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Fratricide and inequality: things fall apart in eastern New Guinea.


This paper contrasts models of increasing social integration in the central valleys of the New Guinea highlands advanced by Watson, Modjeska and Golson with that of a society constructed entirely differently at the eastern end of the central mountain chain, that of the Upper Watut of Morobe Province. Watut settlements were traditionally locked into a cycle of fission, foundation and accretion caused by the inability of lineage mates to live together without conflict. At a point in the recent past, population growth transformed the system into one of expansion and the conquest of new land until this was arrested by the advent of the colonial period.


In the influential collection of papers drawn together some twenty years ago by Andrew Strathern (1982) and dealing with the growth and emergence of social differentiation in highlands societies, Nicholas Modjeska (1982) advanced a set of arguments about the social relations of production in highland societies. These aimed to revise prevailing ideas of purely environmentally driven social and economic change in the literature of the origins of these societies. As set out in his ANU doctoral thesis (1977), Modjeska's ideas had already brought about profound change in the way the long agricultural sequence at Kuk was interpreted. Jack Golson's contribution to the Strathern volume (1982) set out to incorporate Modjeska's critique into his own thinking about Kuk, Mount Hagen and the wider prehistory of highlands societies.

In this paper I want to look at some of the unfinished business left over from the Modjeska-Golson exchange. Although it was not entirely comprehended by me at the time, I was originally recruited by Jack 'to test the propositions about the history of Mount Hagen society which have been advanced here ... the most profitable line of approach is likely to be to trace the development of exchange systems ... axe stone is a ... promising prospect' (1982:135). (1) I did what he said reasonably quickly (Burton 1984), but am now able to fill in some other gaps that may not have been apparent at the time.

Sent by Jack to the Wahgi to find dei Kunjin wusingal ('the exchange pathway of Kunjin axe stone'), I serendipitously followed it. I then went on fieldwork in many other societies of the New Guinea region: transiently among the Ningerum, Yonggom, Awin, Boazi and Zimakani of the Fly River catchment, and more systematically on the Rai coast, in New Britain, in New Ireland, and among the Biangai and Watut peoples of Wau and Bulolo, and now in Torres Strait. During these projects, I have tried to carry with me the questions that were indeed advanced by Jack Golson, but at the same time balancing them with the sharp injunction of the Papuan coast specialist, Dawn Ryan, who said to me in 1982, after listening to yet another conference paper on pigs and big-men, 'the highlands isn't the only place where interesting things happen' (my words that soften Ryan's fiercer sentiments).

I air these points because I want to make a particular intellectual pitch. It is based on two appeals.

The first is that, in our endeavours to make sense of the pasts and presents of Papua New Guinea societies, there is a constancy about the way we tend to compact our explanations over time and, weeding out inconsistencies, try make them more widely applicable. No problem so far: this is healthy academic 'making sense of things'. Unfortunately, applicability can easily shade into uniformity and then into a dangerous expectation of conformity in the way others explain things that is crushingly negative to dissonant field observations. Lawrence's introduction to The Garia (1984) makes only too clear what can happen when an ethnographer finds a social system that fails to conform to expectations. Lawrence gave several apologies for being slow in publishing, but in reality the 30-year delay in writing his monograph was due to theoretical obstacles erected in by academic colleagues in the 1950s. (2) These particular obstacles no longer exist; nonetheless vigilance is always required to ensure we do not erect new barriers to observation in the new ways we invent to explain things.

My second appeal is that, of all the practitioners of all the disciplines of science, we of all of them must be especially careful to allow for the complexity and diversity that we are always saying is present in Melanesia: why, we have yet to count the societies of the region, so we should at least refrain from and fitting the few that we know about quite well into a limited number of moulds. (Of course, we may have given up counting by now; my point is not about counting.) I go out of my way to draw attention to this, because the delicate tension between lumping and splitting is not always accepted by indigenous Papua New Guinea writers. Bernard Narokobi, for one, has clearly set out an intellectual project to find commonalities across traditional Melanesia--or in his words 'classical Melanesia'. In doing so, he actually lays out his credentials as a 'lumper'. There are many examples in his writing:
   A village recognises itself as an independent, autonomous social
   unit ... identity constitutes the unit as a 'corporation', an
   entity. (1989:21-22).

   Acknowledged leaders are essential to any community ... (1989:23).

   Melanesian societies were largely non-expansionist ... organised
   warfare was controlled by relatively balanced killings to maintain
   equilibrium (1989:30).

These kinds of comments have a clear purpose in a nation-building exercise but it means that there will be times when taking up the contrary position of being a 'splitter' will not meet with universal acclaim. Nevertheless, I put it that it must always be our goal to alternately seek universal principles or accommodate variability--to 'lump' or 'split'--without prejudice, and that we must always give priority to well-reasoned observation.

Modjeska's argument--a sketch

In Modjeska's 1982 paper, the first section concerns two systemic models in which feedback loops centred on pig production offer an explanation for the societal forms that emerged in the highlands. The first of these--originated by Watson (1977) as a variant of the familiar Boserup (1965) model of population stimulus for technological change--posits a growing human population depleting its natural environment and wild protein sources. Escape is attained by planting more sweet potato and feeding it to growing herds of domestic pigs. This in turn leads to the clearance of even more forest and, if people are better nourished, to a greater human population and so on as the cycle continues. This is termed the 'ecological use-value' model (Modjeska 1982:54).

Unlike Watson, Modjeska does not seek to explain the growth of polities ('tribes', 'clans') in the highlands in terms of the need to respond to the environmental and economic changes that accompany population growth in all flavours of Boserup-derived models.

Instead, what he says is that fundamental changes in the realm of society itself must first occur. In particular, there must be a transition from the kind of society in which the exchange or slaughter of pigs is unimportant, to one in which pig kills and exchanges fulfil essential social and political functions, such as we see in the highlands today.

Modjeska contrasted the Duna, with whom he lived, with their near-neighbours the Kaluli. Duna society is kept running by 'mediative substitutions', that is to say the exchange of pigs, axes, plumes, tree oil, dogs' teeth and other valuables for homicide compensation and brideprice. In contrast the Kaluli are representative of people who prefer 'reciprocal identical actions': that is to say revenge killings and direct sister exchange.

Modjeska mayor may not entertain the belief that at some time in the pasta social transformation took place to create societies of the latter kind out of the former, along the lines posited by Rubel and Rosman (1978). Regardless, a transformation must occur between types of societies where the relation between it and its underlying resource base follows what he calls an 'ecological use-value' model to other types of societies where the relationship follows an 'exchange-value' model (Modjeska 1982: Figs. 1 & 2) for the emergence of larger polities to occur.


In Modjeska's argument, the environment weakens as a primary limiting factor in the face of population growth, and 'increasing intergroup network complexity' and 'increasing intergroup competition' (1982:56) become more important as restraints on continuing system growth. It is not therefore an ecological remedy that is needed to permit continued growth but for some means of conflict mediation. This places an increasing premium on the acceptance, by members of the society set in opposition to one another, of the substitution of things (pigs, valuables) for human lives (homicide victims, brides). Once this has occurred, the scaling-up of pig production then fuels the possibility of 'larger' societies, wider networks, bigger big-men, increasing populations, and so on.

Unfortunately, like Watson before him, Modjeska neither had a real means of observing the moment of this innovation nor was he able to draw on ethnographic examples that could convincingly show the narrowing of the gap between these two highly contrasting ways of organising a society to a point where a crossing-over could be imagined.

The case of the Watut

I will now introduce the case of the Watut, whose recent pre-contact history contrasts starkly with the societies discussed by Modjeska, Golson and, for that matter, Watson. The Watut are speakers of Hamtai (after the eponymous ancestral place near Kaintiba in Gulf Province) one of the eleven Anga languages (Lloyd 1973) that make up one of the largest inland culture areas in New Guinea (Figure 1). They are known ethnographically through the work of Beatrice Blackwood (Blackwood 1950, 1978) who spent seven months in their area in 1936-37; O'Neill (1979), a gold miner who worked leases in the area about five years before Blackwood's visit, also makes reference to people and places that are readily recognisable. (3)

The Watut live as swidden gardeners in a mid- to upper-montane rainforest environment (1000-2000m) and traditionally had a comprehensive ethno-pharmacological knowledge and made heavy usage of bush resources. Their population density ranges from about 2.0/[km.sup.2] to perhaps 20.0/[km.sup.2.] in localised parts of Slate Creek. Setting aside possible differences in soils and rainfall, the ecological base of their subsistence economy bears comparison with many well studied fringe highlands groups such as the Tsembaga (Rappaport 1968) or Bomagai-Angoiaing Maring (Clarke 1971), the Daribi of Karimui (Wagner 1967), further 'mountain Papuans' on the south side of the highlands (Weiner 1988), or mountain dwellers in near-neighbouring valley systems such as the Kunimaipa (McArthur 1971) or Tauade (Hallpike 1977) of Central Province.

Like those groups, their principal crop is sweet potato, grown without mounding or soil tillage and accompanied by ancillary crops such as sugarcane, bananas and greens.

However, this is about as far as the comparisons with these other societies will stretch. Pigs, important to all the groups just mentioned and with no exception in the nearby societies (Mc Arthur 1971:161ff; Hallpike 1977:71), are notable for the fact they are rarely kept at all today, and there is little evidence that they were more important in traditional times. Wealth items were also unimportant traditionally.

Trade, exchange, wealth, rare things

Let me be clear about what this means. Various rare items were sought after; indeed small parties of Watut made lenghty expeditions to obtain them from distant groups within their language area, but their motivation was neither to 'make a name' by gift exchange on their return, nor to leverage differences in exchange value at opposite ends of their range to make a 'profit', as Huli traders seem to have been interested in doing (Mangi 1988). Objects certainly moved across their region, but this was because individual men wanted to provision themselves with things that were difficult to obtain or of higher quality than they could find at home, not because such men wished to alternately build up and then give away surpluses of things in return for 'non-thing' credits like name, political advantage, and the daughters of their allies.

Another characteristic of 'exchanges of wealth' was also absent: 'wealth' itself. We remark of Melanesian big-men that they are not really 'wealthy', because they can only deploy wealth by disposing of it. That may be so, but the pigs, axes and shells they exchanged in traditional times were indeed imbued with a special quality we can easily understand as 'wealth' or 'value'. For example, we might say of a thing 'that's valuable, it must be worth ...' and then go on to make an equivalence with an amount of money or another commodity we could have instead of it. In other words 'value', or its collective noun 'wealth', is a quality in things that enables them to be readily changed into something else, and the quintessence of this quality is that such things can be exchanged into others that are perceived as even scarcer than they are themselves.

Watut 'things' could no doubt be admired if they were of high quality or good manufacture, but it does not make sense to think of them as intrinsically 'valuable' in the sense just explained.

The chief candidates for inclusion in an exchange economy--if one had existed--are salt, cowrie shells, axe blades and stone tapa-beaters. The manufacture of salt in a fashion similar to that described by Godelier (1977; cf. Sinclair 1966:61-62) among the western Anga Baruya is known by elderly Watut, although none has been made in recent times. Salt making does not appear to have been carried out in a manner that would deliberately create a surplus for use in trade. A point that is moot is whether any Watut ventured to collect the brine that pours from a spring near the current Biangai village of Wandumi. Watut have place names in this area and some Watut claim they once hunted over it but, if discovered there, they would have been attacked on sight by the Biangai.

Blackwood's photographs show Watut men wearing bandoliers of cowrie shells, but when questioned where they had obtained them informants maintained that they did not acquire the shells in trade, but that they shot and killed Biangai men who were wearing them. (The Biangai routinely traded across the mountain ranges to the east with coastal groups in the Salamaua-Lababia area). Although they have traditional names for cowries, yava, and other shells, those photographed by Blackwood are likely to have been post-contact trade shells.

Bark cloaks were common attire but made by their users locally, as it is probable were most of the stone tapa beaters used to make them, and also axe heads. Nevertheless, stone tapa beaters and axes from premium sources were highly prized.

Sources of axe stones at Tekadu and tapa stones at the Watui ('Korpera') River to the east of Tekadu were located a long distance to the south and seem only to have been visited twice from the Upper Watut in living memory. Following a route similar to that followed by the Australians on the World War II Bulldog 'mule track', (4) a party of Watut men from Akikanda village cut across to the upper reaches of the Bulolo River and then followed tracks across the mountains from there. It seems they had made one round trip, carrying salt packages to give to their hosts at Tekadu and were setting out on their second one when the first Australian gold miners arrived at Wau in 1922.

Watut practice on these expeditions differed significantly from what occurred in the axe-manufacturing systems of the Wahgi and Jimi Valleys of the Western Highlands (Burton 1984). In these places the quarries lay within tribal territories and production was the exclusive preserve of clan members who deployed high value axes to their advantage in the exchange systems of the Upper Wahgi. The Watut, by contrast, were not feeding salt packages into a well-known system of exchange to obtain axes, but giving courtesy gifts to their own distant kin for permission to help themselves to raw materials. I said earlier that it is that there is no evidence that Watut produced surpluses for trade. This movement of goods falls under the rubric of gift-giving between kin, a marked difference with production that is undertaken so that the producers can compete among themselves and with their neighbours in an exchange system.

Social organisation

Watut social organisation bears no relation to anything mentioned by Golson, Modjeska or Watson. A great many topics are addressed in discussion of New Guinea social structures in the ethnographic literature. For the purposes of illustration, let me select a sample of three.

* Which is more valid: Glasse's (1968) cognatic model of the Huli or Goldman's restoration of emphasis on patrilineal recruitment (Goldman 1983; cf. Modjeska's endorsement of Glasse for the Duna--1982:164)?

* Why are Hagen tribes so big (Strathern 1972; cf. Golson 1982:134-135 and Burton 1988)?

* Are 'loose structures' typical of the region (e.g. Pouwer 1960, Barnes 1962, Du Toit 1964, Langness 1965, and many others)?

These topics are joined by dozens of others. I pick these particular ones because they illustrate the presupposition that each society has 'groups', whether or not they are 'loose', 'big' of 'cognatically recruited'.

The particular problem at hand is that the previous ethnographer to spend time among the Watut, Blackwood, could form no clear grasp of their society at all. After her death her editor, Hallpike, was unable to make any more progress at unravelling the mystery and excused Blackwood on the grounds that Watut social organisation had been 'fluid and formless, even by New Guinea standards' (Hallpike 1978:9). (5)

On the face of it, the 'loose structures' literature would appear to have attractions for a new analysis. But whatever they are like, the societies discussed--many from the Eastern Highlands--undeniably possess what can still be called, as a shorthand, 'tribal groups', as this one does:
   Korofeigu is the name of a place, a people, and what, for our
   purposes, we can term a tribe ... The 750 residents constitute an
   autonomous tribal group, one of approximate 65 such groups ... [in]
   the Bena Bena census division (Langness 1965:164).

That is to say, as in Narokobi's 'classical Melanesia', the members of a Langness' 'tribe' have an ideological adherence to being together and acting together in some co-ordinated way from time to time, minimally in times of warfare or during feast preparations. Depending on the emphasis of the ideology and the nature of the tribe's composition, it may be possible to go further and choose between calling it primarily a 'kin group' or a 'local group'. In general, an attribution of 'looseness' goes along with genealogical shallowness and flexibility--indeed structural amnesia--in the manner that people are recruited into the group. The more 'loose' in this sense that a group is, the more likely that it should be called a 'local group'. Note that it is taken for granted, for example by the fact that a tribe has a name, that whatever else it is like, it has an identity that persists over time.

The Watut do not fit into this discussion because they have deep genealogies and an inflexible strictness about patrilineality, but persistent groups are not present.

At birth, each Watut becomes known under one of a certain number of patronymics, which are named patrilineal descent categories. (6) Influenced today by a fundamentalist reading of the Old Testament on the part of both the Hamtai Bible Church and the New Tribes Mission, of which the former is a breakaway sect, Watut have an unswerving belief in the existence of 'twelve tribes' in their society, and if prompted begin to list the patronymics. However, none has ever in my presence reached twelve and many fail to remember the names of the rather obscure tenth and eleventh patronymics (see Table 1).

What is it that the patronymics are believed to do, own, or possess?

First, they 'do' nothing. That is, there is no joint activity that could bring all the people of one patronymic together to do it, not even warfare. Unlike a Western Highlands tribe like the Kawelka (Strathern 1972), Tungei (Burton 1984), Jika, Mokei, Yamka, Kopi etc (at Mt Hagen: Burton 1988), or a Bena Bena one like Korofeigu, you cannot locate people with the same patronymic by going to its 'place'. Of course, classic colonial practice was to name places after a principal ethnic group living there and the Upper Watut is no exception; but if in 1935 people of Nautiya patronymic really did live at 'Nauti', a new settlement has arisen phoenix-like in the same location since, but predominantly filled by people of Equta patronymic; likewise the inhabitants of 'Ekuti' village (O'Neill 1979:111)--actually Ekua (Blackwood 1950: Frontispiece), now called Yokua--may once have been people of Equta patronymic, but today the inhabitants are a mix of Equta and Titama.

Second, Watut have no doubt that at least the main five patronymics originated at Hamtai, the Watut origin place across the Ekuti Range in the Aseki area, with the birth of the single male founder of each one. Logically speaking, each of the founders owned his own land and, by virtue of an ideology of heritability, his descendants are today his successors and therefore must be the inheritors of his original property, plus any that he or his descendants have subsequently taken vacant possession of where they live today, of won by conquest up to about 1930 when patrol posts at Otibanda and Kobakini 'pacified' them (Annual Report 1932-33; Downs 1978:230). (7)

The problem with this as a principle guiding daily life, is that history can be tailored to one's convenience and, while it is still alright to publicly claim that one owns land because an ancestor routed a non-Watut previous owner, it is politically unacceptable to make the same claim against the ancestor of a fellow Watut. This places land disputation largely into the realm of claiming that land was vacant when occupied by one's ancestor, resisting counter-claims along the lines of 'how come my ancestor never saw yours when he hunted over it', and either by concealing inconvenient details of genealogy that, if proven in public, would weaken one's claims, or explaining the extraordinarily circumstances as to why no one has heard of a genealogical claim of connection before.

I should add that this does not weaken the ideology of strictness in reckoning genealogy. Where details are in dispute, this does not shake each person's belief in the absolute truth of their own version.

Third, the patronymics are believed to be gifted with what might be called 'aptitudes'. For example, men of Titama patronymic are supposed to have had a reputation for second sight and scouting, Apea for looking after the land, Nautiya for cooling disputes, and so on. This has a direct, and contradictory, bearing on land ownership. In an archetypically 'correct' oral historical account of migration to or conquest of new land, ancestors of different patronymics must discover the land together, their different aptitudes playing complementary roles in spying out, holding the party together, or fiercely winning the land off non-Watut peoples.

The complementarity of the aptitudes stands in contradiction to that part of Watut ideology that says that 'originally' local patriline branches of the patronymics exclusively owned particular land tracts, because it is impossible to contemplate that a patriline ancestor, as is asserted, travelled through the bush alone and single-handedly routed the tribe (of a different language group) that was living there at the time. As analysts, we may say that that a mixed raiding party must have gone out as a group, taken possession of the land, and then parcelled it out to the ancestral pioneers who participated in the raid, or some such. But this is not how any landowning elder will portray it nowadays. He will not only insist that his father or grandfather walked onto the land unaccompanied, his oral historical account is very likely to say that his ancestor's brother turned back at a certain creek, rejecting the chance to take possession of land beyond it which accounts for the present-day boundary between land claimed by him and by descendants of his ancestor's brother. Brother patrilines are more likely to be in competition for the same resources than they are to be ready to unite in some non-existent higher level of tribal integration.

I cannot resolve in this paper every point of contrast with other reported forms of social organisation in nearby societies, but a few further comments are worth making. Women are invisible jurally and take no public part in moots of the recitation of historical or genealogical knowledge. (8) The patronymics are not exogamous; indeed, marriages are commonly contacted between quite close patrikin. As my statistics from 1995-2000 show that either partner in a first marriage is quite likely to die before the other has reached middle age, levirate marriage, often merely a theoretical possibility in other parts of New Guinea, is very common where the husband dies first; if the wife dies, there is no obstacle to the husband finding a second wife among her sisters, or even marrying two sisters at once--a practice that is abhorrent to many highlanders, for structural reasons. By contrast to the litigious, competitive relations between patrikin, qaika or 'arrow people', the people men turned to traditionally for assistance in initiation, hunting expeditions, and for assistance with brideprice were their mother's people, their matrikin, ka or 'bilum people', with whom tolerant and co-operative relationships pertained.

Lethal violence was not group-on-group warfare, but raids by Watut of one or several settlements against the outposts of other language groups, the vengeful killing of witches, and surreptitious murder. All three take place today without the hue and cry--locally and in the national media--that accompanies tribal fighting in the highlands. The absence of formal kin groups means that an attack on a man is not the signal for a call to arms by his 'clan brothers', though in the modern context court hearings and the involvement of the police necessarily involve many members of the community.

Pattern of settlement

Informants say that traditional life was lived in single-lineage hamlets established for a few years in the bush, then abandoned. I have already mentioned 'Ekuti' (also known as Ekua, now Yokua) and 'Nauti' (Blackwood 1950: Map on p.11). In reality, these short-lived hamlets were quite representative of the small size of traditional settlements--perhaps rarely holding 40 people--and the short lapse of time between foundation and abandonment. In contradiction to the emic viewpoint, I think it is unlikely that people of a single patronymic founded and lived in these hamlets, as 1 now explain.

The only published analysis of eastern Anga settlement patterns soon after contact is that of Hans Fischer (1968) among the Jeghuje of the Banir River, a tributary of the Middle Watut. Fischer's two visits, in 1958 and 1965, clearly show the pattern of fission and accretion that appears to be the characteristic of Upper Watut settlement formation as documented by oral history. To start a settlement, a man leaves the place where he lives and founds a new place. Later others, following connections of kinship, join him and build houses near his. Finally, men leave this place to found new settlements, and so on until the last residents die or leave.

Recently I have studied Nauti village in detail; its contemporary composition is as shown in Figure 2. What is seen in this diagram is a genealogical structure where the backbone is an Equta lineage known as Yatavo. Yatavo is the name of a man born in the 1850s in the Aseki area long before the foundation of the present village around 1954. Yatavo lineage comprises five extended families of 102, 31, 3, 21 and 12 living members: a total of 169 people. Only 87 of these are Yatavo agnates. Nauti village is in growth mode such that at least seven daughters who married between 1960 and 1980 brought their husbands to Nauti and raised their families patrilocally. As a result, the Yatavo extended families are made up of their spouses, their offspring by non-Yatavo husbands, and a smaller number of children brought to Nauti by widows remarrying to Yatavo husbands.

Kanakaimaknga, another place in Aseki, has a special connection to the Yatavo people; Yatavo's son Hangitau married two sisters from there in the early part of the twentieth century, Matanati and Qopeiweni. Hangitau family is now the largest of the living Yatavo families (102 members; i.e. agnates, their spouses, and Nautiborn non-agnatic close kin); two extended families originating at Kanakaimaknga and connected to the women, with 64 and 12 members, have settled with them at Nauti since the 1950s. Two more families, of 22 and 23 members, comprise non-agnatic descendants of Yatavo women, Anapanatai and Wangai, married to men of other Aseki places a generation ago. A further 31 people in six families have come to Nauti more recently, also following kin connections.

As a result of the various methods of accretion and attachment, Yatavo agnates now only make up only 87 of 330 Nauti residents, or 26.4%. Even if their spouses and recently Nauti-born non-agnatic cognates are considered, 'Yatavo families' only make up 51.5% of the residents. Their attached kin in six other patronymics and their spouses make up the remainder. (9)

How representative is Nauti of traditional Watut settlement processes? The size, 330 people, is much greater than anything seen by Fischer, Blackwood or government officials out on patrol in the 1950s. Also, the time elapsed since the foundation in 1954 means that Nauti has already exceeded the expected lifespan of a traditional Watut settlement, which from Fischer's data may be put at as little as twenty-five years. But these are people participating in a cash economy and in the modern context of services being supplied only to established villages. The processes of formation--how people have come to be aggregated onto the settlement core--does appear to be representative of the traditional past.

Although the paths that immigrants take are similar, the Nauti construction of a community is not like the 'cumulative patrifiliation' (Barnes 1962) and similar mechanisms described for the highlands, set out in most detail for the Kawelka by Strathern (1972) and for which I also have genealogical detail for the Tungei (Burton 1984) of the Wahgi Valley. (10) Firstly, cumulative patrifiliation is concerned with recruitment to persistent groups. Once a member, differences in origin are soon forgotten in the clan-based drive to build up what one Wahgi informant described to me as a 'solid team'. Genealogy is eventually obfuscated and simplified so that even the analyst has to adopt arbitrary criterion of who is really an 'agnate'; for example: 'I list as agnates of Kawelka clans all those whose father's fathers, as far as I can tell, were accepted as group members' (Strathern 1972:94, my emphasis).

By contrast, Fischer's data suggests that an entity such as that shown in Figure 2 may traditionally have existed for scarcely long enough for one generation to arise and it is out of the question that it could remain intact for three or four. If it is so transient, what kind of entity is it? Is it a 'group'? First, the motivation for the co-residents to build their houses in the same settlement originates in rights and granted permissions originating in kinship that, so while the entity is not strictly a 'kin group', kin connections are indispensable. In Figure 2 they date back to historical events of the 1875-1880 period and, far from the details being subject to a hazy recall and simplification, they are curated by the members of patrilines as sacred charters to land and resources. Second, there is 'emic distortion' in the interpretation of history and kin connections, in the sense discussed by Strathern (1972:94; see also Lawrence 1984:41, 'legerdemain'), but it lies in rival interpretations of what rights knowledge of the events and connections provide the bearer with, not simplification to fuse non-agnatic ancestors into the upper reaches of the patriline. Third, although the entity is a 'local group' in the sense that those linked together are co-resident, there was a high likelihood traditionally that they would disperse to form new settlements within one generation, and it devalues this term to employ it.

The situation has resonances in the 'irregular and unstable' settlement populations of the Garia that Lawrence calls 'security circles' (Lawrence 1984:33-38). A critical difference is that the Garia homeland is divided up into culturally stable tracts of land ('bush god domains'), whereas Watut boast that their ancestors were hot-blooded and took possession of the land of other ethnic groups whenever they felt like it: there is no sense that they live on an ancient homeland and that their cycles of settlement fission and formation arises from movement between its subdivisions. Also, Garia men have very considerable rights in their own right to garden strips within the bush domains that they have cognatic links to, whereas when Watut join a settlement founded by men of another patriline, they come to it as political mutes and must wait to be given access to land for swidden gardening or house sites. Their right to do this stems from the unrefusable obligations of patrikin to their mothers' people and to their sisters' children.

If the entity in Figure 2 requires a label, then it is an 'impermanent residential patriline cluster'. The residents of the village have no name for it other than Nauti. As I have explained, this derives from the name of the patronymic, Nautiya, a patriline of which formed the core of the differently configured cluster that occupied the area when the settlement names were first written down by K.W.T. Bridge, the OIC at Otibanda Patrol Post at the time of Blackwood's visit. (The surviving remnants of the original Nautiya core detached themselves from Nauti around 1954 and moved a short distance onto another portion of their land.)

In the western part of the Anga area, Godelier seems happy enough to refer to the settlements of the Baruya as 'villages and hamlets' and repeats the emic view that once upon a time 'each lineage dwelt together in a separate place'. He continues:
   But continual vendettas, the possibility and (on occasion) the
   urgent need to go to live with one's affines (relatives by marriage)
   or with one's maternal kinsmen, have led to coexistence and
   interdigitation around a central core of segment of lineages
   belonging to different clans (Godelier 1986:4).

This certainly fits with my 'patriline cluster' (except Godelier's use of the word 'clan') but the author provides few more details. The short timescale of the cycle between the formation of a patriline cluster and its breakup distinguishes patriline clusters from social formations seen elsewhere: for example, with the Maring 'clan clusters' of similar size and which are nowadays named after their leading clan or clans (Rappaport 1968:8; Clarke 1971:4). Maring clan clusters are territorial; fission and fusion processes play out at clan level, but without affecting the integrity of the territory as a whole. Warfare between clusters was believed by Rappaport to reshape territories in the long run, but since (a) his informants told him that land of another cluster cannot be annexed (Rappaport 1968:170), and (b) he cannot himself have observed conquest at the time of fieldwork, we can suppose that territorial changes, if they did occur, did so on a timescale of centuries, not decades. Watut patriline clusters are not territorial and did not wage war on each other; any cause of conflict, say an instance of adultery or an accusation of witchcraft, panga, would rip either a patriline or the cluster apart before this could happen. As for the concept of a centuries-long timescale: there were no Watut settlements in the vicinity of Nauti 100 years ago. According to my reckoning in both Watut and Biangai genealogies, the first encounters between these two ethnic groups on the Bulolo-Watut Divide, which are in turn evidence of the earliest presence of Watut in the Nauti area, only took place from around 1910.


It is worth remarking on the absence of rituals of practices that, putatively, might lead to more cohesion in patriline clusters. In true clan-based societies, such things include the confession of petty crimes, the planning of community events, and most importantly an unrelenting ethos of communal contribution to exchanges with other groups: brideprice in all years, compensation payments during hopefully rarer crises, and special pig exchanges and feasts once in a generation.

Such things are not evident in patriline clusters because the relationships of most cultural importance are found elsewhere. Nowadays Watut men pay only token brideprices for which community-wide contribution is unnecessary, do not have a traditional concept of compensation and, if they use pigs in any transactional way, they do so very infrequently. In July 2000, there were only two pigs for 59 households at Nauti and these were being cared for by a low status man and a widow. (11)

This is not to say, heavy obligations did not accompany marriage as it was traditionally. In contrast to the exchange of sisters among the Baruya (Godelier 1986:20ff.), Watut formerly paid brideprice in the form of netbags bulging with smoked possums. The transactions, in reality a form of bride service, were asymmetrical and non-reciprocal. To accumulate the required amount, a man's maternal uncles, very likely from different residential patriline clusters, camped with him in the bush for several months hunting and smoking game animals. (12) Nauti itself was positioned at the foot of a 25 km-long, uninhabited valley that Watut from other places continue to refer to as their 'store'. Well into the 1950s (Bamford 1951/52) men entered Nauti bush tracts, first seeking permission from the owners, and establishing hunting camps at higher altitude, but the practice has fallen into abeyance since. The logic of the situation is that matrikin helped their sisters' sons with the possum payments to their inlaws; in turn the sisters' sons joined with their sisters' sons to help them. (13) These transactions had little bearing on sociality in the residential patriline cluster.

A last point is that Watut who join the residential patriline clusters of others never change their patronymics. I have related elsewhere an example where informants could not accept as a true agnate a man with whom their genealogical connection could only be reasoned indirectly (Burton 1997:3). Naturally, when matrikin join a patriline cluster, exemplified by the Kanakaimaknga people attached to Hangitau family at Nauti, they can hardly be converted into fictional agnates.

The problem of sociality among the Watut

All this makes for a kind of community that has radically different properties to the corporate groups of Simbu, Western Highlands, Enga and parts of Southern Highlands, and indeed to the first of the Narokobi strawmen, '... identity constitutes the unit as a corporation, an entity', as applied to the many other societies in lowland or coastal Melanesia familiar to us through ethnography.

Obviously, I immediately reject the last written word on the subject: that Watut society was 'fluid and formless'. The fact is, apart from the logistical difficulties she faced in the field with a newly contacted group, neither Blackwood nor others of her generation had the analytic tools to make sense of what she had encountered and it would be some time before accounts of societies without territorial groups would be greeted with other than 'scarcely veiled scepticism' (Lawrence 1984:2). Now we can see that Watut societies had perfectly good structures deriving from deep genealogy, matrilateral and affinal kin connections.

This said, what keeps the whole together? Why do people live together? It is problematic to ask if lineage mates descended from an apical great-grandfather, that is to say the co-resident agnates seen at a Watut settlement, have any duties or obligations to one another. More to the point, a fundamental problem of Watut life is that brothers always quarrel.

In contradistinction to the warm and tolerant relations with matrikin and sisters' children, those with co-agnates are full of potential for hurt feelings, suppressed resentment and ultimately violence. Like the Baruya, the descendants of Yatavo are where they are because of 'the misadventures of a fratricidal struggle' (Godelier 1986:9). Their ancestor fell out with his brother, formed an adulterous relationship with his brother's wife and had an assassin kill him. In fear of retribution, he fled from Aseki into the head of the Upper Watut. Such movements are replicated in the many individual accounts of the general migration of people from the Kapau, Kabu and Kerepa Rivers into this then-sparsely populated area from about 1880 (Burton in press).

In the next generation, just before World War II, Yatavo men at Sapanda killed their own classificatory sister over a witchcraft accusation and were sent to prison at Kavieng. On their repatriation after the war and seeking a new home, they found that waves of epidemic disease had reduced the population of Nauti to a handful of families. Following the types of connection I have outlined, they joined with the Nautiya remnants of 'Old Nauti' in 1946 or 1947, also taking over the vacant position of government headman, and soon outnumbered them. They split with the Nautiya families and moved to a new Nauti about 1 km away in 1954, where the village remains today.

In the present generation, there are constant attempts by patriline heads to upstage one another. This is rarely expressed in the conventional political terms of Melanesia; that is, by lobbying supporters and mobilising resources to out-talk, out-exchange, or simply out-muscle one's rival. Rather it takes the litigious form of compiling genealogies and re-working putatively historical texts to prove the legal primacy of the one's ancestor over the rival's ancestor. For example, two contemporary patrilines, living in different villages, comprise the descendants of a single man by his two wives; the rivals each believe his great-grandmother was the first wife, and therefore that he should have priority in dealings with government and other outsiders. (14)

One of the most celebrated rifts is between two Watut brothers with the younger waging a bitter campaign to depose the elder as spokesman in a landowner association. Indeed all the significant disputes among Watut landowner representatives are between men classed as brothers, not men of different patronymics.

In the Upper Watut I have no accounts of traditional attempts to mediate conflicts. In Modjeska's model, an increase in the population size of local groups is accompanied by a need to mediate conflict, which duly occurs to permit the co-residence of even larger numbers of people. I referred to mediation above as an innovation. Such an innovation appears never to have occurred in the society of the Hamtai speakers we now know as Watut.

In place of mediation, a man traditionally had three choices. He could terminate a conflict by killing his antagonist, do nothing and be killed himself, or he could flee to another place of settlement. Lethal confrontation was certainly a common option. It also pre-adapted Watut for the frontier war with Europeans that persisted in this area from 1922-42. As one elder said, 'they tried to kill us, and we tried to kill them'.

In relation to the last alternative, a slight digression is necessary. In the western Anga area, Godelier (1982, 1986) describes many ways in which Baruya men could become 'great men'--as warriors, aoulatta; as shamans; as cassowary hunters; and to a certain extent as salt-makers. It is now too difficult to assess the status given to Watut men for hunting and salt-making, but a characteristic that Godelier specifically rules out for the Baruya aoulatta appears to have been the premier method of achieving the highest of statuses. This was to personally pioneer and seize new land by force, killing or driving away any previous inhabitants. To judge from the manner in which ancestral names, genealogies and the identities of ancient places are jealously guarded today, only one thing caps this achievement--the immortality of having occupied and even named places in the cultural landscape and of leaving an unbroken line of agnatic descendants to remember it.(15)

This leads to the feasibility of turning the alternative solution of flight to one's advantage, as Yatavo did: namely, to leave one's former settlement, discover 'new' land, and found a new place where, in the fullness of time, one's descendants will remember the episode as one of heroic conquest. Here too is a way to revisit both the aoulatta of Godelier's time and the second of Narokobi's strawmen: 'acknowledged leaders are essential to any community'. Among the Watut, contemporary leaders are hereditary headmen. How do they obtain their positions? By descent from the apical ancestors of their patrilines, of whom they are the genealogically most senior living descendants. The rub to Narokobi's dictum is that apical ancestors are not known as such in their lifetimes, it is only posthumously through the serendipitous survival of their offspring that their names become evident, and consequently the identity of their scions. They may have been famed warriors, of they may have been men who tan away to find their own land--it does not matter so long as they were fecund.

Population growth and intensification in the Watut model

How does what I have described fit into the broader agricultural history of upland New Guinea? The literature that bears on this, both analytical and empirical (e.g. Brookfield 1973; Golson 1982; Feil 1987; Lemonnier 1990; Bourke et al. 1997), spans disciplines, with all scholars having plenty to say about the relationships between society, population and agricultural systems. Notwithstanding all the disagreements in these discussions, there is a common thread: namely, that society, population and agriculture are interconnected in some way that adds up to a geographical-societal construct known as 'intensification'.

The explanatory endpoint is crystal clear. The dense populations of the central valleys of the highlands, with their multi-cropping, manicured horticultural landscapes, large pig herds, and elaborate political superstructures were not present thousands of years in the past--at a materialist minimum, their crop inventories have changed in the last few hundred years and even pigs have no great antiquity in New Guinea (Harris 1996:568). Intensification is what has brought these societies to their present forms. How has this happened?

My present analysis is not meant to touch on the mainstream of these arguments. Indeed, I cannot do this because what I have presented is an anti-example, a case where what we normally understand as intensification did not occur.

Nevertheless, the Watut system of discord, fission and land conquest surely took place in the context of broadly similar environmental and horticultural constraining factors. In Watson's view, environmental degradation in response to population growth, among other things, helped initiate a sequence of intensification. Among the Anga generally, environmental degradation was certainly a fact of life, as witnessed by the open, and largely unusable, grasslands of the Aseki, Menyamya and Langimar areas. A measurable indication of nutritional stress of some groups comes from data on stature. A 1963 patrol report gives data for a total of 709 adults at 15 Aseki villages in which men had an average height of 1.50m (4ft 11 1/2in) and women of 1.36m (4ft 6 1/2 in). The government officer who led this patrol found it a matter of physical anthropological curiosity that these newly contacted people should be so short (Smith 1962/63); in reality poor nutrition and related factors like childhood illness underlay such short stature.

But although agricultural intensification occurred in some areas of the Anga region, for example around Menyamya and Marawaka (Bryant Allen pers. comm.), Hamtai-speakers in the east and south pushed beyond their existing frontiers to pioneer 'new' land. (In this context 'new' means vacant or sparsely populated land, or land from which existing inhabitants have been driven away.) As things stand, there is no way of saying whether loss of carrying capacity in their original heartland was a factor prompting the move; all that can be said is that agricultural intensification did not occur, and that the bringing into cultivation of more land did occur.

Modjeska pre-empted environmental arguments by giving a higher priority to a need to solve political problems, and that, in the central part of the highlands, institutions to mediate conflict emerged, enabling larger populations to live together. Since this involved the expansion of pig herds, intensification and agricultural innovation to accomplish this was the outcome.

The Watut also faced the need to respond to conflict. But here the press of population on agricultural resources had less of a chance to be a primary agent of change because settlement fission is likely to have pre-empted the exhaustion of land in any particular locality: things always fall apart in this social system. This fuelled, not intensification, but (a) migration and land pioneering and (b) a settlement cycle based on foundation, the accretion of patriline fragments onto the core patriline of the founders, then the discord of brothers, fission, and the spawning of new settlements.

I will stress this. The Watut never did invent mechanisms for mediation; and even today agnates find it difficult to stay together. (For example, they find it difficult to adhere to modern forms of association like churches without creating numerous breakaway groups.) Aggrieved or endangered men still remove themselves and their families and either found new settlements on empty land of follow paths of kinship and attach themselves to settlements founded by others. As already described, in the past this was by no means a measure of last resort: violent men were admired for acquiring land by conquest. In the Upper Watut, this occurred when various Middle Watut groups and earlier refugees were either driven completely away or into localised pockets. By this means the Watut took up new land and moved ever outwards from their ancestral origin place at Hamtai, in a diaspora that began as recently as the 1800s, in the versions given by oral history.

In those parts of the Highlands where the deployment of pig herds helps form alliances, pay compensation and so forth, competition among men to grow and exchange pigs is a leading form of social differentiation. This is not something Watut do. (16) Instead, the paths of life history that men follow to arrive at where they currently live, or indeed that their fathers or grandfathers followed to give rise to them in the previous generation, contain almost all that is necessary to leaven political life, and in turn give rise to inequalities in the patrimonies of living men that persist over spans of time measured in generations.

Contemporary Watut leaders are the senior agnates of the founder lineages of each settlement. At Nauti, they are Yatavo's sole surviving grandson, in the first rank, followed by his great-grandsons, in the second rank. Men of other patronymics--matrikin and in-laws--behave deferentially to them and do not attempt to speak in their presence at public meetings in the village. There is no competition for these positions. Non-agnatic cognates have the means to escape from being merely bondsmen: they can found their own settlement elsewhere and become founder-headmen in their own right. If by misfortune, their former landlords were to have to abandon their place and seek refuge with them, the tables would be turned and the landlords would become deferential bondsmen. (17)

The sustainability of Watut land pioneering

On first glance, a pattern of settlement on the Watut model would seem obviously doomed to fail after only a few generations, because land pioneers must eventually reach impassable barriers or exhaust the supply of new land (cf. Narokobi: 'Melanesian societies were largely non-expansionist'). As such the model is not, on first glance, relevant for explanations of the remoter past. In the present case, those Hamtai people who pioneered to the south (where they are known as the Kamea) dropped to increasingly lower altitude until they encountered the sea at Kerema, probably only in the 1890s (British New Guinea Annual Report 1899-1900). Those who came east from the Kapau River and entered the Upper Watut came up against the Biangai of the Wau Valley, encountering them from 1910 onwards, and subsequently met William 'Shark-Eye' Park and his well-armed gold miner companions from 1922 (Idriess 1934).

But it is precisely because I do not see a reason to imagine significant population growth in pre-contact times that I suggest that the Watut 'anti-example' is highly applicable to the more distant past after all. Much theoretical excitement is generated by change in prehistory, but the dull reality is that we also need to find explanations for the endless millennia where change--in this case agricultural intensification--is not observable.

I suggest that the classic Watut pattern of settlement fission, foundation and accretion really originated long before their oral history speaks of territorial expansion. With a static population, the pioneering of land would have been circular as settlement founders 'conquered' land that in fact had been abandoned and forgotten by earlier generations. In some valleys local extinctions would have even occurred. A case in point is the Upper Watut itself because broad grasslands here--partly now covered by the pine plantations of the Bulolo State Forest--are witness to human activity for possibly centuries or millennia before the recent immigration of people like the Nauti.

Backing this, my analysis of Nauti demographics, and the life tables I have constructed for this and other small Watut communities, shows that life expectancy remains extremely poor, at around forty years at birth for both sexes. (The combination of endemic malaria with malnutrition and anaemia, and with other diseases like tuberculosis are the probable causes of the high mortality today: data from clinic records and interviews with health staff.) This is at great variance to other contemporary Papua New Guinea populations among whom life expectancy is near the nationally quoted average of 58 years or so and, for the Watut, it occurs in a population in which traditional settlement raiding has long vanished. I suggest that prior to contact, with constant raiding, there was very limited scope for population growth, and much less than in the main valleys of the highlands where health conditions were more favourable.

In advancing the Watut case as an alternate response to both societal and environmental problems, I do not wish to carry my explanation to the length of denying the importance of intensification in explanations of the past. No, it is my intention here just to provide a glimpse of another way in which things can be organised.

A case in point is that I cannot ignore the fact that the Watut are as heavily dependant on sweet potato, a crop introduced to Papua New Guinea with the last few hundred years, as any population in the highlands. By this very fact, the uptake of the new crop is unlikely to have left the earlier cropping system unaffected.

But there is change in the Watut past: their oral history is utterly confident about their recent diaspora from their origin in the Aseki area. For this one explanatory need, it may be plausible to suggest that it was the sweet potato that nudged the agricultural system away from some hypothetical former non-expansionist state and into a phase of growth. It is certainly likely that the pre-Ipomoean subsistence system was based on mixed crop agriculture and, going on the recent cultural importance of hunting, a comparatively high consumption of game animals and wild vegetable foods, perhaps along the lines described by Hyndman for the Wopkaimin (1994:49ff.). When the local adoption of sweet potato occurred following its regional introduction around A.D. 1600, then subsistence productivity could well have increased by a margin sufficient to begin a modest growth in population that came to be expressed, in cultural and oral historical terms, in the territorial expansion from Hamtai.

Postscript: 'fluid and formless' vs. the Melanesian Way

Why introduce the sayings of the nationalist author Narokobi into my discussion of the 'fluid and formless' problem bequeathed to me by Blackwood? Well, consider this. In 1988, with the national government on the point of granting a mining concession to the Australian company CRA at Hidden Valley, then recently ruled to lie jointly on Nauti and Biangai land, the landowner spokesmen were in a panic over how to organise themselves and negotiate with the company. As recounted to me by those who were involved, Mr Narokobi himself visited Wau, met the senior Watut representative and recommended a European consultant to him. The first outcome was that the landowners incorporated a company called Hidden Valley Holdings, and the four representatives from Nauti and the two Biangai villages involved were flown to Australia to meet with business contacts. The second outcome was that the consultant banked a K50,000 grant from the Morobe Provincial Government and signed himself to an exclusive 12 year deal to take 15% of all landowner earnings from Hidden Valley.

So it is not for nothing that I have taken axioms from Narokobi's pro-Melanesian, anti-Western polemic to help me advance my argument, because it was Narokobi himself who became a principal agent of Westernising their social formations. I spent the years 1995-2000 countering the legacy of Hidden Valley Holdings and, using the concepts I have set out here, working to 'reindigenise' the form of their representation until, on 22 December 2000, the 12-year deal mercifully expired. Hidden Valley has not yet opened as a gold mine.
Table 1. Main names of patronymics in Upper Watut villages.
Figures in brackets are percentages of 1405 people; * may well
be dialectal variants of one another.

Male member    Female member    Occurrence

Ekuta          Ekuti            Common (41.8%)
Titama         Titami           Common (19.2%)
Nautiya        Nauti            Common (15.4%)
Apea           Apiei            Quite common (11%)
Angamdea       Angamdi          Quite common (7.0%
Tausa          Tafi             Not common (2.6%)
Patea          Patei            Rare (0.9%)
Yaqiana        Yaqiani          Rare (0.7%)
Tanea          Tanei            Rare (0.7%)
Wangatea *     Wangatei         Very rare (0.3%)
Angapea *      Angapei          Very rare (0.1%)


I would like to thank Jack for sitting with me in a caf, in Cambridge and discussing a PhD topic in Papua New Guinea; and Peter Bennett, Lengeto Giam, Ngawae Mitio and my former colleagues in Wau for both making the fieldwork possible and helping me learn about Watut and Wau-Bulolo society and history.

(1.) Footnote 8 in His paper notes that 'Mr J.E. Burton ... is currently engaged on research into this topic'.

(2.) The most devastating attack was that of Leach (1956). Beckett, pers. comm., adds a poignant sequel: when his Garia analysis was finally completed, the deafening silence that greeted what was--I suggest unfairly--categorised as a 1950s monograph was a saddening blow to the author. He did not go on complete what he said would be a third projected work on the Madang coast area, on the Ngaing (Lawrence 1984: 1).

(3.) In Blackwood's work they are known as Kukukuku, a term often deprecated in ethnographic writing due to its allegedly negative linguistic associations in Papua. However, in the Watut area this is unknown and 'Kukukuku' is in widespread contemporary use (e.g. 'Kukukuku Development Corporation', 'Kuku Country'). They explain that when a white man asked who they were, their leader though he was pointing at his son, so he said "Qoka.! Qoka!', meaning 'My boy! My boy!', and this came out as 'Kukukuku'. Although 'Middle Watut' is a term still in use, 'Upper Watut' is not and corresponds today to the Watut Local Level Government area.

(4.) A Winima-Kudjeru-Tekadu 'Track' was used by Allied forces from mid-1942 to mid-1943 prior to the opening of the 'Bulldog Road' from Edie Creek to the Lakekamu.

(5) Blackwood had already demonstrated her field abilities in Bougainville (Blackwood 1935); she returned to Oxford disappointed with what she had been able to do in the Upper Watut, later publishing only botanical work, some folk tales and a technological study (Blackwood 1950).

(6.) I employ the term 'patronymic' where perhaps 'descent category' is more accurate. The patronymics are not used as personal surnames, as I understand the Amungme of West Papua, who must conceal their fathers' names, use their 'clan' names. Like surnames, the patronymics are given for life. It makes no sense to question whether a person is a 'member' of one patronymic instead of another because of a perceived ambiguity in their allegiance: one does owe allegiance to or have membership of a name.

(7.) The present-day neighbours of the Watut are the Manki, distantly related Anga speakers originating perhaps two centuries ago in the Langimar Valley, the Taiak, Galawo, Kapin and Sambio people generally called 'Middle Watuts' and, on their eastern border, the Biangai, all of whom have unrelated languages and cultures. Watut clashed with all these people at various times, driving some further away and/or taking possession of land formerly inhabited by them in various locations.

(8). This is unlike the situation among their eastern neighbours the Biangai, once also labelled as 'Kukukuku' by mistake (e.g. Clune 1951:135). Here meri tu i ken papa long graun (lit: 'women can also be fathers of the land'), that is owners of land and where women can be 'elders'. The Biangai have a bilateral system of local organisation.

(9.) In Figure 2, the minority patronymics are not shown; they exist as "sister's children' and the like within the main extended families.

(10.) My wife's people, the Kuma Miamka of South Wahgi, have contrived to recruit people from all over the country: after working in Wau I discovered they even have a family of Watut.

(11.) Godelier says 'each Baruya family raises pigs ... a woman usually looks after three of four adult pigs and five or six piglets" (1991:287). One man in another Watut village had an unusual number of pigs during 2000, but I was unable to visit him to find out why.

(12.) Confusingly, Godelier says 'game is a resource which cannot be produced by the work of men' (1986:32) but elsewhere 'game, then, is essentially the product of men's work" (1991:286). Still, his description of 'hundreds of men' (1991:286) going into the bush for several weeks to collect game for initiation ceremonies accords well with Watut descriptions of the former practice of collecting game for bride payments.

(13.) Initiation, which also included a period of seclusion in the bush, was another activity in which maternal uncles played a central part as it does in many areas of Melanesia. Discontinued after World War II, initiations appear to have been much abbreviated by comparison with those described for western Anga groups.

(14.) As an aside, this type of dispute would be impossible in Mt Hagen. Apart from the fact that men so closely related could hardly dispute one another, the pairing of tribes, clans, and names of big-men has a considerable cultural importance (e.g. Strathern 1971:23); in fact, the very existence of two brother lineages like this would be prestigious for both of them.

(15.) The aoulatta, by contrast, '... has few wives, few children, and he leaves behind for his descendants little land cleared by his hand. Today ... clans renowned for their warriors still have little land' (Godelier 1982:20). Shamanic work was highly valued. The 1930s luluai of Ekua village, Wauqui Dipato, is particular ascribed with the power of having been a tu ai man, that is someone with the ability to diagnose omens, signs in dreams and the like.

(16.) I do not mean that Watut could not because they do not raise many pigs: they could do, but they don't. Godelier stresses that a different logic is involved: "the Baruya ... would be perfectly capable of creating adequate material conditions for promoting competitive exchanges of live pigs. But they do not do so because it is not a social necessity.' (1991:288).

(17.) I have discussed elsewhere the problems that arise today with the freezing of the settlement system; the headmen are now in positions that are more permanent than they were traditionally, as well as entrenching inequities in wealth (Burton 1997).


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Author:Burton, John
Publication:Archaeology in Oceania
Geographic Code:6GUIN
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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