now burgeoning –
it now stands at a census count of 4,000, which certainly under presents to
some degree the actual numbers, especially as many Rossels work abroad.
Tat represents a 25 % rise in just 15 years or so, occasioned probably by two
factors. One is better medical provision, thanks to the Catholic Mission and
the Misima health centre, with immunization of children and better malaria
control. Tis may reverse: the malarial parasite has become more and more
immune to chloroquine and other drugs, AIDS is sadly taking hold, and the
Catholic Mission is slowly winding down its material support to the - com
munity, in line with an indigenization of the ministry. Te other factor, very
relevant to this book, is changing sexual mores, with more and more early
conception, and less and less control by village elders through the instrument
of shell-money – like everywhere else, the Puritans of the Louisiades - are dis
covering that there is a distinction between sex and marriage. Still, the island is
rich; it has huge lagoons with afuent fsheries, and with less than 20 persons
per square kilometre, it is far from any Malthusian limit.
Te other major change since John Liep’s last visit has been the gradual
retrenchment of government and trade. Far from globalization, this has been,
in some aspects at least, development in reverse. Long gone is the airstrip or the
government wharf mentioned in these chapters, no government ofcer resides
on Rossel, no regular shipping calls at its shores, no Mission boats regularly
supply the schools and aide posts. Small stores can hardly get supplies of rice
and sugar and fshing hooks. Sheet iron, engines, electricity, saw mills, are all
almost gone, save for the Jinjo Mission site, where royalties from the Misima
mine and the eforts of the last white missionaries allowed rebuilding after
cyclone Justin in 1997. Dinghies with outboard motors, political favours for
votes, await the rare supply of fuel, as does the Mission generator with its
friendly lights. Trade in copra (dried coconut for oil) has greatly diminished,
although there is an occasional upswing as at the time of writing, but it has
been replaced as a source of cash with a restricted season -deof -mer beche
fshing, when young men can earn small fortunes diving for the Asian delicacy.
For a few months traders arrive in boats, with tea, sugar, rice, four and other
basic goods to exchange for smoked sea cucumbers: I estimate that well over a
quarter of a million kina ($100,000) fows into the island in one season, only
some of which fows straight out. Tis cash buys guitars, football boots and
short-lived gadgets, but flters down to pay the now steep school fees - that beg
gar large families. For along with the health service, education fourishes, well F o r e w o r d xxi
beyond its capacity to deliver jobs and opportunities: Rossels are deeply serious
about the education of their ofspring. Tey have made huge eforts to build
literacy in the local language, aided by the Hendersons, the SIL missionaries
who translated the New Testament during Liep’s time in the island, and have
more recently printed dictionaries and school materials. Te Hendersons are
gifted linguists, and without their thirty- year investment in the language, its
secrets would remain locked up in an impossibly difcult phonology. Te 90
phonemes still present a serious hurdle to writing the language. Still, as at the
time of writing, all Rossel children go through village schools for the frst years
of education, where they learn the idea of writing through their own language
before progressing to English, the lingua franca of the province.
D espite these changes, Rossel cultural life retains the vibrancy it always
had. Sacred sites are still sacred, sacred song cycles are still performed, the
gerontocracy of shell-money plutocrats still perdures, marriages and mortuary
feasts are still conducted in just the way here described, the subsistence system
is just the same, but with less infux of foods like rice and tins from abroad, and
the inhabitants of Pum, Wulanga and Yongga still work hard to manufacture
the bagi used either for personal decoration or in the Kula exchanges of other
islands. At the eastern end of the island anyway, which I know best, the shell
money is still the only currency with which to pay for pig meat, canoes, and
brides, although cash may slowly erode these functions. I have even seen the
shell money under manufacture, with frndap esh blanks from the Confict
Islands ground down on river boulders, and old, oversizkê likeed wise being
ground down to modern requirements.
One sequence of events perhaps captures this curious balance of forces,
between the traditional and the new, better than any other. It started with
enormous disquiet about the new millennium, when many believed the world
would come to an end, and messianic cults had a brief eforescence. Now, in
the village which is the centre of this monograph, there has arisen in the last
three years a cargo cult of serious proportions. Led by a failed politician, an
ex-cameraman trained by the BBC in London, the cult ofers untold riches
through a reversion to the traditions of ancient times, when Homeric heroes
walked Rossel. Sect members are told to rebuild the mythical longhouse of
the Pwélevyuwo sacred place, to dress only in traditional costume (now largely
replaced by Australian secondhand clothes), sing the traditional song cycles,
and awake the dead. Along with the ancient heroes, Moses, even Christ, will
reappear, and tell them where to fnd the buried ingots of gold, taken - and hid
den (in some versions) from the wreck of the St Paul (the vessel that, as Liep xxii a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
explains, brought Rossel Island into history). No need to work their felds,
no reason to keep their cash! Te newly invented rituals make various - refer
ences to the shell money which fgures so largely in this book – for example,
it is said that all week long a fre is kept burning under a basket kê ndap of
(shell money) consisting of four ke big kn:ââ and eleven valuable ndap (see
the body of the book for explication), perhaps in gesture to the smoking of
beche -de-mer, another source and symbol of great value.
Te cult has a fatal attraction for those with a smattering of knowledge about
the outside world, and consequently, to my amazement, some of the best
educated, most worldly Rossels have been involved. But the rest of Rossel
has mostly turned against the village of Pum, and has tried to ostracize its
inhabitants – the leader was even hauled before the magistrates at Misima,
on the grounds that he was blaspheming and breaking the peace, but the case
was dismissed when he successfully claimed he was simply rebuilding the
traditional culture of Rossel.
Te cargo cult at Pum had a surprising international consequence in 2006.
At the current time, PNG is crawling with prospectors fuelled by the - burgeon
ing Asian economies, and with gold at an all-time high, attention turned once
again to the veins that crop up in the nearby islands of Misima and Sudest,
where gold has been mined historically. Te Rossel Island Gold Exploration
Company (a shadowy Australian investment company) bid for licenses to
prospect precisely where the myths and cargo cult suggest that gold should
be found. In the past, Rossel elders have resisted all such invasions, but now
the attitude was diferent. Led by younger politicians (some of whom have
themselves unsuccessfully dug for gold), the communities voted in favour of
the prospecting, because, as they explained to me, the time had come to fnd
out whether the myths, and the cargo cult built on them, are true or false – if
true, as some of these younger politicians imagine, Rossel will develop and
enter the modern world; if false, as others are sure, the lies of the cargo cult
may perhaps be fnally laid to rest.
As the cult shows, Rossels are used to a plurality of beliefs. Tey believe
in Christianity, but they also believe in the spirits of sacred places, and more
inconsistently, in the overwhelming power of sorcery. Tey believe in - the ef
fcacy of shell-money, but also trust in banknotes. Tey know modern medicine
works, but will also try local remedies. Tey trust the traditional crops, but
will experiment with any new crop, however improbable. One is reminded of
accounts of the frst stirrings of rational enquiry in archaic Greece – it took F o r e w o r d xxiii
many centuries to evolve a rational mode of disputation, in which rumour
can be distinguished from fact. No such revolution has occurred on Rossel.
In 2005, some time after the real Indonesian tsunami, rumour got about
that there would be a cataclysmic tidal wave. Te entire population, carrying
grannies and babies, headed for the hills, and remained there for days, until
hunger and practicality enforced a return to the villages. It is true that in April
1997 cyclone Justin had sensitized them to real calamities: Although Rossel
is used to cyclones once a decade, and even has cultural adaptations for these
events (e.g. traditional ground houses or cyclone shelters built to withstand
massive forces), Justin broke all bounds, physically changing the landscape for
generations of human lives, levelling mountains, redirecting rivers, destroying
forests, reefs and mangrove swamps.
R ossel Island society is thus poised between tradition and modernity. Unlike
many societies in the modern world, it is not clear that globalization is here an
unstoppable economic tide (unless of course the myths come true and Rossel is
full of gold), but may rather leave this little island, far of in the ocean, aside,
for rising fuel costs threaten to turn this maritime province into a backwater.
But other aspects of globalization will hit hard, and AIDS is likely to be one
of them.Preface
Tis book is a long overdue monograph on my researches on Rossel Island in
Papua New Guinea, 375 km east of New Guinea, which were undertaken on
four expeditions between 1971 and 1990. Te main theme of the book is the
renowned Rossel Island shell money and the complicated system of exchange
in which it is employed. It may be useful if I relate briefy how it came about
that an anthropologist from the small Scandinavian country of Denmark came
to do research on a remote island in Melanesia on such a strange subject.
I grew up in a leftist -leaning family and was discontented with the - capi
talist society in which I lived. Tis may have contributed to my decision to
study anthropology, which I began at the University of Copenhagen in the
early 1960s. Given my political leanings, I found economic and political - an
thropology especially appealing. I had the luck to serve as a student instructor
and taught courses in both subfelds. I had chosen Melanesia as my regional
specialization and wrote a thesis on -man bigleadership based on material from
a wide range of societies. Having taken magistermy (MSc) degree in 1970, I
had to design a project for feldwork in Melanesia.
One of my course texts in economic anthropology had been George D- al
ton’s article on ‘Primitive Money’ (1965). Dalton’s essay was an exposition
of the approach of Karl Polanyi and his followers  – what became known
as the substantivist school – on the subject of money. Dalton argued that
‘primitive’ monies had been much misunderstood because anthropologists
had based their defnition of money on the functions that money has in the
modern western capitalist society dominated by the market. Here, money
functions frst and foremost as a means of commercial exchange, the other (standard of value, unit of account, means of payment, store of
wealth) following from market integration of the economy. In other societies,
where the market is marginal or absent, ‘primitive’ money serves diferent
purposes, and to attempt to ft it into a market framework of thinking is
merely to obscure its understanding. ‘Money is what money does’, as Dalton
remarked (ibid. 62).
D alton’s essay introduced me for the frst time to what could be called the xxvi a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
mystery of the Rossel Island money. In particular, he used the case - of Arm
strong’s interpretation of Rossel Island money as a warning of how not to do
anthropology. Wallace Edwin Armstrong was a Cambridge student of Haddon
and Rivers who went to Papua in the early 1920s and made an anthropological
survey of Rossel Island for two months in 1921. Rossel Island or Yela is the
easternmost island in the archipelagos beyond the eastern end of New Guinea
in what is now the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. Te Trobriand
Islands made famous by Malinowski’s research are in the same region, which
anthropologists call the Massim. During his sojourn on Rossel, Armstrong
discovered the importance of shell money in Rossel society and tried to learn
as much as he could about its use. His description and interpretation of the
shell money appeared mainly in Chs. 5, 6 and 7 of his monograph Rossel Island:
an ethnological study (1928). According to Armstrong, shell money was paid
for large constructions such as canoes and houses, as well as for small items
such as baskets and lime pots. Tere were complex payments for meat at pig
feasts. Certain services, such as working in a garden or the sexual services of
a prostitute, were paid in shells. Shell money was also paid to ‘buy’ a wife or
a prostitute and formerly to compensate the relatives of victims of cannibal
feasts. Tere were two kinds of shell moneyndap , and kê, but Armstrong did
1not learn much about the latter kind.
Ndap were polished Spondylus shells. Tey were found in a large number
of classes of varying value, ranging from common -value lowshells in the
lower classes up to rare, highly valuable pieces in the upper ones. Armstrong
numbered the main classes from No. 1 at the bottom up to No. 22 at the
top. He had the impression that these classes indicated ‘prices’, such that for
a specifc commodity or service ndapa of a specifc class had to be paid. Tus
a big house cost a No. 2ndap0 and a pig a No. 18 (Armstrong 1928: 88). Te
strange thing, however, was that change could not be given. To ‘buy’ a pig, one
had to give a No. 18 ndap: it would not do to give three No. 6 instead. Tis
posed a serious problem because ndap values were not reducible to a single
common unit of value (so many times No. 1, for example). Tis seemed to be
a defnite obstacle to Armstrong’s assertion that the Rossel forms of money
1 Armstrong wavered in his spelling of shell money terms. In his early publications -22, (1921
1924a, 1924b) he called them dap and kë, but in his monograph (1928) he wrote ndap and
nkö. Te correct spelling ndapîis and kê according to Henderson (1987), but I always heard
the former as ndap and shall retain it here, as I have now used this spelling in several other
publications.P r e f a c e xxvii
were ‘used primarily as media of exchange and standards of value’ and were
‘systematically interrelated as regards value’ (ibid. 59). As shells could not be
combined to add up to higher values, a man would often have to borrow a
shell to ‘buy’ a certain commodity. A good deal of borrowing therefore took
place on the island. In this connection, Armstrong came to hear about certain
procedures concerned with borrowing which he took to be forms of interest
payments. He thought that, after a short interval of time, a loan of, say, a No.
6 ndap would have to be repaid by a No. ndap7 , after a longer period by a
No. 8, and so on. Following the example of his teacher Rivers, he therefore
tried to construct the most simple logical scheme that would ft the facts as he
understood them (ibid. 75). In Armstrong’s model, ‘time’ became the unit that
interrelated the system ndapof values through compound interest on loans. In
this way, every value could be expressed in terms of No. 1 and time. ‘Te price
of any commodity or service could then be put in terms of “time”, and the
lowest value unit in the series; e.g. a wife could be said to cost a year, a basket
of taro a week, and so on’ (ibid. 64). He consequently depicted Rossel Island
as a bizarre version of ‘primitive capitalism’ where everybody was striving to
make a proft by lending shells at interest.
Te simple formula of interest, however, could not work at the upper end
of the ndap hierarchy in the classes where shells were very rare and could not
2be repaid progressively by still higher values. Also, these shells were sacred,
had individual as well as class names, and seemed mysteriously to be - ‘prop
erty peculiar to chiefs, though continually lent by the latter to their subjects’
(ibid. 66). Furthermore, there seemed to have been no recognized exchange
value between shells in the two series of shell ndapmoney and , kê (Armstrong
1924a). In most major payments, both kinds of shell money were required.
Finally, the actual procedures of payment were much more complex than
Armstrong’s simple model suggested, and his account contained many - ob
scure and contradictory features. Armstrong’s report made the Rossel Island
money an anthropological freak (cf. Besterman 1928). Tus Paul Einzig, in his
major study Primitive money, called it ‘one of the most complicated systems
of means of payment ever devised by tortuous human mind’ (1966: 72). If
2 To repair this defect, Armstrong supplemented his model with an alternative method of
interest payment on loans of these -vhighalue shells consisting of installments of a number
of lower-value shells. He believed he had found evidence of this procedure in a payment
he transcribed as dogo. In fact, this was a replacement payment akin to change (see the
discussion in Ch. 9).xxviii a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
the money was just a means of exchanging commodities and services, why all
these cumbersome restrictions?
D alton argued that Armstrong’s interpretation was completely misleading
because he had assumed that, ndapas shells were ‘money’, they must serve
the same function of a commercial instrument of exchange that money does
in our own economy (1965: 54). Furthermore, Armstrong had assumed - com
mensurability and convertibility betw ndapeen classes throughout the system by
numbering them from 1 to 22. However, as Dalton demonstrated, Armstrong’s
own evidence made it clear that, whereas -ranking low shells seemed to enter
casual market exchanges between individuals, -ranking high shells moved in
important transactions of an entirely diferent order, being ‘treasure items’
used to validate important social events, such as transfers of bloodwealth and
bridewealth and pig feasts (ibid. 56). Dalton suggested ndapthat shells were
involved in three diferent spheres of exchange and that there was - no con
vertibility between them (ibid. 55). He also pointed out the many lacunae in
Armstrong’s account and provided a whole catalogue of unresolved problems
that needed to be cleared up (ibid. 63, n. 9).
Te Rossel mystery engaged several economic anthropologists in these
years and entered the controversy between formalists and substantivists. Other
scholars noted that ndapthe seemed to be divided into groups with diferent
rules of circulation and ownership. Baric and Lemel both suggested that there
were two divisions of ndap (Baric 1964: 42; Lemel 1971: 148). All commenta -
tors disagreed with Armstrong’s conclusion that the pursuit of proft was the
main aim of monetary practice on Rossel. Te most illuminating reanalyses
linked the control of -highranking shells with social power and status. Dalton
argued that the upper values ndapof were concerned with social prerogatives
and status values in a ‘prestige economy’ (1965: 58). Using a game theory
perspective, Richard Salisbury proposed that an oligopoly would arise between
possessors of the No. ndap18 class, which was essential for bridewealth and
pig feasts. Tese big men would try to circulate the shells between themselves
3and attract ordinary men in need of them as their dependents (1969: 85f.).
Mary Douglas made what is perhaps the most penetrating comment. She
argued that, unlike the unrestricted fow of money in a market economy, the
3 Salisbury’s article was a rebuttal of Dalton from a formalist position. As such it was marked
by being framed in complete opposition to Dalton’s critique. Salisbury asserted that Rossel
had a market economy and accepted Armstrong’s data entirely. Nevertheless, his suggestion
of big man collusion in monopolising -highranking ndap was valuable.P r e f a c e xxix
Rossel currency operated in a system of controlled exchange. Ranked spheres
of exchange would develop, she suggested, where elders controlled access to
necessities (e.g. wives) and status privileges. ‘As soon as the restricted spheres
of exchange are allowed to interpenetrate, the structure of privileges - must col
lapse’ (1967: 138). Te Rossel Island system was a case of ‘primitive rationing’,
and the shells were analogous to coupons and licences rather than to money
in a modern economy.
M y political leanings made me sympathetic towards substantivism, with its
critical stance towards liberal economics. But there were other circumstances
that drew me towards the Rossel mystery. As a boy I had been a keen - col
lector of many things, especially prehistoric stone artifacts, which I gathered
on the beaches near my home town. I had been intrigued by classifcation,
typology and the drawing up of lists. As a system of objects, the curious and
complicated double system of shell money on Rossel Island inevitable
appealed to me. But one other circumstance may have been decisive. Dalton
had compared economists to Mycroft Holmes, the pure armchair theorist, and
anthropologists to Sherlock Holmes: ‘they go to the scene, observe minutely,
gather threads of evidence’ (1965: 58). Tis analogy could not fail to fre my
imagination. In my boyhood I had been an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes
stories and other crime mysteries. I had even for a time been a corresponding
member of the Danish Sherlock Holmes Society in Copenhagen. Now I could
myself become Sherlock Holmes by going to this remote island in the South
Seas, gathering the clues and solving the mystery of the Rossel Island money.
I therefore decided to do feldwork there. I did not, however, pay any heed
to Dalton’s warning that Sherlock would sometimes reach Paddington before
arriving at any conclusions.
* * *
Altogether I have spent 25 months on Rossel Island during four visits: -1972 1971
(10 months); 1973 (8 months); 1980 (5 months) and 19-819990 (2 months).
Tis book is largely based on data collected during the frst three visits. - Dur
ing my expeditions I spent a further four months travelling in the Massim.
I left Denmark in the autumn of 1971 with my wife Annette and our
1½-year -old son. My feldwork was fnanced by the Danish Social Science
Research Council, but I was attached to the Department of Anthropology in
the Research School of Pacifc Studies at the Australian National University
at Canberra. Te Department generously provided additional funds and feld xxx a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
equipment, and I stayed there both before and between my two frst periods
of feldwork and again in 1990. I owe the Department much gratitude for
supporting me and providing a setting in which to discuss my data.
Early in December 1971, we arrived by government trawler on the north
coast of Rossel Island. We were set down surrounded by all our gear close
to the hamlet of Cheme in Jinjo Ward, where Jim and Anne Henderson of
the Summer Institute of Linguistics kindly let us use their house for our frst
months in the feld. It turned out that we had arrived at Cheme in the midst
of a mortuary feast. I was soon led to a group of elders under a house in the
hamlet. Tere, in the midst of a group of lean and sombr-looking e old men,
a few rows of polished shells were laid out, the mysterious ndap which had
intrigued me for years. I saw them for the frst time in the shade under the
house, glowing on the ground, white, purple, yellow and red. At that moment
I was flled with a deep feeling of satisfaction, of fnally seeing for real the
treasure I had travelled across the world to fnd. Tat day I did not learn much
about the shells or their use at the event, but it was a great relief to know that
they had not become defunct during the ffty years since Armstrong’s visit.
In late January I settled on Pum, a cluster of hamlets up the Pum river in
Wulanga Bay ward on the north coast, as our feld site. I chose this village
because it was one of the largest and most concentrated clusters of hamlets
on an island where many settlements are small and far apart. It was also a
4reasonable distance from the Catholic Mission and hospital at Te Jinjo.
circumstance that the Pum River had a couple of delightful large freshwater
swimming pools above the tide line and the -water salt crocodiles also played
some part in our decision. I moved to Pum, where a house was built for us at
one of the larger hamlets, Chaambê. My wife and son stayed at Cheme, but
joined me at Pum in April.
While the house was under construction, I stayed with the local ‘committee
man’, who lived just opposite. He was James Dal:a, who became a friend and
main informant, and to whom I owe very much gratitude. James had been
working for a decade, frst for the Osbornes (who for two generations ran a
plantation and trading business on Rossel), and later on a government trial
fshery trawler, and had been based at Port Moresby for years. He had returned
to Rossel and married some years before we arrived. He had little schooling,
but spoke the simple ‘Samarai English’ current in the region. James was at
4 I did not want to stay too close to the mission because I thought that people would be
‘more acculturated’ there. Tis later proved mistaken.P r e f a c e xxxi
Plate0.1 My main informant and interpreter James Dal:a recording at a pig feast on Ndawa
Island, Rossel Island (July 1972).xxxii a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
his best when ‘storying’ at his own leisure, and I acquired much scatter- ed in
formation in a disorganized way just by listening to his narratives during the
times I stayed in his house. In more focussed interviewing, as I slowly tried
to learn about the procedures of exchange, our mutual understanding often
got muddled. I found that the only practical way to approach more general
patterns was through concrete cases of exchange. Another close collaborator
during my frst periods of feldwork was James’s elder brother’s son Ken Kepe.
James and Ken were my main interpreters and the men at Pum who spoke
the most English. Other men assisted me by recording feast exchanges and
as occasional interpreters. During my last visit to Rossel I also had a woman,
Teresa Mwe, among my assistants.
Earlier , Armstrong had found the Rossel language ‘peculiarly difcult’ (1928:
5). I have later been told by linguists that the language is regarded as one of
the most difcult of the 700 spoken in Papua New Guinea. Had I realized
how difcult it really was, I would probably have chosen somewhere else for
feldwork. Te governor of Papua, Hubert Murray, described the Rossel - lan
guage as ‘resembling the snarling of a dog interspersed with hiccoughs’ (PAR
1907-8: 14). Tis was an invidious and racist statement which, of course, I
do not endorse. Rather, I am reminded of another language characterisation:
‘Tey do not speak like ordinary people, but press the words forth as if they
would cough, and they seem to take pains to twist and turn the words in the
middle of the throat before they come out.’ Tis was said by a Swede in 1510
about the Danish language, and would still be an incisive observation.
We were fortunate that the Hendersons had started linguistic work aimed
at Bible translation on Rossel early in 1971. (Tey completed their work of
translating the New Testament in 1987.) Without Jim’s instruction - in tran
scribing the difcult sounds, I would have been unable to write down words
even tolerably. Even then I changed my spelling from time to time as I slowly
‘heard’ the words better. I had difculty perceiving the fner values of the
vowels and much trouble in grasping the double stops of the consonants.
As the grammar is also very complex, I struggled for some months to learn
to speak some Rossel, but found my progress so disappointing that I had to
give up. I would have spent years to acquire even moderate fuency, and this
would have meant taking time out from my ethnographic work. Tus I never
became capable of understanding what people around me were talking about
and was reduced to relying on interpreters throughout all my visits to Rossel.
Tis made me dependent on the very few men at Pum who spoke tolerable
English. Tey were family men, however: they had their gardens and other P r e f a c e xxxiii
work to look after and were only available in their spare time. Tis often made
feldwork quite frustrating and demanded more patience than I or - my col
laborators were sometimes able to master. I was repeatedly brought to despair
over my failure to acquire language fuency, which has weighed heavily on me
for years. However, I believe that this predicament is not so infrequent - for an
thropologists who have worked with -Austrnononesian -speakers and have had
to make do with tok pisin (Melanesian Pidgin), which is not generally spoken
in Milne Bay Province anyway. I found that working through interpreters
limits the range of one’s research, but it did not prevent me from acquiring a
reasonable understanding of the exchange practices I had come to research. It
only required more time and patience.
Although my research thus had to proceed at a more pedestrian pace, I
slowly began by performing routine tasks, mapping the Pum hamlets, - re
cording genealogies and taking a census of Wulanga Bay ward. Meanwhile I
pursued my investigations into the exchange system. My method was thus to
work from concrete cases. From my close collaborators, I elicited an outline
of the organization of the exchanges, observing and recording them with the
help of assistants, and then trying to clear up obscure points or unexpected
events by further questioning. In this way I obtained access not only to the
standard layout of exchange institutions, but also to variations and - improvisa
tions. Although I did not speak the language, I strived to learn the concepts
and technical terms of exchange and to use them in further investigations. I
was continually on the lookout for exchange events. During my two frst feld
trips, I observed altogether seven major pig feasts, six mortuary feasts, four
bridewealth payments, two house payments, one canoe payment and a number
of minor payments. (I tried only once to record the entire transactions at a
pig feast, a task that took weeks to process. At other pig feasts I limited my
recording to the principal participants and transactions.) On many occasions
I had to go farther afeld than Wulanga Bay ward to observe exchange events.
I went on several occasions to the neighbouring wards of Jinjo and Morpa
and once even to Pémi (Saman ward), on the southwest of Rossel, to record
the large second transfer of a bridewealth payment.
D uring my second period in the feld in 1973, I deepened my inquiries
about the ramifcations of exchange events, the loans of shells and - the hand
ling of debts, the curious withdrawals and substitutions of shells, the delayed
reciprocity in pig-feasting and mortuary payments. I made a census of all the
shell money at Pum and conducted a -fvweek e study of household budgets
at Chaambê. (Tis was the only inquiry I found rather annoying. W- e atxxxiv a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
tempted to record the input of garden food for each household, and as pride
or shame attaches to the amount of food one is able to command, people
were fairly sensitive to our probing into this sphere of their activities.) I also
travelled around the island on two ‘patrols’, during which I visited almost every
settlement, sketched the hamlets, made a rough survey of the householders
and their subclan afliations, inquired about local subclans and their totems,
photographed and recorded the histories of famous ndap shells, and made
collections of artefacts for a Danish museum and the National Museum and
Art Gallery at Port Moresby.
I returned with my family to Rossel in 1980. My work during this visit
aimed at flling out gaps in my material. I did concentrated work on - the vari
ous types and uses of the secondary valuables: ceremonial stone axes, shell
necklaces and ceremonial lime spatulae. I studied the production process of
shell necklaces (bagi) by arranging a test production at Pum, following this up
by visiting Grass Island and west end Sudest (Vanatinai) to inquire about the
making of bagi there. Tis resulted in my frst publication (Liep 1981). I studied
the consequences of the debts that are incurred when men collect shells to pay
bridewealth by interviewing my friend James at length on his own payment of
bridewand partial repayment of debts years later. I also discovered that an
interview with a man about his basket of personal shell holdings would elicit
a whole fnancial biography. After leaving Rossel, I spent two months - travel
ling in the region to acquire some familiarity with parts of the Massim that
I had not already visited. Among other places, I had the opportunity to visit
the Trobriands and experience what has been a sacred place for anthropology
since Malinowski’s studies during the First World War. Although I was not
able to do in-depth feld research, my travels in the Massim have given me a
feel for the geography of the region that has been useful in my comparative
studies.
D uring a sabbatical in 19-8990, I revisited Rossel Island with my wife
and daughter one last time, which turned out to be a traumatic experience.
My project aimed to study the relationship of fows of foodstufs and other
substances to the conception of the person on Rossel. After some weeks on
the island I sufered from a severe bout of malaria, the treatment of which was
soon followed by the development of a condition of generalised anxiety. Tis
seriously impeded my work, and we had to leave some weeks before planned.
During the following months I recuperated in Canberra, where I was attached
to the Austronesian Project at the Department of Anthropology at what was
now the Research School of Asian and Pacifc Studies (see below).P r e f a c e xxxv
* * *
During my feld research and throughout the years that followed, I acquired
an understanding of the structure of ownership of indigenous wealth, the
ranked system of shell money and the procedures of exchange; my grasp of
the strategies pursued, the practice of exchange over time and the logic behind
them appeared more dimly. It was not that difcult to clear up Armstrong’s
mistakes (and the relatively detailed nature of his description caused me to
probe more deeply): I have already pointed out the errors in his
interpretation in two publications (Liep 1983a and 1995). Although I have introduced
Armstrong’s account briefy in this preface to explain how my interest in the
Rossel Island money arose, I shall therefore not organize this book -as a refuta
tion of Armstrong’s early work (except through brief notes at relevant places).
Tis would be extremely tedious and would not allow me a free hand - in de
veloping my own account. Te same is the case with regard to the American
anthropologist Stuart Berde’s reinterpretation. I was somewhat shaken when,
upon our arrival at Port Moresby in 1973 after leaving Rossel, I found that
he had just published a new solution to the Rossel mystery based on material
he had collected less than a year before our frst arrival on the island (Berde
1973). Berde had done his main feld research on Panaeati Island in the - Lou
isiade Archipelago, but he had visited Rossel for a week in early 1971. I had
corresponded with him before going to Rossel myself, but I had no idea that
he had made specifc inquiries about the shell money. It was apparent to me
that his account, based on this brief visit, was highly erroneous, but his report
nevertheless helped unsettle my confdence in my own fndings. It took a long
time and another visit to Rossel for me to confrm my belief in the validity of
my own results. Meanwhile, I concentrated on other opportunities to get my
work out, and many years elapsed before I fnally found the time to refute his
interpretation (Liep 1995). Tere is therefore no reason to burden this book
with further discussion of Berde’s bold but unsatisfactory attempt to solve the
Rossel mystery.
As the initial puzzle caused by Armstrong’s misunderstandings of exchange
procedures on Rossel resolved itself, I found myself entangled in others that
arose from my own discoveries and which were more recalcitrant to analytical
penetration. Tey are too involved to introduce here, but will be fully laid out
in later chapters. It sufces to say here that they demanded a critical review,
or rather deconstruction, of basic assumptions and principles of established
exchange theory, such as the principles of reciprocity and of gift exchange. I xxxvi a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
had to construct an analytical approach that could match my puzzling data.
Tis involved developing an intuition that would make sense, at least to my
own satisfaction, of the often contradictor -existence y co of people’s explanatory
statements and what they said about their actual practice. However, it would
take me years to work out these refections to a point where I could begin to
formulate them with a sufcient degree of -confdence.self
* * *
I have worked at the Institute of Anthropology at Copenhagen since 1974, after
my frst return from the feld. During the period in the 1970s when students
embraced Marxism, this was not the most favourable milieu for presenting the
results of research on an arcane subject in a remote exotic place. I had some
sympathy with the political critique of Marxism, but most of the historical
materialism and capital logic theories of the time were not well suited to my
analyses. From Marxism I have mainly learnt to take account of historical
processes and to be aware of how basic social relations must be materially
reproduced. However, in 1977 I had an opportunity that had a decisiv- e in
fuence in my career: I was invited by Jerry Leach to participate in the frst
conference on the kula ring at the University of Cambridge. At the same time
that I was preparing feldwork on Rossel Island, a number of other students
had decided to go to lowland and island New Guinea instead of following the
mainstream of researchers to the New Guinea highlands. A number of students
did research in the Massim during this period, several of them carrying out
important r-estudies of the kula. Te kula conference was my frst international
conference. Te chance to present the results of my research on Rossel and
to participate in a milieu of scholars concerned with cultural processes in the
Massim brought me out of professional isolation and gave me the motivation
to carry on with my analyses. Had I not had this opportunity, I might not
have produced much.
Although the language of Rossel is -nonAustronesian and the island is
somewhat isolated on the eastern periphery of the archipelago, since - my par
ticipation in the two kula conferences (1978 and 1981) I have traced many
Massim infuences on Rossel, which, I believe, have only been increased during
the modern colonial integration of the island in the region. I have thus not
viewed Rossel as some Papuan contrast to the remainder of the region, but as
a society that has participated in the historical processes following - the Austro
nesian colonization of the area some 2000 years ago. A further inspiration in P r e f a c e xxxvii
this context was Jonathan Friedman’s dynamic approach to structural history
in the Pacifc. Friedman became a colleague of mine from the -197 mid0s at
the Institute of Anthropology at Copenhagen. His ideas on the importance of
‘prestige goods’ in the reproduction of social hierarchies in regional systems, on
structural trajectories and transformations in the Pacifc, and on the possibility
of the devolution of hierarchy (Friedman and Rowlands 1978; Friedman 1981)
inspired several Pacifc archaeologists and anthropologists with an interest in
structural comparison (see Ch. 1).
Tere has been a growing consensus that the Austronesian populations that
migrated into the Pacifc from 2000 BC had social systems with a hierarchical
structure. Tis indicates a much more hierarchical past of coastal and island
Melanesia than was previously thought, when scattered traces of hierarchy and
chiefship were regarded as small isolated developments. Friedman discussed the
Trobriands in an article of 1981 and argued that the social hierarchy there was
based on asymmetric dualism and generalized exchange. I had been impressed
by the elaborate hierarchization of the Rossel Island money and had mused
over whether this could be due to an earlier articulation of the society with
hierarchical systems in the wider Massim. I used my comparative studies of
Massim societies in a threefold model of ideal political types in the anthology
debating Godelier’s ‘great man’ (Liep 1991). Although my contact in
1990 with the Austronesian Project at the ANU did not produce immediate
results on my part, it led to a reinforced interest in wider Pacifc ex-change sys
tems and to a tentative working out of notions of what I call systems of ranked
exchange, which, I suggest, have been widespread in the Pacifc and beyond.
I feel that the extraordinary system of exchange on Rossel Island becomes
much more understandable if it is seen as one version in a much larger family
of Pacifc exchange systems rather than a unique, isolated phenomenon. In
this book I therefore occasionally introduce comparisons with other Oceanic
ethnography when relevant.
Tis book has been in preparation for a very long time. I began writing it
in 1984. I am painfully conscious of the shortcomings, in terms of perseverance
and intellectual acumen, that have made me drag it out for so long. It will
not now be a report that carries the mark of actuality. Rossel Island has been
afected by serious changes since my last visit. Te island has been damaged
by a number of severe cyclones. In 1994 several men from Pum lost their lives
when their boat was wrecked in the lagoon during one. Te worst cyclone
battered it for four days in 1997 and caused catastrophic damage to life and
the environment. Tere was severe hunger for many months following. Te xxxviii a p a p u a n p l u t o c r a c y
deterioration of the province’s transport and health systems has made existence
on Rossel more peripheral and exposed. Migration away from the island will
probably increase. Still, many of the conditions and practices I describe were
essential and resilient during the periods of my experience there, and they
will continue to be so, while accommodating further pressures and incentives
towards change.
* * *
Te manuscript of this book was completed in December 2005. Apart from
the English language revision I have only been able to make a few minor
alterations and additions since then.
Elsinore, September 2008Introduction
Te main focus of my research on Rossel Island was the two kinds of shell
money, ndap and kê (as well as the secondary valuables), and the exchange
system in which they are used. Ndap are single fat shells of polished Spondylus,
while kê are strings of ten discs made frChamaom shell (Liep 1983c). (Even
though a kê thus consists of ten units, it will be convenient to speak about a
kê as a ‘shell’.) Te outstanding feature of the -money shell system is its elabo -
rate hierarchization. Tere are about twenty classes ndapof shells and nearly
as many of kê, ranging from rare and precious objects in the upper classes to
common pieces of small value in the lower ones. I found that shell money
was used infrequently for casual purchases of small items such as the baskets
and lime pots mentioned by Armstrong (1928: 85). People were more likely
to use modern money for such things. Te shell money was typically amassed
for large ceremonial payments that required up to several hundred shells.
Such payments were made for parts of pig at pig feasts, for large constructions
such as canoes or houses, for bridewealth or for mortuary exchanges. Apart
from the latter, which must be organiz ad ed hoc shortly after a death, these
payments demand considerable planning by the sponsor of the payment and
his associates.
A payment involves the collection of a fund of shell wealth to be transferred
on the day of the event to the recipient and his associates. On both sides,
payer and payee, there are thus a number of participants involved. Further,
shell money must be elicited from a still wider circle of persons by the payer’s
side. Shells of both high and low rank are required, and contributions must be
collected from many owners of shells. Payments are characteristically scaled,
that is, they demand a range of shell classes of diferent rank of both kinds of
shell money, of ndap and kê. Te more valuable shells are usually elicited from
their owners through ‘loans’ based upon security or pledge. Tus mobilizing a
fund for a particular payment involves the sponsor and his contacts in a large
number of debt relationships that may last for only a few days or endure for
an indefnite period.
One important feature of ceremonial payments makes them mor - e com

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