A Sacred Place
Place: Trobriand Islands of PapuaNew Guinea
Anthropologist: Annette B. Weiner
Bronislaw Kasper Malinowski first researched these islands. He planned to conduct ethnographic
fieldwork in Australia and the mainland of Papua New Guinea. While in Australia WWI broke out,
and being of Polish origin needed to seek refuge. This is when he travelled to Trobriand Islands
and stayed for two years.
Malinowski - argued against conceptions of primitive societies made by armchair anthropologists.
Argonauts of theWestern Pacific - importance of ethnographic fieldwork for a year or more.
Research done before was short-termed - focus on surveys, before the culture changed.
Goal: the native’s point of view
Although, the research was 60 years apart, it was similar historical development
Weiner - focused on women’s productive work distributed their own wealth (bundles of banana
leaves and banana fiber skirts) that they exchanged with other women after a death
Malinowski - noted the high status of Trobriand women in the matrilineal society. BUT he never
saw that this was because of women’s own wealth, he focused on men’s wealth.
Malinowski – Trobriand kinship in matrilineal society. A father was called “stranger” and had little
authority over his own children. A woman’s brother was the commanding figure and exercised
control over his sister’s sons because they were members of his matrilineage. They believe that
man has no role as genitor. A woman becomes pregnant when an ancestral spirit enters her body
and causes conception. When the child is born, the mother’s brother presents a harvest of yams to
his sisters so that the child will be fed with food from its own matrilineage. The father is seen as a
different matrilineage; cant give objects of lasting value, thus only giving them love.
Weiner – father is not a “stranger”, he a powerless figure as the third party to the relationship
between a woman and her brother. The father is one of the most important persons in the child’s
life. The father’s procreative importance is incorporated into the child’s growth and development.
They give his child many opportunities to gain things from his matrilineage; resources that last
beyond death. Father and son relationship worked out through extensive cycles of exchanges.
Malinowski – didn’t clarify if chief had supreme autonomy or were egalitarian. Research on
Kiriwina didn’t know about variations and women politics
o Kiriwina – chiefs had extensive authority and power
o Vakuta Island – chief has little advantage
o Kaileuna Island – chief has little advantage (much less than Kiriwina)
o Kitava Island – no inherited positions of chiefs
Weiner – Exchanges of women’s wealth establish stability in the exchange relationships between
men and women’s wealth when someone dies requires men’s resources. Women’s wealth men
are NOT totally dependent on their valuables at a death. These exchanges determine the level of
hierarchy chiefs maintain, and limiting their gain of power
Malinowski - women ignored because of gender roles, and lack of participation in public.
Primitives – mechanical beings without individual personalities, who as a group, merely followed
the same customs without change
Malinowski – exposed ethnocentrism BUT looked for practical meaning NO true meaning.
Malinowski - people’s expectations of primitive’s false science used in uncontrollable situations Weiner – they do use magic in calm waters when they need a large catch for an important
exchange that has social and political consequences magic is used for dominance and autonomy
people obey if there’s magic chief’s dominance depends on power of magic
Kula – an overseas network of exchange relationships that link Trobrianders with people living on
other islands in the Massim region
Malinowski – men travel by canoe to obtain highly values from exchange partners on islands.
Armshells circulate counterclockwise, necklaces clockwise. primitive economics give to give.
Weiner – Kula transactions for men create their own fame by circulating objects that accumulate
the histories and names.
Trobriand History, Geography and Language
1793 – French explorer D’Entrecasteaux named Trobriand Islands
1894 – Europeans settlers