British “explorer” Benedict Allen made news recently by being rescued from a failed attempt to cross the central mountain range of Papua New Guinea and paddle downs stream to the coast. While most of the world was alternately amused and thrilled to hear of Allen’s failed exploits, those of us who have lived in Papua New Guinea were struck by Allen’s invocation of uncontacted tribes and primordial jungles. To be honest, this sort of thing does more to convince me that it is Allen, not Papua New Guineans, who is out of touch with the modern world. Others have claimed that Allen’s failed walk is rooted in racism and bad for the Papua New Guineans who hosted him. As a historian and anthropologist who lived for two years in Porgera (about 20 miles from where Allen was eventually rescued) I want to weigh in here with another criticism of Allen: Although he claims to be be the first person to cross Papua New Guinea’s central ranges, he is not. His accounts of his amazing feats not only downplay the achievements of Papua New Guineans, they ignore — or perhaps were made in ignorance of — the actual explorers, both white and Papua New Guinean, who have so long ago accomplished what he claims to have done first.
This most recent failed walk repeats a path he took in the late 1980s, which he describes in his book The Proving Grounds. In it, he is flown into the upper reaches of the Sepik, crosses the central ranges, and then ends up on the shores of the Lagaip, and then returns to Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. It’s hard to judge, but I reckon the total distance is about 50 kilometers as the crow flies. But that doesn’t really give you a sense of how onerous this walk is. On his website Allen claims that this walk was “the first recorded crossing of the Central Mountain Ranges of PNG”. This is incredibly tough terrain, and he should be congratulated for managing to do it. But he was not the first. Not by a longshot. Continue reading
If you care about open access, you should care about net neutrality. There are obvious reasons why: After all, there’s no point in putting your preprints online if potential readers can’t afford to connect to your site. Pricing the web up means moving it out of the hands of those who need it most. It hinders the free flow of information and works against an informed citizenry. But there is another, subtler danger that comes from ending net neutrality: losing not only access to information, but the habit and expectation of access. A good example of this can be seen in the case of Papua New Guinea, where people have access to more and more information, but might never learn that they could look for it.
As an anthropologist, I’ve been going back and forth to Papua New Guinea (PNG) since 1998. PNG is the size of France and has a population of around 8 million people (that’s almost twice the population of New Zealand). So it’s not a small coral atoll somewhere. It’s a large, regionally important country, as well as a classical location for anthropological work, from Margaret Mead to Marilyn Strathern.
Unfortunately, Papua New Guineans have not received the education system they deserve. Universities struggle to stay open. The few museums in the country are underfunded and underappreciated. There are few libraries. While there are many Christian bookstores, there are few secular ones. Since much of the country is tropical, books simply don’t last as long as they do in colder climates. Today, sadly, you can grow up in Papua New Guinea without any real knowledge of its past or the great cultural achievements of its many civilizations. Many young Papua New Guineans growing up today aspire merely to become Australian, because they can’t have pride in a past they have never heard of.
(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
The civil war on Bougainville — a large island that is part of the Independent State of Papua New Guinea (PNG) — was one of the most important events to happen in the Pacific since World War II. Local dissatisfaction with the island’s large, foreign-owned copper mine turned to demonstrations, escalated into a guerilla war, and forced both the mine and the PNG government to leave the island, which then entered a period of conflict between pro- and anti- PNG factions. It was a key test of sovereignty in newly-independent Pacific states, had an enormous human cost (20,000 dead, sexual violence, destruction of villages and property), and was a cautionary tale about the limits of corporate power. The reconciliation process that ended the conflict in itself is studied by academics and policy makers all over the world as an example of successful peacemaking. So what does this new book offer to Pacific scholars, and to the anthropology of mining?
Everyone knew Bougainville was important when it happened, and there is a large literature on the conflict — often written in the heat of the moment — recording the events that transpired. Given this crowded terrain, it’s fair to wonder whether Kristian Lasslett’s new book State Crime on the Margins of Empire: Rio Tinto, The War on Bougainville and Resistance to Mining can add anything new. The answer is: “yes.” Lasslett’s book is a remarkable and extremely valuable addition to the literature on this area. Written from a Marxist perspective, it uses impressively detailed original research to present a fresh take on the Bougainville conflict, one that is highly critical of the existing consensus about what happened on the island. Continue reading
Pigs for the Ancestors is an iconic ethnography, taught for decades in introductory courses and graduate seminars alike. Rapport’s theoretical ambition, the richness of highland PNG life, the detail in the ethnography — it all works together to produce an ethnography whose life has exceeded its sell-by date for decades. And now, the University of California San Diego provides 420 new ways to teach it: a massive, open access collection of 420 photos taken by Roy Rappaport across the course of his career.
Not all the pictures are from Papua New Guinea, so I guess technically there aren’t 420 images that you can use when teaching Pigs. But in this case, it is important to emphasize not just quantity, but quality. The pictures are high-quality, and they are very well cataloged: each one has extensive metadata describing when it was taken, and what and who is in each picture. They are organized by topic so you can see, for example, just the pictures with pork in them if that’s what you’re into.
In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll state right away that the people who did this work are friends of mine, so I’m hardly an impartial observer. But it seems to me that collections like this are The Future. As the Internet gets more and more turgid, filled with ad-encrusted crud and unverifiable assertions, carefully curated open access collections like this are so, so welcome.
The Rappaport photos are hardly novel. Museums and libraries all over the world are making their collections available — just check out the institutions participating in the Flickr Commons project. But the key step between availability and use is discovery: making sure people know about all the great resources out there.
That’s hard to do for libraries, for whom just producing digital collections is work enough. We need to use these collections regularly, and credit them when we do use them. It’s only when word of mouth spreads that people will really develop a sense of the many hidden treasures out there available for research and use.
So this week, the next time you need a picture for a powerpoint, why not get this process rolling and use a picture from the Roy Rappaport collection?
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
Winner of the SVA’s Jean Rouch Award in 2012, Stori Tumbuna is the only ethnographic film I can think of for which one has to watch out for “spoilers.” Indeed, what starts off as a seemingly generic ethnographic film soon turns into a Blair Witch-esque horror film. Despite the title of this post, I don’t intend to write any spoilers —I really don’t want to ruin for anyone the pleasure I felt watching this film the first time — but there really is only so much I can say about the film without giving too much away… The story is so well crafted and shifts gears so subtly from ethnography to horror that the discerning and suspicious viewer will likely find themselves caught up in the excitement without even noticing the switch.
James Scott’s work drives me nuts, but there is no doubt about it: his review of Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday is one of the best is one of the best that has been written, and deserves a wide audience.