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Myth, primogeniture and long distance trade-friends in Northwest New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

If the trade networks in New Britain, Papua New Guinea, were linked together in the manner of joining the dots to form an image, what would emerge is a picture of an extensive web of trade-friendships that directly or indirectly connect all of New Britain and its offshore island clusters. My focus here is on the non-specialist, non-institutionalized networks of trade-friendships among the 1500 Bariai speakers in the Bariai district and with whom I have conducted ethnographic field research. (1) I locate the Bariai within the extensive trade network of northwest New Britain to focus on how individual trade-friendships are integral to the achievement and demonstration of personal renown within the context of firstborn ceremonies, particularly, the mata pau or 'new eye.' This Bariai firstborn ceremony necessitates the planning and execution of long-distance voyages to introduce the firstborn child to its parents' trade-friends. The achievement of the mata pau enhances parental prestige and renown, teaches their firstborn the etiquette of trade-friendships, and familiarizes the firstborn with those trade-friend relationships he or she will inherit. While the quest to acquire prestige and renown requires numerous others, it is ultimately a personal achievement. I contend that Bariai trade-friendships are, in tact, relations between individual women and men (and their spouses) rather than kin groups or communities. (2) Although couched in an idiom of kinship, trade-friendships entail different, albeit parallel, sets of rights, obligations and motivations from those operating among consanguinal and affinal exchange partners. I discuss the tenacity of northwest coastal New Britain trading networks and their continuing importance into the contemporary postcolonial era. During the extensive drought of 1982-83 and subsequent food shortages, it was the web of trade-friendships that constituted the social safety net in societies with no institutionalized social welfare system.


Along the north coast of West New Britain province, the four major west-east trade networks link the Kilenge-Lolo, Bariai, Kaliai, and Kove districts (see Chowning 1978b). (3) Each of these links also operates north-south. Through the mountainous hinterlands of the north coast, coastal Kilenge mountain Lolo peoples connect to the Kandrian south coast and Arawe Islanders. Further west, this same trade network interconnects with and contributes to the trade networks of the Vitiaz Straits through the Siassi Islands to the Huon Peninsula and the Rai coast of mainland Papua New Guinea (see Harding 1967:10; 1994). Bariai trade-friend networks extend from the western-most tip of the island at Kilenge (often as far south as Sag Sag), east as far as the Bakovi villages on the western side of the Willaumez Peninsula and into the hinterland villages in these areas. Amara speakers who once lived in the Bariai interior also connect Bariai speakers with the Kandrian south coast. Further east, in the Kaliai district, Lusi and Anem speakers are connected to Kaliai interior Mouk, Aria and Lamogai peoples and to the Arawe and Kandrian districts. Long-standing links exist between the Kove and the Bali-Witu Islanders off the north coast and with Bola and Bakovi on the Willaumez Peninsula. Kove relations with the Bakovi and the Nakanai peoples link the northwest coast trade network further east into the Gazelle Peninsula and the Tolai shell money trade network (Epstein 1979).

Reports submitted by the Australian Patrol Officers (known in Tok Pisin as kiap) who patrolled the northwest coast of New Britain between 1928 and 1974, offer many detailed descriptions of the local trade networks. (4) The majority of these reports predates any ethnographic work in the area and thus constitutes a largely untapped and unappreciated early historical record of the area. Early Patrol Reports for West New Britain confirm that trade relations along the northwest coast did in fact pre-date contact. Colonialism was not the catalyst for initiating interactions among northwest coast peoples, although the pax germanica and pax australiana enforced by the German and Australian colonial administrations facilitated an efflorescence of these longstanding inter-group relations. Despite administrative efforts to implement a new economy and predictions of the 'decline', 'imminent collapse,' and 'final demise' of the trade networks by the early 1970s (Harding 1967: 187), the northwest coast trade network was extant into the late 1970s, although somewhat changed (see Chowning 1978b), and was still operative along the northwest coast when I was in Bariai during 1985, 2003 and 2005.


Rules for conduct between trade-friends in the Vitiaz Strait include offering one another hospitality and protection and both parties are under obligation to proffer, to accept, and to reciprocate prestations of all sorts. One ought not to lure away the trade-friends of others and, as a trade-friend host, one should act as intermediary for any exchanges between community members and one's trade-friend visitor (Harding 1967: 166-167). Harding characterizes the trade-friend relationship as 'an expression of the social ethic of kinship' (p. 166), an ethic that entails 'generosity and mutual aid' (p. 182). Rather than being the substrate out of which trade-friendships develop, 'kin-like bonds develop partly as a consequence of [these] socially conducive relations' (p. 176). The difference is that a trade-friendship depends on the two parties meeting their obligations, that is, they have a special performance of duty (Harding 1967). Kinship relations, on the other hand, are composed of a variety of acquired obligations and interests, and default in trade specifically does not sever the acquired ties. One can take advantage of kinspeople and get away with it. 'Trading with relatives, therefore, may be burdensome for either side.... It is good to have kinsmen in faraway places, but it is better to have good trade-friends' (p. 153).

Perhaps the quintessential northwest New Britain trade-friends are the seafaring, island dwelling Kove (see Chowning 1978a, 1978b). Patrol Report entries about relations between Kove and the Bali-Witu Islanders show that trade-friendships are strategically mobilized over-riding kin relations. The most important items of trade between these two groups were pigs (and dogs) traded from Unea Islanders to the Kove in exchange for cassowary bones, feathers and pinions, and tortoise shell bracelets. After a regular patrol to the Bali-Witu Islands in 1952, Patrol Officer B.T. Copley reports that,
 The Kombe [Kove] people who used to sail over to Bali to buy [sic]
 pigs and 'pay for them later,' do not call anymore. Local natives,
 tired [of] ... frauds by the Kombes made it quite clear to the
 Kombes that they were no longer welcome at Bali and anybody who
 knew the Kombe would leave it at that. (5)

Three years later, in his 1955 patrol report, Assistant District Officer S.M. Foley writes that
 Pigs are still plentiful throughout the [Bali-Witu] Group and
 trading has been reopened with the Kombe of the [n]orth coast of
 New Britain. It is about four years since the Uneapea refused to
 trade with the Kombi because of the latter's reluctance to honour
 their debts. However, the increasing number of pigs in the [G]roup
 has become a problem, so the Kombi offer to reopen trade was
 accepted. The trade could not be regarded as permanent and will
 last only as long as the Uneapea tolerate the Kombi's tricks.

As I discuss below, some Bali-Witu Islanders claim their ancestors long ago emigrated from Kove, but trade-friendship appears to override kinship whenever the former is in the best interests of the party concerned. Thus, the Bali Islanders withdrew from their trade-friendships with the Kove because they felt they were being taken advantage of; however, when the Kove offered to recommence trade relations, the Islanders did so in their own best interests.

The analytical conflation of kinship and trade-friendship (prevalent in alliance theories of kinship) has made it difficult to fully appreciate trade-friendships as something other than kinship relations. For example, the idiom of kinship characterizes the Bariai concept of the trade-friend as an affine--indeed, some trade-friends are affinal kin based on contemporary intermarriages--and the trade-friend relationship is also subject to the rights and moral obligations that inform human relations in kinship-based societies. However, the majority of Bariai adults are hard pressed to trace definitive kinship connections with their trade-friends. Rather, a firstborn formally inherits his or her mother's and father's trade-friendships within the context of the mata pau firstborn ceremony. None of the firstborn's subsequent siblings is the focus of a mata pau but, as head of the sibling set, the firstborn is expected to oversee and facilitate younger siblings' access to inherited trade-friendships. This provides a means for younger siblings to participate in the established trade-friendships while presenting them an opportunity to develop their own trade-friendships through these connections. Not unlike a system of descent reckoning, trade-friendships remain intact over generations, while the origin of the relationship, which is of little immediate concern relative to the continuity, substance, and meaning of the relationship itself, is lost in the mists of antiquity. That trade-friendships resemble kinship relations should come as no surprise in societies where human relationships generally are founded on the moral obligations inherent in kinship relations. For the Bariai, trade-friendships can be distinguished from kinship in three important ways. First, the Bariai use the unique, non-kin term sobo to encompass the trade-friend relationship. Second, participation in trade-friendships is a household, rather than a descent group or lineage activity (cf. Harding 1967:182). Within the framework of day-to-day household activities, it is the spousal partners who, working as a team, produce or procure items of trade and who undertake the transactions involved in trade-friend activities, and it is their firstborn who inherits the fruits and friendships of their joint labours. Finally, as noted above, the trade-friendship can be curtailed whereas the kinship relationship cannot. Bariai can and do bring pressure to bear on trade-friends and may even sever a relationship if it is exploitative, an outcome that is next to impossible in the entangled world of affinal and consanguineal relations of kinship.


Administrative concern to promote economic development and to effect changes in the health, well-being and material conditions of native life meant that Patrol Officers were specifically instructed to include some discussion of subsistence, local resources, and trade/exchange activities in the areas they patrolled. Kiaps expressed admiration for the northwest coast trade network despite their opinions that villagers' involvement in the traditional prestige economy inhibited the implementation of cash cropping and the development of a 'modern' economic system. While far from comprehensive, data gleaned from patrol reports provide snapshots of long-distance trade routes and the goods that moved along them (see Appendix 1).

The earliest and most detailed reports for the Kove, Kaliai, Bariai and Kilenge-Lolo districts of the northwest coast of New Britain are those of Patrol Officer Ian Mack. Born in 1900 (d. 1933) Mack was one of the first wave of patrol officers hired by the Australian civil service after New Guinea was officially made a mandated territory by the League of Nations in 1922. From 1926 to 1931, before it was divided into two provinces, Mack patrolled all of New Britain. (6) Mack (1928-1929a) writes that Kilenge villages are the 'clearing house to supply the western half of New Britain with goods from Siassi and the mainland.' Taro and yams were virtually the only items traded by the Kilenge for the clay pots, wooden bowls and hand drums brought by the Siassi islanders. Mack notes that he has 'never been at Kilengi without finding some Siassi' and 'during the South East monsoons dozens of canoes' from Kove, Kaliai, Bariai and Sahe visit Kilenge villages to trade for Siassi goods. Mack's detailed description below captures the extent and the excitement of the November 1929 trading season on the northwest coast.
 The trading canoes set out from Kombe and Kaliai loaded with pigs,
 dogs, tambu [shell money], red paint (pulo) and even obsidian. I
 was surprised to find obsidian still used in these days of knives,
 but though it is much cheaper than formerly it is still bought by
 the Kilengi natives and used for smoothing down kundus [TP: kundu,
 'hourglass hand drum'] etc, in much the same manner as a ship's
 boom is scraped with a piece of broken bottle. This obsidian, which
 comes from the Willaumez Peninsula in the first place is the
 subject of a legend still preserved about the first natives who
 came over from Long Island and settled in Talasea. Bark cloth is
 also taken by the Kaliai and [Bariai] natives, but not by the

 Going down to Kilengi in easy stages, stopping at Tamuniai Island
 which is inhabited by people from Kombe, at Alaido in [Bariai]
 where a Kaliai village stayed for some years on account of a cross
 [TP: kros 'dispute'] about twenty years ago, at Sahe where the two
 villages of Tulavu and Sillimatti are inhabited by Kombe natives
 and the Kombe dialect is still used as the natural language, then
 on [to] the Kilengi villages where they usually [spend] five or six
 days doing their trading. There is usually a pig or two killed by
 the Kilengi people and a holiday made of the occasion.

 The most common articles bartered by the Kilengi natives to the
 Kombis are carved wooden bowls, earthenware pots, black paint
 (Kasiawa) [K: kasiaoa], armbands made of trocas [sic] shell for the
 marys [TP: meri, 'woman, women'] ... and plaited armbands for the
 men. Spears are also exchanged, Kaliai natives bringing three
 kinds, Ponio, Rumko and Savelli and obtaining another kind called
 Vila in exchange.

 The natives from Lollo and Itni trade also with the Arawe people
 with whom they are very friendly. The Lollo people take Asui (the
 bark for making the cord used in net making), red paint, armbands
 and baskets by canoe to Pililo and get pigs and coconuts in
 exchange. Some Arawe boys were trading in Lollo at the time of my
 visit, I noticed that they did all their bargaining in Pidgin
 English, I thought at first that this was for my benefit but was
 told that Pidgin is the handiest medium to use when they are not
 expert in each other's dialects.

 The Lamogai [in hinterland Kaliai] natives trade both to Kombi and
 to the South Coast near Wasum [halfway between Arawe and Kandrian]
 bringing bush products such as bark for net making etc. and
 exchange them for beach products such as salt and also for imported
 articles such as knives and axes. Pigs and dogs are much sought
 after and there is always a regular trade being done in them, they
 are sold both by the beach boys to the bush boys and vice versa.

 There does not appear to be any fluctuation of prices, the cost
 appears to be a traditional affair, and the same types of things
 are always used to buy any particular object, though it is always
 interesting to see that in buying native tobacco from Kilengi a
 Kombi boy [sic] always pays for it in silver-ten little bundles for
 a shilling, but this trade is of very recent growth and there were
 no traditional articles with which it should be bought.

Trade from the south coast Arawe and Gasmata districts traversed the central Whiteman Mountain range to the north coast through the Lamogai area from where commodities were dispersed to the Kove, Bakovi and western Nakanai who carried items further afield. One of the most important items made and exchanged throughout the northwest coast was (and still is) shell money (K: bula; TP: tambu). Mack notes (1928-29a) that the Nakanai paid their taxes with 'money obtained from selling Tambu to the Rabaul natives who visit the district every year.' In 1929 the boats were late and in 1930 the Rabaul tambu boats did not arrive at all and the Nakanai 'sole source of revenue ... failed' (Mack, 1928-29c); consequently, the Nakanai paid their taxes with the cash obtained by returned contract labourers.

Later, World War Two had wide-ranging effects on local trade-networks and the wartime administration was careful to note the disruptions. Lieutenant R.E. Emery writes in late 1945 that extensive prewar trade networks existed between the Kove, Bakovi and Witu Islands, the latter exchanging pigs and dogs with the Kove and Bakovi for 'rope tambu, tortoiseshell, Kuruki nuts [TP: kuruke, 'pandanus] and money.' Emery observes that,
 Due to cessation of trade due to war, supplies from these sources
 are very short. The main native currency in the Sub-District
 appears to be a small shell, threaded on ropes like beads, called
 Tambu which is valued at 5/- per fathom. The main source of supply
 prior to the war was Rabaul [Tolai]. A small shell collected on
 eastern side of Willaumez Peninsula in Wangore Bay also called
 Tambu and valued at 5/- a fish tin was the most important means of
 exchange. Due to no supplies from Rabaul for 2 or 3 years, supplies
 are very low here, which has altered the value and thrown local
 native values in terms of Tambu, such as bride-prices considerably
 out of gear (R.E. Emery, 1945-46).

It would appear that the direction of flow of the trade in shell money began to reverse after the war from the Tolai people around Rabaul in East New Britain to the Kove in northwest New Britain. Patrol Officer B.R. Conolly observes in his 1946 report that,
 The Kombe natives manufacture a fair amount of shell money (tambu).
 They used to procure this from the Rabaul natives in exchange for
 Sahe tambu, that being used by the Rabaul natives. This trade
 however has virtually ceased. They also manufacture bracelets of
 tortoise shell which are highly prized (B.R. Conolly, 1946-47).

Based on the patrol reports, it might be assumed that the Kove began to manufacture some quantities of shell money just after the Second World War. Changes in shell money production and trade have been discussed by Chowning (1972, 1978b) who also points out that inflation and the quest for renown through firstborn ceremonials motivated the Kove to begin manufacturing their own shell money which, heretofore, they had obtained only through their trade-networks. Chowning saw no shell money being manufactured by the Kove in 1966 and relatively little by 1968, 'but by 1973 the process was continuous' (p. 303).

By 1948 kiaps noted that in Talasea the amount of shell money required for bridewealth distributions continued to be 'out of gear.' According to PO Bottrill, bridewealth payments were 'in the vicinity of 50 to 60 fathoms of black tambu, i.e. 25 [pounds sterling] to 30 [pounds sterling] for the chief payment, with subsequent payments varying in different areas. Few natives can afford this price ...' (A. M. Bottrill 1948-49). Bottrill also discusses the extensive pre- and postwar trade network that linked Bakovi villagers on the west coast of the Willaumez Peninsula to Kove villagers and to the east to the Tolai villagers near Rabaul on the Gazelle Peninsula, noting in particular that,
 ... trade with Rabaul natives has undergone changes due to the war.
 Trade with Rabaul deals almost completely with native currencies.
 Bola [Bakovi] natives obtain a 'tambu' shell called locally dara
 which is essential to the Rabaul native. It is sold at the rate of
 10/- for one fish tin compared to the prewar price of 5/-. In
 return the Bola native buys a tambu shell from the Rabaul natives
 (who really obtain it from New Ireland) and which is called locally
 'rea.' There are four different colours of this shell all differing
 in price according to their rarity: red and green are the two most
 valued, the price being one pound for a fathom. Black rea is valued
 at 10/- per fathom and white 7/- per fathom. Each variety has its
 own special uses--such as the black is used for the main bride price
 payment and red is used to close the original marriage deal, and so
 on. At present there is a boom in the dara fishing business as
 Rabaul natives lost so much during the war and are attempting to
 replace it. As war damage payments are made in Rabaul the boom will
 probably increase. Rabaul natives come to the area on every ship to
 buy. On the other hand the reciprocal trade in rea has fallen off
 considerable due to the difficulties of getting it from New Ireland
 and the fact that natives in New Ireland and Rabaul find it more
 remunerative to work for Europeans producing copra than in swimming
 for shell. Therefore natives here have had to find the necessary
 rea in their own waters, (the dara business is quite profitable, a
 native being able to gather 5/- worth in one day.) The author
 considers that in order to curtail profiteering by local natives
 from the war-distressed natives of Rabaul and to discourage the
 enlargement of an industry which is of no economic value the price
 of dara tambu shells should be reduced to 7/- or 8/- per tin (A. M.
 Bottrill 1948-49).

Disrupted sources of trade goods, inflated exchange rates, and the spread of cash had an immense impact on the production and exchange of goods along the northwest coast. As trade routes were gradually re-established after the war, kiaps monitored the shell money trade. Bottrill was obviously in favour of devaluing shell money to discourage the making and exchange of this wealth. But some kiaps refused to acquiesce to pressures from villagers themselves to engage in price-fixing, preferring to take a market-driven approach to shell money values. Patrol Officer Sharp, for example, notes that by 1954 Nakanai trade
 ... with the Tolai natives for shell money was in full progress,
 and approximately fourteen Tolais reported to the patrol. During
 the joint visit of Mr. McCarthy and myself, the West Nakanai
 natives approached us and enquired as to whether it would be in
 order to raise the current price of shell money from ten shillings
 (10/-) per tin, to twenty shillings (20/-) per tin. The District
 Commissioner [McCarthy] told them that any increase in price would
 have to be an agreement reached through discussions with the Rabaul
 natives (E. S. Sharp, 1953-54).

District Commissioner J.K. McCarthy comments on PO Sharp's report that,
 For centuries the Rabaul people have visited West Nakanai only to
 purchase the small conical shaped Tambu shells which are fished and
 sold by the West Nakanai natives. This raw material is brought to
 Rabaul and converted into the Gunantuna shell money; the custom
 still obtains. Previous to the war the price asked by the Nakanai
 people was 5/- per tin for the shell, since the war the Nakanais
 have raised the price to 10/- per tin. They now request that it be
 put up again to a 1 [pounds sterling] a tin. On the other hand the
 Rabaul people frequently ask me to reduce the price to 5/- a tin. I
 have refused to do so as this matter should not be interfered with
 by any nonnative, it is purely a matter to be resolved between the
 buyer and the seller. Mr. Sharp wisely gave that as his decision.

The Nakanai area continued to be a source of shell money for the Tolai whose 'annual visits to the Nakanai was part of the training of the young Tolai male.... On reaching manhood he was expected to make a visit to the area and return with tambu' (G. A. Cumming 1956-57). In addition to being an achievement of manhood, PO Cumming observes that the Tolai
 ... look on tambu in another way, and are eager to possess it in
 order to obtain European money, and make a quick profit. In order
 to ensure that the Nakanai people will continue to swim for tambu,
 the Tolai will give him presents to put him in debt. The Nakanai
 sometimes try to return the presents but the Tolai will not take
 them back (G. A. Cumming 1956-57).

Despite the intensity of the war experience in the Cape Gloucester area of the Kilenge-Lolo district, by 1950 the northwest trade networks were fully recovered. Reporting on his 1951 patrol through the Kilenge and the Bariai districts, Cadet Patrol Officer Leabeater writes that
 The people of this area are inveterate traders. They serve as a
 staging link for goods brought over by the Siassi natives, during
 the period October-December, or between the end of the sou'east and
 the beginning of the nor'west seasons. The Siassis bring over
 wooden bowls, clay cooking pots and plaited pandanus rain capes.
 Wooden bowls are made by the Siassi people themselves but the clay
 pots are brought through from the mainland of New Guinea, where
 they also go trading. They are keen seamen and their large canoes
 are quite seaworthy. Along the west coast they trade their pots,
 bowls, etc. for tobacco, food (which they are unable to grow on
 their own islands, such as taro, bananas and kaukau (sweet pota
 to), wicker baskets (worked by the people round Sagsag during the
 nor'west season when they are more confined to their homes),
 armbands (made from trochus shell) and dogs, which are greatly
 prized by the Siassi natives for their pig hunting. The Kilengi
 natives generally use nets for this but the Siassi people prefer
 hunting with dogs. Obsidian glass, obtained by trading through to
 Talasea, was formerly a trade item, used by the natives for the
 purpose of shaving, but this has now died out.

 Prices are more or less standard but they spend several days
 choosing what they want in exchange for their goods. Canoe trees
 are purchased by Siassi at Kilengi and, depending on the size of
 the tree, they buy it with two or three small to medium pigs. A
 village canoe maker is brought over from Siassi to partly hollow
 out the tree trunk, cutting it into the general shape of a canoe.
 This is then tied behind their own canoe, being towed back to Siassi
 for finishing; the sideboards, bed and salmon [outrigger] being
 attached there. Sometimes the finished article is bought by the
 Kilengi natives, payment for same consisting of three very large
 pigs; one for the prow, one for the stern and the largest for the
 centre, in that order. This is the traditional method of purchase
 but they are not clear as to the reason. Three families usually
 share the cost, each supplying one large pig.

 The bowls, pots etc., thus obtained by the coastal natives, as well
 as their own produce, are then traded through to the hinterland for
 bark (used to make rope for fishing and hunting nets), small drums,
 pigs and dogs. These are again traded with the Kaliai and Kombi
 natives for 'tambu' shell money, pigs and dogs. On the south coast
 they also trade with the Arawe islands, thus creating a wide
 distribution of trade items. Kilengi natives do not do much
 travelling themselves in search of trade but all the other nearby
 traders call there. Large quantities of tobacco are grown round
 the Kilengi area and this is much sought after by natives from other

 Cash sales are not uncommon but it will be some time before they are
 likely to use a cash economy. Money has caused a slight upset to the
 trade as Europeans have paid higher comparative prices than normally
 paid in trade value, with a consequent rise in the exchange rate.

Twenty years later, the lack of a cash economy on the northwest coast, deemed by the colonial administration to be impeded by the indigenous prestige economy, is cause for some concern as preparations were made for the withdrawal of the colonial presence and Papua New Guinea's Independence in 1975.

In the Bariai district, the continuing importance of the Bariai cycle of firstborn and mortuary ceremonies also attracted official attention. Rather than collapsing under the onslaught of cash cropping, wage labour and imported goods, kiaps expressed some amazement at the continued importance of shell money and indigenous rather than imported goods in the local prestige economies. In 1972, PO Napier describes the Bariai situation as one where
 ... trade goods and similar introduced items and customs are not
 causing a breakdown of traditional beliefs and way of life. Perhaps
 the opposite. In discussions with some of the older men, it was
 revealed that singsings and traditional ceremonies now are bigger
 and more important than ever before. Instead of singsings involving
 two or three days of celebrations and gifts and exchange visits
 from several neighboring villages, it now means two or three months
 and the giving of over 100 pigs with visits from villages far apart
 as the Kombi and the Siassi Islands. (... The largest visiting
 group was 70 or so Kombis who were living for several weeks in
 Alaido village thus causing a severe food shortage. Throughout the
 Bariai, women were busily ... making sago, normally eaten only in
 times of food shortage.) The host area is left denuded of pigs,
 food and money, the latter mainly caused by the fact that virtually
 no copra is produced during this time. Houses are in a poor state,
 gardens are harvested but not replanted and health, children and
 village cleaning are neglected while almost the entire village is
 in a betel-nut trance for a period of months.

 These singsings do produce some good effects by promoting
 friendships with other tribal groups who may have been enemies in
 the past. Many mixed marriages are negotiated during these times
 and help to break down traditional barriers. There is also a
 healthy trading system, mainly based on tambu, strings of shell
 money. This [is] negotiable throughout the north coast; however, by
 playing the market, buying in the off season, between singsings and
 selling later to somebody needing tambu for a bride price or
 similar, the powerful men are increasing their hold on their
 people. This power is almost economic blackmail and is crippling
 the initiative of the younger generation (A. B. Napier, 1971-72).

Napier appears to be describing an ololo kapei, or 'big feast-dance' (TP: singsing), which is the grandefinale of the lengthy Bariai ceremonial cycle. The ololo kapei is presided over by the aulu spirit-being, represented by masked dancers, and entails a conjoining of ceremonial work for the firstborn and the recent dead, those who have died since the last cycle ended. As PO Napier notes, the feasting and drum-dances of this particular ceremony may go on for months before culminating in a huge pig exchange.

Bariai contributions to the trade network in the mid 1980s consisted of pigs, the most valued commodity in the archipelago, consumables such as taro, sago, areca nut, tobacco, pandanus mats and leaves for thatch, shell money, cassowary feathers, trochus shell armlets and women's fibre skirts. Less tangible trade goods, such as vocabulary, beliefs and ritual, also circulate throughout trade networks, and the Bariai have successfully exported the rights to perform aspects of their complex cycle of firstborn ceremonies which are now performed by others as a forum for the achievement of renown. (7) When firstborn ceremonies are mounted by other groups, senior Bariai women and men are always invited to contribute their knowledge and expertise to oversee preparations and correct performance. The Bariai maintain that other groups never perform these ceremonies properly, not least because the Bariai 'do not tell all;' thus, the Bariai maintain their authority and reputation as the real 'owners' of firstborn ceremonies and of the aulu spirit being. These ceremonies are central to the achievement of a reputation for renown and are, in turn, dependent upon forging and maintaining a network of trade-friends.


The Bariai adhere to an ideology of egalitarianism; their social order has no institutionalized leaders, political offices or inherited statuses. Indeed, that no person should 'raise' himself or herself above another is a moral precept maintained and sanctioned by the practice of sorcery. Bariai egalitarianism is based on the premise that we are all human beings, thus, we are 'the same' and that all individuals have equal (i.e. 'the same') access to resources. In practice, the Bariai recognize that not everyone realizes the potential with which they are endowed at birth and that equal access to resources does not guarantee an equal ability (or desire) to maximize those resources. Some people can, and do, make better use of their human and socio-economic resources and this constitutes the basis for a highly competitive system of personal achievement within a cultural ideal of egalitarianism. The Bariai place high value on achievement, and those who excel are accorded a reputation as a maron, a 'person of renown.' One can only aspire to become a maron within the context of the spousal partnership and can only demonstrate accomplishments, thus acquiring the social validation of personal achievements, by performing firstborn ceremonies in which the child has become parental exemplar.

The basis of the Bariai ceremonial cycle includes seventeen ceremonies in honour of the firstborn child and five ceremonies in honour of the recent dead. The firstborn child constitutes a link between the dead (ancestors) and the living and connects the past and the future in the present. (8) In the Bariai worldview (see Geertz 1973:127), creation, in the dual sense of procreation and production, is a process of directing a life force through the control, transformation, and nurturing of embodied substances in people, things and spirit beings, so that human beings reproduce themselves and the necessities to sustain life in perpetuity. Every firstborn child is an embodiment of his or her ancestors' vital essences (K: sulu) and the medium through whom ancestral and parental essences are realized in the present and invested for future generations. Primogeniture is central to Bariai culture and society but the significance of primogeniture and the elaborate complex of firstborn ceremonials has little to do with the firstborn child per se. The apparent paradox presented by a hierarchical system of personal achievement embedded in an egalitarian ethic is resolved in the ideology of primogeniture: rather than self-aggrandizement, parental efforts are touted as self-sacrifice in order 'to raise the name of the firstborn.' The firstborn, whose existence is crucial and in whose name all things are accomplished, is a passive element symbolic of its parents' social identity and an exemplar of parental achievement and renown. Although firstborns are accorded respect throughout their lives because they are the embodiment of parental renown, they cannot inherit their parents' status; like everyone else, firstborns must achieve their own reputation for renown by performing ceremonies in honour of their own firstborn.

Being a parent is crucial to becoming a social adult; however, it is only by becoming a parent and by fulfilling the requirements of firstborn ceremonials that Bariai adults can demonstrate that status to others in order to be publicly validated as proper, social (moral) persons. Concepts such as maturity, competence, renown, or shame are all relative conditional concepts or 'characterological adjectives [that] derive their definitions from patterns of interchange [dependent] upon the conditional admiration provided by spectator, plus response by performer, plus acceptance of admiration' (Bateson 1979:133,134). Since personal qualities, such as renown, are 'conditional upon the response and admiration of relevant others, these qualities can only be validated through public display in traditionally accepted ways-above all, in the staging of special kinds of feasts' (Oliver 1955: 362, emphasis in original). As exemplars of the power and success achieved by others, the firstborn child is a powerful symbol of values integral to Bariai culture and society. Through these ceremonies, the 'new' adult generation becomes more knowledgeable about and more heavily involved in the network of socioeconomic relations, gradually becoming recognized as 'realized, fulfilled persons' or 'true human [social] beings' (K: panua tautaurja). Only those persons who have worked their way through the series of seventeen firstborn ceremonies can hope to earn the renown connoted by the term maron. Firstborn ceremonials thus confirm parental abilities to forge and maintain relationships with spirit beings, kin (living and deceased), affines and, not least, long-distance trade-friends. (9)

Exchange relationships with kin and trade-friendships depend upon an ability to manipulate competently the complicated system of debits and credits of the prestige economy and an ability to balance one's own self-interests and the interests of others according to the principles of morality which structure human relations. The locus of trade (and renown) is the wife/husband team. Transactions between spouses and their kin/affines and between spouses and their trade-friends occur constantly and rather inconspicuously within the context of the household. Similarly, firstborn ceremonies are not group efforts, but are carried out individually by parents and their baulo for their firstborn child when and as they have the wherewithal to do so. These public events effectively deflect individual endeavours onto the person of the firstborn who exemplifies parental abilities in forging and maintaining bonds beyond the household. Without a firstborn and performance of firstborn ceremonies, no one can hope to achieve a reputation for renown.

The Bariai distinguish between firstborn ceremonies that require 'small work' (K: ololo kakau) and those that require 'big work' (ololo kapei) . The difference between the two types is one of relative scale. 'Small work', or minor ceremonies, usually do not require the exchange of pigs, pork or shell money and there is no large assembly of witnesses/kin from other villages. Minor ceremonies are contingent upon circumstances and available resources and none of the key participants (mother and child) is dressed in ceremonial finery. Minor ceremonies celebrate firsts in two senses: they mark the first occasion that others receive a particular food or consumable in the name of the child, and some minor ceremonies confirm phases in the child's physical development (first tooth, first haircut, first fish, first clothing). For these ceremonies, young, inexperienced, first time parents depend on the resources provided for them by their parents and grandparents who, for example, planned for their descendants by planting stands of sago, coconut and areca (betel nut) palms for them. Accomplishing certain of the minor ceremonials also serves to release the parents from various taboos on food, mobility, personal hygiene and appearance that were imposed upon them when their child was born. Ideally, the minor ceremonies are accomplished by the time the child is four to six years of age. (10)

While the expenditure of energy and wealth required for the performance of minor ceremonials is anything but small, it is only a fraction of that required for major ceremonials. For their proper performance, these ceremonies require vast quantities of one or more of the following: raw/cooked foods (especially taro, sago flour and coconuts); pigs and/or pork; shell money and other forms of material wealth such as clay pots, carved bowls, mats and more. In contrast to the minor ceremonials where the wealth distributed in the child's name was acquired in large part from the child's grandparents and ancestors, the wealth in the major ceremonies is produced and acquired by the child's parents. Parents use their 'strength' to produce more and larger gardens, to acquire and husband numerous pigs and to access other wealth items by actively developing and engaging in an ever-widening network of social obligations, especially trade networks. Some of the major ceremonies are also concerned with 'firsts,' such as the child's first trip to the reef or first wearing of clothes, first excursion to another village. Others focus on a particular item of decorative finery (such as sago fringe, armbands, red and yellow paint), items that parents and firstborn are forbidden to display as personal adornment until the appropriate ceremony is complete. Many of these objects of value are only obtainable through trade; thus, when the firstborn is elaborately decorated and paraded through the village to display the item of wealth, the child publicly demonstrates parental ability to forge and maintain relations of trade and exchange.

Red ochre, for example, is not abundant in the Bariai area and, prior to the advent of trade store paint, the Bariai acquired most of their supply by exchanging shell money for the red ochre (and obsidian) brought by the Kove from the Bakovi in the Volupai region of New Britain (cf. Chowning 1978a: 298; on obsidian in the Willaumez Peninsula see Torrence and Summerhayes, 1997). (11) In their turn, the Bariai traded some red ochre and obsidian to the Siassi Islanders for black pigments or, traded items such as pigs, lizard skins, pandanus mats for carved wooden bowls and the finely built canoes that only the Siassi are deemed to manufacture with such expertise. In this one commodity, the ceremony of red paint necessitates involvement in a wide-ranging network of trade and exchange. These transactions are publicly celebrated in a ceremony called pulo budisioa, 'watery red paint', when the firstborn is covered from head to toe in a watery solution of red paint, decorated with a plethora of red plants and flowers and laden with strings of bula misi, the highly valued 'gold' shell money. On display, the decorated child is paraded once through the village by the parents' ceremonial partners (K: baulo) before being returned to its parents. The feast of cooked food and pork prepared by the child's parents is then distributed by the baulo among the men's houses in the firstborn's home village (from whence it is redistributed to each member family), and the ceremony is complete. (12)

Whereas red ochre is a geographic or place specialty, other items are clearly a craft specialty. The poipoi sara woven armband is only manufactured by the Lolo from a black vine that grows in their particular environment. The Lolo exchange these armbands for other specialty items, such as trochus shell or tortoise shell armbands made by Bariai women. The Bariai and Lolo also trade in specialties of place and the highland Lolo, who have no access to the sea, receive shell money, fresh and smoked fish, and in the past, a supply of sea salt. The Lolo now have safe access to the sea and can buy tinned fish and salt at trade stores. They are not, however, fisherfolk and have no skill at fishing or seafaring and, according to the Bariai, have a deep and abiding fear of the ocean, a common enough syndrome for people who live in the mountains. Similarly, the Lolo cannot buy trochus or tortoise shell armbands at local trade stores, just as the Bariai cannot buy Lolo armbands. From my experience in 1983 and again in 1985 and 2003, there remains a brisk trade between the highland Lolo and the coastal Bariai in specialties of place, craft specialties, and in items received from their respective trade-friends in other districts (e.g. clay pots, baskets, shell money, mats). The ceremony of the poipoi sara armband thus celebrates parental trade-friend relations in this particular trade network. Commodities for trade are produced or procured through trade by members of the household. These firstborn ceremonies focus on objects of value that symbolize ongoing socioeconomic relations, thus demonstrating parental achievement of successful transactions with others beyond the interests of their self-sufficient household (cf. Harding 1967:250).

The mata pau or 'new eye', celebrates the child's first long distance voyage which introduces the firstborn to parental sobo, 'trade-friends.' As the biological and social replacement of its parents, the firstborn perpetuates their genealogies and formally inherits both its mother's and its father's long distance trade-friendships. The firstborn's younger siblings also have access to these relationships through their elder sibling, but this relationship is not celebrated. (13) The formal process for introducing the firstborn to parental trade-friends encumbers both the parents and their trade-friends with massive debts. With the exception of the ololo kapei or 'big feast' and pig exchange which completes the cycle of mortuary/firstborn ceremonials, the mata pau is the single most ambitious and expensive accomplishment that parents will undertake and can take them years of preparation.


The origin of firstborn ceremonies and long distance trading voyages, inter alia, is recounted in the saga of Moro, the half-man half-snake Creator Being. (14) Moro is the firstborn child of Kamaia of Gidlo (a village in the mountains) and Poposi, a Bariai woman from the coastal village of Bambak. Moro is a precocious lad who convinces the senior men to invite people from all the villages in Bariai, Kilenge and Lolo to the first feast-dance and pig exchange. Everyone is pleased and congratulates Moro for this new custom whereby people from different areas can sing, dance and eat together peaceably. After the pig exchange, Kamaia decides to send a large tusked boar to Poposi's brothers at Bambak, stipulating that they should return the pig's jaw and tusks to him. When his affines return scraps from the pig's back and forelegs, Kamaia furiously throws them away (whereupon the pork petrifies into three large stones visible today) and rushes to confront his affines, who promptly kill him. Later, at Kamaia's mortuary rites, Moro is tricked by his cross-cousin (MBS) into eating a piece of his father's liver. This act of autocannibalism (15) precipitates the transformation of Moro into a half-man and half-snake being, possessed of special powers. Appalled by his appearance, Poposi hides Moro in a woven basket (K: tia) which she places on her head and, with her second born, Aisipel, in a carry-sling on her side, they flee the village of Gidlo. Over time-because his younger brother is unhappy, cold, hungry and demanding-Moro summons forth their Gidlo house (complete with clay pots, wooden bowls and other wealth items), a huge and prolific garden and a large herd of pigs. Finally, to harvest the gardens and tend the pigs, Moro marries forty wives: ten each from Bariai, Kilenge, Kaliai and Siassi.

In this creation myth, Moro originates social activity in the form of pig exchanges and dance-feasts, activities that incorporate groups of kin into exchange relations. Pigs should not merely be eaten, they should be exchanged with others for pigs of equal value and such exchanges should be made occasions for the coming together of all the people for feasting and dancing. What Moro has initiated to this point is the ololo kakau or 'small feast/exchange' which is the beginning phase of the lengthy cycle of Bariai mortuary and firstborn ceremonies/feast-dance exchanges. Moro does not create ex nihilo the various objects of value left behind when they fled the village; he magically calls them forth when his younger brother pines for them. The basket in which Poposi hides Moro is a tia, a coil woven basket made by the Kilenge and Lolo. Younger brother Aisipel, tired of roasted taro, craved taro cooked in clay pots (K: ulo) which the Bariai do not manufacture but acquire in trade from the Lolo who in turn receive them in trade from the Arawe on the south coast of New Britain whence some come from mainland New Guinea. Aisipel also yearned for carved wooden food bowls (K: tabla) which the Bariai acquire through trade with the Siassi and, in the past, from the Tami Islands via the south coast Arawe. Aisipel wanted pigs, but he is unable to feed and tend the large herd Moro conjures up, so Moro marries forty women to tend his gardens, pigs and other wealth items. He first chooses ten wives each from Bariai and Kaliai villages, reflecting the order of preferred marriage partners cure affinal exchange partners. Then he selects ten more wives from Kilenge and ten from Siassi villages where marriages are less frequently arranged, as the Bariai prefer to establish trade-friend relations in these areas rather than affinal exchange relations. Responding to his younger sibling's needs and demands, Moro is acting in true firstborn fashion: he is the source through whom others receive sustenance and wealth.

Later, Moro and his forty wives are invited to attend a feast-dance sponsored by one of his Kilenge affines at Ailovo village on the extreme western tip of New Britain. This proves to be the narrative event that establishes long distance trade relations with the Kove to the east of Bariai. Again, in true firstborn fashion, Moro arrives at the feast bedecked in ceremonial finery. He is draped in shell money and wears a dog's tooth netbag (K: amio) from Finschafen, probably from the Sio (see Harding 1967: 49-52) and which the Bariai obtain through their Lolo and Siassi trade partners; he wears Lolo armbands (K: poipoi sara) and legbands (K: saea). (16) At the feast-dance, Moro is presented with forty pigs and, while he is unconcerned about his ability to repay the pigs in number and kind (he can simply call them into being), he is determined to gain the upper-hand in this relationship by presenting his affine with shell money, too. The Bariai raise pigs in abundance, but they do not manufacture shell money in any quantity; this must be obtained from the Kove, Bakovi or even the Tolai. To this end, Moro prepares his younger brother to undertake a sea voyage east into Kove territory in search of shell money.

Using his powers Moro commands the construction and decoration of an outrigger canoe and instructs his wives to prepare food for the voyage. Aisipel chooses his crew of ten selecting two kinsmen from the Bariai villages of Alaido, Mareka, Namaramanga, Akonga and Bambak. As they begin their journey east to Kove territory, Aisipel stands in the firstborn's place of honour at the prow of the canoe. Aisipel and crew punt the canoe along the shoreline and across the reefs directly to the Kove village of Silivuti in Eleanora Bay from where they begin their return voyage, stopping at various Kove villages. (17) When they leave Silivuti, Aisipel is presented with two large baskets of shell money and each crewmember is also given one fathom of shell money. As they travel westward, they stop at Kalapoiai, Poi, Sumalavi, Nukakau, Muligani, Kapo, Arimigi and Tamuniai, and, at each village Aisipel receives two baskets of shell money and each crewman one fathom for himself. (18) Moro's wives prepare a huge feast to honour the return of Aisipel and crew who arrive to find that Moro has departed forever, leaving Aisipel responsible for reciprocating the forty pigs and for Moro's mortuary ceremony. With Moro directing his powers to assist him, Aisipel amasses taro, tobacco, betel nut, pigs and the shell money, chooses the drum-dance music and calls up the masked spirit being dancers (K: aulu). Aisipel distributes all this wealth (and pays back the forty pigs with shell money) among his and Moro's affines/exchange relations. The mortuary ceremony (K: ololo kapei) is a success and Aisipel is praised by the region's bigmen as a moran. The mythic mata pau incorporates the quest motif and the search for 'gold' shell money, the thrill and danger of long-distance voyaging, the challenge of dealing with kaluae, 'strangers,' and their unfamiliar ways, and links all this with the distribution of wealth in the name of the firstborn and the achievement of personal renown.

Acquiring renown is, however, not simply the amassing and distributing of material wealth; it is also the fine art of managing human relations with finesse, alacrity, and above all, generosity. Those who have experienced the largesse of their host/trade-friend convey the name and reputation to people their trade-friend might never meet, in areas where they have never been. As one Bariai maron, Mr. Pore Siko, explained to me, 'They may never see my face, but they know my name!'


Trading expeditions have always been fraught with danger. The Bariai have never been more than adequate seafarers and the intrepid voyagers risked their lives in seas containing massive reefs inhabited by powerful spirits and venturing into the unfamiliar territories of potentially hostile strangers renowned as aggressive and powerful sorcerers. To reach their destinations, traders had to survive the unpredictable sea and avoid being lured onto the reefs inhabited by sea-spirits intent on smashing their canoes and devouring them. Once arrived, the presence and protection of their trade-friends would ensure their survival and the success of their enterprise in the alien village. Nowadays, outboard motors have replaced the sailing canoe, yet many dangers of long distance trading still obtain. The sea and weather are as fickle as ever, the spirits inhabiting the reefs are just as dangerous, and every foreign village still has men renowned for their knowledge and practice of lethal sorcery.

By the time Bariai parents actually undertake a mata pau, their firstborn is in his or her mid-teens and approaching marriageable age. The parents are in the prime of their own adulthood with many successfully accomplished firstborn ceremonies behind them. They are, therefore, seasoned horticulturalists, capable of producing beyond their own subsistence needs, with valuable experience in the prestige economy where they have proven themselves to be worthy lenders and borrowers. This latter is extremely important since they must incur huge debts in pigs, shell money and other items for their mata pau, and people are loath to risk investing their wealth in those who are known to renege on their reciprocal obligations.

The first phase of a mata pau thus begins with the parents unaccompanied by their firstborn, making a preliminary visit to their respective trade-friends east and west of them along the northwest coast. This requires a canoe and crew, provisions for the voyage (food, coconuts, betel nut supplies, tobacco) and goods to present to their trade-friends. Depending on where they are visiting, parents bring items they know their trade-friends are particularly desirous of, items which the wife/husband team produce themselves or acquire in exchanges with other trade-friends and various members of their respective kindreds. The parents prepare to sail with a crew from among the firstborn's bilateral kindred, usually young unmarried (non-firstborn) men who are compensated for their time and labour at the actual performance of the firstborn's mata pau. Besides adventure and a practical lesson in trade-friendship, an expedition of this sort is also an opportunity for single men to earn shell money and other wealth to contribute to their own bridewealth needs and to forge trade-friendships of their own. The success of the voyage also necessitates the co-operation of natural forces. To this end, parents contract the services of a senior kinsman proficient in the art of weather sorcery to calm the sea and to intercept and deflect inclement weather. Having done all that is humanly possible to influence positively these powerful forces and to protect the canoe and voyagers against the ill will of others, the firstborn's mata pau gets under way.

When almost at their destination, but not yet in sight of the port of call, the entourage puts ashore on a deserted beach to freshen their general appearance and magically gird their loins for the important transactions and interactions that will follow. (20) Those who know how, perform magical spells to enhance personal attractiveness (particularly sought after by the unmarried contingent) and to enshroud themselves in a protective aura of magic to counteract any attempts by persons in the host village to undermine the visitors and their intentions. Visiting senior men publicly acknowledge their reputation as sorcerers by tying on their wrists a red croton (K: more natem) imbued with magical potency. (21) These croton bracelets are an overt display of personal power and arcane knowledge, and a warning that nefarious activities are likely to rebound onto the perpetrator. As the Bariai quite rightly point out, one cannot know the inner thoughts and self-interested motives of others. One can only attempt to influence the thoughts and motives of others so that they are convinced their own self-interests are best served by accommodating one's own. The firstborn's parents have a great deal at stake in the negotiations with their trade-friend(s) and they perform spells to make their host generously amenable and unable to deny any requests.

When the canoes of trade-friends are spotted on the horizon, their pending arrival is greeted with ambivalence, since trade-friends invariably want something-the repayment or loan of pigs, shell money, and other items of wealth that the host might not have or has planned to utilize otherwise. While in the host village, visiting trade-friends are fed, given tobacco, betel supplies, drinking coconuts and whatever else they can cadge or cajole out of their host. Hosts cannot leave their guests to fend for themselves, such behaviour is both rude and insulting. Consequently, a woman and her husband entertain their trade-friends by accompanying them to the best bathing spot, spending time exchanging news and views, telling stories and jokes, and generally catering to their general comforts, all of which necessitate that any other plans of their own are put in abeyance. The business that brings trade-friends together is important to them both, and the negotiations entailed are often lengthy and tedious. These convoluted transactions, combined with the royal treatment trade-friends receive, often add up to visitors overstaying their welcome.

Upon arrival at the trade-friend's village, visitors must beach their canoe and alight on the beachfront property that belongs to their trade-friend. To do otherwise is to trespass on other members of the village who might not be so hospitable and might take umbrage at such a disregard for personal space. Similarly, once ashore, the visitors must go directly to the dwelling house of their trade-friend-to visit anyone else upon arrival is a breach of etiquette and an insult to the trade partner-where they are welcomed and given refreshments. These initial rules of decorum observed, male visitors are taken to the host's men's house (K: lum) where they are given a place to sleep and store their belongings. The male host also moves into the men's house and visiting women and children are billeted in his wife's house. A trade partner's house is a safe zone; its immediate environs, particularly the base of the ladder leading onto the verandah, are ensorcelled by the host so that anyone with less than honourable intentions toward guests will be struck down with some more or less dangerous malady. (22) Other villagers who wish to exchange news and pleasantries or simply to inspect the strangers, do so at a distance and never climb the ladder onto the house verandah where the guest sits.

For the child's parents, the purpose of this initial voyage is to present goods and 'gifts' to their trade-friends which will be reciprocated by their trade-friends when the firstborn visits them. During the days and weeks that they spend together, parents and their trade-friend hosts negotiate the type and amount of wealth items the trade-friend will contribute to the firstborn's mata pau. This is the true work of the mata pau. Parents use all their skills to solicit promises from trade-friends of a certain number of pigs, or a quantity of shell money, or other items of wealth and consumables. The parents give trade goods, news, views and gossip to their trade-friend and set a tentative ceremonial date, often a year or more in the future, to allow time for the trade-friend(s) to acquire the pigs and goods they will present the firstborn. Planning so far into the future also allows the parents to complete negotiations with other trade-friends and to prepare and plant gardens in order to ensure an abundant supply of feast food. Later, when the child visits them, trade-friends reciprocate the goods and 'gifts' they received at this initial meeting, thus balancing one set of reciprocal obligations. Finally, at the ceremonial feast they hold to honour the firstborn, they present the promised goods to the child, thus indebting the child's parents to them. (23)

When all negotiations are completed to everyone's satisfaction, the host trade-friend furnishes the parents and their accompanying flotilla with food and other necessities for their return voyage, and the visitors depart. Departures, like arrivals, are greeted with ambivalence. Guests are homesick and happy to be returning to the comforts of their own homes and the familiarity of their own ways and routines. Hosts, too, are glad to see their guests leave, as they were a drain on the hosts' material and psychic resources and a disruption of their routine. On the other hand, both parties have enjoyed the challenge of negotiations, the companionship, the camaraderie, the exchange of news, and the updating of information about births, deaths, marriages, divorces, illnesses, conflicts, and government relations in the lives of kin and acquaintances. Departures, like death, constitute a loss-an end to the good times recently shared--and an acknowledgment that death could intervene before the trade-friends can share one another's company again. For all concerned, the relief of leaving is tempered by an overwhelming sense of loss. Departures are traumatic, tearful affairs.

A year or two later all is in place to take the firstborn to all the trade-friends the parents have visited in preparation for the mata pau. As in Aisipel's mythic voyage, the parents have commissioned new canoe and captain and crew from the firstborn's male kin. The same routine of visitor etiquette is observed at each trade-friend village. This time before coming into view of each trade-friend's village, the canoe and the firstborn are elaborately decorated. As they visit each village, they are celebrated and given 'gifts' of pigs, food and wealth until their canoes are fully laden. When all visiting is complete, they set sail for home. As they come within sight and sound of their home village, the voyagers burst into triumphant song. The gloriously bedecked firstborn stands in the prow of the canoe for all to admire. The firstborn is greeted with a mock attack by garishly dressed and painted female transvestite clowns who shout obscenities, brandish spears, and chant battle cries. The clowns spray seawater on the firstborn (and whoever else gets within their range), thus blessing the accomplishment of the child's first long distance sea voyage. Over the next several days, in honour of the child's mata pau, the parents prepare a huge feast and address themselves to the distribution of the wealth they have acquired from their trade-friends. They make compensation prestations to everyone who assisted them in accomplishing the voyage; they repay old debts and indebt others to them by giving them 'gifts' of pig, pork, food and wealth. Everything they have produced or received in the name of the firstborn is thus redistributed. Once the firstborn has been decorated and displayed and the public distribution of wealth and feast food is finished, the mata pau ceremony is complete.

For all their efforts, the firstborn's parents realize no actual material gain; however, while they may appear to be reduced to penury, they have in fact parlayed material wealth and their own abilities into accumulated social capital which can be further parlayed into future material wealth and prestige. Until the parents are prepared to accomplish the work necessary for the feast in honour of the child's first voyage to distant places, especially those areas where parental trade partners live, a firstborn is forbidden to go beyond his or her immediate environs. Adolescent firstborns, for example, are denied parental permission to attend soccer matches in Kaliai, youth club dances at Tamuniai, to visit such places as the local administration centre at Cape Gloucester in the Kilenge District or the provincial capital at Kimbe because of the necessity for traveling through the domain of (Kilenge, Kaliai, Anem, Kove) trade-friends. That one's firstborn remains behind is a source of embarrassment and shame to the parents (and the firstborn), as the child's non-participation is a visible reminder of parental non-accomplishment. Once the feast of 'new eyes' is accomplished, the firstborn may travel freely, and the child's mere presence (which is always remarked upon) is a public statement about parental achievements. With the mata pau complete, the child is not only introduced to parental trade-friends but has, in fact, inherited the trade-friend relation. As parents age, the firstborn takes over responsibility for maintaining trade-friendships, for introducing younger siblings to trade routes and trade-friends and in time, passes these relationships on to her or his own firstborn child.


In December, 1982, I was a participant observer of a contemporary mata pau for the firstborn daughter of a young couple who had moved away from their natal villages in order to pursue wage labour and a professional career. After they married, Mary and Clement, both firstborns themselves, left the area to live in the Eastern Highlands where Clement began his first teaching post. After a two year absence during which their daughter, Galiki, (24) was born, they planned their first visit home to Bariai for the Christmas vacation. In order to come home for the holiday (in addition to saving the return airfare of some K414), they had to be able to sponsor Galiki's mata pau or they could not come at all. For months, the firstborn's grandparents in Bariai worked their trade-friend networks to organize pigs, food, shell money and other items to feast their own firstborn's return from a distant place (a variant of the mata pau) and to contribute to the mata pau of their firstborn granddaughter. When the canoe bearing Galiki and her parents hove into sight, three transvestite clowns (K: sega) appeared on the beach. Georgina (mother of eight) was the wildest and most risqur, resplendent in a scanty loincloth of leaves, white clay face paint, and brandishing a fishing spear. As the canoe came closer to shore, the motor operator drove it around in circles for some minutes while the clowns pranced and sang. The clowns then waded out to the canoe and splashed everyone with water, even the baby, who was held protectively by her mother's brother. As each person disembarked the canoe, the clowns dunked them unceremoniously in the sea. It was a highly emotional scene with tears and wailing for those who had died since the couple had left their villages; eventually, everything settled down and the child was taken by her mother's father's brother to be shown around the village. In the meantime, the couple's cargo was unloaded.

Besides tinned baby food, cloth diapers and a suitcase of baby clothes, all of which were an unheard of luxury in the village, the couple had brought goods for the child's mata pau. These included many expensive items such as two transistor radio/cassette players, numerous large cooking kettles, several suitcases of miscellaneous clothing, a guitar, flashlights, batteries. They also brought potatoes and cabbage from the Highlands, as well as tea, sugar, 100 kilograms of rice and several case lots of tinned meat, fish and biscuits. In addition they had spent over K500 on liquor, mostly rum, that was specially earmarked for the child's mata pau feast (which also incorporated her official naming ceremony) to be held four weeks later. All of this took place during one of the periodic droughts that affect West New Britain and this factor highlighted another aspect of the trade-friend relationship.

The 1982-83 drought affected the entire northern coast of New Britain. In October of 1982, a prominent rainmaker from Bambak village was commissioned to perform weather magic to bring the rains. My field notes record that:
 Rain has been promised for tomorrow October 8th.... Conditions are
 very bad; gardens have little kaukau [TP: sweet potatoes] or taro.
 Newly planted taro stalks have all withered and died. This
 particular rainmaker brings rain that comes down gently so that the
 sea becomes smooth. His rain magic is called Tete Unea, 'ladder to
 Bali' as the sea becomes smooth enough to make the [80 km] crossing
 to Unea, one of the islands at Bali-Witu.

The rain didn't come as promised and the drought persisted for ten months. By November, the drought had become so severe that the Provincial Government spent K10, 000 (25) on famine relief, shipping rice, tinned foods, fresh fruit and vegetables to needy villages throughout the province. Three ships ran between the provincial capital at Kimbe, Cape Gloucester in the Kilenge area and the Bali-Witu Islands delivering foodstuffs. (26) It was also necessary to deliver drinking water to Bali-Witu. The government ships agreed to collect copra for sale to the marketing board at Kimbe so people busied themselves processing copra for cash and the opportunity to purchase rice, tinned fish and meat, tea and sugar. Market price for copra offered at the time was just over K10 per bag, and the current price for twenty kilos of rice (which would last a family of six about a week, if that) was also about K10, sometimes more. Despite an inspection by the local agricultural officer who determined Bariai gardens were indeed nonproductive, the ten Bariai villages did not receive any governmental assistance. I commented in my field notes that
 People are very angry; it was the Kokopo council that went to Cape
 Gloucester to request aid in the first place and prompted the
 meeting of provincial members of parliament at the airport there.
 At the [weekly Monday] moot people talked about the situation
 saying how they had for years fulfilled their obligations to
 government, maintaining roads and schools, paying taxes; now, when
 people looked to the government for assistance, they were ignored
 .... Most people can hardly believe this is possible. [An
 ex-teacher] felt the whole situation of aid was a farce: those who
 lobbied for assistance don't get any. He just laughs and shakes his
 head in disbelief (November 8, 1982).

The Bariai, however, survived the drought in relatively good shape as they had large stands of coconuts and an abundant supply of sago palm ripe for processing. They also exploited a wide variety of wild bush foods as these came into season, foods that were a welcome respite from our daily fare of sago flour. Throughout this 'bad time' there was a constant stream of trade-friends, sobo, especially from the Kove, Kaliai and Kilenge Districts who came to the Bariai villages of Kokopo, Alaido, Bambak and Gurissi for sago flour. In early December a huge ocean-going canoe arrived from Siassi. They had dropped off some of their passengers at Kilenge along with several sago palm trunks, which they sold, unprocessed, to villagers at Kilenge. Others had stopped at Bambak where they were involved in a bridewealth distribution for a Siassi woman married to a Bambak man. At Kokopo they were intent on acquiring pigs in exchange for 20 large carved ironwood bowls and several hourglass drums. They did not want money for their wares, only pigs, claiming they would rather exchange for traditional commodities than for money.

The Siassi had no sooner come and gone when news arrived that a shipload of islanders from Bali-Witu was on its way to Kokopo. Appearing to float on the horizon some 80 km off the north coast, the Bali-Witu Islands encompass the larger land masses of Garove (Witu) Island, Unea (Bali) Island and Mundua (Ningau) Island, plus several smaller islands (e.g. Chilling, Undaga, Nambu). The Bali-Witu group has a long history of trade and migration with the northern mainland of West New Britain. The origin of the particular relationship between the Bariai and the Bali islanders is enshrined in a legendary trading voyage.
 One day some people from Bambak (the first Bariai coastal village)
 went to Kilenge to trade for yams. They filled their canoe with
 different kinds of yams and headed back to Bambak, getting as far
 as Molo Point where they put in to sleep. Everyone slept on the
 beach except one married couple who slept in the canoe. In the
 middle of the night, the canoe began to drift but the couple slept
 on, oblivious to the fact that they were drifting out to sea. The
 couple awakened, and were very startled to find themselves drifting
 toward Bali. At dawn they drifted ashore and pulled the canoe up
 onto the beach. They walked around the island looking for human
 footprints, but found none. And so they settled into a place now
 called Penata. They ate some of the yams and planted some of the
 yams and their gardens were very abundant. Soon they began to have
 many children and before long Bali had many people. And so they
 continued to plant yams, although they didn't have any taro, and
 they continued to populate the island. Now Bali has a large

At the best of times there is little potable water in the Bali-Witu islands. In 1952 PO Copley notes that,
 Bali is without natural water, except on ... [the coconut]
 plantation and the nuts of course are used extensively for drinking
 water; this not without continual damage to palms when the green
 nuts are being knocked down. It does not appear to me that there is
 much hope for copra marketing by Bali natives. The little that is
 produced is being sold to [the plantations].... Any attempt to
 persuade natives to push their resources would be unwise; it must
 be remembered that Bali is an island some 50 miles from the coast
 and food is more important than the elusive Pound note, difficult
 to capture, quick to escape.

Decades later the situation has not changed. The drought eliminated available fresh water resources; in addition, the islanders decimated their coconut stands by using up all the green coconuts for drinking. Trade connections between the Bariai and the Bali Islanders had lagged for some time as a consequence of the death of two Bariai firstborns, one the son of a senior man, the other the wife of a senior man. The islanders, observing the mourning taboos in honour of the deceased, had been unable (or unwilling) to accumulate the requisite compensatory gifts of wealth to present to their Bariai trade-friends that would then lift the mourning restrictions. (27) The drought forced the Islanders to deal with this issue in order to obtain food, coconuts and other necessities, such as tobacco and betel nut. In anticipation of the arrival of the ship from Bali, Bariai women busied themselves making women's ceremonial grass skirts (K: odoa; TP: purpur) from the spathe of the sago palm, skirts they hoped to exchange for flying fox teeth. Men searched out their collections of cassowary feathers, pinions and bones, which are still highly prized by the Islanders as a major component of bridewealth.

The Bali ship put in at the Kokopo wharf and people tearfully disembarked to greet their equally tearful hosts. On board were 20 pigs, 23 dogs and various small goods, including the hoped for flying fox tooth necklaces. Numbering some 40 people, the Islanders stayed for six days, most in Kokopo and a few with trade-friends in Bambak and Gurissi. During their sojourn, in trade-friend tradition, the Islanders were fed, entertained, taken on trips into the bush to gather coconuts and escorted upriver to the best bathing spots. They were denied nothing and practically stripped the village clean of its supply of betel nuts. This created some anger among villagers who were not the Islanders' trade-friend hosts, as it seemed the visitors were rather indiscriminate about whose areca palms they accessed. No words of complaint reached the ears of the visitors; however, disgruntled non-host villagers spoke quietly of 'when they leave,' they would take the Islanders' Bariai village hosts to court to sue for losses. The visitors received (for their pigs and dogs and flying fox teeth) dozens of pandanus mats, clay pots, and carved wooden bowls. On the afternoon of their last day before departing, the Islanders were provided with a large feast of pork, roasted sago flour cakes and sweet tea (supplied by me). That evening, the Islanders entertained us with drumming and songs, and the women performed intricate and stunningly seductive dances. Next day, amidst tears and wails, the Bali ship departed laden with drinking coconuts, containers of fresh water, vast quantities of sago, sacks full of areca nuts, tobacco, and the women's beautifully crafted and dyed grass skirts.

Four weeks later, a canoe load of Tamuniai islanders from the Kove district arrived in pursuit of sago flour. They had no sago palms of their own and were very short of food. Upon arrival, everyone disembarked for the homes of their trade-friends where they were fed and given accommodation. Unlike the Siassi and the Bali-Witu Islanders, the Kove trade-friends from Tamuniai wanted an outright purchase and bartered the price of an entire sago palm for 10 fathoms of shell money each with anyone (not just their trade-friend host) who wished to sell. Once the deal was concluded, the palm was cut down and, with the 'free' assistance of their local trade-friends, the sago was processed and packaged for transport back to Tamuniai. Every day for a week, from dawn to well after dark, the Kove and their trade-friend hosts processed sago. To help process the sago, which is backbreaking work, extra workers were commissioned from the Youth Club for a flat fee donation of K2 to the Club. In addition to sago, the Kove also loaded their canoe with sacks of tapiok, bundles of tobacco leaves, and areca nuts.

Throughout the drought, small groups of trade-friends continued to arrive in Kokopo and other Bariai villages in search of sago flour and any available tobacco and areca nuts. Eventually, the rains arrived and travel became more treacherous over the swollen seas and rivers. The rough seas now made it too dangerous to fish and the bush too wet to hunt for wild pigs. The rice supply I had been able to bring in to the village had long since been used up as contributions to various feasts (such as Galiki's mata pau described above) that could not be put off. There was no locally-grown tobacco; even my supply of trade twist tobacco had been used up. Perhaps most difficult of all, no one in the immediate vicinity had any ripe areca nuts, although people went almost daily to check their areca palms for any they might have missed. We still had some tea and a small quantity of sugar, but sago flour (prepared in many ways, but still sago flour) was our daily ration. We got used to eating sago, everyday, and relished the occasional garnish of wild bird, eels, shellfish and, on special occasions, a piece of pork. People spent long hours processing sago, preparing and planting gardens in expectation of a better growing season at the end of the rains.


Colonialism, World War Two, independence and modernization have wrought socioeconomic and political changes that continually affect trade-friend relations. By the 1980s, the frequency of interactions and the types of commodities that circulated through the trade-network were adjusting to accommodate non-traditional material goods and concepts of wealth. Obsidian has given way to steel tools. Dog's tooth net bags, once so precious they were only used in transactions related to bridewealth exchange and firstborn ceremonies, no longer find their way into northwest New Britain from the Finschafen area of the mainland. In the Bariai district, Amara speakers living in the small village of Niuniuiai no longer trade a specially prepared, medicinal white clay called atarau (K: tarau) to Siassi, the Bali Islands, or Finschafen on the mainland (28) Trade into the Arawe district has also fallen off in recent times. Mr. Gamaua, a maron in Niuniuiai village, remarked that:
 I have many trade-friends and kin at Arawe in the Kandrian area.
 They often visit us but we don't go to visit them. They walk
 [overland] and come by way of Malasongo [village]. While they visit
 us, we don't go to their area. I have been only twice. (my
 translation; 1982)

This does not mean, however, that the trade-friendship network has broken down or become defunct. Nor should it be suggested that the Bariai be captured in the amber of their yester-years and opt out of the processes of so-called progress and modernization that influence contemporary lifeways and choices.

The Bariai are very much aware of how their cycle of firstborn and mortuary ceremonies is dependent upon the commodities and camaraderie of trade-friend relationships. I witnessed several long public moots (and constant conversations with individuals) that focused on how the Bariai could best engage with the pressures of modernization. No matter what other traditions might be put aside, villagers agreed that they would always retain three critical firstborn ceremonies: the blood-letting ceremony (superincision or ear piercing during mortuary work); the two large taro-garden distributions (otoa dadar)a and liliu dana); and the mata pau. Expensive in terms of the time and wealth (particularly garden produce, pigs and shell money), these three ceremonies originated with and are sacralized in the story of Moro. Furthermore, Moro decreed that as long as the Bariai continued this tradition, their lives would be fruitful and meaningful. The firstborn and mortuary ceremonial cycle, which is the totality of Bariai ceremonial and integral to their cultural identity, is dependent upon the complex network of trade and trade-friendships. Without the network of trade-friends, firstborn (and mortuary) ceremonies would collapse and this, in turn, would effect the prestige economy, the household and marital partnerships, the locus of social status, position and leadership, the basic principles of this egalitarian system, and the benefits of reciprocal rights and obligations. Equally important in a nation state that has no social welfare system to operate as a safety net during crises such as the 1982-83 drought, the trade-friend network is critical to the socioeconomic well-being of people living in underdeveloped, rural areas like the northwest coast of New Britain. During the drought, the cash economy did not work for the people on the northwest coast; due to the vagaries of the international market prices, copra production proved monetarily meagre and inadequate to purchase the quantities of food needed to see out the drought. Without the trade-friend network--despite the provincial government's contribution of K10 000 for drought relief--the people of the northwest coast, especially the Siassi, Bali-Witu and Kove, whose subsistence economies are circumscribed by their island habitat, would not have fared as well as they did.

The ethnohistorical data presented here reiterate how necessary it is to understand that people are embedded in local and regional systems that are in turn encoded in local cosmologies from whence such systems derive their vitality. The story of Moro suggests that the camaraderie and commodities of the trade-friendship relationship predated German and Australian colonialism in northwest New Britain. The colonial Patrol Reports documentation and my ethnographic research over the years provide documentation of the scope, complexity and resiliency of trade networks in the region even in the face of external factors such as colonization, missionization, the Second World War, indentured wage labour, and cash cropping. Contemporary mata pau incorporate non-traditional goods even as the trade-friend network and traditional items of value continue to be indispensable to the cycle of firstborn ceremonies. Rather than the demise of indigenous socioeconomic and cosmological systems as casualties of the encroachment of international capital, labour and commodities, we could learn much more about the processes of social change and decision making by observing the way in which socioeconomic relations, such as the trade-friend, continue to adjust and adapt to current circumstances.


I am and always will be especially indebted to the Bariai who endeavour to teach me about their lives and lifeway. In addition, I would like to thank John Edward Terrell for reviewing an early draft of this paper, and the two anonymous Oceania reviewers for their thoughtful reading and suggestions. All errors of fact or interpretation are my own.


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(1.) With the generous assistance of doctoral and postdoctoral research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRCC) and Grants-in-Aid of Research from Okanagan University College 2003 and 2005, I have been privileged to undertake field studies with the Bariai in 1981, 1982-83, and 1985, 2003 and 2005.

(2.) The northwest coast of New Britain fits with Harding's conclusion (1994:118) that 'Nowhere in late precontact Melanesia ... were there specialists in trading in the sense that their livelihoods rested exclusively on middleman transfers in the absence of local production for export. This fact combined with the generalized social structure of trade and universal participation in trading probably explains why the trader did not emerge as a distinct occupational role in traditional Melanesian society.' In a footnote to this passage, Harding continues, 'That neither groups nor individuals were conceived primarily as traders reflects the fact that trading was a household function, one of several special activities pursued by domestic groups' (p. 123 n. 14).

(3.) Many villages and districts names are misspelled or changed on maps, in patrol reports and in early ethnographic writing. Rather than constantly clutter up the text by supplying the correct contemporary spellings of names, readers are advised that, for example, Kilenge and Kilingi are the same place; that Kove is often rendered Kombi, Kombe or Kovi; similarly, Wariai is Bariai; Lolo is Lollo, and Bola is also know as Bakovi. Patrol Officers were careful to note changes and preferences; for example, in 1954 Cadet Patrol Officer M. Lang, writes that, 'Although this group of people is collectively referred to by us as "Bolas" they call themselves "Bakovis" and say that "Bola" refers only to the village of that name. Other peoples of different language groups such as the Kombes or Nakanais invariably speak of the peninsula people as 'Bakovis', rarely is the other term used.' The Bali-Witu Islands are also known in the early literature as the French Islands.

(4.) These reports are contained in the Microfiche of Patrol Reports for West New Britain, 1940-1975, Papua New Guinea Archives and from Pacific Manuscripts Bureau microfilm PMB 1036, Ian Mack: New Britain Patrol Reports, 1926-1931. The Patrol Reports do not have page numbers, hence they are referred to here by date and officer name. Obtaining the data from the microfiche of patrol reports and presenting it here was made possible by Grants-in Aid from Okanagan University College (1992, 1996) and a Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada Research Grant (No. 410-93-1442) enabled me to access the microfiche of patrol reports for West New Britain. I am also indebted to Mr. Richard Mack, nephew of Patrol Officer Ian Mack, for his wonderful email conversations about the history of the Mack family in Australia, and for supplying me with a copy of On Patrol (1994). I extend my gratitude to my research assistant Adeja Chrisara for her excellent contribution to the early days of my microfiche/kiap project. Thanks also to typist extraordinaire, Tyee Bridge, and to Jason Harris for their assistance.

(5.) Many of the patrol reports, in addition to the ravages of time, have sustained water, mildew and other damage which makes some words illegible. Words in square brackets contain my editorial additions to the text.

(6.) In 1933 Mack died as a result of wounds received in an affray with natives of Aiamontina village in the Upper Ramu area of the southern highlands (cf. Radford 1977; McPherson2001).

(7.) Over the course of my field work in Bariai, I had many opportunities to discuss these ceremonies with people from Kove, Kilenge and Kaliai, all of whom agreed that their rights to perform the ceremonies had been obtained from the Bariai, the acknowledged originators of the total complex (cf. Chowning 1978b: 5).

(8.) I have discussed these ceremonies in detail elsewhere--see Scaletta 1985. The concept of primogeniture and the celebration of firstborns, either separately or in conjunction with mortuary ceremonies, is present in many New Britain societies: Lakalal (Goodenough 1955; Johnston 1973; and Valentine 1961); Kove (Chowning 1972, 1978a,) Lusi (Counts and Counts 1970, Counts 1980), Kilenge (Zelenietz 1980), Witu (Blythe 1978), and the Tolai (Epstein 1969). For the Siassi Islands, see Pomponio 1992.

(9.) Following Turner (1967:94-95) I distinguish here between ritual as 'transformative' and ceremony as 'confirmatory'.

(10.) I have calculated that, in an ideal world, it can take a married couple fifteen to twenty years to complete the seventeen firstborn ceremonies; some parents never do complete them all.

(11.) Some of this obsidian probably found its way to the Siassi Islanders thence to the east coast of New Guinea and up into the Highlands. Watson (1986 as cited in Kirch 1991: 155) notes in the last three or four hundred years, the source of obsidian flakes found in the Highlands '... is Talasea, New Britain, suggesting movement of the material over a long distance, probably in incremental steps rather than in a single trajectory.'

(12.) The baulo relationship is a reciprocal relationship between two sets of parents of firstborn children. Each couple is about the same age, as are their firstborns and, although they are members of the same clan, they are from different lineages. Parents and firstborn refer to and address their opposite number with the reciprocal term baulo. Given the ideal of egalitarianism, parents cannot be seen to be seeking self-aggrandizement and so they remain in the background and their baulo represents their public persona. While the child's parent supply everything necessary, it is their baulo who are responsible for decorating and publicly presenting the child, for making prestations and for distributions of food and pork and wealth. Baulo are compensated with gifts of food and wealth by the firstborn's parents with reciprocal services from their baulo partners when they perform ceremonies for their own firstborn child.

(13.) There are no ceremonies specifically for second and later-born children and, of the seventeen firstborn ceremonies, these children are only involved in one--the blood-letting rites of male superincision and female ear-piercing--when they are simply pulled in 'under the firstborn' if their parents can afford to do so. While not everyone can be a firstborn, these second and subsequent children get the opportunity to achieve renown when they become parents of their own firstborn and undertake the work necessary to 'raise the name of their firstborn.'

(14.) The original story of Moro is over 15,000 words and this synopsis is necessarily extremely truncated. For a more complete rendition of the story and a detailed analysis see McPherson 1994.

(15.) The firstborn is considered to be consubstantial with its parents; thus, to cannibalize one's parent is to cannibalize one's self.

(16.) Dogs' tooth netbags were highly valued and a particularly prized item of bridewealth. In 1982-83 no one had owned or seen one for many years.

(17.) Drawn in a straight line, the distance from Bambak to Silivuti is approximately 100 km. Of course this voyage would be much longer given that the crew punted the canoe closely following the contours of the coast, thus avoiding as much as possible, the dangers of the open sea.

(18.) On various maps, these village names are also spelled Silavuti, Kalapiai, Poi, Sumalani, Nugakau or Nukuhu, Muliagani, Kapo, Arimegi, Tamoniai.

(19.) Since most contemporary mata pau tend to be less extensive than in the past, the descriptive analysis of a mata pau which follows is based on several small mata pau that I witnessed and on the accounts and discussions of this event with firstborn adults who had been the focus of a mata pau, parents who had accomplished a mata pau for their firstborn, and elders who remembered more elaborate mata pau of the past.

(20.) Re the Trobriand kula voyages Malinowski writes (1961:102) that 'Magical rites must be performed over the sea-going canoe when it is built, in order to make it swift, steady and safe.... another system of magical rites is done in order to avert the dangers of sailing....[and] Kula magic proper ... consists in numerous rites and spells, all of which act directly on the mind (nanola) of one's partner, and make him soft, unsteady in mind and eager to give Kula gifts....'

(21.) Once again the mythic Moro comes into the picture as it was he who effected the transformation of the original green croton into the dark blood-red colour of the more natem by covering the green croton with his red betel spittle.

(22.) That trade-friends provided a 'safe zone' also worked to the advantage of the administration. In his 1952-53 report of his patrol of southwest coast New Britain villages along the Passismanua and Gasmata borders, C.V. Single (a/A.D.O.) writes,

A native of Ambungi with a better than average war record, Palpal has spent 12 months working among the shy people of Ankiak, Kawelai, Wilwol, and Iambuan [hinterland villages near the headwaters of the Andru river]. Using his hereditary fight of safe conduct in this area and a good deal of government salt, he has managed to persuade these natives to appear for census. He has worked in close contact with Kandrian [patrol post] and his success has made this patrol an easy one.... Palpal's hereditary safe conduct is a fairly common sort of arrangement where trading is conducted between semi-sophisticated and uncontacted bush natives. In this case and in the present generation only Palpal and another native enjoy the right; but Palpal took his young (blood) brother with the patrol and introduced him. The penetration of the patrol will in any case do much to break down this limitation of intercourse. (Gasmata Patrol Report 9, 1952-53. C.V. Single, a/ADO)

(23.) This means that since the initial visit, the trade-friends have been negotiating their own networks for the wealth needed to give the firstborn's parents and have been working to provide the requisite food, pigs, tobacco, betel nut and so forth of a major feast.

(24.) All firstborn girls are called 'Galiki;' there is no standard or common name for firstborn boys.

(25.) The 1983 exchange rate was approximately K1=CAD $1.65. In 2005 K1 = CAD 0.398.

(26.) While the rain magic didn't bring the rain, it certainly created the smooth seas to permit easy sailing (the tete Unea) to the Bali-Witu islands.

(27.) Re: mourning taboos, see Scaletta 1985.

(28.) Collected from the banks of a local river, this white chalky material is wrapped in leaves and dried for several weeks. Once dried, the chalk has a pleasant smell of mint and is used primarily in curing rites or is chewed as an antacid. While still used medicinally by elders who know how to find and prepare it, the white chalk is no longer an item of trade.

In 1962 Patrol Officer Besasparis recorded current Kaliai [??] Kove exchange rates:

Naomi McPherson

University of British Columbia

Overview of trade networks and commodities by Sub-division and Date

Sub-Division Date Trade Items Traded to

East and West 1928-29 Shell money Tolai (Rabaul)
Nakanai (tambu)

Bariai, Kilenge 1928-29 Taro, yams Siassi: Aramot,
 ('mami') Mandok, Unea

Kove, Kaliai, 1928-29 Pigs, dogs,shell Kilenge
Bariai, Sahe money, (Tolai?),
 red ochre, Talasea
 obsidian; **
 Spears named
 rumko, savelli,

Loin and Itni 1928-29 Asui (bark fiber Pililo village,
River villages for nets), red Arawe District
(hinterland ochre, * woven
mountains) armbands, woven

Lamogai_ 1928-29 Bark fiber for North coastal
 net; unspecified Kove, and south
 bush materials; coastal villages a
 pigs, dogs Wasun

Siassi (Aramot, 1928-29 Fish Rook (Unea)
Malai, Mandok, Island
Aronai Islands)

Bali, Witu, Unea, 1945-46 Pigs, dogs, fowl Bariai, Kilenge
Islands Garove, Cassowary
Mundua Islands

Bola (Bakovi)

Bola (Bakovi) 1945-46 Ropes of shell Bali-Witu Group
 money; tortoise-
 shell; kuruki nuts

Kove 1946-47 Sahe shell (for Tolai
 shell money);
 tortoise shell

Kaliai 1946-47 Tobacco Kove

Bariai, Kilenge, 1950-51 Bark cloth, Kaliai, Kove
Sahe *carved wooden
 bowls, **clay pots

 Tobacco, taro, Siassi
 bananas, sweet
 potato, wicker
 baskets from Sag,
 trochus shell
 armbands, dogs,
 obsidian from
 Talasea, canoe

 Siassi bowls, clay Lolo, Lamogai
 pots pandanus
 capes, taro
 tobacco, Sag Sag

 Kaliiai, Kove

Central Nakanai 1952-53 *Wild fowl eggs Bola (Bakovi)
 1952-53 Tortoiseshell Gasmata coast
 (from Bola)

Gasmata, (inland 1952-53 *Gold lip shell, Gasmata beach
villages at the tobaco leaf red villages
headwaters of the ochre, 'materials
Ann rivers for sorcery

Gasmata, (inland 1953-54 Bark cloth Lamogai (inland
villages bteween Kaliai district)
the Pulie and Ann

West Nakanai 1953-54 Wild fowl eggs Unspecified
 Shell money *Tolai

Arawe coast from 1953-54 Pigs, dogs Siassi
Pililo Island to
Mlol Village,
inland villages up
the Itni River

Kove 1956-57 Lizard skins, Bol/Bakovi
 drums, carved
 wooden bowls/
 plates, canoes Bali-Witu
 cassowary bones, Group
 pandanus sleeping

East Nakanai 1950-51 Shell money Tolai (Rabaul)

Bali-Witu 1965-66 Baskets, ropes, Kove
Islands sharp sticks for
 opening coconuts
 (called Kilangu)

Kilenge 1966-67 Tobacco Siassi
Lolo 1969-70 Pigs, dogs Siassi

Bola (Bakovi) 1969-70 Unspecified goods Kove

Kalai 1974-75 Tobacco, shells, Kove
 pigs, sago leaves
 and sago starch;
 various unspeci-
 fied 'traditional

 Notes & Rates of
 Date Traded for Exchange

East and West 1928-29 cash

Bariai, Kilenge 1928-29 Clay pots, carved
 wooden bowls
 hourglass drums

Kove, Kaliai, 1928-29 Siassi: wooden * made by the
Bariai, Sahe bowls, ** spears interior Lolo
 named vila, Sio people, in Bariai
 clay pots, black these armbands are
 pigment, trochus called poipoi
 armband, * woven sara
 armbands ** names represent
 the type of wood
 used to make the

Loin and Itni 1928-29 Pigs, coconuts
River villages

Lamogai_ 1928-29 Salt & unspecified
 beach products;
 steel knives &
 axes; pigs, dogs

Siassi (Aramot, 1928-29 taro
Malai, Mandok,
Aronai Islands)

Bali, Witu, Unea, 1945-46 * femurs & *** 2 femur bones =
Islands Garove, wing quills; 1/-
Mundua Islands tortoise shell ** 30 quill bundle
 armbands, boar's = 10/-
 tusks, shell
 money, dog and
 opossum teeth

Bola (Bakovi) Obsidian, boar's # Tolai?
 tusks, # shell

Bola (Bakovi) 1945-46 Pigs and dogs

Kove 1946-47 shell money This trade had
 virtually ceased
 at this time

Kaliai 1946-47 Unspecified (shell

Bariai, Kilenge, 1950-51 Pigs, dogs, # *Siassi bowls
Sahe shell money, red **Sio pots
 ochre, obsidian #Tolai?

 finished conoes,
 clay pots (from 1 Canoetree =
 mainland NG), 2-3 medium pigs
 wooden bowls, 1 finished canoe =
 plaited pandanus 3 very large
 rain capes pigs
 1 pig = prow;
 bark fiber for 1 pig = stern.
 fishing and 1 (largest) pig =
 hunting nets; centre.
 hourglass hand
 drums, pigs and

 shell money
 (Tolai?), pigs

Central Nakanai 1952-53 Tortoiseshell *4 eggs = 1/-
 1952-53 Salt

Gasmata, (inland 1952-53 Salt, trade store *10 gold lip = 1
villages at the goods, casli large sow
headwaters of the *5 gold lip = 1
Ann rivers med. Boar

Gasmata, (inland 1953-54 shell money
villages bteween
the Pulie and Ann

West Nakanai 1953-54 Unspecified
 cash @ 10/- per *used by Tolai for
 tin of shell manufacturing
 Gunantuna shell

Arawe coast from 1953-54 Woven food 5 clay pots = 1
Pililo Island to baskets, carved small dog
Mlol Village, wooden bowls, clay 10 clay pots * = 1
inland villages up pots (from Madang large dog
the Itni River & Sio), dances 2 bowls = 1 small
 [probably Sia], pig
 canoes 2 baskets = 1
 small pig
 * Earthenware pots
 were traded to the
 Siassi from Sio
 and Madang
 (Harding 1967:36)

Kove 1956-57 Trees for canoes


East Nakanai 1950-51 Unspecified goods/

Bali-Witu 1965-66 cash

Kilenge 1966-67 Not known
Lolo 1969-70 cash

Bola (Bakovi) 1969-70 *Sago palms as they had
 limited amounts of
 sago stands, the
 Kove probably
 obtained these
 from the Bariai
 for trade to the

Kalai 1974-75 Unspecified (shell


Taro 6 lbs. +/- 1/-
Banana, cassava, sweet potato, 8 lbs. +/- 1/-
 other vegetables
Sugar Cane mekpas bundle * 1/-
Native Tobacco 10 leaves 1/-
Pig 1 large 3 [pounds
Dog 1 small 10/-
 1 large 1 [pounds
Bark fiber for rope mekpas bundle 3/-
Pandanus mats medium 3/-
 large 5/-
Mature coconut (TP drai) 8 1/-
Bridewealth shell money maximum ** 45 fathoms
 back tambu
 & 5 fathoms
 gold tarnbu
Pandanus leaves for thatch mekpas bundle 2/-
 (TP morota) (enough for 10 sheets
 of thatch)
Sago (make fast bundle)
Limbum (palm slats for flooring) 20 lbs. +/- 5/-
Blind made of Sago palm spathes
 (TP pangal) enough for medium 2 [pounds
 house (?) sterling]
 made from 6 pangal 1/-
 made from 50 pangal 1 [pounds
Canoe small, paddling 1 [pounds
 medium, sailing 5 [pounds
 twin mast, sailing 10 [pounds

* The Tok Pisin term mekpas ('make fast; tie up') refers to a bundle of
items usually wrapped in banana or ginger leaves or, in the case of
pandanus mats, tied with fiber string. The contents of a mekpas are
never untied and counted at the time of exchange as it is assumed that
the bundles are of a fairly standard quantity/size; however, if
someone's mekpas is regularly short or light, others will simply stop
exchanging with that person.

** The patrol report doesn't clarify what this means but I assume that
it means the maximum shell money that can be offered/expected for one
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Author:McPherson, Naomi
Geographic Code:8PAPU
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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