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Beyond bodies: aspects of the politicisation of exchange in the South-West Highlands of Papua New Guinea.


In discussions of big men in Melanesia, one seemingly obvious question has been overlooked. It is not whether big men 'exercise a profound measure of self-interested cunning and economic calculation' to borrow from Sahlins's (1968:162) classic essay, but in what contexts they endeavour to do so. That is, why are some events more amenable to the pursuit of prestige in direct proportion to individual capacities? In Highlands Papua New Guinea, the dominance of ceremonial exchange systems such as moka, where increment enables competition, all but renders such a question irrelevant. However, a slight shift in focus southwards to the Southern Highland communities of Mendi, Wola or Anganen where I undertake fieldwork research, sees a substantial change in the character of exchange. In Anganen, the ceremonial pork distribution yasolu is the single most prestigious event staged, but it is based on equivalent transaction between partners. Furthermore, the fact that it is held only about once every fifteen years makes yasolu of secondary importance relative to non-ceremonial exchanges concerning marriage and death. Focusing on these contrasting forms of Anganen exchange and their varying potential for political intensification, this article traces dimensions of Highland exchange politics which the dominance of ceremonial exchange in many discussions may have obscured.

The inherent potential for prestige for any exchange is what I call its prestige structure. Central to this structure are those factors that may enhance the distinct agency of men vis-a-vis women and their differentiation from other men in contexts where prestige is geared to the capacity for autonomy and the chance to be evaluated as a direct reflection of personal endeavour. Material dimensions tend to dominate the understanding of big man politics, but strategy and quantity are the vehicle and not the cause. Ultimately the location is not economic; the economics of exchange derive from the structural premises of particular exchanges and the meanings these generate. As a predisposition (in the sense of Bourdieu's 1973 notion of habitus), structure must be seen as prior to, but embedded in, the strategies geared to material provisioning and its deployment in exchange. Structure is as much to do with constraint as enablement, and even with broader contingencies which affect specific occasions, prestige structures underpin the motivation men have for undertaking exchange. Political intensification between different forms of exchange, what I call politicisation, is thus based on different expressions of these prestige structures.

One key to the potential for autonomy is bound up in the relevance or otherwise of what may be called 'body logics'. Non-ceremonial exchange is geared to compensation through wealth substituting for persons and their bodies (cf. Wagner 1972). The male agency demonstrated in these exchanges is critically geared to a logic where the bodies of non-transactor others - the bride at marriage, the corpse at death, and the broader social implications these have - are focal. These events express the cultural significance of bodies, notably here notions of debt which orientate men to act in certain ways. Adult male social status is articulated through circumstances where their autonomy is constrained by the significance of others. The yasolu ceremonial pork distribution, on the other hand, is based on quite distinct structural premises which see the shift away from bodies of others to a form of exchange in which the differential achievements of male transactors take precedence. The transactor is focal, not the person for whom compensatory events are held, with notions of debt restricted to any previous pork received.

Anganen exchange is well suited to a contrast between prestige structures because ceremonial and non-ceremonial exchange are categorically and operationally distinct. That is, unlike the case in Melpa and some Enga communities where prestations pertaining to marriage or death may be rendered as gifts in ceremonial exchange (Feil 1981; M.Strathern 1972:119-20: see also Nihill 1988a:158), in Anganen this is not possible due to distinct exchange items - large cuts of pork in yasolu in contrast to the dominance of live pigs, shells, and cash in non-ceremonial events.

Of equal note is the variation within non-ceremonial exchanges which correlates with shifts in the significance of bodies. The least prestigious events for individual men are those collective events pertaining to marriage and non-warfare death compensation where the mediating role of women in atoms of kinship is pivotal and acknowledged in exchange between affinally related groups. Politicisation corresponds with an increasing masculinisation of exchange, such as warfare related events which highlight the male association of bodies when the agnates of a slain warrior or child, and the husbands and sons of women killed as part of hostilities receive compensation.

Furthermore, while Anganen mortuary exchange is initiated through direct compensation, it also features a reciprocal second stage which exhibits certain structural features promoting politicisation in which individual competition becomes overt and often intense without having the overall intensity of yasolu. Fittingly it is known as 'moka' in the local rendition of Tok Pisin.(1) While still encompassed in a 'body logic' of sorts in that it pertains to individual deaths, 'moka' in Anganen, lacks the immediacy of the body that events such as bridewealth feature. 'Moka' has an intermediate quality between ceremonial and non-ceremonial exchange, with its differing appropriation of the body holding a key to how prestigious exchanges may have emerged in Anganen and perhaps elsewhere. I am not suggesting that in some sense Anganen exchange is antecedent to other exchange systems such as those found in Melpa or Enga, only that the contrast between ceremonial and non-ceremonial forms and the increased politicisation of 'moka' may give insight into aspects of wider trends in exchange development. Following discussion of Anganen exchange, I take up some of the issues which may be relevant for comprehending the political intensification of exchange as part of looking at how the varying cultural appropriations of bodies may be one basis for comparing Highlands political economies.


Yasolu, Anganen ceremonial exchange, is noticeably different from tee or moka. The most important event, the mass pig kill, only takes place about once every fifteen years among any one unit. Unlike ceremonial exchanges to the north, this infrequency indicates the marginality of yasolu to the articulation of Anganen social structure. It augments male social status, albeit potentially in great leaps, rather than constituting its basis as do moka and tee. The most frequent events, in which most wealth circulates and transactions occur, are those pertaining to individuals at socially marked points of life-cycles such as marriage, serious injury, and military and non-warfare death. Elsewhere (Nihill 1988a) I classify these under the common term mundane exchange in order to convey their importance to the ongoing articulation of Anganen social life. Anganen maintain a rigid opposition between mundane exchange dominated by the circulation of live pigs, pearl shells, and cash, and yasolu in which large cuts of pork, ideally pork sides, are given. Consequently, it is not possible to use marriage or mortuary prestations to materially initiate ceremonial exchange partnerships, a direct contrast with the desirability of such strategies in the Hagen area (M.Strathern 1972:119-20). The dominance of ceremonial exchange among Enga or Melpa underpins the intensity of status discrimination. In Anganen while notable achievements in yasolu may radically increase a man's social standing, men find it far more difficult to achieve prominence of this magnitude through non-ceremonial events. As a consequence, hierarchy amongst men is at its greatest at yasolu; in the period between pig kills it is still present, but far more muted and stable.

I outline the definitive features of Anganen mundane exchange and yasolu elsewhere (Nihill 1988a, 1988b), and here restrict discussion to the points of comparison immediately germane to this argument. Perhaps the most graphic contrasts concern dimensions of gender, the inherent group bias of transaction in mundane events like bridewealth or mortuary compensation in opposition to the pronounced differentiation of individual male transactors in yasolu, and the non-restricted structural form of mundane exchange events. This last point is convenient to start discussion; the others are developed subsequently.

The non-restricted character of mundane exchange derives from the prohibition on replicating marriages between subclans. In the most simple rendition, the asymmetry of marriage is offset by the substitution of wealth for women (cf. Wagner 1972). Anganen ideology stipulates that bridewealth is for the nurture and protection of the bride and the sorrow kin experience when, given normative virilocality, sisters, daughters, or village mates leave. Specifically, it is payment for the bride's hands (ki), her labour capacity and her blood, waluma, maternal substance or reproductive potential. Given notions of female pollution and waluma meaning both womb and menstrual blood (womb blood which has left the body and is now dangerous and non-productive, see Nihill n.d.a), men are reluctant to speak the term. As such, just as often the generic term for blood, kupa, is used. This is metaphorically more encompassing, as it still conveys female fertility, but also the image of personhood and kinship (e.g, consanguineal kin are kupa pamond poropete, 'blood one share'). The significance of this is manifold, but two aspects are of greatest immediate concern. Bodies, effectively, are kinship. The bride literally embodies much of the impetus for establishing affinity. Affines, by definition, have no known close tie; marriage establishes it. However it is the children of marital unions which truly ratify it. In Anganen thinking, paternal semen and maternal waluma - each associated with different groups - combine to form the flesh, blood and bones of the child, linking what were two disparate groups via substance: the child's body is absolute evidence of the relationship. Indeed, taking this point further, the state of bodies may be testimony to the morality of relations. Either directly (e.g., through sorcery among affines) or unintentionally (through kone ope, 'bad thoughts' witchcraft among consanguineal kin) sickness may be the outcome of bad social relations. Conversely, good exchange relations are especially thought good for human and community welfare, including helping to produce healthy bodies.

Women's bodies thus encapsulate the rationale for the articulation of kinship through exchange. Idiomatically a woman is polu, the 'road' which links socially and spatially distinct people and which is 'kept clean' and 'soft' through ongoing exchange. The outcome of a woman's waluma, her children, are the exchange-kinship roads into the next generation. It is damage to a woman's body and those of her children which primarily keeps roads clean. Thus when bodies are badly damaged(2), and especially when people die (with a payment called ambula-kala, 'tie give'(3)), kin of the original bridewealth recipient group will be compensated once more. The body, living or lifeless, is known as ro, the same term as bridge. This extends the metaphoric value of roads, as conceptually bridges link disparate entities, with rivers frequently a boundary between neighbouring, intermarrying groups.

Though mundane exchange is the bedrock for adult male status(4), men operate in nearly all cases under substantial constraint. Not only does it necessitate economic loss, the very structure of the marriage centres women in what is a major arena for male action. This is even 'played out' in the marriage ceremony where the bride distributes the bridewealth and dowry pigs to designated recipients (see Nihill 1989a). The layout of the mourning ground also may reflect female centrality, as women as a group keen around the corpse while men remain mostly on the periphery. These arrangements are sufficient to demonstrate that women have an immediate relation with bodies that men lack, and thus exchange predicated on bodies reaffirms and highlights the role of women in matters to which men devote great energy. Constraint is evident in other ways. Marriage and mortuary exchanges are usually large and beyond the individual capacity of most men. This is most obvious for men marrying the first time, as they have little wealth of their own. While this is indicative of power relations between men based on age, such exchanges also reveal that older men are constrained by kinship obligations.

The final aspect of constraint concerns provisioning. Most mundane exchange is funded by that wealth in a man's immediate possession. This is particularly so in cases of injury and death as these should be quickly compensated and there is no predictability which will allow men to plan substantially in advance. In Strathern's (1969, 1978) now famous dichotomy, mundane exchange will probably be funded by 'home production' rather than the strategic deployment of wealth to be called in as 'finance'. The advantage of finance is that it offers potentially great increases in wealth without taxing household resources, notably the female labour of home production of pigs. Most often with yasolu in mind, men utilise a number of methods (discussed in Nihill 1988a), whereby other households, most commonly affines, agree to take a man's pigs to be returned with increment as the pig kill approaches. Thus, not only may a man effectively have stocks that far outweigh the carrying capacity of his productive unit, but he need not even consult his wife or wives over their use as they did not immediately invest their labour in these particular animals.(5)

In terms of the way mundane exchange is founded and mostly funded, what is exclusively male practice - transaction - is critically geared to culturally emphasised dimensions of female capacity. This capacity is exemplified in the representations of women as 'roads', 'bridges', mothers and producers and encoded in the gendered body markers of the waluma and ki, maternal substance and hands. Male achievement thus takes place in an arena in which, while women are marginalised as actors, the feminine is not. In one way or another, all of this concerns bodies, be they women's or those of individuals they create. Female productive and reproductive potential are certainly appropriated by men but they are not mystified through rendering them invisible. Rather, they are given culturally particular significance through publicly staged events in which men exchange wealth. However, in an instrumental sense, and as a cumulation of particular male-female relations, this may be seen as male power, and male appropriation of uniquely female creativity. Indeed, male status is the product of this double appropriation of both reproduction and production. Physical idioms such as the single term manda, 'carrying' (cf. karim in Tok Pisin) for both reproduction and production mark this double appropriation.

All in all, the projection of a domain of achievement producing prestige gradations among adult men is significantly undermined by the social and material constraints of mundane exchange. In marriage and death prestations, the individual male transactor operates in a context largely defined by the significance of social others. There are the focal individuals and their bodies, relations between giver and receiver where the mediating role of women (the bride or mother) must be explicitly acknowledged, and funding limited by home production geared to collective prestation resulting from men assisting others to meet their obligations. Men may feel they must help their 'brothers' and in fact may openly wish to do so. However, the sense of volition does not imply an individuation of status. Apart from those very close to the focal individual, most men are likely to contribute or receive only relatively small amounts emphasising the similarity rather than distinction among participants. Moreover, the exact contribution of individuals is often not known even to the recipients let alone more broadly. Male identity is certainly articulated, but as a similarity that membership of a collectivity brings. This is not a setting which intensely fosters substantial status hierarchy within giving or recipient groups.

However, other dimensions of mundane exchange give preliminary indications of a shift towards politicisation fully elaborated in the ceremonial exchange arena in which individual men may win most acclaim. Warfare payments best illustrate this process of politicisation.(6) There is a strong relationship between political and marital alliance, and between spatially proximate groups. That is, the closer the neighbour, the more likely are intermarriage and military alliance. Conversely, the greater the distance between groups, the less likely both intermarriage and warfare alliance will take place. The common pattern of warfare alliance is a group initiating hostilities, the yandare ('base of the fight'), will recruit those nearby (who have closer affiliation to them than their enemy). If the fight escalates further, the yandare will rely on those groups recruited earlier to recruit those with whom they have relatively strong ties. A large unit will be made up of major allies and what may be called minor enemies, as those furthest away are more likely to oppose the yandare of this dispute in the future. Actual recruitment payments are possible, but not popular. However, what is implicit in all recruitment is not only a general feeling that support should be reciprocated subsequently, but that any deaths of those recruited should be redressed. Socio-political distance and the difficulties or reluctance to offer compensation thus constitute the fragility of alliance and the active role of warfare compensations in fuelling disputes even if their seen function is to maintain alliance.

Any death compensation may be intensely political as the anger of kin may spill over into verbal protest or the damage of property. However, warfare deaths and the subsequent reparation (cf. Glasse 1959, Sillitoe 1981a) place particularly intense pressure on alliances. Known as yand rinkitame ('fight to cover'(7)), the performative dimensions of presenting reparation encapsulate this point. Men of warrior age among those who will give compensation charge en masse into the recipients' ceremonial ground, often encircling the corpse and the keening women. They run at great pace, crying loudly and striking arrows against bows as they do so, in a stylised aggression that resembles preparations for battle. The charge of the warriors is taken to be like a surprise attack, even though the recipient men usually feign disinterest. Compensation is only given among allies, indicating commitment to the alliance. However, this stylised aggression also highlights opposition. Together they reflect the ambivalence of Anganen political alliance. It is not uncommon for former allies to find themselves on opposite sides in the disputes of others, or to fight each other directly. This is considered a real possibility if immediate promise of reparation for a death in warfare is not forthcoming,

The difficulty yandare may face when attempting to compensate fallen allies is offset by others of the alliance also contributing, especially if they have encouraged the deceased's group to enter the fray after they themselves were recruited. The 'base of the fight' is thus variable and context bound; all contributors to the compensation, whether the original yandare or those recruited later, will take part in this stylised aggression. Hence, as a rule, reparation payments will be larger than compensations for non-warfare deaths, have more contributors, and these contributors will come from potentially a large number of groups even if their wealth is given collectively. The unitary nature of the prestation reflects mundane exchanges like bridewealth and ambulakala, though the actual contributors of yand rinkitame are more likely to be generally known than in these other events. Overall, there is an intensification of exchange in which men and small groups of men within a greater totality may achieve social recognition among a large community.

One structural feature of warfare deaths is that they necessitate enchainment. Those which receive yand rinkitame should then offer conventional mortuary compensation in the manner described above. I will take the instance of the death of an adult man in a recruited group for illustration. This will be the occasion for yand rinkitame. This goes from the yandare (and others in the alliance) to his subclan or clan. In a separate event, the dead man's agnates will then offer ambulakala to his matrilateral kinsmen. Maternal relatives of the deceased may try to take part of the rinkitame, but this is essentially only to convey their anger. For warfare deaths, rinkitame and ambulakala are effectively linked but distinct occasions, staged on separate days and with separate amounts of wealth. Indeed, it is possible for a group to ask their sister's sons to assist them, but if one of these men should die then effectively their matrilateral kinsmen will offer rinkitame to those who will later give them ambulakala. The structural facilitation of enchainment is limited in comparison with events like tee, but it is important. It underlines the link between marital and political alliance while also being central to the intensification of warfare compensation in terms of the numbers of people and amount of wealth involved.(8)

The politicisation of these exchanges is grounded on the structural possibilities of intensification, vying for prestige, limited enchainment via political-marital alliance and exchange. But just as important is the question of why ambulakala and yand rinkitame must be kept distinct. The premises underlying each are effectively identical, but their meaning is, vis a vis gender, diametrically opposed. Ambulakala emphasises female associations of bodies - be it her own or the body of her child, a woman is the 'road'. With yand rinkitame, this association is masculinised: the agnates of men and children, and the husbands and sons of married women are recipients of wealth. Warfare compensation reproduces the logic of compensation found in bridewealth and ambulakala, but shifts the gender focus. Certainly warfare deaths eventually re-centre women-associated bodies, but the politically charged nature of the giving of warfare death compensation is both reflected in, and to an extent constituted through, this masculinisation. Two subsequent dimensions of the mortuary exchange sequence are important in this regard. The first is omana, the death feast held some time (six months or so) after earlier compensation. The second is a reciprocal and incremental exchange known aptly as 'moka' in Tok Pisin. These are not regarded as mandatory events. Their timing is far more open to manipulation, permitting a greater planning for provisioning that undermines some of the constraints inherent in compensation payments.

The Anganen stress that the omana is to signify, help restore and enhance cordial relations which a death may jeopardise. The deaths of most women, children and men will be commemorated with a small omana. Those that were responsible for giving compensation are most responsible, though often the compensation receivers will also provide food. With non-warfare deaths, these tend to be relatively small. Perhaps 30 people attend, consuming one or two pigs, cooked vegetables, and these days perhaps frozen meat or tinned fish. Women are notable contributors, inviting their own kin to attend and directly distributing any food they personally supplied such as vegetables or tinned food bought with their own money. Pork distribution is controlled by men, but there is a sense that it is given by the household, and wives should be consulted on its division. All those invited by a woman should receive meat from her husband. The prominence of women is also emphasised by omana finishing the 'time sorry', the period in which close kinswomen, especially widows, of men had to observe a number of restrictions and taboos (see Nihill 1989a for discussion). Sharing is emphasised, with people of all ages, gender, and social link to the deceased receiving rarely eaten meat. Overall, these events have no great political intensity. The only exceptions are omana held for big men. These events may be very similar to the omana of those killed in warfare and staged among the alliance. For brevity, only warfare deaths commemorated among allies will be considered.

Warfare omana are politically charged. There may be oration (not an overly common feature in Anganen exchange). There may be calls for the alliance to persist, or bragging of the size of the earlier rinkitame a group may have given; conversely, the earlier recipients of compensation may ridicule the amount given as one instance of the poor record of its givers. Just as rinkitame is larger than ambulakala, so warfare omana attract more participants and require more food. There is a competitiveness to the amount and perhaps type of meat distributed. Cattle may be slaughtered which brings more prestige than pigs. Pork given is in large cuts, perhaps even as entire sides. There is a notable tendency, for individuals or small groups of men (e.g., subclans) to exchange with each other. The competitive edge is now possibly far more individual and small group in orientation, and as much between the men who kill animals as between givers and receivers.

Moreover, the giver-receiver opposition of compensation is not replicated in full, as men who may have helped raise it previously or those who distributed it amongst themselves, may vie with each other for prominence. What were two collectives in the compensation transaction, may now be internally divided, with exchange taking place both within and between them, thereby offering a further dimension for generating a heightened political edge through the movement of material wealth. This is only one end of the scale of participation - other men are content to only participate by giving food to close kin - but it is a competitive possibility that ordinary omana lack. Considered in terms of political potential, warfare (and big men) omana are large scale events in which men may excel. Women are substantially marginalised (relative to other omana). They eventually will receive meat, but vegetables and tinned food are not included or are seen as of little significance. If the pigs killed are those a woman has raised, she should be consulted, but the sense of who gives is now much more on the male transactor than the household as donor as is the case with other omana.

While meat is necessary in all death feasts, the type and especially the size of the cut tend to differ substantially. More exotic varieties such as beef and large cuts feature in warfare omana and underpin the substantial prestige men may gain. The likelihood of more public and precise recognition of individual male transactors and dyadic partnerships, the marginalisation of women, and the emphasis on large amounts of meat are features which characterise yasolu, and have similarities with other ceremonial exchanges in the south-west Highlands. However, before considering this in more detail, the significance of the body in mortuary exchange warrants further attention. This mainly concerns 'moka', but in concluding omana it is worth noting that the largest always concern adult men, big men in particular with their own political status a factor in the political intensity of the occasion. The focal body now is emphatically male, unlike the situation with events like bridewealth.


Diagram one outlines the full mortuary exchange sequence possible in Anganen. 'Moka' may be staged with regard to any death - even injury in which blood is spilt is a possible occasion for its staging (see Nihill 1991). With deaths deemed to have occurred in contexts other than warfare, those involved in previous compensations once again feature - what are referred to as female and male associated units in the diagram. However, the largest 'moka' again are for those killed in warfare, especially adult men, and it is this instance that I concentrate upon at most length. (Where there are differences between warfare and non-warfare mortuary exchange terminologies, the latter are entered in square brackets).

A 'moka' may be staged many years, potentially even generations, following a death. Sometimes the kinsmen of the deceased man, that is those of the unit which received rinkitame previously, initiate the sequence by offering unsolicited aropowe to the 'base of the fight' in which the man died. Alternatively, the yandare may request them to do so, or actively attempt to initiate proceedings through offering uncooked sides of pork in a prestation called men kap.(9) This has similarities to the way rinkitame is given, as men charge into the recipients' place, lay the meat at the front of a men's house or a prominent man's house, and leave, chanting as they go. It is effectively a taunt, a challenge to instigate 'moka', with its aggression echoed in the rule that givers and receivers of men kap should never share the meat together once it is cooked (indeed rawness is often a sign of opposition, even anti-sociality(10)). If men kap does not prompt an active response, it signals strain and distance in the relationship, though its givers may claim victory and publicly laud their performance while denigrating the receivers.

In Aropowe, pigs, pearl shells, and money are given aligning it with bridewealth or reparation payments. However, it is often arranged that live pigs may be the majority of the incremental reciprocation in ape. This has the advantages of farming out pigs to be returned in increased numbers, and the aropowe givers may intentionally undertake 'moka' with a long range plan of staging the yasolu ceremonial pig kill. That is, 'moka' is a major means of financing ceremonial exchange in Anganen (see Nihill 1988a:151-3). Given the ideal that at least twice as much as the aropowe accepted is returned, this results in vastly increased numbers of pigs for men without overly taxing their own household resources. Ape is called in many years after aropowe is given thus reinforcing these advantages. Nonetheless there are paradoxes here. As a yasolu approaches the aropowe givers may aggressively challenge their partners to respond. Even though giving ape is a prestigious act, this may not be welcomed, especially as it may be the case that this alliance overall is staging ceremonial exchange together and men are reluctant to surrender pigs they could deploy then. In many ways the lead up to yasolu is one of great tension, with attempts to finalise 'moka' one of the main areas of difficulty men have in endeavouring to get as many pigs as possible immediately prior to the event's commencement. When the ape givers respond, they do so as victory: they take the ape to its recipients' ground, whooping in triumph as they approach and leave. Ape recipients must endure momentary status loss for material gains that will underwrite great success in yasolu. This points to the general dilemma that status gain means economic loss, further demonstrating the superiority of yasolu over all other exchanges for ultimate prestige gain.

In addition to these aspects of politicisation is the significance of the deceased, the focal individual in 'moka'. We have seen that the shift of focus from bridewealth and ambulakala to rinkitame witnessed a corresponding change of focus in the compensation from female-centred bodies to male-centred ones. 'Moka' orchestrates a 'body logic' that is even more integral to politicisation. In part this derives from the meaning of the two main events, aropowe and ape. Aropowe is a composite term consisting of corpse ('man-body', a-ro) and to plant or establish, powe. However, in exchange events often powe is a synonym of debt, (e.g., the Anganen may refer to the bride as powe who is 'replanted' in a different place given normative virilocality, see Nihill 1989a). Yano is the generic term for debt, but powe is popular in exchanges with the individual as their focus. A-pe literally means to 'make the man'. The meaning of both 'moka' terms can be seen as giving rise to significant variations in the way bodies may be culturally appropriated for exchange purposes.

It may seem that 'planting the corpse' refers to burial, but the Anganen only adopted this practice under mission and Administration pressure. In any case, as 'moka' takes place well after death, its meaning must lie elsewhere. What is 'planted' is wealth, and it plays a similar role to the body in compensation but with fundamental differences central to the issue of politicisation. In aropowe wealth takes the place of the body in generating debt. Certainly aropowe may be a way of commemorating alliance or kin ties, and this is important. Kinship as ongoing sociality is threatened by the death of a mediating person for whom wealth can be paid. 'Moka' undertaken vis a vis this individual keeps 'the road clean' and the relation viable. Hence, ape, to 'make the man', may be seen as serving similar ends to wealth paid directly as compensation for persons. 'Moka' replicates the living social significance of individuals who have died. When alive, a person literally embodies the nexus of kin relations. 'Making the man' thus reproduces the individual as a unique combination of socio-political ties that may be reactivated well past their death. The significance of this is underlined by the Anganen prohibition on saying the names of the dead (in fear of evoking spirit attack by those unnecessarily summoned). It is not simply a celebration of the individual, but the ongoing articulation of kinship and alliance in which the individual was focal.

While ape is a functional analogue of direct compensation, the shift is from a body to economically based rationale, with wealth making no direct reference to the body as such. The image of productivity is now one of increase through increment. The wealth 'planted' 'grows'. With marriage, wealth effectively makes bodies and kinship. Ape makes the man, obviously not corporeally, but through appropriating the significance of the individual/body in socio-political relations. Whereas bridewealth or mortuary compensations are based on wealth being substituted for the body, in 'moka' wealth is substituted as the body. The central meaning of 'moka' thus is a metaphor of the significance of the body in other exchange forms.

The difference in substitution, wealth as the body in contrast to wealth for the body, is fundamental to political intensification in Anganen exchange. The body is subject to a series of alternative appropriations which lie at the core of meaning of various Anganen exchanges and the political intensity that they generate. There are any number of contextual factors which affect intensity in practice, but just as important is the fact that the structure of different exchanges conditions the scale on which contextual factors are expressed. The similarities between 'moka' and other mundane exchanges pivots on individuals and bodies. Marilyn Strathern's (1983) central argument that women are both like subjects and objects is of course applicable to men (and children), though the way in which this is articulated is different. There is no real equivalent to bridewealth for the living body of men, but the death of a woman is not likely to precipitate the depth of reaction to that of a man, a big man especially. While this says a great deal about gender and status, these are nonetheless also bound up in the differences in 'body logic' under consideration here: from female associated (bridewealth, ambulakala) to male associated (rinkitame) to a metaphorisation of the body with 'moka' which enables peoples' deaths to be orientated to male desire for prestige. 'Moka', more so than any other event discussed to date, is about male prestige, and male status as individuals.

'Moka' may be staged by two men, although the larger are usually group in origin. The large events are organised by ambitious men who endeavour to coalesce groups around them in ways reminiscent of Mendi big men (Lederman 1986, 1991). Success does confer substantial prestige, as unlike compensation there is no compelling moral ground on which men can appeal for assistance. Here leaders do appropriate the wealth of others and align it with themselves in the sense that a single man metonymically stands for the exchange group. Nonetheless, and in contrast to the collective prestations of bridewealth or mortuary compensation, all men endeavour to direct wealth to selected partners in the recipient group. This means that leaders are under substantial pressure to be the most notable participants irrespective of their capacity to link all the wealth given to their name. Moreover, it means that the individual efforts of all involved are likely to be open to public scrutiny. The assessment of status does have a collective element to it, but perhaps more importantly individual status is measured directly from a man's input and how it compares to others in his group. The competitive elements between givers and receivers is thus also accompanied by competition and the creation of hierarchy within 'moka' units. While still about individuals and bodies, that the body of the deceased is absent from the centre of the 'moka' ceremonial ground leaves only men to compete in seeking prestige. The transactor is now the focal individual.


The prestige structure of yasolu - the most prestigious exchange event held in Anganen - contrasts with all the events discussed to this point in that it is not premised on a body logic at all. Any debt is what a man has incurred in receiving previous yasolu pork. It is not from the debt women and children create, and this seems underlined by two prestations of wealth on the eve of the kill. A man may give his wife inj yari, 'payment for the pig rope' to publicly acknowledge her role in production, and offer his affines nongonaki-engi, 'children-mother', ostensibly to signal joy over his family and their health. The ramifications of such endeavours in Anganen exchange are to both acknowledge and offset. Men gain a certain autonomy away from the conventional situation in which such people are debt, establishing a suitable precursor for a man intending to reap prestige rewards the next day, and this is one reason why big men are the most likely to undertake such prestations.(11) The staging of these types of prestations centre issues integral to non-ceremonial exchange such as home production and the bodies of others, but doing so helps emphasise the contrast between the ceremonial exchange and its mundane counterparts.

This contrast may be staged in other ways. Men who have 'stolen' women (ren pake), that is, begun cohabiting with them without giving bridewealth, may anxiously try to remedy this if they think the women's kin may be attending yasolu so as to not be accused of 'killing other men's pigs'. Unresolved deaths may also become an issue. In the 1988 yasolu Ipret Muri tied a pig covered in the grey clay of mourning to a forked stick (kapa) to convey their feelings that the early 1980s death of a brother they believed killed by enemy sorcery had not been redressed. Both cases make it clear that mundane exchange obligations should be met before yasolu can proceed, and underline the distinction between yasolu and mundane forms of exchange.

To this end, while men related to pork givers through women (affines, cross-cousins, sisters' sons, etc.) are likely yasolu partners, the women linking them are invisible in the moment of exchange. Unlike bridewealth where pigs are distributed by the bride, or ambulakala where linking women may accept wealth (e.g., a mother's sister who passes it to her husband or son), men give their yasolu pork directly to its male recipients. The shift in focus from women physically mediating the movement of wealth to men exchanging directly is indicative of the absence of a 'body logic' in yasolu. In fact, big men in particular may then make non-kin such as politicians, policemen, bisnis men and even warfare enemies (a point taken up below) their most important partners; that is, they go beyond not only women and bodies but kinship itself (see Nihill 1988a, 1988b).

What this enables is the emergence of men able to act with considerable autonomy in the active moments of ceremonial exchange. Men act as individual transactors by distancing women of their immediate social domain - wives especially and the debts their bodies create, with finance lessening male dependence on home production. Unlike mundane exchanges where collectivities exchange - often with individual contributions submerged into the whole - there is no pooling in yasolu. Certainly the Anganen stress that the cumulative consequences of individual participation are vital for the overall prestige gained, and do feel that the affirmation of alliance among those who coordinate the event is important. However, each man's pigs are butchered into sides to be draped on their section of the poles which run in parallel with the long cooking pits along the ceremonial ground, and each man places the heads of the pigs on forked sticks as a marker of success (see Nihill 1988b:260-2 for further description). Each man's achievement is thus not simply in the number of pigs killed, but also relative to those around him - his agnates, coresidents and allies. The lack of motivation stemming from more conventional kinship mores - the need to assist one's brothers - is equally as notable as the lack of significance of bodies in a kinship system where these are pivotal. Indeed, brothers thus become notable competitors, a point integral to the fine distinctions in status which yasolu allows. All this is fleeting and may seem only symbolic - certainly the constraints of mundane exchange must reappear - but it is a vital element in creating an ambience in which prestige is definitive.

Thus the increase in inherent politicisation, from non-warfare to warfare omaha, and from bridewealth and ambulakala, through rinkitame, then 'moka', to yasolu, is marked by various tendencies. There is an increase in wealth and the number of transactors. The focus is increasingly likely to highlight individual men transacting, and accordingly women play less and less active roles in the actual exchange events themselves. Just as important is the changing relevance of bodies. Bridewealth and ambulakala emphasise female associated bodies. Yand rinkitame and large omaha are still premised on wealth substitutions for the debts bodies necessitate, but emphasise the male association of the dead. With 'moka' substitution itself is metaphorised in that wealth is not substituted for the body but as the body in creating debt. Finally, with yasolu, bodies are not the premise on which exchange is founded, but rather men, and especially big men, who celebrate their achievements as actors, creating a sense of an autonomy not possible elsewhere. The Anganen see yasolu as a 'time of health and happiness' (see Nihill 1988b). In contrast to the relationships found in the majority of Anganen exchange where men react to the significance of bodies, here bodies, or at least healthy ones, are the product of autonomous male actors, thus adding one further dimension to the inherent potential for prestige which ceremonial exchange confers.

The distinction between yasolu and major mundane exchange events is expressed and augmented through the differences in the items used. Compensatory exchanges feature live pigs, pearl shells and cash, while pork is given in ceremonial exchange. From the giver's perspective, both are economic sacrifices, but the gravity of yasolu - and a key aspect of its prestige - is that this is also the destruction of wealth through the mass killing of pigs. Ultimately, yasolu is an act of audacity which is all but impossible in mundane exchange. It is upon this basis that men can gain prestige in degrees effectively denied in other events, as they - at least in the moment of the exchange - are beyond emulation.

The opposition between permanence and longevity, on the one hand, and the immediate and the final on the other, is further articulated in terms of additional aspects of symbolism of the items deployed. Pearl shells and the preferred denomination of cash, the K20 note, are both kupa, 'blood red', in colour. Its relevance is linked to the multivalence of kupa in referring to body creation, well being, and kinship noted earlier. The sustaining of social relations across generations through mundane exchange is matched by the longevity of items used, and these are paralleled by the centring of life symbolically, a point also pertinent to live animals (see in Nihill 1989b). These prestations invoke the sense of others and their bodies as nexi of social relations. Yasolu is very different. For instance, when a man distributes his pork he may call to the recipient to come and take his, the giver's, pork side. The use of the same terms for porcine and human anatomy conveys that the items pertain directly to him and not others. By giving his side away a man signals the economic sacrifice he is taking in order to gain renown through directly associating the item with himself alone.

A number of authors (e.g., Feil 1987; Meggitt 1974:174; A.Strathern 1971:94) suggest there are links between warfare prestations and the evolution of ceremonial exchange. Lemonnier (1991) considers the complexities of these as part of his important discussion of big men and great men. He (1991:17) notes that the transition toward big men and ceremonial exchange involves two main issues. First, that ceremonial exchange possibly stemmed from the emergence of peace ceremonies. Second, the exchanges pertaining to warfare deaths involve the emergence of a double inequivalence; 'nature' (that is, wealth substitution for 'life forces' as he calls them) and quantity (competition through incremental gifting). The Anganen add further dimensions to the substitutional premises of exchange: from direct substitution for bodies (life forces) to their transcendence in ceremonial exchange, through the shift from substitutions for, to substitution as, bodies in exchange. While I am not suggesting any necessary unilineal evolution to ceremonial exchange, aspects of the Anganen situation may be of some significance for the analysis of the development of forms of ceremonial exchange and the heightened politicisation and prestige potentialities of them. I explore this briefly with some comparative remarks in the next section.


Merlan (1988) highlights the need to understand the particularities of Highland exchange systems in terms of the relations between marriage, political alliance and the specificities of ceremonial exchange systems. One point she makes is that the enchainment characteristic of tee is functionally interrelated with (and perhaps a consequence of) the famous Enga dictum that 'we marry the people we fight'. This point may be developed through an explanation of how these relationships are interwoven with the characteristics of mortuary exchange, most notably warfare compensation payments, and how this may have some beating on the observation that ceremonial exchange has its antecedents in warfare prestations. No matter what the particular social structure, death in Melanesia is inherently political, more often than not in its cause, and almost certainly so in its consequences.

In the south-west region of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, any death has the potential to set in motion what may amount to a protracted complex of mortuary exchanges between kin and allies. In addition to the Anganen, the various Enga communities (see Feil 1979, 1984; Lacey 1975; Meggitt 1965, 1977; Wiessner and Tumu n.d.; Wohlt 1979), Melpa (A.Strathern 1971, 1982) Mendi (Lederman 1986; Ryan 1961) and Wola (Sillitoe 1979) all have complex mortuary sequences. While there are very important differences between these exchange sequences, this complexity suggests why these may be the venue for heightened politicisation as I use the term here. Certainly any number of contextual factors would condition the realisation of such a potential in practice, but it is this potential which is fundamental. The Anganen situation suggests that this potential is not simply a neutral factor that may be manifested in practice, but forms an active predisposition towards intensified political action. The complexity both marks the overall social importance of death and the political ramifications it may have while - if the Anganen are any guide - offering a structural flexibility that provides a baseline for heightened politicking.

This said, the differences between these various south-west Highland communities are telling. It seems that the most elaborate ceremonial exchange forms, moka and tee, are in societies where the emphasis is not only on compensating allies for losses, but being able to directly enter exchange relations with enemy groups - or at least what may be referred to as, after A.Strathern (1971), minor enemies - and perhaps the allies of enemy groups. Both tee and moka are terms which have their roots in warfare prestations. Moka may be made directly in relation to warfare deaths (although this is not the only basis for doing so), and among western Enga groups where ceremonial exchange is of less importance than events of the type I label mundane in Anganen, tee is the term most widely deployed in relation to exchange pertaining to death (see Lacey 1975, 1979; Lang 1973; Wohlt 1979). Clearly there is a need to situate this in terms of wider contextual factors which may bring enemies together, and I acknowledge the variation found across Enga and between Enga and Melpa. Nonetheless, this potential for warfare opponents as well as allies to exchange vis a vis death incurred in any one fight has been widely noted. Strathern (1971: 96-7) for Hagen, Meggitt (1977: 38-9) for the Mae, together with Wohlt (1979:83-5) and Eckert and Thomas (1970:194) who discuss tee pingi as a potential reciprocal payment between enemies directly resulting from warfare deaths in western Enga all refer to this. Feil (1987:82-5) also offers some comparative discussion on this point.

While the region is characterised by the general complexity of mortuary exchange, only in Enga and Melpa is there emphasis on undertaking these with enemies as well as allies. In Mendi (Lederman 1986: 162; Ryan 1961:155-98) Wola (Sillitoe 1979:222, 1981a) and in Anganen, the focus is emphatically on reparations for allies. The three Southern Highland societies have incremental mortuary exchanges like moka in Hagen, but all only undertake these with allies, and not enemies(12) This is a key structural orientation, as the potential bilaterality of warfare mortuary exchange for any single death in Enga and Melpa manifoldly underscores the political: the fight itself is political, as are the oppositions and alliances within it, as are the deaths on either side which are a consequence of it, and so are the exchanges pertaining to it. All of these aspects may facilitate the competitive character of events like moka. That enemies may exchange directly for deaths integrates and magnifies the political as a structural foundation upon which contextual factors impinge in a way not possible to the south of the Enga-Hagen area.

Given that we know that moka and tee as ceremonial exchanges have become more elaborate with the establishment of the colonial order through pacification, Lederman's (1986:258, note 17) observation that Mendi big men have tried to begin undertaking compensation with enemy groups for lives lost would suggest that this is structurally possible among Southern Highlanders. However, its realisation is one that certain historical conditions prevented or undermined. I say this as there is, in Anganen at least, the impetus to undertake exchanges with enemies. Certainly big men at yasolu demonstrate their prowess through inviting individuals from those deemed current or traditional enemies. Even more telling are the endeavours of groups that find themselves on opposing sides (in alliances where they are not likely to be the 'base of the fight' but later recruits) despite their generally friendly relationship. They do not compensate each other for any losses in such battles, but certainly one way of demonstrating those cordial relations is to be active in prestations relating to deaths in other situations in which they were on the same side. This may be for compensation, or for 'moka', but the critical point is that this is displaced and delayed, in contrast with the situation in Enga and Melpa. Certainly the notion of alternating disequilibrium central to Strathern's (1971) argument highlights the importance of timing and delay, but the response is not displaced, as moka may pertain to deaths occurring in the same hostilities. This immediacy would seem as important an historical condition as anything else for the heightened politicisation of moka.

While there is no inevitability that ceremonial exchange must eventually develop from Enga and Melpa warfare prestations, their very structure is significant. Firstly, the possible permutations of exchange are greater than the limited enchainment I have noted in Anganen with yand rinkitame and then ambulakala compensations. The simplest case in Melpa and Enga is where exchange may take place within alliances or between them. It may be between the two original protagonists, an initiator and their enemy's recruited allies, or between allies. This does not necessitate enchainment but this elaboration into a minimal structure of four parties certainly has the potential to head in this direction. All of these would not have equal potential, and A.Strathern (1971:96) notes that instances between recruited allies and their opponents were less common and in part a product of pacification, but they are potentialities effectively not possible in the Southern Highlands. Both moka (by definition) and tee (possibly) feature incremental exchange. This opens exchange up to competition and status in both absolute amount and especially relative amount within the partnership, which suggests that ceremonial exchange is most likely to intensify across alliances (although diachronically this may be within alliances given that they are not perfectly stable).

What is interesting is that Enga and Melpa appear to have reacted in different ways to this incremental potential. Increment is, of course, definitive of moka, and the essence of Melpa status aggrandisement. Wiessner and Tumu (n.d.) note that in the Enga case increment is essentially a function of generosity. To what extent this is an ideology that masks competition is not clear, but equally this stress on an overall generous equivalence similar to Anganen ceremonial exchange is significant. Whereas moka represents a competitive edge between partners (as well as within groups that coalesce around big men), as Feil (e.g., 1980) argues, competition is between those that stage tee together, with partnerships cordial and non-competitive. Given the link to warfare, both moka and tee may well be peaceful, if still competitive, alternatives to armed hostilities, but Enga in a sense doubles the pacific elements of it: exchange per se may function to promote peace, with the probability of displeasure between tee partners further diminished through emphasising equivalence.

In this regard, tee is like yasolu where the emphasis is on partners exchanging equal amounts. While there may be inequivalence until the receiver repays an earlier gift, yasolu here is governed by 'alternating equilibrium and disequilibrium' in contrast to Hagen. Certainly holding a debt does not undermine the pork receiver's status, nor confer superiority upon the giver in ceremonial exchange where prestige is reckoned in terms of the number of partners and amount of pigs killed. Collecting personal yasolu histories is a task continually met with claims that men cannot remember all the debts or credits they have with their partners. However dubious this may be is not the point, as it helps reflect a possibility not lost on the Anganen that - given the infrequency of staging the pig kill - partners may die before reciprocating.

It is clear that in Enga and Melpa there is an impetus towards intensification that is essentially absent from Southern Highlands exchange structures. Pacification and the inflation of available wealth, the complexities of Enga and Melpa warfare prestations, and intensified politicking possibilities give rise to a flexibility and basis for manoeuvering which abets the ambitions of big men. Their exploits, of course, would have encouraged ceremonial exchange to develop in the direction it did. Among the Southern Highlanders under consideration, it seems significant that increment remained lodged in a mortuary exchange sequence pertaining to deaths among allies; and in Anganen at least this remains secondary to (and a common avenue for provisioning) the ceremonial exchange of yasolu pork. Certainly both 'moka' and yasolu are about male prestige, but the role of equivalence between partners in Anganen ceremonial exchange and its recognition as the most prestigious of all exchange events undermines any real potential for a Hagen moka type ceremonial exchange to emerge.

Of course, it is incredibly difficult to outline why a historical progression proceeded in a certain direction, let alone endeavouring to ascertain why certain things did not happen. One fundamental point, however, is the items used in exchange. In moka, permanent wealth such as shells and money, and live pigs - all of which may be deployed in the future either through re-use or pig breeding - magnify the availability and quantity of the wherewithal for exchange and the potential for increment. In yasolu, pork is given, which can be transacted further, but not for long as the large cuts are divided and eventually eaten. In one sense yasolu has a gravity that even moka lacks, as its prestige is stated starkly through the destruction of wealth in the form of meat. The common use of valuables in Melpa exchanges is integral to how moka may subsume other prestations. In contrast, this emphasis on immediacy and impermanence distinguishes Anganen ceremonial exchange from most other forms of prestation such as compensation in which shells, cash and live animals dominate. It also underlines the stark separation of ceremonial and mundane exchange in Anganen. Of all the factors involved, it would seem that the meaning of yasolu, in part constituted through the dominance of pork and the marginality of enduring wealth, together with its culturally ascribed superiority to all other exchange events, has both orientated and constrained Anganen history in particular ways.

The direct bilateral movement of wealth between allies and enemies is not, however, a sufficient condition for the elaboration of ceremonial exchange. Western Enga tee concerns mortuary exchange between allies and between enemies, but these did not develop elaborate enchained ceremonial exchange as in Mae or Tombema. Indeed they imported the ceremonial pig kill in living memory, from Mendi. Speculation on the evolution of exchange is fraught with danger. We cannot assume any form of unilinear development within any one area, let alone across areas, if for no other reason than that none of the 'systems' I have mentioned for the south-west central Highlands exist in isolation from each other. They affect each other materially as well as through the trade of ideas and practices. Nor am I suggesting that somehow the differences between the structures of different Anganen exchanges vis a vis politicisation can somehow be mapped out chronologically as an evolutionary model.

Nonetheless, I think there is good reason to support the suggestion that ceremonial exchanges such as (eastern Enga) tee and moka, the most elaborate and politically intense in this region, have their historical roots in prestations relating to warfare.(13) I would argue that we can look to the structural variation between forms of Anganen exchange, and the intermediate position of warfare death prestations in particular, for clues to the interpretation of the varied but related histories of ceremonial exchange. There are three important features suggested by the structural intermediacy of death compensation: (i) the increased complexity and scale of warfare mortuary exchange vis-a-vis other forms of mundane exchange; (ii) the emergent individuation of exchange relationships and status in this context; and (iii) the marginalisation of the female body culminating in the substitution of wealth as the body in 'moka'. In yasolu meaning is finally critically geared to the male dominated politics of prestige in the absence of a 'body logic'.

Moka in Melpa does this in the most pronounced form in the Highlands, as nearly all of the types of events I label mundane in Anganen may be geared to this singular event. The exception is the bridewealth component of marriage exchanges - not even moka can undermine the centrality of women here it would seem. Nevertheless, there are still changes, in degree if not always kind, between Melpa and Anganen marriage and ceremonial exchange. In Melpa, ceremonial exchange truly ratifies marriage, unlike the emphasis of the Anganen situation where marriage legitimates ceremonial exchange as is the case with 'woman stealing' noted earlier. By superseding marriage, masculinisation is achieved in moka as exchange seems only to involve male partners. As in Anganen, there is an appropriation of the male associated bodies of those killed in warfare. Overall, however, there is an emphasis on unmediated moka events powered by the ambitions of big men in which prestige is effectively centred even more as the key to the meaning of exchange in the absence of the body of another (see also A.Strathern 1971:97). Fittingly, then, there is an emphasis on moka between non-kinsmen (A.Strathern 1971:197)


In Highland Papua New Guinea the political may be very much bound up in the cultural articulation of bodies and bodily substances. In varying ways this is so for gender, group definition and interrelations, and for individual status. For substance, discussions of pollution - mostly the debilitating effects on men of female blood - have received most attention. Conversely, other discussions have noted that semen may be seen to have widespread benefits for health and growth. This mainly concerns the maturation of male adolescents among 'ritualised homosexuality' societies (see Herdt ed. 1984), although it is also seen as integral to adult male health in other communities, as is the case for the Mae-Enga (Meggitt 1964). Alternatively, receiving semen through sexual intercourse is thought to benefit Hua women (Meigs 1984). The pioneering work by Wagner (1967, 1972) links substance with wider social phenomena (marriage, group interrelations, exchange), and has inspired a number of accounts (e.g., see Jorgensen ed. 1983; Lindenbaum 1984) of the cultural expression of Melanesian social structures.

It may be profitable to view substance as one, albeit very important, instance of the way bodies are culturally defined and appropriated through linking them with what may seem highly disparate dimensions of social life. Doing so may provide thematic bundles which could be used as a comparative baseline that goes beyond the dominance of singular contrasts which have tended to become emblematic of societal forms in the areal contrasts of the comparative literature on Highlands social evolution (for instance, big men/great men, e.g., see Godelier 1986; intensive versus non-intensive agriculture, e.g., Feil 1987; the mystification of female production or reproduction, Lindenbaum 1984, 1987; or exchange/ritual generally). This could allow these important dyads to be retained while permitting more detailed contrasts not only between areas but within them as well.(14)

Although my main concern here is variation within only one exchange system, Anganen, I have endeavoured to explore some of the potential value of 'body logics' for highlighting similarity and contrast among communities in what is labelled the southwest Highlands. Here what could be classified together as gift exchange political economies demonstrate substantial variation in the way this is expressed through the location of 'bodies' in the meaning and motivation for exchange. In all the communities considered in the region, the centring of women's bodies and the products of these bodies, children, have paramount importance for motivating events such as marriage and mortuary exchange. Equally important, however, are the shifts in focus away from this female-centred body locus, and the political articulations which may go with it.

To say of Anganen that they are exchange based tells little of the subtlety that exchange forms adopt, which cumulatively and through contrast help give rise to a dynamic socio-political order. Bridewealth and non-military death compensations are in essence female-centred body logics embedded in exchange. More inherently political events like warfare death reparation still hinge on the debt bodies create but highlight that the substitution of wealth for bodies is critically based on a male-association of bodies within alliances (a point further elaborated with Melpa and Enga warfare exchanges in which enemies may also participate). Despite their varying expressions, the most inherently political of all exchanges, at least from the point of view of status, are what I have labelled ceremonial, the Enga tee, Melpa moka, Mendi sai le, Wola sa, or Anganen yasolu. While the transcendence of a body logic (while still largely contained within a kinship-alliance structure) is but one factor of many interrelated ones, it is nonetheless a vital dimension upon which politicisation is founded. It gives rise to a predisposing ambience within which individuals think and act in pursuing desired renown, and how others assess their performance. The Anganen 'moka', the ambulakala-ape sequence of mortuary exchange, represents an intermediary structural form between exchanges critically premised on substitution for bodies and yasolu ceremonial exchange. While still lodged in a substitutional logic premised on individual deaths, the critical shift from wealth substituting for the body to wealth substituting as the body, thus marks a fundamental moment in how the variable relations of body logics and wealth exchange may be integral to the politicisation process in this region.


The fieldwork research on which this paper is based comprises 25 months among the Anganen of the Lai-Nembi Valleys and was generously funded under grants issued by the University of Adelaide. The paper derives from an earlier presentation given at the 'Blurred boundaries and transformed identities' conference held at the Australian National University in September, 1994, which is also the basis for an accompanying article (Nihill n.d.a.). I would like to thank the participants including Jeff Clark, Chris Ballard, Lawrence Goldman, and Tom Ernst for their comments. The article also was greatly improved through consideration of the substantial comments given by Francesca Merlan on an earlier draft. I am also very grateful to Alan Rumsey and Neil Maclean for their assistance. All shortcomings remain my own.


1. I will use 'moka' to refer to this aspect of Anganen mortuary exchange; moka will refer to Melpa ceremonial exchange.

2. Bodily damage needs to be culturally defined also, as events such as a child's first haircut or a loss of a tooth may be cause for small compensation offerings to mother's brothers.

3. 'Tying' refers to the traditional practice of fastening the corpse to a horizontal pole for display during mourning. It also has metaphoric value in that things are 'tied' to the corpse in the sense that people are responsible for it, most notably those who should offer compensation.

4. Other practices such as expertise in sorcery or healing or prominence in matters concerning warfare may also give a man reputation, but these are very much secondary concerns in relation to exchange, though ritual may have been more significant in the past (see Nihill in press). The advent of bisnis (a concept derived from business though not reducible to the Western commonsense this term may convey, see Nihill 1994) has substantially reformulated prestige structures in Anganen, and it has convoluted and complex relations to exchange, though these lie well beyond the scope of this paper.

5. Even with home production, men may claim that it has been their efforts - perhaps the most important contemporary one being able to achieve the support of God - that have made pigs big and healthy and made the overall event a success.

6. It is as plausible to speak of warfare and its consequences in the present tense. The Anganen were fighting in the early nineteen eighties where I witnessed compensations payments. As importantly, warfare deaths of the past may be focal in 'moka' years if not generations after the death actually occurred. This is taken up in Nihill (1991) and considered further subsequently.

7. 'To cover' here is likely to refer to the practice of wrapping the corpse in bark cloth (kausa) for interment (ronga, 'to close completely and tie'). This term comes from rinkiti which has the further connotation of 'removing from sight': yand rinkitame 'covers over' the corpse which is problematic for sustaining alliance when uncompensated. It is highly appropriate that the corpse would be present during these payments, as compensation alleviates the debt the body generates, and with this debt removed, the body can be disposed of. To this end, rinkitame and ambulakala ('tie-give') have similar meanings.

8. Given the linkage between marital and political alliance, this enchainment is reminiscent of the tee in fact. As Rubel and Rosman (1978) note, the tee also takes the structural form of patrilateral cross-cousin marriage as (potential) affines, the yandare, exchange with their allies who then give rinkitame to their actual affines.

9. The literal translation of men kap is interesting. Men means pig/pork, while kap derives from the forked kapa posts used, among other things, to hold the main framework of houses together. It is an important metaphor in Anganen, especially in politics, as it conveys the importance of strength and of responsibility. It is the thing which holds other things together or up. Men kap as a prestation thus also alludes to the importance of alliance which holds other things together, thereby pointing to broader social implications of exchange and the roles of individuals within it. The forked shape is important here, encoding opposition, but one stemming from a common base which may highlight common purpose and alliance.

10. Elsewhere (Nihill n.d.b.) I take up the issue of the political value of exchange items. I cannot go into detail here except to note that the amount per se of wealth is not the sole vehicle through which political statements are made. Aspects such as live and dead or raw and cooked also articulate the meaning of pork.

11. Similarly big men will give opa, offering, to local churches, as a 'thank you' to God, but also effectively to gain momentary autonomy from Him (see Nihill 1988b). Also see note five above.

12. While detail cannot be entered into here, in this regard it is interesting that the Southern Highlands communities of Mendi (Ryan 1961:215-64), Wola (Sillitoe 1981b), Kewa (LeRoy 1979b) and Anganen (Nihill 1986:337-72) have competitive exchanges brought on by dispute, usually between men within alliances; that is, notwithstanding the fluidity of the category which may be generally glossed as minor enemy, between men within alliances at the time of the dispute. (Indeed this may well be a motivating factor in why this form of resolution is attempted rather than direct violence.) These are rarely if ever precipitated by human death, let alone that stemming from warfare. They are usually only between two individuals, and they are conceptually distinct from both compensatory and ceremonial exchanges.

Only Mendi really differs from this pattern, as ma-shogenja may be undertaken between groups in order to establish a truce, thus bridging some dimensions of Southern Highlands competitive exchange with events like moka. This may highlight an intermediary position Mendi has between Southern Highlanders and those to the north.

13. Recently I have been fortunate to read the work of, and discuss certain matters with, Polly Wiessner. She has constructed a remarkable history of Enga, including the emergence of ceremonial exchange. She emphasises the importance of the huge great wars in the emergence of tee in Eastern Enga. I cannot even begin to include the immense detail of her information, nor the subtlety of her argument, but I think there are points of complementarity between her argument and mine.

14. Indeed, given the centrality of new productions of bodies, for instance those disciplined by new work ethics of Christianity, or new sexed/gendered bodies as are produced with motherhood (e.g., see Clark 1992; Jolly and MacIntrye 1989), the body may be an important focus for dealing with (post-)colonial Highland histories as well.


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Date:Dec 1, 1996
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