Tag Archives: Pacific

Malinowski’s Legacy: One Hundred Years of Anthropology in the Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea

(Last week a major international conference was held in Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, where Bronislaw Malinowski did the research on kula that resulted in Argonauts of the Western Pacific (pdf of the conference program)The conference organizer Sergio Jarillo de la Torre was kind enough to write up this report of what happened, which I post here – R) 

As one of the “Malinowski’s Legacy” conference participants put it, good ideas have many fathers but bad ideas are orphans. Allan Darrah’s observation came as we were discussing the origins of the symposium at the Wanigili Centre in Alotau a day before its beginning. As far as my share of the paternity in this conference goes, the idea was generated during a road trip to Buffalo with Joshua Bell, who argued for the need for a third kula conference. It was then put forward to a group of Massim scholars at the 2012 ASAO meeting in Portland. And if 2015 seemed the right time to all (the 100th anniversary of Malinowski’s arrival in the Trobes gave us a perfect excuse to update Massim anthropology), there wasn’t much agreement on what would be the right place.

For my part, I wanted this conference to be a return of sorts and I claimed that it needed to take place in PNG or it wouldn’t take place at all. I think nowadays there is little excuse to keep anthropology far removed from the place where it originates. It is no longer a matter of bringing Pacific and other native scholars to Europe or America for our conferences but rather taking back “our” ideas to the people who help us form them, scholars and non-scholars. If we can’t discuss kula with our partners in the Milne Bay, chances are we haven’t learned much about exchange in these last hundred years… Continue reading

Anthropologists are helping Vanuatu and so should you

People around the world have heard about the devastation cyclone Pam has wrought in Vanuatu and other areas of the Island Melanesia. It’s striking to see people who normally couldn’t tell Tanna from Tuvalu suddenly focus in on this part of the Pacific. And there is good reason to do so — Pam’s impact was devastating. The cyclone hit Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, square on. Many other outlying islands were also hit. Vanuatu needs our help to recover from these terrible, terrible events.

There are many excellent charities you can donate to to help the people of Vanuatu. But I’d like to particularly attract your attention to one charity organized by anthropologists and others with a close connection to the country: Heart blong mifala wetem yufela — which means roughly like “our hearts are with you” in Bislama, the English creole widely spoken in Vanuatu. This fund is being run through chuffed.org (‘chuffed’ is Australian for ‘pleased’), an excellent Australian charity site. The money  will go right to the Australian High Commission in Port Vila Vanuatu High Commission in Canberra — you can’t get much more directly targeted then that. The list of people who have donated to this fund are a who’s who of anthropologists, historians, and other researchers who work in Vanuatu and Melanesia more generally. Please consider giving.

What is Vanuatu that anthropologists should be mindful of it? Although less well known than the Papua New Guinea of Mead and Malinowski, Vanuatu has a long and important history in our discipline. Vanuatu — and Island Melanesia more generally — was the location that generated some of the first, and still highly-regarded, anthropological ethnography. Codrington’s hugely-influential book The Melanesians fundamentally shaped anthropology, and gave the west the concept of ‘mana’. Foundational researchers such as A.M. Hocart and W.H.R. Rivers conducted research in this area. Today, the Vanuatu Cultural Center is leading the world in its programs to produce new blends of indigenous and anthropological knowledge (please click on that last link — it’s an openness ebook!). A key player in supporting the cultural center, Ralph Regenvanu, is a parliamentarian with a background in anthropology.

There are so many reasons to help out now that Vanuatu is in such dire straits — especially for anthropologists. Donations are always helpful, but if you’re not in a position to send money overseas, take this opportunity to teach about this current disaster and how it intersects with our discipline — this may be the first and last time that students Vanuatu appears on the radar of many people outside the Pacific.

Competing Responsibilities: An Interview with Susanna Trnka and Catherine Trundle

(former Mind Thomas Strong recently participated in a conference on ‘competing responsibilities’ organized by Susanna Trnka and Catherine Trundle. What follows is an interview between Tom, Susanna, and Catherine on the conference theme, which dove-tails wonderfully with Bree Blakeman’s recent blogging on the concept of responsibility. Transparency: By chance I’m going to the next round of the conference in Wellington, so this is something I’ve been thinking about as well -Rx)

TS: Could you both introduce yourselves, and talk about how you came around to the question of responsibility?

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Mana: How an Austronesian concept became a video game mechanic

Today The Appendix (“a quarterly journal of experimental and narrative history”) published my piece “The History of Mana: How an Austronesian Concept Became a Video Game Mechanic“. I’m very happy with the piece (tho there are a few typos I want to fix), which is meant to be accessible to a broader audience — i.e. ‘public anthropology’. I wanted to blog about it here in order to get people to read it and to draw attention to a great young journal with a lot of energy behind it. But more importantly, I wanted to talk about how this article happened, and what the production process says about public anthropology and scholarly workflow. Continue reading

Carl Hoffman > Jared Diamond

Carl Hoffman is a travel writer who has recently turned his attention to New Guinea, where he produces grisly stories of cannibalism, murder, and The Smell Of Men. Jared Diamond is a scientist with decades of experience visiting New Guinea whose books attempt to humanize the people who live there. As an expert on Papua New Guinea, I was really surprised  to find that I was much more impressed with Hoffman’s understanding of Melanesia and its people than I was Diamond’s. So how could I like a cannibalism-obsessed journalist more than a scientist who admired Papua New Guinean’s parenting skills? Continue reading

Coming of Age in Samoa, open access

In 1928 Margaret Mead published Coming of Age in Samoa with William Morrow & Company. She did not copyright her book, possibly because copyright was only a few years old in the US and the idea had still not sunk in. However, when it became clear that the book would be a consistent earner, she did copyright it, and it has been locked up tight since then.

Luckily, the good folks are archive.org have a scan of the original 1928 edition without a copyright mark. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this text is essentially now free for all, provided you use and circulate this edition.

Image of the original edition, from Wikimedia.
Image of the original edition, from Wikimedia.

This is just one example of the many, many important works of anthropology that are legally available for circulation, but which people haven’t located, or done due diligence to make sure that the pieces truly are open access.

So when was the last time you actually sat down and read Coming of Age in Samoa? Why not download it today and try a chapter or two?

No April fools: read Valeri’s “Rites and Annals”

A doomed genius taken before his time. One of the last line of ancient Roman noblemen revealing his secrets. Hidden writings once known only to an elite few, now revealed for all to see. It sounds so much like a Dan Brown novel that you mistake it for an April fools joke, but it’s  not. There were so many fake announcements and releases on April first this year that one thing got lost in the shuffle: the actually really real release of the second monograph in HAU’s “Classics of Ethnographic Theory”, Rites and Annals: Between History and Anthropology by Valerio Valeri. Valeri’s work deserves to be widely read today because of its own intrinsic quality, as well as for the kind of rigorous, sophisticated, and humanistic approach to anthropology it exemplifies. Valeri’s work combined ethnographic erudition with high-level theorizing, wrapped up with a sophisticated prose style and a commitment to scholarship that exploded American binaries of science versus the humanities, objectivity versus subjective expression. For that reason, the release of Rites and Annals gives us a chance not only to read Valeri’s work, but to think about how it fits into the current approaches our discipline is taking.

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The dangers of Excess and Restraint

Most major criticisms of World Until Yesterday have focused on Diamond’s description of ‘traditional societies’ as violent and dangerous. Diamond, Critics clam, over estimates the dangers of living in a traditional society, underestimates the benefits of living in a modern state, and drastically overlooks the evils of colonization, and the way that colonization shaped the people Diamond considers typical of ‘traditional societies’. If you scroll down long enough, Jason Antrosio has a nice society by society breakdown of how Diamond’s examples of traditional violence are actually people whose lives have been fundamentally and tragically shaped by colonialism. Or (in some cases) the ethnographers that Diamond relies on were just nuts. I like Antrosio’s blog entry a lot, but I think his section on Papua New Guinea could use a little elaboration. So that’s what I’ll do here.

Diamond knows the PNG literature a lot better than works written about other areas, mostly because he knows the people who wrote it and about whom it is written. Most of his sources come from authors who are well-respected for their ethnographic chops: Polly Weissner and Akii Tumu, Malinowski, Jane Goodale, and Roy Rappaport. Some of the other anthropologists he cites are considered problematic in some way, but are generally considered to be excellent ethnographers: Mervyn Meggitt had some issues analyzing his data, and Roy Wagner is currently not on the same planet as the rest of us — but despite these issues most Melanesianists recognize that Meggitt and Wagner produced very detailed and reliable ethnography.

And then there are the Berndts.

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The virtues of charging for publications

I spend a lot of time on this blog extolling the virtues of open access publishing, so I thought I should take a minute to extoll the virtues of for-profit publishing and the role they play in the scholarly endeavor. 

As scholars, we anthropologists subscribe to the idea that knowledge should be free and spread as widely as possible. Of course, there are important qualifications to this: we understand that anonymity and confidentiality are important when we right and do research, and so forth. But overall, the goal is to make our work universally available. The problem with contemporary publishing, we claim, is that too many people put profits ahead of accessibility, costs are high because production methods are outdated and publishers can’t or won’t innovate, and the social system of prestige and career advancement tied to publishing disincentives open access. Publishing, we argue, needs to be done for a wider audience, for the right reasons, and in a way that gets the information out there. The bajillion successful open access projects in anthropology today demonstrate that this can be done.

But it can’t be done all the time. I was absolutely delighted to meet the people behind the University of Papua New Guinea press when I visited Port Moresby over the summer. The press has done absolutely fantastic work bringing back into print important work from the independence era of Papua New Guinea, such as the Pocket Poets series. They are republishing work in the public domain — one small piece I saw was a missionary-produced ethnography. A staff member told me there were four of the original print run left, mostly in libraries. The press is not only making the piece available to modern readers, they’re saving it from extinction. They are publishing new books, aggressively seeking subventions to support new authors and scholarship. Their authors are academics and amateur scholars, priests and activists. I was incredibly impressed by the quality and amount of work they were bringing out.

All of this work is valuable, but none of it is free. The press is very smart about outsourcing publishing to companies in Singapore and India (PNG doesn’t have a publishing industry to print their stuff), balancing their list to include textbooks (which sell) and rarer works (which don’t), making their works available on Amazon. But there’s no way around that fact that, for them, for-profit is the only way to go. They simply don’t have the resources to go open access.

Sometimes people like to pummel a straw man version of open access which holds that any attempt to ever make money is an evil obsession with filthy lucre. Clearly, few actual people take such an uncompromising stance. There are many situations when the right business model is to charge money to keep your head above water.

Now, perhaps I don’t understand the UPNG Press’s business model and history — I was only there for a weekend. But it seems to me that the example of this successful, small, boot-strapped press should make us think: just how much like the UPNG Press are closed-access publishers? If a third-world university with few resources can get things off the ground, then what does it say about first-world publishers who claim there is no cheaper way to get their works available than to charge US$100 for a monograph? If Papua New Guineans can do it well and on the cheap, we ought to be able to do so as well.

Seagulls Don’t Fly Into the Bush

I recently read on the Pacific Anthropology listserv of the passing of Ali Pomponio, an ethnographer of Papua New Guinea. I only met Ali once, at a conference, but she she cut a bella figure and was pretty hard to forget. Intense and energetic, being caught up her in wake was like suddenly finding yourself in a strange mashup of Moonstruck and Growing Up In New Guinea. She told me her student job was selling used cars — something apparently she told everyone since it figures largely in people’s remembrances of her. She was critical of my contribution at that conference, very critical, but also very enthusiastic about its revision and improvement. She managed to be warm, helpful, incredibly picky, and blunt at the same time. Even though my entire encounter with her lasted all of twenty minutes, she became a bit of a role model for me: she had figured out how to be a healthy, contributing member of the academic community in her own unique way, and people like that are always worth learning from.

One thing that struck me about our meeting was that she appeared to think that she was the total master of all things Papua New Guinea and a very important person in our field. This struck me as odd since I’d never heard of her before, or of anything she’d written. So after our meeting I went back and read her ethnography Seagulls Don’t Fly Into The Bush. After that, I understood why she had such a high opinion of her work, because I now shared it with her.

I don’t know why Seagulls Don’t Fly Into The Bush didn’t become one of the classic ethnographies of the early nineties. Maybe because it was marketed as a teaching ethnography? I mean sure, it has problems: there could be more sign-posting and it has a “you only get it if you already got it” title. But overall the book is superb: it’s clearly and engagingly written, and deals with classic early-nineties concerns with the continuity of tradition as it changes and how modernization/globalization impacts peripheral people. But it also sinks its teeth deep into myth — you can’t get more anthropological then that. And of course the setting, a small island off the coast of New Guinea, is real wind in the palm trees stuff. The book really has it all: tradition and modernity, well-written and not too long. People on this blog often complain that there are no accessible ethnographies, or ask people to list their favorite ones. Well, this one should definitely be on anyone’s list. 

Seagulls Don’t Fly Into The Bush costs money to get hold of, but her edited volume Children of Kilibob: Creation, Cosmos, and Culture in Northeastern New Guinea is available open access from Pacific Studies, where it was published as a special issue. Her article in that collection, iirc, eventually became a chapter in her book.

Another common refrain we get on this blog is that anthropology is not ‘making progress’, something we hear about as often as the refrain “should we as a discipline be trying to make progress?” But Ali’s special issue, and the work of many other Melanesianists, demonstrates that we clearly are moving forward in our understanding. Here is a collection of scholars, all working in the same region, who have worked together to put together a synthetic regional picture of a mythic complex that has diffused widely across northern New Guinea. It’s a testament to the strength of our fieldwork tradition and collegiality in PNG studies, and a testament to Ali herself, who was an important part of that tradition.

Book Review — Freedom in Entangled Worlds, by Eben Kirksey

In Freedom in Entangled Worlds, the first book by anthropologist Eben Kirksey, Mellon Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, the reader is presented with a history of the merdeka movement in West Papua. This tale of magic, nationalism, and human rights in an “out of the way place” unfolds on a global stage as the author treks from the secret hideouts of guerilla fighters in the highland bush country to the seat of corporate power at BP headquarters in London. Along the way we get a master class in how an academic activist might balance post-structural theory with the kinds of strong knowledge claims that may influence political decision makers.

Indonesia formally incorporated West Papua into its nation in 1969 with the fraudulent Act of Free Choice. Since that time West Papuan leaders have pursued independence, or at least increased autonomy, for their region through many, often contradictory, means. From political engagement with the Indonesian state to pleas made before the international community tribal leaders and educated city dwellers have risked their lives through armed resistance, peaceful protest, and magic pursuing their dreams of freedom. The odds seem insurmountable and the movement itself endures near constant crisis, thus the theme of crisis as a sign of hope runs throughout this short, adventurous ethnography.

In a revealing scene towards the end of the book, Kirksey, finding himself in the halls of Washington power (and the crosshairs of an FBI investigation), forms alliances with other activist organizations such as the East Timor Action Network. Frustrated that his investigation into the murders of some American school teachers outside a Freeport MacMoRan mine is largely being ignored by those in positions of power he learns an important lesson every anthropologist who wishes to speak truth to power must learn.

“Politics isn’t about facts but about stories,” the director of ETAN tells him. “Your story is too complicated.” Continue reading

Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery

The piece for discussion this week (actually, it should have been last week, but I got caught behind a couple of different eight balls) is Vincente Diaz’s “Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery“. It’s a short piece with a few flaws — it lacks the informality and wit of Diaz’s other work, and feels at times one revision away from being really polished. But overall it is accessible, short, and a great window into a wider scholarly project that is happening in a lot of places, and in many ways similar to HAU’s. So perhaps a bit of background is in order.

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Reading Circle: Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery

Thanks to everyone to read and contributed to last week’s reinauguration of our ‘reading circle’ feature. This week I’d like to showcase some more great open access work by asking people to read an article from the open access serial Pacific Asia InquiryVoyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery: Austronesian Seafaring, Archipelagic Rethinking and the Re-Mapping of Indigeneity by Vincente Diaz. Diaz is the author of Repositioning the Missionary published by the Pacific Island Monograph Series at the University of Hawaii Press. It’s a short piece but it does a good job of conveying where Diaz is coming from.

I think people will see interesting parallels with the ‘ethnographic theory’ I discussed last time, but the piece is coming from a very different subject position and intellectual heritage position. And best of all, it’s only seven pages long. Seven pages — surely you can manage to read seven pages and then drop by the site to talk about it. So download Voyaging for Anti-Colonial Recovery: Austronesian Seafaring, Archipelagic Rethinking and the Re-Mapping of Indigeneity

As usual, I’m posting this on Wednesday. I’ll write up my thoughts on Friday and open it up for comments after that. We can run through the weekend and then by next Wednesday we’ll be ready to move on to the next piece to discuss.

Open Access in the Pacific

We complain a lot on this blog about how slow various scholarly publishers are in making their work available open access, so I thought I’d write a piece about open access done right: increasingly today, some of the most focused journals on anthropology and the Pacific are available open access.

These journals are small and specialized — despite the size of the Pacific, the scholarly community is pretty small — but despite this they are all being made more and more available online. Or maybe I should say because of this. I also think that we, like the physicists, are a group of people with a strong sense of community and a commitment to the values of our discipline — and the Pacific is a place where people value share and community.

I was absolutely thrilled to learn the other day, for instance that Pacific Studies has posted over thirty years of back issues available for free on its website. This contains a lot of great articles, including both ‘classics’ and work that is still relevant today.

Here at the University of Hawaii the Center for Pacific Island Studies has done a superb job of making its work available open access. This material deserves far more attention than it gets. It includes a occasional papers series that began with relatively staid titles like Pacific-Related Audiovisual Materials for Secondary Schools to truly new and exciting scholarship by Pacific Islanders such as Indigenous Encounters: Reflections on Relations Between People in the Pacific edited by Katerina Teaiwa and The Space Between: Negotiating Culture, Place, and Identity in the Pacific by Marata Tamaira.

Moreover, CPIS (yes, they call it ‘sea-piss’. Get over it) has put over twenty years of The Contemporary Pacific online as well for people to read and download. TCP (as its known) is more than an anthropology serial — it’s a deeply engaged journal committed to life in the Pacific and has led the way in Pacific cultural studies and in creating opportunities for Pacific Islanders to publish. It’s an incredible resource for anyone interested in our neck of the woods.

The University of the South Pacific is also moving forward to open up some of its journal the Journal of Pacific Studies (which is different from Pacific Studies, which is published by Brigham Young University-Hawaii). Pacific Studies currently has 8 volumes of its back issues available open access and has abstracts and tables of contents for the remaining issues online.

We have a long way to go — most of the Australian journals are in the hands of Wiley, for instance, but I think sometimes we wring our hands about the fate of our journals without reminding ourselves of the resources out there already. In the case of the Pacific, it seems more and more that the challenge is building software and tools that will help non-experts discover and use the content that is already available… and that is a great problem to have!

(Update: Pei-yi Guo points out that Pacific Asia Inquiry is also available open access. It’s young yet, but the second issue is chock full of great people. Back issues of the intriguing ISLA: Journal of Micronesian Studies are also available and I use them in teaching sometimes.

Also, although I totally forgot to mention it, the Journal de le Société des Océanistes is also available online for more or less all of its back catalog. Don’t be fooled by the accents aigus — a good chunk of the articles are in English and there are some classic and important pieces in there. Alternately if Dutch colonialism is more your thing, the Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde features more adatsrecht than you can shake a stick at, all open access.

And last but certainly not least, the mac-daddy of them all (is there a hyphen in mac-daddy?) the Journal of the Polynesian Society has an absolutely sick amount of material up on their website. )