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Argonauts of the Western Pacific

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To my friend and teacher professor C. G. Seligman, F. R. S.

Preface by Sir James G. Frazer

My esteemed friend, Dr. B. Malinowski has asked me to write a preface to his book, and I willingly comply with his request, though I can hardly think that any words of mine will add to the value of the remarkable record of anthropological research which he has given us in this volume. My observations, such as they are, will deal partly with the writer's method and partly with the matter of his book.

In regard to method, Dr. Malinowski has done his work, as it appears to me, under the best conditions and in the manner calculated to secure the best possible results. Both by theoretical training and by practical experience he was well equipped for the task which he undertook. Of his theoretical training he had given proof in his learned and thoughtful treatise on the family among the aborigines of Australia; of his practical experience he had produced no less satisfactory evidence in his account of the natives of Mailu in New Guinea, based on a residence of six months among them. In the Trobriand Islands, to the east of New Guinea, to which he next turned his attention, Dr. Malinowski lived as a native among the natives for many months together, watching them daily at work and at play, conversing with them in their own tongue, and deriving all his information from the surest sources — personal observation and statements made to him directly by the natives in their own language without the intervention of an interpreter. In this way he has accumulated a large mass of materials, of high scientific value, bearing on the social, religious, and economic or industrial life of the Trobriand Islanders. These he hopes and intends to publish hereafter in full; meantime he has given us in the present volume a preliminary study of an interesting and peculiar feature in Trobriand society, the remarkable system of exchange, only in part economic or commercial, which the islanders maintain among themselves and with the inhabitants of neighbouring islands.

Little reflection is needed to convince us of the fundamental importance of economic forces at all stages of man's career from the humblest to the highest. After all, the human species is part of the animal creation, and as such, like the rest of the animals, it reposes on a material foundation; on which a higher life, intellectual, moral, social, may be built, but without which no such superstructure is possible. That material foundation, consisting in the necessity of food and of a certain degree of warmth and shelter from the elements, forms the economic or industrial basis and prime condition of human life. If anthropologists have hitherto unduly neglected it, we may suppose that it was rather because they were attracted to the higher side of man's nature than because they deliberately ignored and undervalued the importance and indeed necessity of the lower. In excuse for their neglect we may also remember that anthropology is still a young science, and that the multitude of problems which await the student cannot all be attacked at once, but must be grappled with one by one. Be that as it may, Dr. Malinowski has done well to emphasise the great significance of primitive economics by singling out the notable exchange system of the Trobriand Islanders for special consideration.

Further, he has wisely refused to limit himself to a mere description of the processes of the exchange, and has set himself to penetrate the motives which underlie it and the feelings which it excites in the minds of the natives. It appears to be sometimes held that pure sociology should confine itself to the description of acts and should leave the problems of motives and feelings to psychology. Doubtless it is true that the analysis of motives and feelings is logically distinguishable from the description of acts, and that it falls, strictly speaking, within the sphere of psychology; but in practice an act has no meaning for an observer unless he knows or infers the thoughts and emotions of the agent; hence to describe a series of acts, without any reference to the state of mind of the agent, would not answer the purpose of sociology, the aim of which is not merely to register but to understand the actions of men in society. Thus sociology cannot fulfil its task without calling in at every turn the aid of psychology.

It is characteristic of Dr. Malinowski's method that he takes full account of the complexity of human nature. He sees man, so to say, in the round and not in the flat. He remembers that man is a creature of emotion at least as much as of reason, and he is constantly at pains to discover the emootional as well as the rational basis of human action. The man of science, like the man of letters, is too apt to view mankind only in the abstract, selecting for his consideration a single side of our complex and many-sided being. Of this one-sided treatment Molière is a conspicuous example among great writers. All his characters are seen only in the flat: one of them is a miser, another a hypocrite, another a coxcomb, and so on; but not one of them is a man. All are dummies dressed up to look very like human beings; but the likeness is only on the surface, all within is hollow and empty, because truth to nature has been sacrificed to literary effect. Very different is the presentation of human nature in the greater artists, such as Cervantes and Shakespeare: their characters are solid, being drawn not from one side only but from many. No doubt in science a certain abstractness of treatment is not merely legitimate, but necessary, since science is nothing but knowledge raised to the highest power, and all knowledge implies a process of abstraction and generalisation: even the recognition of an individual whom we see every day is only possible as the result of an abstract idea of him formed by generalisation from his appearances in the past. Thus the science of man is forced to abstract certain aspects of human nature and to consider them apart from the concrete reality; or ratter it falls into a number of sciences, each of which considers a single part of man's complex organism, it may be the physical, the intellectual, the moral, or the social side of his being; and the general conclusions which it draws will present a more or less incomplete picture of man as a whole, because the lines which compose it are necessarily but a few picked out of a multitude.

In the present treatise Dr. Malinowski is mainly concerned with what at first sight might seem a purely economic activity of the Trobriand Islanders; but, with his usual width of outlook and fineness of perception, he is careful to point out that the curious circulation of valuables, which takes place between the inhabitants of the Trobriand and other islands, while it is accompanied by ordinary trade, is by no means itself a purely commercial transaction; he shows that it is not based on a simple calculation of utility, of profit and loss, but that it satisfies emotional and aesthetic needs of a higher order than the mere gratification of animal wants. This leads Dr. Malinowski to pass some severe strictures on the conception of the Primitive Economic Man as a kind of bogey who, it appears, still haunts economic text-books and even extends his blighting influence to the minds of certain anthropologists. Rigged out in cast-off garments of Mr. Jeremy Bentham and Mr. Gradgrind, this horrible phantom is apparently actuated by no other motive than that of filthy lucre, which he pursues relentlessly, on Spencerian principles, along the line of least resistance. If such a dismal fiction is really regarded by serious inquirers as having any counterpart in savage society, and not simply as a useful abstraction, Dr. Malinowski's account of the Kula in this book should help to lay the phantom by the heels; for he proves that the trade in useful objects, which forms part of the Kula system, is in the minds of the natives entirely subordinate in importance to the exchange of other objects, which serve no utilitarian purpose whatever. In its combination of commercial enterprise, social organisation, mythical background, and magical ritual, to say nothing of the wide geographical range of its operations, this singular institution appears to have no exact parallel in the existing anthropological record; but its discoverer, Dr. Malinowski, may very well be right in surmising that it is probably a type of institution of which analogous, if not precisely similar, instances will hereafter be brought to light by further research among savage and barbarous peoples.

Not the least interesting and instructive feature of the Kula, as it is described for us by Dr. Malinowski, is the extremely important part which magic is seen to play in the institution. From his description it appears that in the minds of the natives the performance of magical rites and the utterance of magical words are indispensable for the success of the enterprise in all its phases, from the felling of the trees out of which the canoes are to be hollowed, down to the moment when, the expedition successfully accomplished, the argosy with its precious cargo is about to start on its homeward voyage. And incidentally we learn that magical ceremonies and spells are deemed no less necessary for the cultivation of gardens and for success in fishing, the two forms of industrial enterprise which furnish the islanders with their principal means of support; hence the garden magician, whose business it is to promote the growth of the garden produce by his hocus-pocus, is one of the most important men in the village, ranking next after the chief and the sorcerer. In short, magic is believed to be an absolutely essential adjunct of every industrial undertaking, being just as requisite for its success as the mechanical operations involved in it, such as the caulking, painting and launching of a canoe, the planting of a garden, and the setting of a fish-trap. „A belief in magic”, says Dr. Malinowski, „is one of the main psychological forces which allow for organisation and systematisation of economic effort in the Trobriands”.

This valuable account of magic as a factor of fundamental economic importance for the welfare and indeed for the very existence of the community should suffice to dispel the erroneous view that magic, as opposed to religion, is in its nature essentially maleficent and anti-social, being always used by an individual for the promotion of his own selfish ends and the injury of his enemies, quite regardless of its effect on the common weal. No doubt magic may be so employed, and has in fact probably been so employed, in every part of the world; in the Trobriand Islands themselves it is believed to be similarly practised for nefarious purposes by sorcerers, who inspire the natives with the deepest dread and the most constant concern. But in itself magic is neither beneficent nor maleficent; it is simply an imaginary power of controlling the forces of nature, and this control may be exercised by the magician for good or evil, for the benefit or injury of individuals and of the community. In this respect, magic is exactly on the same footing with the sciences, of which it is the bastard sister. They, too, in themselves, are neither good nor evil, though they become the source of one or other according to their application. It would be absurd, for example, to stigmatise pharmacy as antisocial, because a knowledge of the properties of drugs is often employed to destroy men as well as to heal them. It is equally absurd to neglect the beneficent application of magic and to single out its maleficent use as the characteristic property by which to define it. The processes of nature, over which science exercises a real and magic an imaginary control, are not affected by the moral disposition, the good or bad intention, of the individual who uses his knowledge to set them in motion. The action of drugs on the human body is precisely the same whether they are administered by a physician or by a poisoner. Nature and her handmaid Science are neither friendly nor hostile to morality; they are simply indifferent to it and equally ready to do the bidding of the saint and of the sinner, provided only that he gives them the proper word of command. If the guns are well loaded and well aimed, the fire of the battery will be equally destructive, whether the gunners are patriots fighting in defence of their country or invaders waging a war of unjust aggression. The fallacy of differentiating a science or an art according to its application and the moral intention of the agent is obvious enough with regard to pharmacy and artillery; it is equally real, though to many people apparently it is less obvious, with regard to magic.

The immense influence wielded by magic over the whole life and thought of the Trobriand Islanders is perhaps the feature of Dr. Malinowski's book which makes the most abiding impression on the mind of the reader. He tells us that „magic, the attempt of man to govern the forces of nature directly by means of a special lore, is all-pervading and all-important in the Trobriands''; it is „interwoven into all the many industrial and communal activities”; „all the data which have been so far mustered disclose the extreme importance of magic in the Kula. But if it were a questions of treating of any other aspect of the tribal life of these natives, it would also be found that, whenever they approach any concern of vital importance, they summon magic to their aid. It can be said without exaggeration that magic, according to their ideas, governs human destinies; that it supplies man with the power of mastering the forces of nature; and that it is his weapon and armour against the many dangers which crowd in upon him on every side”.

Thus in the view of the Trobriand Islanders, magic is a power of supreme importance either for good or evil; it can make or mar the life of man; it can sustain and protect the individual and the community, or it can injure and destroy them. Compared to this universal and deep-rooted conviction, the belief in the existence of the spirits of the dead would seem to exercise but little influence on the life of these people. Contrary to the general attitude of savages towards the souls of the departed, they are reported to be almost completely devoid of any fear of ghosts. They believe, indeed, that the ghosts return to their villages once a year to partake of the great annual feast; but „in general the spirits do not influence human beings very much, for better or worse”; „there is nothing of the mutual interaction, of the intimate collaboration between man and spirit which are the essence of religious cult. This conspicuous predominance of magic over religion, at least over the worship of the dead, is a very notable feature in the culture of a people so comparatively high in the scale of savagery as the Trobriand Islanders. It furnishes a fresh proof of the extraordinary strength and tenacity of the hold which this world-wide delusion has had, and still has, upon the human mind.

We shall doubtless learn much as to the relation of magic and religion among the Trobrianders from the full report of Dr. Malinowski's researches in the islands. From the patient observation which he has devoted to a single institution, and from the wealth of details with which he has illustrated it, we may judge of the extent and value of the larger work which he has in preparation. It promises to be one of the completest and most scientific accounts ever given of a savage people.

J. G. Frazer.

The Temple, London, 7th March, 1922.

Foreword by the author

Ethnology is in the sadly ludicrous, not to say tragic, position, that at the very moment when it begins to put its workshop in order, to forge its proper tools, to start ready for work on its appointed task, the material of its study melts away with hopeless rapidity. Just now, when the methods and aims of scientific field ethnology have taken shape, when men fully trained for the work have begun to travel into savage countries and study their inhabitants — these die away under our very eyes.

The research which has been done on native races by men of academic training has proved beyond doubt and cavil that scientific, methodic inquiry can give us results far more abundant and of better quality than those of even the best amateur's work. Most, though not all, of the modern scientific accounts have opened up quite new and unexpected aspects of tribal life. They have given us, in clear outline, the picture of social institutions often surprisingly vast and complex; they have brought before us the vision of the native as he is, in his religious and magical beliefs and practices. They have allowed us to penetrate into his mind far more deeply than we have ever done before. From this new material, scientifically hall-marked, students of comparative Ethnology have already drawn some very important conclusions on the origin of human customs, beliefs and institutions; on the history of cultures, and their spread and contact; on the laws of human behaviour in society, and of the human mind.

The hope of gaining a new vision of savage humanity through the labours of scientific specialists open out like a mirage, vanishing almost as soon as perceived. For though at present, there is still a large number of native communities available for scientific study, within a generation or two, they or their cultures will have practically disappeared. The need for energetic work is urgent, and the time is short. Nor, alas, up to the present, has any adequate interest been taken by the public in these studies. The number of workers is small, the encouragement they receive scanty. I feel therefore no need to justify an ethnological contribution which is the result of specialised research in the field.

In this volume I give an account of one phase of savage life only, in describing certain forms of inter-tribal, trading relations among the natives of New Guinea. This account has been culled, as a preliminary monograph, from Ethnographic material, covering the whole extent of the tribal culture of one district. One of the first conditions of acceptable Ethnographic work certainly is that it should deal with the totality of all social, cultural and psychological aspects of the community, for they are so interwoven that not one can be understood without taking into consideration all the others. The reader of this monograph will clearly see that, though its main theme is economic — for it deals with commercial enterprise, exchange and trade — constant reference has to be made to social organisation, the power of magic, to mythology and folklore, and indeed to all other aspects as well as the main one.

The geographical area of which the book treats is limited to the Archipelagoes lying off the eastern end of New Guinea. Even within this, the main field of research was in one district, that of the Trobriand Islands. This, however, has been studied minutely. I have lived in that one archipelago for about two years, in the course of three expeditions to New Guinea, during which time I naturally acquired a thorough knowledge of the language. I did my work entirely alone, living for the greater part of the time right in the villages. I therefore had constantly the daily life of the natives before my eyes, while accidental, dramatic occurrences, deaths, quarrels, village brawls, public and ceremonial events, could not escape my notice.

In the present state of Ethnography, when so much has still to be done in paving the way for forthcoming research and in fixing its scope, each new contribution ought to justify its appearance in several points. It ought to show some advance in method; it ought to push research beyond its previous limits in depth, in width, or in both; finally, it ought to endeavour to present its results in a manner exact, but not dry. The specialist interested in method, in reading this work, will find set out in the Introduction, Divisions II-IX and in Chapter XVIII, the exposition of my points of view and efforts in this direction. The reader who is concerned with results, rather than with the way of obtaining them, will find in Chapters IV to XXI a consecutive narrative of the Kula expeditions, and the various associated customs and beliefs. The student who is interested, not only in the narrative, but in the ethnographic background for it, and a clear definition of the institution, will find the first in Chapters I and II, and the latter in Chapter III.

To Mr. Robert Mond I tender my sincerest thanks. It is to his generous endowment that I owe the possibility of carrying on for several years the research of which the present volume is a partial result. To Mr. Atlee Hunt, C. M. G., Secretary of the Home and Territories Department of the Commonwealth of Australia, I am indebted for the financial assistance of the Department, and also for much help given on the spot. In the Trobriands, I was immensely helped in my work by Mr. B. Hancock, pearl trader, to whom I am grateful not only for assistance and services, but for many acts of friendship.

Much of the argument in this book has been greatly improved by the criticism given me by my friend, Mr. Paul Khuner, of Vienna, an expert in the practical affairs of modern industry and a highly competent thinker on economic matters. Professor L. T. Hobhouse has kindly read the proofs and given me valuable advice on several points.

Sir James Frazer, by writing his Preface, has enhanced the value of this volume beyond its merit and it is not only a great honour and advantage for me to be introduced by him, but also a special pleasure, for my first love for ethnology is associated with the reading of the Golden Bough, then in its second edition.

Last, not least, I wish to mention Professor C. G. Seligman, to whom this book is dedicated. The initiative of my expedition was given by him and I owe him more than I can express for the encouragement and scientific counsel which he has so generously given me during the progress of my work in New Guinea.

B. M.

El Boquin, Icod de los Vivos, Tenerife. April, 1921.


It is in the nature of the research, that an Ethnographer has to rely upon the assistance of others to an extent much greater than is the case with other scientific workers. I have therefore to express in this special place my obligations to the many who have helped me. As said in the Preface, financially I owe most to Mr. Robert Mond, who made my work possible by bestowing on me the Robert Mond Travelling Scholarship (University of London) of £250 per annum for five years (for 1914 and for 1917--1920). I was substantially helped by a grant of £250 from the Home and Territories Department of Australia, obtained by the good offices of Mr. Atlee Hunt, C. M. G. The London School of Economics awarded me the Constance Hutchinson Scholarship of £100 yearly for two years, 1915--1916. Professor Seligman, to whom in this, as in other matters I owe so much, besides helping me in obtaining all the other grants, gave himself £100 towards the cost of the expedition and equipped me with a camera, a phonograph, anthropometric instruments and other paraphernalia of ethnographic work. I went out to Australia with the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1914, as a guest, and at the expense, of the Commonwealth Government of Australia.

It may be interesting for intending field-workers to observe that I carried out my ethnographic research for six years 1914 to 1920 making three expeditions to the field of my work, and devoting the intervals between expeditions to the working out of my material and to the study of special literature, on little more than £250 a year. I defrayed out of this, not only ail the expenses of travel and research, such as fares, wages to native servants, payments of interpreters, but I was also able to collect a fair amount of ethnographic specimens, of which part has been presented to the Melbourne Museum as the Robert Mond Collection. This would not have been possible for me, had I not received much help from residents in New Guinea. My friend, Mr. B. Hancock, of Gusaweta, Trobriand Islands, allowed me to use his house and store as base for my gear and provisions; he lent me his cutter on various occasions and provided me with a home, where I could always repair in need or sickness. He helped me in my photographic work, and gave me a good number of his own photographic plates, of which several are reproduced in this book (Plates XI, XXXVII, and L-LII).

Other pearl traders and buyers of the Trobriands were also very kind to me, especially M. and Mme. Raphael Brudo, of Paris, Messrs. C. and G. Auerbach, and the late Mr. Mick George, all of whom helped me in various ways and extended to me their kind hospitality.

In my interim studies in Melbourne, I received much help from the staff of the excellent Public Library of Victoria, for which I have to thank the Librarian, Mr. E. La Touche Armstrong, my friend Mr. E. Pitt, Mr. Cooke and others.

Two maps and two plates are reproduced by kind permission of Professor Seligman from his Melanesians of British New Guinea I have to thank the Editor of Man (Captain T. A. Joyce) for his permission to use here again the plates which were previously published in that paper.

Mr. William Swan Stallybrass, Senior Managing Director of Messrs. Geo. Routledge & Sons, Ltd., has spared no trouble in meeting all my wishes as to scientific details in the publication of this book, for which I wish to express my sincere thanks

Phonetic note

The native names and words in this book are written according to the simple rules, recommended by the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute. That is, the vowels are to be pronounced as in Italian and the consonants as in English. This spelling suits the sounds of the Melanesian languages of New Guinea sufficiently well. The apostrophe placed between two vowels indicates that they should be pronounced separately and not merged into a diphthong. The accent is almost always on the penultimate, rarely on the anti-penultimate. All the syllables must be pronounced clearly and distinctly.

Table of contents

Introduction: The subject, method and scope of this enquiry

I — Sailing, and trading in the South Seas; the Kula. II — Method in Ethnography. III — Starting field work. Some perplexing difficulties. Three conditions of success. IV — Life in a tent among the natives. Mechanism of „getting in touch” with them. V — Active methods of research. Order and consistency in savage cultures. Methodological consequences of this truth. VI — Formulating the principles of tribal constitution and of the anatomy of culture. Method ot inference from statistic accumulation of concrete data. Uses of synoptic charts. VII — Presentation of the intimate touches of native life; of types of behaviour. Method of systematic fixing of impressions; of detailed, consecutive records. Importance of personal participation in native life. VIII — Recording of stereotyped manners of thinking and feeling. Corpus inscriptionum Kiriwinensium IX — Summary of argument. The native's vision of his world.

Chapter I. The country and inhabitants of the Kula district

I — Racial divisions in Eastern New Guinea. Seligman's classification. The Kula natives. II — Sub-divisions of the Kula district. III — Scenery at the Eastern end of New Guinea. Villages of the S. Massim; their customs and social institutions. IV — The d'Entrecasteaux Archipelago. The tribes of Dobu. The mythological associations of their country. Some of their customs and institutions. Sorcery. A vision on Sarubwoyna beach. V — Sailing North. The Amphlett Group. Savage monopolists.

Chapter II. The natives of the Trobriand Islands

I — Arrival in the coral Islands. First impression of the native. Some significant appearances and their deeper meaning. II — Position of women; their life and conduct before and after marriage. III — Further exploration in the villages. A cross country walk. Gardens and gardening. IV — The native's working power; their motives and incentives to work. Magic and work. A digression on Primitive Economics. V — Chieftainship, power through wealth; a plutocratic community. List of the various provinces and and political divisions in the Trobriands. VI — Totemism, the solidarity of clans and the bonds of kinship. VII — Spirits of the dead. The overweening importance of magic. Black magic. The prowling sorcerers and the flying witches. The malevolent visitors from the South, and epidemics. VIII — The Eastern neighbours of of the Trobrianders. The remaining districts of the Kula.

Chapter III. The essentials of the Kula

I — A concise definition of the Kula. II — Its economic character. III — The articles exchanged; the conception of vaygu'a. IV — The main rules and aspects of the Kula: the sociological aspect (partnership); direction of movement; nature of Kula ownership; the differential and integral effect of these rules. V — The act of exchange; its regulations; the light it throws on the acquisitive and „communistic” tendencies of the natives; its concrete outlines; the sollicitory gifts. VI — The associated activities and the secondary aspects of the Kula: construction of canoes; subsidiary trade — their true relation to the Kula; the ceremonial, mythology and magic associated with the Kula; the mortuary taboos and distributions, in their relation to the Kula.

Chapter IV. Canoes and sailing

I — The value and importance of a canoe to a native. Its appearance, the impressions and emotions it arouses in those who use or own it. The atmosphere of romance which surrounds it for the native. II — Analysis of its construction, in relation to its function. The three types of canoes in the Trobriand Islands. III--V Sociology of a large canoe (masawa). III—(A) — Social organisation of labour in constructing a canoe; the division of functions; the magical regulation of work. IV—(B) — Sociology of canoe ownership; the toli-relationship; the toliwaga, „master” or „owner” of a canoe; the four privileges and functions of a toliwaga. V — (C) — The social division of functions in manning and sailing a canoe. Statistical data about the Trobriand shipping.

Chapter V. The ceremonial building of a waga

I — Construction of canoes as part of the Kula proceedings. Magic and mythology. The preparatory and the ceremonial stage of construction II — The first stage: expelling the wood sprite Tokway; transport of the log; the hollowingout of the log and the associated magic. III — The second stage: the inaugural rite of Kula magic; the native at grips with problems of construction; the wayugo creeper; the magical spell uttered over it; caulking; the three magical exorcisms. IV — Some general remarks about the two stages of canoe-building and the concomitant magic. Bulubwalata (evil magic) of canoes. The ornamental prowboards. The Dobuan and the Muruwan types of overseas canoe.

Chapter VI — Launching of a canoe and ceremonial visiting tribal economics in the Trobriands

I — The procedure and magic at launching. The trial run (tasasoria). Account of the launching and tasasoria seen on the beach of Kualukuba. Reflections on the decay of customs under European influence. II — Digression on the sociology of work: organisation of labour; forms of commumal labour; payment for work. III — The custom of ceremonial visiting (kabigidoya); local trade, done on such expeditions. IV--VII Digression on gifts, payments, and exchange. V — Attitude of the native towards wealth. Desire of display. Enhancement of social prestige through wealth. The motives of accumulating food stuffs. Tho vilamalya (magic of plenty). The handling of yams. Psychology of eating. Value of manufactured goods, psychologically analysed. V — Motives for exchange. Giving, as satisfaction of vanity and as display of power. Fallacy of the „economically isolated individual” or „household”. Absence of gain in exchange. VI — Exchange of gifts and barter. List of gifts, payments and commercial transactions: 1. Pure gifts; 2. customary payments, repaid irregularly and without strict equivalents; 3. payments for services rendered; 4. gifts returned in strictly equivalent form; 5. exchange of material goods against privileges, titles and nonmaterial possessions; 6. ceremonial barter with deferred payment; 7. trade pure and simple. VI — Economic duties corresponding to various social ties; table of eight classes of social relationship, characterised by definite economic obligations.

Chapter VII. The departure of an overseas expedition

Scene laid in Sinaketa. The local chiefs. Stir in the village. The social differentiation of the sailing party. Magical rites, associated with the preparing and loading of a canoe. The sulumwoya rite. The magical bundle (lilava). The compartments of a canoe and the gebobo spell. Farewells on the beach.

Chapter VIII. The first halt of the fleet on Muwa

I — The definition of an uvalaku (ceremonial, competitive expedition). II — The sagali (ceremonial distribution) on Muwa. III — The magic of sailing.

Chapter IX. Sailing on the sea-arm of Pilolu

I — The landscape. Mythological geography of the regions beyond. II — Sailing: the winds; navigation; technique of sailing a canoe and its dangers. III — The customs and taboos of sailing. Privileged position of certain sub-clans. IV — The beliefs in dreadful monsters lurking in the sea.

Chapter X. The story of shipwreck

I — The flying witches, mulukwausi or yoyova: essentials of the belief; initiation and education of a yoyova (witch); secrecy surrounding this condition; manner of practising this witchcraft; actual cases. II — The flying witches at sea and in shipwreck. Other dangerous agents. The kayga'u magic; its modes of operation. III — Account of the preparatory rites of kayga'u. Some incantations quoted. IV — The story of ship-wreck and rescue. V — The spell of the rescuing giant fish. The myth and the magical formula of Tokulubwaydoga.

Chapter XI. In the Amphletts — sociology of the Kula

I — Arrival in Gumasila. Example of a Kula conversation. Trobrianders on long visits in the Amphletts. II — Sociology of the Kula: i. sociological limitations to participation in the Kula; 2. relation of Partnership; 3. entering the Kula relationship; 4. participation of women in the Kula. III — The Natives of the Amphletts: their industries and trade; pottery; importing the clay; technology of pot-making; commercial relations with the surrounding districts. IV — Drift of migrations and cultural influences in this province.

Chapter XII. In Tewara and Sanaroa — mythology of the Kula

I — Sailing under the lee of Koytabu. The cannibals of the unexplored jungle. Trobriand traditions and legends about them. The history and song of Gumagabu. II — Myths and reality: significance imparted to landscape by myth; line of distinction between the mythical and the actual occurrences; magical power and mythical atmosphere; the three strata of Trobriand myths. III--V The myths of the Kula. III — Survey of Kula mythology and its geographical distribution. The story of Gere'u of Muyuwa (Woodlark Island). The two stories of Tokosikuna of Digumenu and Gumasila. IV — The Kudayuri myth of the flying canoe. Commentary and analysis of this myth. Association between the canoe and the flying witches. Mythology and the Lukuba clan. V — The myth of Kasabwaybwayreta and the necklace Gumakarakedakeda. Comparison of these stories. VI — Sociological analysis of the myths: influence of the Kula myths upon native outlook; myth and custom. VII — The relation between myth and actuality restated. VIII — The story, the natural monuments and the religious ceremonial of the mythical personalities Atu'a'ine, Aturamo'a and their sister Sinatemubadiye'i. Other rocks of similar traditional nature.

Chapter XIII. On the beach of Sarubwoyna

I — The halt on the Beach. The beauty magic. Some incantations quoted. The spell of the ta'uya (conch shell). II — The magical onset on the Koya. Psychological analysis of this magic. III — The Gwara (taboo) and the Ka'ubana'i spell.

Chapter XIV. The Kula in Dobu — technicalities of the exchange

I — Reception in Dobu. II — The main transactions of the Kula and the subsidiary gifts and exchanges: some general reflections on the driving force of the Kula; regulations of the main transaction; vaga (opening gift) and yotile (return gift); the sollicitory gifts (pokala, kwaypolu, kaributu, korotomna); intermediary gifts (basi) and final clinching gift (kudu); the other articles sometimes exchanged in the main transaction of the Kula (doga, samakupa, beku); commercial honour and ethics of the Kula. III — The Kula proceedings in Dobu: wooing the partner; kwoygapani magic; the subsidiary trade; roamings of the Boyowans in the Dobu district.

Chapter XV. The journey home the fishing and working of the kaloma shell

I — Visits made on the return trip. Some articles acquired. II — The spondylus shell fishing in Sanaroa lagoon and in home waters: its general character and magic; the Kaloma myth; consecutive account of the technicalities, ceremonial and magic of the diving for the shell. III — Technology, economics and sociology of the production of the discs and necklaces from the shell. IV — Tanarere, display of the haul. Arrival of the party home to Sinaketa.

Chapter XVI. The return visit of the Dobuans to Sinaketa

I — The uvalaku (ceremonial expedition) from Dobu to Southern Boyowa: the preparations in Dobu and Sanaroa; preparations in Gumasila; the excitement, the spreading and convergence of news; arrival of the Dobuan fleet in Nabwageta. II — Preparations in Sinaketa for the reception of the visiting party. The Dobuans arrive. The scene at Kaykuyawa point. The ceremonial reception. Speeches and gifts. The three days' sojurn of the Dobuans in Sinaketa. Manner of living. Exchange of gifts and barter. III — Return home. Results shown at the tanarere.

Chapter XVII. Magic and the Kula

I — The subject matter of Boyowan magic. Its association with all the vital activities and with the unaccountable aspects of reality. II--V The native conception of magic. II — The methods of arriving at its knowledge. III — Native views about the original sources of magic. Its primeval character. Inadmissability to the native of spontaneous generation in magic. Magic a power of man and not a force of nature. Magic and myth and their super-normal atmosphere. IV — The magical acts: spell and rite; relation between these two factors; spells uttered directly without a concomitant rite; spells accompanied by simple rite of impregnation; spells accompanied by a rite of transference; spells accompanied by offerings and invocations; summary of this survey. V — Place where magic is stored in the human anatomy. VI — Condition of the performer. Taboos and observances. Sociological position. Actual descent and magical filiation. VII — Definition of systematic magic. The „systems” of canoe magic and Kula magic. VIII — Supernormal or supernatural character of magic; emotional reaction of the natives to certain forms of magic; the kariyala (magical portent); role of ancestral spirits; native terminology. IX — Ceremonial setting of magic. X — Institution of taboo, supported by magic. Kaytubutabu and kaytapaku. XI — Purchase ol certain forms of magic. Payments for magical services. XII — Brief summary.

Chapter XVIII. The power of words in magic — some linguistic data

I — Study of linguistic data in magic to throw light on native ideas about the power of words. II — The text of the wayugo spell with literal translation. III — Linguistic analysis of its u'ula (exordium). IV — Vocal technique of reciting a spell. Analysis of the tapwana (main part) and dogina (final part). V — The text of the Sulumwoya spell and its analysis. VI--XII Linguistic data referring to the other spells mentioned in this volume and some general inferences. VI — The tokway spell and the opening phrases of the canoe spells. VII — The tapwana (main parts) of the canoe spells. VIII — The end parts (dogina) of these spells. IX — The u'ula of the mwasila spells. X — The tapwana and the dogina of these spells. XI — The kayga'u spells. XII — Summary of the results of this linguistic survey. XIII — Substances used in these magical rites. XIV--XVIII Analysis of some non-magical linguistic texts, to illustrate ethnographic method and native way of thinking. XIV — General remarks about certain aspects of method. XV — Text No. 1, its literal and free translation. XVI — Commentary. XVII — Texts No. 2 and 3 translated and commented upon.

Chapter XIX. The inland Kula

I — To'uluwa, the chief of Kiriwina, on a visit in Sinaketa. The decay of his power. Some melancholy reflections about the folly of destroying the native order of things and of undermining native authority as now prevailing. II — The division into Kula communities; the three types of Kula, with respect to this division. The overseas Kula. III — The inland Kula between two „Kula communities” and within such a unit. IV The „Kula communities” — in Boyowa (Trobriand Islands).

Chapter XX. Expeditions between Kiriwina and Kitava

I--II Account of an expedition from Kinwina to Kitava. I — Fixing dates and preparing districts. II — Preliminaries of the journey. Departure from Kaulukuba Beach. Sailing. Analogies and differences between these expeditions and those of the Sinaketans to Dobu. Entering the village. The youlawada custom. Sojourn in Kitava and return. III — The So'i (mortuary feast) in the Eastern district (Kitava to Muyuwa) and its association with the Kula.

Chapter XXI. The remaining branches and offshoots of the Kula.

I — Rapid survey of the routes between Woodlark Island (Murua or Muyuwa) and the Engineer group and between this latter and Dobu. II — The ordinary trade carried on between these communities. III — An offshoot of the Kula; trading expeditions between the Western Trobriand (Kavataria and Kayleula) and the Western d'Entrecasteaux. IV — Production of mwali (armshells). V — Some other offshoots and leakages of the Kula ring. Entry of the Kula vaygu'a into the Ring.

Chapter XXII. The meaning of the Kula.

Introduction. The subject, method and scope of this inquiry

I — Sailing, and trading in the South Seas; the Kula. II — Method in Ethnography. III — Starting field work. Some perplexing difficulties. Three conditions of success. IV — Life in a tent among the natives. Mechanism of „getting in touch” with them. V — Active methods of research. Order and consistency in savage cultures. Methodological consequences of this truth. VI — Formulating the principles of tribal constitution and of the anatomy of culture. Method ot inference from statistic accumulation of concrete data. Uses of synoptic charts. VII — Presentation of the intimate touches of native life; of types of behaviour. Method of systematic fixing of impressions; of detailed, consecutive records. Importance of personal participation in native life. VIII — Recording of stereotyped manners of thinking and feeling. Corpus inscriptionum Kiriwinensium IX — Summary of argument. The native's vision of his world.


The coastal populations of the South Sea Islands, with very few exceptions, are, or were before their extinction, expert navigators and traders. Several of them had evolved excellent types of large sea-going canoes, and used to embark in them on distant trade expeditions or raids of war and conquest. The Papuo-Melanesians, who inhabit the coast and the outlying islands of New Guinea, are no exception to this rule. In general they are daring sailors, industrious manufacturers, and keen traders. The manufacturing centres of important articles, such as pottery, stone implements, canoes, fine baskets, valued ornaments, are localised in several places, according to the skill of the inhabitants, their inherited tribal tradition, and special facilities offered by the district; thence they are traded over wide areas, sometimes travelling more than hundreds of miles.

Definite forms of exchange along definite trade routes are to be found established between the various tribes. A most remarkable form of intertribal trade is that obtaining between the Motu of Port Moresby and the tribes of the Papuan Gulf. The Motu sail for hundreds of miles in heavy, unwieldy canoes, called lakatoi, which are provided with the characteristic crab-claw sails. They bring pottery and shell ornaments, in olden days, stone blades, to Gulf Papuans, from whom they obtain in exchange sago and the heavy dug-outs, which are used afterwards by the Motu for the construction of their lakatoi canoes.

Further East, on the South coast, there lives the industrious, sea-faring population of the Mailu, who link the East End of New Guinea with the central coast tribes by means of annual trading expeditions. Finally, the natives of the islands and archipelagoes, scattered around the East End, are in constant trading relations with one another. We possess in Professor Seligman's book an excellent description of the subject, especially of the nearer trades routes between the various islands inhabited by the Southern Massim. There exists, however, another, a very extensive and highly complex trading system, embracing with its ramifications, not only the islands near the East End, but also the Louisiades, Woodlark Island, the Trobriand Archipelago, and the d'Entrecasteaux group; it penetrates into the mainland of New Guinea, and exerts an indirect influence over several outlying districts, such as Rossel Island, and some parts of the Northern and Southern coast of New Guinea. This trading system, the Kula, is the subject I am setting out to describe in this volume, and it will be seen that it is an economic phenomenon of considerable theoretical importance. It looms paramount in the tribal life of those natives who live within its circuit, and its importance is fully realised by the tribesmen themselves, whose ideas, ambitions, desires and vanities are very much bound up with the Kula.


Before proceeding to the account of the Kula, it will be well to give a description of the methods used in the collecting of the ethnographic material. The results of scientific research in any branch of learning ought to be presented in a manner absolutely candid and above board. No one would dream of making an experimental contribution to physical or chemical science, without giving a detailed account of all the arrangements of the experiments; an exact description of the apparatus used; of the manner in which the observations were conducted; of their number; of the length of time devoted to them, and of the degree of approximation with which each measurement was made. In less exact sciences, as in biology or geology, this cannot be done as rigorously, but every student will do his best to bring home to the reader all the conditions in which the experiment or the observations were made. In Ethnography, where a candid account of such data is perhaps even more necessary, it has unfortunately in the past not always been supplied with sufficient generosity, and many writers do not ply the full searchlight of methodic sincerity, as they move among their facts and produce them before us out of complete obscurity.

It would be easy to quote works of high repute, and with a scientific hall-mark on them, in which wholesale generalisations are laid down before us, and we are not informed at all by what actual experiences the writers have reached their conclusion. No special chapter or paragraph is devoted to describing to us the conditions under which observations were made and information collected. I consider that only such ethnographic sources are of unquestionable scientific value, in which we can clearly draw the line between, on the one hand, the results of direct observation and of native statements and interpretations, and on the other, the inferences of the author, based on his common sense and psycholgical insight. Indeed, some such survey, as that contained in the table, given below (Div. VI of this chapter) ought to be forthcoming, so that at a glance the reader could estimate with precision the degree of the writer's personal acquaintance with the facts which he describes, and form an idea under what conditions information had been obtained from the natives.

Again, in historical science, no one could expect to be seriously treated if he made any mystery of his sources and spoke of the past as if he knew it by divination. In Ethnography, the writer is his own chronicler and the historian at the same time, while his sources are no doubt easily accessible, but also supremely elusive and complex; they are not embodied in fixed, material documents, but in the behaviour and in the memory of living men. In Ethnography, the distance is often enormous between the brute material of information — as it is presented to the student in his own observations, in native statement, in the kaleidoscope of tribal life — and the final authoritative presentation of the results. The Ethnographer has to traverse this distance in the laborious years between the moment when he sets foot upon a native beach, and makes his first attempts to get into touch with the natives, and the time when he writes down the final version of his results. A brief outline of an Ethnographer's tribulations, as lived through by myself, may throw more light on the question, than any long abstract discussion could do.


Imagine yourself suddenly set down surrounded by all your gear, alone on a tropical beach close to a native village, while the launch or dinghy which has brought you sails away out of sight. Since you take up your abode in the compound of some neighbouring white man, trader or missionary, you have nothing to do, but to start at once on your ethnographic work. Imagine further that you are a beginner, without previous experience, with nothing to guide you and no one to help you. For the white man is temporarily absent, or else unable or unwilling to waste any of his time on you. This exactly describes my first initiation into field work on the south coast of New Guinea. I well remember the long visits I paid to the villages during the first weeks; the feeling of hopelessness and despair after many obstinate but futile attempts had entirely failed to bring me into real touch with the natives, or supply me with any material. I had periods of despondency, when I buried myself in the reading ot novels, as a man might take to drink in a fit of tropical depression and boredom.

Imagine yourself then, making your first entry into the village, alone or in company with your white cicerone. Some natives flock round you, especially if they smell tobacco. Others, the more dignified and elderly, remain seated where they are. Your white companion has his routine way of treating the natives, and he neither understands, nor is very much concerned with the manner in which you, as an ethnographer, will have to approach them. The first visit leaves you with a hopeful feeling that when you return alone, things will be easier. Such was my hope at least.

I came back duly, and soon gathered an audience around me. A few compliments in pidgin-English on both sides, some tobacco changing hands, induced an atmosphere of mutual amiability. I tried then to proceed to business. First, to begin with subjects which might arouse no suspicion, I started to „do” technology. A few natives were engaged in manufacturing some object or other. It was easy to look at it and obtain the names of the tools, and even some technical expressions about the proceedings, but there the matter ended. It must be borne in mind that pidgin-English is a very imperfect instrument for expressing one's ideas, and that before one gets a good training in framing questions and understanding answers one has the uncomfortable feeling that free communication in it with the natives will never be attained; and I was quite unable to enter into any more detailed or explicit conversation with them at first. I knew well that the best remedy for this was to collect concrete data, and accordingly I took a village census, wrote down genealogies, drew up plans and collected the terms of kinship. But all this remained dead material, which led no further into the understanding of real native mentality or behaviour, since I could neither procure a good native interpretation of any of these items, nor get what could be called the hang of tribal life. As to obtaining their ideas about religion, and magic, their beliefs in sorcery and spirits, nothing was forthcoming except a few superficial items of folk-lore, mangled by being forced into pidgin English.

Information which I received from some white residents in the district, valuable as it was in itself, was more discouraging than anything else with regard to my own work. Here were men who had lived for years in the place with constant opportunities of observing the natives and communicating with them, and who yet hardly knew one thing about them really well. How could I therefore in a few months or a year, hope to overtake and go beyond them? Moreover, the manner in which my white informants spoke about the natives and put their views was, naturally, that of untrained minds, unaccustomed to formulate their thoughts with any degree of consistency and precision. And they were for the most part, naturally enough, full of the biassed and pre-judged opinions inevitable in the average practical man, whether administrator, missionary, or trader; yet so strongly repulsive to a mind striving after the objective, scientific view of things. The habit of treating with a self-satisfied frivolity what is really serious to the ethnographer; the cheap rating of what to him is a scientific treasure, that is to say, the native's cultural and mental peculiarities and independence — these features, so well known in the inferior amateur's writing, I found in the tone of the majority of white residents.

Indeed, in my first piece of Ethnographic research on the South coast, it was not until I was alone in the district that I began to make some headway; and, at any rate, I found out where lay the secret of effective field-work. What is then this ethnographer's magic, by which he is able to evoke the real spirit of the natives, the true picture of tribal life? As usual, success can only be obtained by a patient and systematic application of a number of rules of common sense and wellknown scientific principles, and not by the discovery of any marvellous short-cut leading to the desired results without effort or trouble. The principles of method can be grouped under three main headings; first of all, naturally, the student must possess real scientific aims, and know the values and criteria of modern ethnography. Secondly, he ought to put himself in good conditions of work, that is, in the main, to live without other white men, right among the natives. Finally, he has to apply a number of special methods of collecting, manipulating and fixing his evidence. A few words must be said about these three foundation stones of field work, beginning with the second as the most elementary.


Proper conditions for ethnographic work. These, as said, consist mainly in cutting oneself off from the company of other white men, and remaining in as close contact with the natives as possible, which really can only be achieved by camping right in their villages (see Plates I and II). It is very nice to have a base in a white man's compound for the stores, and to know there is a refuge there in times of sickness and surfeit of native. But it must be far enough away not to become a permanent milieu in which you live and from which you emerge at fixed hours only to „do the village”. It should not even be near enough to fly to at any moment for recreation. For the native is not the natural companion for a white man, and after you have been working with him for several hours, seeing how he does his gardens, or letting him tell you items of folk-lore, or discussing his customs, you will naturally hanker after the company of your own kind. But if you are alone in a village beyond reach of this, you go for a solitary walk for an hour or so, return again and then quite naturally seek out the natives' society, this time as a relief from loneliness, just as you would any other companionship. And by means of this natural intercourse, you learn to know him, and you become familiar with his customs and beliefs far better than when he is a paid, and often bored, informant.

There is all the difference between a sporadic plunging into the company of natives, and being really in contact with them. What does this latter mean? On the Ethnographer's side, it means that his life in the village, which at first is a strange, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes intensely interesting adventure, soon adopts quite a natural course very much in harmony with his surroundings.

Soon after I had established myself in Omarakana (Trobriand Islands), I began to take part, in a way, in the village life, to look forward to the important or festive events, to take personal interest in the gossip and the developments of the small village occurrences; to wake up every morning to a day, presenting itself to me more or less as it does to the native. I would get out from under my mosquito net, to find around me the village life beginning to stir, or the people well advanced in their working day according to the hour and also to the season, for they get up and begin their labours early or late, as work presses. As I went on my morning walk through the village, I could see intimate details of family life, of toilet, cooking, taking of meals; I could see the arrangements for the day's work, people starting on their errands, or groups of men and women busy at some manufacturing tasks (see Plate III). Quarrels, jokes, family scenes, events usually trivial, sometimes dramatic but always significant, formed the atmosphere of my daily life, as well as of theirs. It must be remembered that as the natives saw me constantly every day, they ceased to be interested or alarmed, or made self-conscious by my presence, and I ceased to be a disturbing element in the tribal life which I was to study, altering it by my very approach, as always happens with a new-comer to every savage community. In fact, as they knew that I would thrust my nose into everything, even where a well-mannered native would not dream of intruding, they finished by regarding me as part and parcel of their life, a necessary evil or nuisance, mitigated by donations of tobacco.

Later on in the day, whatever happened was within easy reach, and there was no possibility of its escaping my notice. Alarms about the sorcerer's approach in the evening, one or two big, really important quarrels and rifts within the community, cases of illness, attempted cures and deaths, magical rites which had to be performed, all these I had not to pursue, fearful of missing them, but they took place under my very eyes, at my own doorstep, so to speak (see Plate IV). And it must be emphasised whenever anything dramatic or important occurs it is essential to investigate it at the very moment of happening, because the natives cannot but talk about it, are too excited to be reticent, and too interested to be mentally lazy in supplying details. Also, over and over again, I committed breaches of etiquette, which the natives, familiar enough with me, were not slow in pointing out. I had to learn how to behave, and to a certain extent, I acquired „the feeling” for native good and bad manners. With this, and with the capacity of enjoying their company and sharing some of their games and amusements, I began to feel that I was indeed in touch with the natives, and this is certainly the preliminary condition of being able to carry on successful field work.


But the Ethnographer has not only to spread his nets in the right place, and wait for what will fall into them. He must be an active huntsman, and drive his quarry into them and follow it up to its most inaccessible lairs. And that leads us to the more active methods of pursuing ethnographic evidence. It has been mentioned at the end of Division III that the Ethnographer has to be inspired by the knowledge of the most modern results of scientific study, by its principles and aims. I shall not enlarge upon this subject, except by way of one remark, to avoid the possibility of misunderstanding. Good training in theory, and acquaintance with its latest results, is not identical with being burdened with „preconceived ideas”. If a man sets out on an expedition, determined to prove certain hypotheses, if he is incapable of changing his views constantly and casting them off ungrudgingly under the pressure of evidence, needless to say his work will be worthless. But the more problems he brings with him into the field, the more he is in the habit of moulding his theories according to facts, and of seeing facts in their bearing upon theory, the better he is equipped for the work. Preconceived ideas are pernicious in any scientific work, but foreshadowed problems are the main endowment of a scientific thinker, and these problems are first revealed to the observer by his theoretical studies.

In Ethnology the early efforts of Bastian, Tylor, Morgan, the German Volkerpsychologen have remoulded the older crude information of travellers, missionaries, etc., and have shown us the importance of applying deeper conceptions and discarding crude and misleading ones.

The concept of animism superseded that of „fetichism” or „devil-worship”, both meaningless terms. The understanding of the classificatory systems of relationship paved the way for the brilliant, modern researches on native sociology in the field-work of the Cambridge school. The psychological analysis of the German thinkers has brought forth an abundant crop of most valuable information in the results obtained by the recent German expeditions to Africa, South America and the Pacific, while the theoretical works of Frazer, Durkheim and others have already, and will no doubt still for a long time inspire field workers and lead them to new results. The field worker relies entirely upon inspiration from theory. Of course he may be also a theoretical thinker and worker, and there he can draw on himself for stimulus. But the two functions are separate, and in actual research they have to be separated both in time and conditions of work.

As always happens when scientific interest turns towards and begins to labour on a field so far only prospected by the curiosity of amateurs, Ethnology has introduced law and order into what seemed chaotic and freakish. It has transformed for us the sensational, wild and unaccountable world of „savages” into a number of well ordered communities, governed by law, behaving and thinking according to consistent principles. The word „savage”, whatever association it might have had originally, connotes ideas of boundless liberty, of irregularity, of something extremely and extraordinarily quaint. In popular thinking, we imagine that the natives live on the bosom of Nature, more or less as they can and like, the prey of irregular, phantasmagoric beliefs and apprehensions. Modern science, on the contrary, shows that their social institutions have a very definite organisation, that they are governed by authority, law and order in their public and personal relations, while the latter are, besides, under the control of extremely complex ties of kinship and clanship. Indeed, we see them entangled in a mesh of duties, functions and privileges which correspond to an elaborate tribal, communal and kinship organisation (see Plate IV). Their beliefs and practices do not by any means lack consistency of a certain type, and their knowledge of the outer world is sufficient to guide them in many of their strenuous enterprises and activities. Their artistic productions again lack neither meaning nor beauty.

It is a very far cry from the famous answer given long ago by a representative authority who, asked, what are the manners and customs of the natives, answered, „Customs none, manners beastly” to the position of the modern Ethnographer. This latter, with his tables of kinship terms, genealogies, maps, plans and diagrams, proves an extensive and big organisation, shows the constitution of the tribe, of the clan, of the family; and he gives us a picture of the natives subjected to a strict code of behaviour and good manners, to which in comparison the life at the Court of Versailles or Escurial was free and easy.

Thus the first and basic ideal of ethnographic field-work is to give a clear and firm outline of the social constitution, and disentangle the laws and regularities of all cultural phenomena from the irrelevances. The firm skeleton of the tribal life has to be first ascertained. This ideal imposes in the first place the fundamental obligation of giving a complete survey of the phenomena, and not of picking out the sensational, the singular, still less the funny and quaint. The time when we could tolerate accounts presenting us the native as a distorted, childish caricature of a human being are gone. This picture is false and like many other falsehoods, it has been killed by Science. The field Ethnographer has seriously and soberly to cover the full extent of the phenomena in each aspect of tribal culture studied, making no difference between what is commonplace, or drab, or ordinary, and what strikes him as astonishing and out-of-the-way. At the same time, the whole area of tribal culture in all its aspects has to be gone over in research. The consistency, the law and order which obtain within each aspect make also for joining them into one coherent whole.

An Ethnographer who sets out to study only religion, or only technology, or only social organisation cuts out an artificial field for inquiry, and he will be seriously handicapped in his work.


Having settled this very general rule, let us descend to more detailed consideration of method. The Ethnographer has in the field, according to what has just been said, the duty before him of drawing up all the rules and regularities of tribal life; all that is permanent and fixed; of giving an anatomy of their culture, of depicting the constitution of their society. But these things, though crystallised and set, are nowhere formulated. There is no written or explicitly expressed code of laws, and their whole tribal tradition, the whole structure of their society, are embodied in the most elusive of all materials; the human being. But not even in human mind or memory are these laws to be found definitely formulated. The natives obey the forces and commands of the tribal code, but they do not comprehend them; exactly as they obey their instincts and their impulses, but could not lay down a single law of psychology. The regularities in native institutions are an automatic result of the interaction of the mental forces of tradition, and of the material conditions of environment. Exactly as a humble member of any modern institution, whether it be the state, or the church, or the army, is of it and in it, but has no vision of the resulting integral action of the whole, still less could furnish any account of its organisation, so it would be futile to attempt questioning a native in abstract, sociological terms. The difference is that, in our society, every institution has its intelligent members, its historians, and its archives and documents, whereas in a native society there are none of these. After this is realised an expedient has to be found to overcome this difficulty. This expedient for an Ethnographer consists in collecting concrete data of evidence, and drawing the general inferences for himself. This seems obvious on the face of it, but was not found out or at least practised in Ethnography till field work was taken up by men of science. Moreover, in giving it practical effect, it is neither easy to devise the concrete applications of this method, nor to carry them out systematically and consistently.

Though we cannot ask a native about abstract, general rules, we can always enquire how a given case would be treated. Thus for instance, in asking how they would treat crime, or punish it, it would be vain to put to a native a sweeping question such as, „How do you treat and punish a criminal?” for even words could not be found to express it in native, or in pidgin. But an imaginary case, or still better, a real occurrence, will stimulate a native to express his opinion and to supply plentiful information. A real case indeed will start the natives on a wave of discussion, evoke expressions of indignation, show them taking sides all of which talk will probably contain a wealth of definite views, of moral censures, as well as reveal the social mechanism set in motion by the crime committed. From there, it will be easy to lead them on to speak of other similar cases, to remember other actual occurrences or to discuss them in all their implications and aspects. From this material, which ought to cover the widest possible range of facts, the inference is obtained by simple induction. The scientific treatment differs from that of good common sense, first in that a student will extend the completeness and minuteness of survey much further and in a pedantically systematic and methodical manner; and secondly, in that the scientifically trained mind, will push the inquiry along really relevant lines, and towards aims possessing real importance. Indeed, the object of scientific training is to provide the empirical investigator with a mental chart, in accordance with which he can take his bearings and lay his course.

To return to our example, a number of definite cases discussed will reveal to the Ethnographer the social machinery for punishment. This is one part, one aspect of tribal authority. Imagine further that by a similar method of inference from definite data, he arrives at understanding leadership in war, in economic enterprise, in tribal festivities there he has at once all the data necessary to answer the questions about tribal government and social authority. In actual field work, the comparison of such data, the attempt to piece them together, will often reveal rifts and gaps in the information which lead on to further investigations.

From my own experience, I can say that, very often, a problem seemed settled, everything fixed and clear, till I began to write down a short preliminary sketch of my results. And only then, did I see the enormous deficiencies, which would show me where lay new problems, and lead me on to new work. In fact, I spent a few months between my first and second expeditions, and over a year between that and the subsequent one, in going over all my material, and making parts of it almost ready for publication each time, though each time I knew I would have to re-write it. Such cross-fertilisation of constructive work and observation, I found most valuable, and I do not think I could have made real headway without it. I give this bit of my own history merely to show that what has been said so far is not only an empty programme, but the result of personal experience. In this volume, the description is given of a big institution connected with ever so many associated activities, and presenting many aspects. To anyone who reflects on the subject, it will be clear that the information about a phenomenon of such high complexity and of so many ramifications, could not be obtained with any degree of exactitude and completeness, without a constant interplay of constructive attempts and empirical checking. In fact, I have written up an outline of the Kula institution at least half a dozen times while in the field and in the intervals between my expeditions. Each time, new problems and difficulties presented themselves.

The collecting of concrete data over a wide range of facts is thus one of the main points of field method. The obligation is not to enumerate a few examples only, but to exhaust as far as possible all the cases within reach; and, on this search for cases, the investigator will score most whose mental chart is clearest. But, whenever the material of the search allows it, this mental chart ought to be transformed into a real one; it ought to materialise into a diagram, a plan, an exhaustive, synoptic table of cases. Long since, in all tolerably good modern books on natives, we expect to find a full list or table of kinship terms, which includes all the data relative to it, and does not just pick out a few strange and anomalous relationships or expressions. In the investigation of kinship, the following up of one relation after another in concrete cases leads naturally to the construction of genealogical tables. Practised already by the best early writers, such as Munzinger, and, if I remember rightly, Kubary, this method has been developed to its fullest extent in the works of Dr. Rivers. Again, studying the concrete data of economic transactions, in order to trace the history of a valuable object, and to gauge the nature of its circulation, the principle of completeness and thoroughness would lead to construct tables of transactions, such as we find in the work of Professor Seligman. It is in following Professor Seligman's example in this matter that I was able to settle certain of the more difficult and detailed rules of the Kula. The method of reducing information, if possible, into charts or synoptic tables ought to be extended to the study of practically all aspects of native life. All types of economic transactions may be studied by following up connected, actual cases, and putting them into a synoptic chart; again, a table ought to be drawn up of all the gifts and presents customary in a given society, a table including the sociological, ceremonial, and economic definition of every item. Also, systems of magic, connected series of ceremonies, types of legal acts, all could be charted, allowing each entry to be synoptically defined under a number of headings. Besides this, of course, the genealogical census of every community, studied more in detail, extensive maps, plans and diagrams, illustrating ownership in garden land, hunting and fishing privileges, etc., serve as the more fundamental documents of ethnographic research.

A genealogy is nothing else but a synoptic chart of a number of connected relations of kinship. Its value as an instrument of research consists in that it allows the investigator to put questions which he formulates to himself in abstracto, but can put concretely to the native informant. As a document, its value consists in that it gives a number of authenticated data, presented in their natural grouping. A synoptic chart of magic fulfils the same function. As an instrument of research, I have used it in order to ascertain, for instance, the ideas about the nature of magical power. With a chart before me, I could easily and conveniently go over one item after the other, and note down the relevant practices and beliefs contained in each of them. The answer to my abstract problem could then be obtained by drawing a general inference from all the cases, and the procedure is illustrated in Chapters XVII and XVIII. I cannot enter further into the discussion of this question, which would need further distinctions, such as between a chart of concrete, actual data, such as is a genealogy, and a chart summarising the outlines of a custom or belief, as a chart of a magical system would be.

Returning once more to the question of methodological candour, discussed previously in Division II, I wish to point out here, that the procedure of concrete and tabularised presentation of data ought to be applied first to the Ethnographer's own credentials. That is, an Ethnographer, who wishes to be trusted, must show clearly and concisely, in a tabularised form, which are his own direct observations, and which the indirect information that form the bases of his account. The Table on the next page will serve as an example of this procedure and help the reader of this book to form an idea of the trustworthiness of any statement he is specially anxious to check. With the help of this Table and the many references scattered throughout the text, as to how, under what circumstances, and with what degree of accuracy I arrived at a given item of knowledge, there will, I hope remain no obscurity whatever as to the sources of the book.

Chronological list of Kula events witnessed by the writer

FIRST EXPEDITION, August, 1914--March, 1915.

March, 1915. In the village of Dikoyas (Woodlark Island) a few ceremonial offerings seen. Preliminary information obtained.

SECOND EXPEDITION, May, 1915--May, 1916.

June, 1915. A Kabigidoya visit arrives from Vakuta to Kiriwina. Its anchoring at Kavataria witnessed and the men seen at Omarakana, where information collected.

July, 1915. Several parties from Kitava land on the beach of Kaulukuba. The men examined in Omarakana. Much information collected in that period.

September, 1915. Unsuccessful attempt to sail to Kitava with To'uluwa, the chief of Omarakana.

October-November, 1915. Departure noticed of three expeditions from Kiriwina to Kitava. Each time To'uluwa brings home a haul of mwali (armshells).

November, 1915--March, 1916. Preparations for a big overseas expedition from Kiriwina to the Marshall Bennett Islands. Construction of a canoe; renovating of another; sail making in Omarakana; launching; tasasoria on the beach of Kaulukuba. At the same time, information is being obtained about these and the associated subjects. Some magical texts of canoe building and Kula magic obtained.

THIRD EXPEDITION, October, 1917--October, 1918.

November, 1917 December, 1917. Inland Kula; some data obtained in Tukwaukwa.

December--February, 1918. Parties from Kitava arrive in Wawela. Collection of information about the yoyova. Magic and spells of Kaygau obtained.

March, 1918. Preparations in Sanaroa; preparations in the Amphletts; the Dobuan fleet arrives in the Amphletts. The uvalaku expedition from Dobu followed to Boyowa.

April, 1918. Their arrival; their reception in Sinaketa; the Kula transactions; the big intertribal gathering. Some magical formulae obtained.

May, 1918. Party from Kitava seen in Vakuta,

June, July, 1918. Information about Kula magic and customs checked and amplified in Omarakana, especially with regard to its Eastern branches.

August, September, 1918. Magical texts obtained in Sinaketa.

October, 1918. Information obtained from a number of natives in Dobu and Southern Massim district (examined in Samarai).

To summarise the first, cardinal point of method, I may say each phenomenon ought to be studied through the broadest range possible of its concrete manifestations; each studied by an exhaustive survey of detailed examples. If possible, the results ought to be embodied into some sort of synoptic chart, both to be used as an instrument of study, and to be presented as an ethnological document. With the help of such documents and such study of actualities the clear outline of the framework of the natives' culture in the widest sense of the word, and the constitution of their society, can be presented. This method could be called the method of statistic documentation by concrete evidence.


Needless to add, in this respect, the scientific field-work is far above even the best amateur productions. There is, however, one point in which the latter often excel. This is, in the presentation of intimate touches of native life, in bringing home to us these aspects of it with which one is made familiar only through being in close contact with the natives, one way or the other, for a long period of time. In certain results of scientific work — especially that which has been called „survey work” — we are given an excellent skeleton, so to speak, of the tribal constitution, but it lacks flesh and blood. We learn much about the framework of their society, but within it, we cannot perceive or imagine the realities of human life, the even flow of everyday events, the occasional ripples of excitement over a feast, or ceremony, or some singular occurrence. In working out the rules and regularities of native custom, and in obtaining a precise formula for them from the collection of data and native statements, we find that this very precision is foreign to real life, which never adheres rigidly to any rules. It must be supplemented by the observation of the manner in which a given custom is carried out, of the behaviour of the natives in obeying the rules so exactly formulated by the ethnographer, of the very exceptions which in sociological phenomena almost always occur.

If all the conclusions are solely based on the statements of informants, or deduced from objective documents, it is of course impossible to supplement them in actually observed data of real behaviour. And that is the reason why certain works of amateur residents of long standing, such as educated traders and planters, medical men and officials, and last, not least, of the few intelligent and unbiassed missionaries to whom Ethnography owes so much, this is the reason why these works surpass in plasticity and in vividness most of the purely scientific accounts. But if the specialised field-worker can adopt the conditions of living described above, he is in a far better position to be really in touch with the natives than any other white resident. For none of them lives right in a native village, except for very short periods, and everyone has his own business, which takes up a considerable part of his time. Moreover, if, like a trader or a missionary or an official he enters into active relations with the native, if he has to transform or influence or make use of him, this makes a real, unbiassed, impartial observation impossible, and precludes all-round sincerity, at least in the case of the missionaries and officials.

Living in the village with no other business but to follow native life, one sees the customs, ceremonies and transactions over and over again, one has examples of their beliefs as they are actually lived through, and the full body and blood of actual native life fills out soon the skeleton of abstract constructions. That is the reason why, working under such conditions as previously described, the Ethnographer is enabled to add something essential to the bare outline of tribal constitution, and to supplement it by all the details of behaviour, setting and small incident. He is able in each case to state whether an act is public or private; how a public assembly behaves, and what it looks like; he can judge whether an event is ordinary or an exciting and singular one; whether natives bring to it a great deal of sincere and earnest spirit, or perform it in fun; whether they do it in a perfunctory manner, or with zeal and deliberation.

In other words, there is a series of phenomena of great importance which cannot possibly be recorded by questioning or computing documents, but have to be observed in their full actuality. Let us call them the inponderabilia of actual life. Here belong such things as the routine of a man's working day, the details of his care of the body, of the manner of taking food and preparing it; the tone of conversational and social life around the village fires, the existence of strong friendships or hostilities, and of passing sympathies and dislikes between people; the subtle yet unmistakable manner in which personal vanities and ambitions are reflected in the behaviour of the individual and in the emotional reactions of those who surround him. All these facts can and ought to be scientifically formalated and recorded, but it is necessary that this be done, not by a superficial registration of details, as is usually done by untrained observers, but with an effort at penetrating the mental attitude expressed in them. And that is the reason why the work of scientifically trained observers, once seriously applied to the study of this aspect, will, I believe, yield results of surpassing value. So far, it has been done only by amateurs, and therefore done, on the whole, indifferently.

Indeed, if we remember that these imponderable yet all important facts of actual life are part of the real substance of the social fabric, that in them are spun the innumerable threads which keep together the family, the clan, the village community, the tribe — their significance becomes clear. The more crystallised bonds of social grouping, such as the definite ritual, the economic and legal duties, the obligations, the ceremonial gifts and formal marks of regard, though equally important for the student, are certainly felt less strongly by the individual who has to fulfil them. Applying this to ourselves, we all know that „family life” means for us, first and foremost, the atmosphere of home, all the innumerable small acts and attentions in which are expressed the affection, the mutual interest, the little preferences, and the little antipathies which constitute intimacy. That we may inherit from this person, that we shall have to walk after the hearse of the other, though sociologically these facts belong to the definition of „family” and „family life”, in personal perspective of what family truly is to us, they normally stand very much in the background.

Exactly the same applies to a native community, and if the Ethnographer wants to bring their real life home to his readers, he must on no account neglect this. Neither aspect, the intimate, as little as the legal, ought to be glossed over. Yet as a rule in ethnographic accounts we have not both but either the one or the other and, so far, the intimate one has hardly ever been properly treated. In all social relations besides the family ties, even those between mere tribesmen and, beyond that, between hostile or friendly members of different tribes, meeting on any sort of social business, there is this in — inflate side, expressed by the typical details of intercourse, the tone of their behaviour in the presence of one another. This side is different from the definite, crystalised legal frame of the relationship, and it has to be studied and stated in its own right.

In the same way, in studying the conspicuous acts of tribal life, such as ceremonies, rites, festivities, etc., the details and tone of behaviour ought to be given, besides the bare outline of events. The importance of this may be exemplified by one instance. Much has been said and written about survival. Yet the survival character of an act is expressed in nothing as well as in the concomitant behaviour, in the way in which it is carried out. Take any example from our own culture, whether it be the pomp and pageantry of a state ceremony, or a picturesque custom kept up by street urchins, its „outline” will not tell you whether the rite flourishes still with full vigour in the hearts of those who perform it or assist at the performance or whether they regard it as almost a dead thing, kept alive for tradition's sake. But observe and fix the data of their behaviour, and at once the degree of vitality of the act will become clear. There is no doubt, from all points of sociological, or psychological analysis, and in any question of theory, the manner and type of behaviour observed in the performance of an act is of the highest importance. Indeed behaviour is a fact, a relevant fact, and one that can be recorded. And foolish indeed and short-sighted would be the man of science who would pass by a whole class of phenomena, ready to be garnered, and leave them to waste, even though he did not see at the moment to what theoretical use they might be put!

As to the actual method of observing and recording in fieldwork these imponderabilia of actual life and of typical behaviour, there is no doubt that the personal equation of the observer comes in here more prominently, than in the collection of crystalised, ethnographic data. But here also the main endeavour must be to let facts speak for themselves. If in making a daily round of the village, certain small incidents, characteristic forms of taking food, of conversing, of doing work (see for instance Plate III) are found occuring over and over again, they should be noted down at once. It is also important that this work of collecting and fixing impressions should begin early in the course of working out a district. Because certain subtle peculiarities, which make an impression as long as they are novel, cease to be noticed as soon as they become familiar. Others again can only be perceived with a better knowledge of the local conditions. An ethnographic diary, carried on systematically throughout the course of one's work in a district would be the ideal instrument for this sort of study. And if, side by side with the normal and typical, the ethnographer carefully notes the slight, or the more pronounced deviations from it, he will be able to indicate the two extremes within which the normal moves.

In observing ceremonies or other tribal events, such, for instance as the scene depicted in Plate IV, it is necessary, not only to note down those occurrences and details which are prescribed by tradition and custom to be the essential course of the act, but also the Ethnographer ought to record carefully and precisely, one after the other, the actions of the actors and of the spectators. Forgetting for a moment that he knows and understands the structure of this ceremony, the main dogmatic ideas underlying it, he might try to find himself only in the midst of an assembly of human beings, who behave seriously or jocularly, with earnest concentration or with bored frivolity, who are either in the same mood as he finds them every day, or else are screwed up to a high pitch of excitement, and so on and so on. With his attention constantly directed to this aspect of tribal life, with the constant endeavour to fix it, to express it in terms of actual fact, a good deal of reliable and expressive material finds its way into his notes. He will be able to „set” the act into its proper place in tribal life, that is to show whether it is exceptional or commonplace, one in which the natives behave ordinarily, or one in which their whole behaviour is transformed. And he will also be able to bring all this home to his readers in a clear, convincing manner.

Again, in this type of work, it is good for the Ethnographer sometimes to put aside camera, note book and pencil, and to join in himself in what is going on. He can take part in the natives' games, he can follow them on their visits and walks, sit down and listen and share in their conversations. I am not certain if this is equally easy for everyone — perhaps the Slavonic nature is more plastic and more naturally savage than that of Western Europeans — but though the degree of success varies, the attempt is possible for everyone. Out of such plunges into the life of the natives — and I made them frequently not only for study's sake but because everyone needs human company — I have carried away a distinct feeling that their behaviour, their manner of being, in all sorts of tribal transactions, became more transparent and easily understandable than it had been before. All these methodological remarks, the reader will find again illustrated in the following chapters.


Finally, let us pass to the third and last aim of scientific field-work, to the last type of phenomenon which ought to be recorded in order to give a full and adequate picture of native culture. Besides the firm outline of tribal constitution and crystallised cultural items which form the skeleton, besides the data of daily life and ordinary behaviour, which are, so to speak, its flesh and blood, there is still to be recorded the spirit — the natives' views and opinions and utterances. For, in every act of tribal life, there is, first, the routine prescribed by custom and tradition, then there is the manner in which it is carried out, and lastly there is the commentary to it, contained in the natives' mind. A man who submits to various customary obligations, who follows a traditional course of action, does it impelled by certain motives, to the accompaniment of certain feelings, guided by certain ideas. These ideas, feelings, and impulses are moulded and conditioned by the culture in which we find them, and are therefore an ethnic peculiarity of the given society. An attempt must be made therefore, to study and record them.

But is this possible? Are these subjective states not too elusive and shapeless? And, even granted that people usually do feel or think or experience certain psychological states in association with the performance of customary acts, the majority of them surely are not able to formulate these states, to put them into words. This latter point must certainly be granted, and it is perhaps the real Gordian knot in the study of the facts of social psychology. Without trying to cut or untie this knot, that is to solve the problem theoretically, or to enter further into the field of general methodology, I shall make directly for the question of practical means to overcome some of the difficulties involved.

First of all, it has to be laid down that we have to study here stereotyped manners of thinking and feeling. As sociologists, we are not interested in what A or B may feel qua individuals, in the accidental course of their own personal experiences we are interested only in what they feel and think qua members of a given community. Now in this capacity, their mental states receive a certain stamp, become stereotyped by the institutions in which they live, by the influence of tradition and folk-lore, by the very vehicle of thought, that is by language. The social and cultural environment in which they move forces them to think and feel in a definite manner. Thus, a man who lives in a polyandrous community cannot experience the same feelings of jealousy, as a strict monogynist, though he might have the elements of them. A man who lives within the sphere of the Kula cannot become permanently and sentimentally attached to certain of his possessions, in spite of the fact that he values them most of all. These examples are crude, but better ones will be found in the text of this book.

So, the third commandment of field-work runs: Find out the typical ways of thinking and feeling, corresponding to the institutions and culture of a given community, and formulate the results in the most convincing manner. What will be the method of procedure? The best ethnographical writers — here again the Cambridge school with Haddon, Rivers, and Seligman rank first among English Ethnographers — have always tried to quote verbatim statements of crucial importance. They also adduce terms of native classification; sociological, psychological and industrial termini technici, and have rendered the verbal contour of native thought as precisely as possible. One step further in this line can be made by the Ethnographer, who acquires a knowledge of the native language and can use it as an instrument of inquiry. In working in the Kiriwinian language, I found still some difficulty in writing down the statement directly in translation which at first I used to do in the act of taking notes. The translation often robbed the text of all its significant characteristics — rubbed off all its points — so that gradually I was led to note down certain important phrases just as they were spoken, in the native tongue. As my knowledge of the language progressed, I put down more and more in Kiriwinian, till at last I found myself writing exclusively in that language, rapidly taking notes, word for word, of each statement. No sooner had I arrived at this point, than I recognised that I was thus acquiring at the same time an abundant linguistic material, and a series of ethnographic documents which ought to be reproduced as I had fixed them, besides being utilised in the writing up of my account. This corpus inscriptionum Kiriwiniensium can be utilised, not only by myself, but by all those who, through their better penetration and ability of interpreting them, may find points which escape my attention, very much as the other corpora form the basis for the various interpretations of ancient and prehistoric cultures; only, these ethnographic inscriptions are all decipherable and clear, have been almost all translated fully and unambiguously, and have been provided with native cross-commentaries or scholia obtained from living sources.

No more need be said on this subject here, as later on a whole chapter (Chapter XVIII) is devoted to it, and to its exemplification by several native texts. The Corpus will of course be published separately at a later date.


Our considerations thus indicate that the goal of ethnographic field-work must be approached through three avenues:

1. The organisation of the tribe, and the anatomy of its culture must be recorded in firm, clear outline. The method of concrete, statistical documentation is the means through which such an outline has to be given.

2. Within this frame, the imponderabilia of actual life, and the type of behaviour have to be filled in. They have to be collected through minute, detailed observations, in the form of some sort of ethnographic diary, made possible by close contact with native life.

3. A collection of ethnographic statements, characteristic narratives, typical utterances, items of folk-lore and magical formulae has to be given as a corpus inscriptionum, as documents of native mentality.

These three lines of approach lead to the final goal, of which an Ethnographer should never lose sight. This goal is, briefly, to grasp the native's point of view, his relation to life, to realise his vision of his world. We have to study man, and we must study what concerns him most intimately, that is, the hold which life has on him. In each culture, the values are slightly different; people aspire after different aims, follow different impulses, yearn after a different form of happiness. In each culture, we find different institutions in which man pursues his life-interest, different customs by which he satisfies his aspirations, different codes of law and morality which reward his virtues or punish his defections. To study the institutions, customs, and codes or to study the behaviour and mentality without the subjective desire of feeling by what these people live, of realising the substance of their happiness is, in my opinion, to miss the greatest reward which we can hope to obtain from the study of man.

These generalities the reader will find illustrated in the following chapters. We shall see there the savage striving to satisfy certain aspirations, to attain his type of value, to follow his line of social ambition. We shall see him led on to perilous and difficult enterprises by a tradition of magical and heroical exploits, shall see him following the lure of his own romance. Perhaps as we read the account of these remote customs there may emerge a feeling of solidarity with the endeavours and ambitions of these natives. Perhaps man's mentality will be revealed to us, and brought near, along some lines which we never have followed before. Perhaps through realising human nature in a shape very distant and foreign to us, we shall have some light shed on our own. In this, and in this case only, we shall be justified in feeling that it has been worth our while to understand these natives, their institutions and customs, and that we have gathered some profit from the Kula.

Chapter I. The country and inhabitants of the Kula district

I — Sailing, and trading in the South Seas; the Kula. II — Method in Ethnography. III — Starting field work. Some perplexing difficulties. Three conditions of success. IV — Life in a tent among the natives. Mechanism of „getting in touch” with them. V — Active methods of research. Order and consistency in savage cultures. Methodological consequences of this truth. VI — Formulating the principles of tribal constitution and of the anatomy of culture. Method ot inference from statistic accumulation of concrete data. Uses of synoptic charts. VII — Presentation of the intimate touches of native life; of types of behaviour. Method of systematic fixing of impressions; of detailed, consecutive records. Importance of personal participation in native life. VIII — Recording of stereotyped manners of thinking and feeling. Corpus inscriptionum Kiriwinensium IX — Summary of argument. The native's vision of his world.


The tribes who live within the sphere of the Kula system of trading belong, one and all — with the exception perhaps, of the Rossel Island natives, of whom we know next to nothing — to the same racial group. These tribes inhabit the easternmost end of the mainland of New Guinea and those islands, scattered in the form of the long-drawn archipelago, which continue in the same south-easternly trend as the mainland, as if to bridge over the gap between New Guinea and the Solomons.

New Guinea is a mountainous island-continent, very difficult of access in its interior, and also at certain portions of the coast, where barrier reefs, swamps and rocks practically prevent landing or even approach for native craft. Such a country would obviously not offer the same opportunities in all its parts to the drifting migrations which in all probability are responsible for the composition of the present population of the South Seas. The easily accessible portions of the coast and the outlying islands would certainly offer a hospitable reception to immigrants of a higher stock; but, on the other hand, the high hills, the impregnable fastnesses in swampy flats and shores where landing was difficult and dangerous, would give easy protection to the aborigines, and discourage the influx of migrators.

The actual distribution of races in New Guinea completely justifies these hypotheses. Map II shows the Eastern part of the main island and archipelagoes of New Guinea and the racial distribution of the natives. The interior of the continent, the low sago swamps and deltas of the Gulf of Papua — probably the greater part of the North Coast and of the South — West Coast of New Guinea, are inhabited by a „relatively tall, dark-skinned, frizzly-haired” race, called by Dr. Seligman Papuan, and in the hills more especially by pygmy tribes. We know little about these people, swamp tribes and hill tribes alike, who probably are the autochtons in this part of the world. As we shall also not meet them in the following account, it will be better to pass to the tribes who inhabit the accessible parts of New Guinea. The Eastern Papuasians, that is, the generally smaller, lighter coloured frizzly-haired races of the eastern peninsula of New Guinea and its archipelagoes now require a name, and since the true Melanesian element is dominant in them, they may be called PapuoMelanesians. With regard to these Eastern Papuasians, Dr. A. C. Haddon first recognised that they came into the country as the result of a „Melanesian migration into New Guinea” and further, „That a single wandering would not account for certain puzzling facts” The Papuo-Melanesians again can be divided into two groups, a Western and an Eastern one, which, following Dr. Seligman's terminology, we shall call the Western Papuo-Melanesians and the Massim respectively. It is with these latter we shall become acquainted in the following pages.

If we glance at a map and follow the orographical features of Eastern New Guinea and its coast line, we see at once that the high main range of mountains drops off between the 149th and 150th meridians, and again that the fringing reef disappears at the same point, that is, at the west end of Orangerie Bay. This means that the extreme East End of New Guinea, with its archipelagoes, in other words, the Massim country, is the most easily accessible area, and might be expected to be inhabited by a homogeneous stock of people, consisting of immigrants almost unmixed with the autochtons (Cf. Map II). „Indeed, while the condition actually existing in the Massim area suggests that there was no slow mingling of the invaders with a previous stock, the geographical features of the territory of the Western Papuo-Melanesians with its hills, mountains and swamps, are such that invaders could not have speedily overrun the country, nor failed to have been influenced by the original inhabitants…

I shall assume that the reader is acquainted with the quoted work of Dr. Seligman, where a thorough account is given of all the main types of Papuo-Melanesian sociology and culture one after the other. But the tribes of the Eastern Papuo-Melanesian or Massim area, must be described here somewhat more in detail, as it is within this fairly homogeneous area that the Kula takes place. Indeed, the Kula sphere of influence and the ethnographic area of the Massim tribes almost completely overlap, and we can speak about the Kula type of culture and the Massim culture almost synonymously.


The adjacent Map III shows the Kula district, that is, the easternmost end of the main island and the archipelagoes lying to its East and North-East. As Professor C. G. Seligman says: „This area can be divided into two parts, a small northern portion comprising the Trobriands, the Marshall Rennets, the Woodlarks (Murua), as well as a number of smaller islands such as the Laughlans (Nada), and a far larger southern portion comprising the remainder of the Massim domain” (op. cit., p. 7).

This division is represented on Map III by the thick line isolating to the North the Amphletts, the Trobriands, the small Marshall Bennet Group, Woodlark Island and the Laughlan Group. The Southern portion, I found convenient to divide further into two divisions by a vertical line, leaving to the East Misima, Sud-Est Island and Rossel Island. As our information about this district is extremely scanty, I have preferred to exclude it from the area of the Southern Massim. In this excluded area, only the natives of Misima enter into the Kula, but their participation will play a very small part only in the following account. The western segment, and this is the part of which we shall speak as the district of the Southern Massim, comprises first the East End of the mainland, the few adjacent islands, Sariba, Roge'a, Side'a, and Basilaki; to the South, the island of Wari, to the East the important, though small archipelago of Tubetube (Engineer Group); and to the North, the big archipelago of the d'Entrecasteaux Islands. From this latter, only one district, that of Dobu, interests us more specially. The culturally homogeneous tribes of the Southern Massim have been marked off on our map as district V, the Doubans as district IV.

Returning to the two main divisions into the Southern and Northern portion, this latter is occupied by a very homogeneous population, homogeneous both in language and culture, and in the clear recognition of their own ethnic unity. To quote further Professor Seligman, it „is characterised by the absence of cannibalism, which, until put down by the Government, existed throughout the remaining portion of the district”; another peculiarity of the Northern Massim is their recognition „in certain districts, though not in all, of chieftans who wield extensive powers” (op. cit. p. 7). The natives of that northern area used to practise — I say used because wars are a thing of the past — a type of warfare open and chivalrous, very different from the raids of the Southern Massim. Their villages are built in big compact blocks, and they have storehouses on piles for storing food, distinct from their rather miserable dwellings, which stand directly on the ground and are not raised on piles. As can be seen on the map, it has been necessary to sub-divide this Northern Massim further into three groups, first, that of the Trobriand Islanders, or the Boyowans (the Western Branch); secondly that of the natives of Woodlark Island and the Marshall Bennets (the Eastern Branch); and, thirdly, the small group of the Amphlett natives.

The other big sub-division of the Kula tribes is composed of the Southern Massim, of which, as just said, the western branch mainly concerns us. These last natives are smaller in stature, and with, broadly speaking, a much less attractive appearance than those of the North. They live in widely scattered communities, each house or group of houses standing in its own little grove of palm and fruit trees, apart from the others. Formerly they were cannibals and head-hunters, and used to make unexpected raids on their adversaries. There is no chieftainship, authority being exercised by the elders in each community. They build very elaborately constructed and beautifully decorated houses on piles.

I have found it necessary for the purpose of this study to cut out of the western branch of the southern portion of the Massim the two areas (marked IV and V on the Map III), as they are of special importance to the Kula. It must, however, be borne in mind that our present knowledge does not allow of any final classification of the Southern Massim.

Such are the general characteristics of the Northern and Southern Massim respectively, given in a few words. But before proceeding with our subject, it will be good to give a short but more detailed sketch of each of these tribes. I shall begin with the southernmost section, following the order in which a visitor, travelling from Port Moresby with the Mail boat, would come in contact with these districts, the way indeed in which I received my first impressions of them. My personal knowledge of the various tribes is, however, very uneven, based on a long residence among the Trobriand Islanders (District I), on a month's study of the Amphletts (District III); on a few weeks spent in Woodlark Island or Murua (District II), the neighbourhood of Samarai (District V), and the South Coast of New Guinea (also V); and on three short visits to Dobu (District IV). My knowledge of some of the remaining localities which enter into the Kula is derived only from a few conversations I had with natives of this district, and on second-hand information derived from white residents. The work of Professor C. G. Seligman, however, supplements my personal acquaintance in so far as the districts of Tubetube, Woodlark Island, the Marshall Bennets, and several others are concerned.

The whole account of the Kula will therefore naturally be given from the perspective, so to speak, of the Trobriand district. This district is often called in this book by its native name, Boyowa, and the language is spoken of as Kiriwinian, Kiriwina being the main province of the district, and its language considered by the natives as a standard speech. But I may add at once that in studying the Kula in that part, I ipso facto studied its adjacent branches between the Trobriands and the Amphletts, between the Trobriands and Kitava, and between the Trobriands and Dobu; seeing not only the preparations and departures in Boyowa, but also the arrival of the natives from other districts, in fact, following one or two of such expeditions in person. Moreover, the Kula being an international affair, the natives of one tribe know more about Kula customs abroad than they would about any other subject. And in all its essentials, the customs and tribal rules of the exchange are identical throughout the whole Kula area.


Let us imagine that we are sailing along the South coast of New Guinea towards its Eastern end. At about the middle of Orangerie Bay we arrive at the boundary of the Massim, which runs from this point north-westwards till it strikes the northern coast near Cape Nelson (see Map II). As mentioned before, the boundary of the district inhabited by this tribe corresponds to definite geographical conditions, that is, to the absence of natural, inland fastnesses, or of any obstacles to landing. Indeed, it is here that the Great Barrier Reef becomes finally submerged, while again the Main Range of mountains, which follows up to this point, always separated from the foreshore by minor ranges, comes to an end.

Orangerie Bay is closed, on its Eastern side, by a headland, the first of a series of hills, rising directly out of the sea. As we approach the land, we can see distinctly the steep, folded slopes, covered with dense, rank jungle, brightened here and there by bold patches of lalang grass. The coast is broken first by a series of small, land-locked bays or lagoons; then, after Fife Bay, come one or two larger bays, with a flat, alluvial foreshore, and then from South Cape the coast stretches in an almost unbroken line, for several miles, to the end of the mainland.

The East End of New Guinea is a tropical region, where the distinction between the dry and wet season is not felt very sharply. In fact, there is no pronounced dry season there, and so the land is always clad in intense, shining green, which forms a crude contrast with the blue sea. The summits of the hills are often shrouded in trailing mist, whilst white clouds brood or race over the sea, breaking up the monotony of saturated, stiff blue and green. To someone not acquainted with the South Sea landscape it is difficult to convey the permanent impression of smiling festiveness, the alluring clearness of the beach, fringed by jungle trees and palms, skirted by white foam and blue sea, above it the slopes ascending in rich, stiff folds of dark and light green, piebald and shaded over towards the summit by steamy, tropical mists.

When I first sailed along this coast, it was after a few months' residence and field work in the neighbouring district of the Mailu. From Toulon Island, the main centre and most important settlement of the Mailu, I used to look towards the East end of Orangerie Bay, and on clear days I could see the pyramidal hills of Bonabona, of Gadogado'a, as blue silhouettes in the distance. Under the influence of my work, I came to regard this country within the somewhat narrow native horizon, as the distant land to which perilous, seasonal voyages are made, from whence come certain objects — baskets, decorated carvings, weapons, ornaments — particularly well formed, and superior to the local ones; the land to which the natives point with awe and distrust, when speaking of specially evil and virulent forms of sorcery; the home of a folk mentioned with horror as cannibals. Any really fine touch of artistic taste, in Mailu carvings, would always be directly imported or imitated from the East, and I also found that the softest and most melodious songs and the finest dances came from the Massim. Many of their customs and institutions would be quoted to me as quaint and unusual, and thus, I, the ethnographer working on the borderland of two cultures, naturally had my interest and curiosity aroused. It seemed as if the Eastern people must be much more complex, in one direction towards the cruel, man-eating savage, in the other towards the finely-gifted, poetical lord of primitive forest and seas, when I compared them with the relatively coarse and dull native of Mailu. No wonder, therefore, that on approaching their coast travelling on that occasion in a small launch I scanned the landscape with keen interest, anxious to catch my first glimpse of natives, or of their traces.

The first distinctly visible signs of human existence in this neighbourhood are the patches of garden land. These big clearings, triangular in shape, with the apex pointing uphill, look as if they were plastered on to the steep slopes. From August to November, the season when the natives cut and burn the bush, they can be seen, at night, alight with slowly-blazing logs, and in daytime, their smoke clings over the clearings, and slowly drifts along the hill side. Later on in the year, when the plantation sprouts, they form a bright spot, with the light green of their fresh leaves.

The villages in this district are to be found only on the foreshore, at the foot of the hills, hidden in groves of trees, with here and there a golden or purplish bit of thatch showing through the dark green of the leaves. In calm weather a few canoes are probably not far oft, fishing. If the visitor is lucky enough to pass at the time of feasts, trading expeditions, or any other big tribal gathering, many a fine sea-going canoe may be seen approaching the village with the sound of conch shells blowing melodiously.

In order to visit one of the typical, large settlements of these natives, let us say near Fife Bay, on the South coast, or on the island of Sariba, or Roge'a, it would be best to go ashore in some big, sheltered bay, or on one of the extensive beaches at the foot of a hilly island. We enter a clear, lofty grove, composed of palms, bread fruit, mangoes, and other fruit trees, often with a sandy subsoil, well weeded-out and clean, where grow clumps of ornamental bushes, such as the red-flowering hybiscus, croton or aromatic shrub. Here we find the village. Fascinating as may be the Motuan habitations standing on high piles in the middle of a lagoon, or the neat streets of an Aroma or Mailu settlement, or the irregular warren of small huts on the Trobriand coast, all these cannot compete in picturesqueness or charm with the villages of the Southern Massim. When, on a hot day, we enter the deep shadow of fruit trees and palms, and find ourselves in the midst of the wonderfully designed and ornamented houses hiding here and there in irregular groups among the green, surrounded by little decorative gardens of shells and flowers, with pebble-bordered paths and stone-paved sitting circles, it seems as if the visions of a primeval, happy, savage life were suddenly realised, even if only in a fleeting impression. Big bodies of canoes are drawn high up the beach and covered with palm leaves; here and there nets are drying, spread out on special stands, and on the platforms in front of the houses sit groups of men and women, busy at some domestic work, smoking and chatting.

Walking along the paths which lead on for miles, we come every few hundred yards on another hamlet of a few houses. Some of these are evidently new and freshly decorated, while others are abandoned, and a heap of broken household objects is lying on the ground, showing that the death of one of the village elders has caused it to be deserted. As the evening approaches, the life becomes more active, fires are kindled, and the natives busy themselves cooking and eating food. In the dancing season, towards dusk, groups of men and women foregather, singing, dancing, and beating drums.

When we approach the natives closer and scan their personal appearance, we are struck — if we compare them with their Western neighbours — by the extreme lightness of their skin, their sturdy, even lumpy stature, and a sort of soft, almost effete general impression which their physique produces. Their fat, broad faces, their squashed noses, and frequently oblique eyes, make them appear quaint and grotesque rather than impressively savage. Their hair, not so woolly as that of the pure Papuans, nor growing into the enormous halo of the Motuans, is worn in big mops, which they often cut at the sides so as to give the head an oblong, almost cylindrical shape. Their manner is shy and diffident, but not unfriendly — rather smiling and almost servile, in very great contrast to the morose Papuan, or the unfriendly, reserved South Coast Mailu or Aroma. On the whole, they give at first approach not so much the impression of wild savages as of smug and self-satisfied bourgeois.

Their ornaments are much less elaborate and more toned down than those of their Western neighbours. Belts and armlets plaited of a dark brown fern vine, small red shell disks and turtle shell rings as ear ornaments are the only permanent, every-day decorations worn. Like all Melanesians of Eastern New Guinea, they are quite cleanly in their persons, and a personal approach to them does not offend any of our senses. They are very fond of red hibiscus flowers stuck in their hair, of scented flower wreaths on their head, of aromatic leaves thrust into their belts and armlets. Their grand, festive head-dress is extremely modest compared with the enormous erections of feathers used by the Western tribes, and consists mainly of a round halo of white cockatoo feathers stuck into their hair (see Plate V and VI).

In olden days, before the advent of white men, these pleasant, apparently effete people were inveterate cannibals and head-hunters, and in their large war-canoes they carried on treacherous, cruel raids, falling upon sleeping villages, killing man, woman and child, and feasting on their bodies. The attractive stone circles in their villages were associated with their cannibal feasts.

The traveller, who could settle down in one of their villages and remain there sufficiently long to study their habits and enter into their tribal life, would soon be struck by the absence of a well recognised general authority. In this, however, the natives resemble not only the other Western Melanesians of New Guinea, but also the natives of the Melanesian Archipelago. The authority in the Southern Massim tribe, as in many others, is vested in the village elders. In each hamlet the eldest man has a position of personal influence and power, and these collectively would in all cases represent the tribe and carry out and enforce their decisions always arrived at in strict accord with tribal tradition.

Deeper sociological study would reveal the characteristic totemism of these natives, and also the matrilineal construction of their society. Descent, inheritance, and social position follow the female line — a man always belongs to his mother's totemic division and local group, and inherits from his mother's brother. Women also enjoy a very independent position, and are exceedingly well treated, and in tribal and festive affairs they play a prominent part (see Plates V and VI). Some women, even, owing to their magical powers, wield a considerable influence.

The sexual life of these natives is extremely lax. Even when we remember the very free standard of sex morals in the Melanesian tribes of New Guinea, such as the Motu or the Mailu, we still find these natives exceedingly loose in such matters. Certain reserves and appearances which are usually kept up in other tribes, are here completely abandoned. As is probably the case in many communities where sex morals are lax, there is a complete absence of unnatural practices and sex perversions. Marriage is concluded as the natural end of a long and lasting liaison.

These natives are efficient and industrious manufacturers, and great traders. They own large sea-going canoes, which, however, they do not manufacture themselves, but which they import from the Northern Massim district, or from Panayati. Another feature of their culture, which we shall meet again, consists of their big feasts, called So'i (see Plates V and VI), associated with mortuary celebrations and with a special mortuary taboo called gwara. In the big inter-tribal trading of the Kula, these feasts play a considerable role.

This general, and necessarily somewhat superficial description, is meant to give the reader a definite impression of these tribes, provide them, so to speak, with a physiognomy, rather than to give a full account of their tribal constitution. For this the reader is referred to Professor C. G. Seligman's treatise, our main source of knowledge on the Melanesians of New Guinea. The above sketch refers to what Professor Seligman calls the Southern Massim, or more exactly to the portion marked off in the Ethnographic sketch Map No. III as „V, the Southern Massim” the inhabitants of the Easternmost mainland and the adjacent archipelago.


Let us now move North, towards the district marked „IV, the Dobu”, in our map, which forms one of the most important links in the chain of Kula and a very influential centre of cultural influence. As we sail North, passing East Cape, the Easternmost point of the main island — a long, flat promontory covered with palms and fruit belts, and harbouring a very dense population — a new world, new both geographically and ethnographically, opens up before us. At first it is only a faint, bluish silhouette, like a shadow of a distant mountain range, hovering far north over the horizon. As we approach, the hills of Normanby, the nearest of three big islands of the d'Entrecasteaux Archipelago, become clearer and take more definite shape and substance. A few high summits stand out more distinctly through the usual tropical haze, among them the characteristic double-peaked top of Bwebweso, the mountain where, according to native legend, the spirits of the dead in these parts lead their latter existence. The South Coast of Normanby, and the interior are inhabited by a tribe or tribes of which we know nothing ethnographically, except that they differ culturally from the rest of their neighbours. These tribes also take no direct part in the Kula.

The Northern end of Normanby, both sides of the Dawson Straits which separate the two islands of Normanby and Fergusson, and the South-eastern tip of Fergusson, are inhabited by a very important tribe, the Dobu. The heart of their district is the small extinct volcano forming an island at the Eastern entrance to Dawson Straits — Dobu, after which island they are named. To reach it, we have to sail through this extremely picturesque channel. On either side of the winding, narrow strait, green hills descend, and close it in, till it is more like a mountain lake. Here and there they recede, and a lagoon opens out. Or again they rise in fairly steep slopes, on which there can be plainly seen triangular gardens, native houses on piles, large tracts of unbroken jungle and patches of grass land. As we proceed, the narrow straits broaden, and we see on our right a wide flank of Mt. Sulomona'i on Normanby Island. On our left, there is a shallow bay, and behind it a large, flat plain, stretching far into the interior of Fergusson Island, and over it, we look into wide valleys, and on to several distant mountain ranges. After another turn, we enter a big bay, on both sides bordered by a flat foreshore, and in the middle of it rises out of a girdle of tropical vegetation, the creased cone of an extinct volcano, the island of Dobu.

We are now in the centre of a densely populated and ethnographically important district. From this island, in olden days, fierce and daring cannibal and head-hunting expeditions were periodically launched, to the dread of the neighbouring tribes. The natives of the immediately surrounding districts, of the flat foreshore on both sides of the straits, and of the big neighbouring islands were allies. But the more distant districts, often over a hundred miles away by sail, never felt safe from the Dobuans. Again, this was, and still is, one of the main links in the Kula, a centre of trade, industries and general cultural influence. It is characteristic of the international position of the Dobuans that their language is spoken as a lingua franca all over the d'Entrecasteaux Archipelago, in the Amphletts, and as far north as the Trobriands. In the southern part of these latter islands, almost everyone speaks Dobuan, although in Dobu the language of the Trobriands or Kiriwinian is hardly spoken by anyone. This is a remarkable fact, which cannot be easily explained in terms of the present conditions, as the Trobrianders, if anything, are on a higher level of cultural development than Dobuans, are more numerous, and enjoy the same general prestige.

Another remarkable fact about Dobu and its district is that it is studded with spots of special, mythological interest. Its charming scenery, of volcanic cones, of wide, calm bays, and lagoons overhung by lofty, green mountains, with the reef-riddled, island-strewn ocean on the North, has deep, legendary meaning for the native. Here is the land and sea where the magically inspired sailors and heroes of the dim past performed feats of daring and power. As we sail from the entrance into Dawson Straits, through Dobu and the Amphletts to Boyowa, almost every new configuration of the land which we pass is the scene of some legendary exploit. Here the narrow gorge has been broken through by a magic canoe flying in the air. There the two rocks standing in the sea are the petrified bodies of two mythological heroes who were stranded at this spot after a quarrel. Here again, a land-locked lagoon has been a port of refuge to a mythical crew. Apart from its legends, the scenery before us, fine as it is, derives still more charm from the knowledge that it is, and has been a distant Eldorado, a land of promise and hope to generation after generation of really daring native sailors from the Northern islands. And in the past these lands and seas must have been the scene of migrations and fights, of tribal invasions, and of gradual infiltrations of peoples and cultures.

In personal appearance, the Dobuans have a very distinct physique, which differentiates them sharply from the Southern Massim and from the Trobrianders; very dark-skinned, small of stature, with big heads and rounded shoulders, they give a strange, almost gnome-like impression on a first encounter. In their manner, and their tribal character, there is something definitely pleasant, honest and open — an impression which long acquaintance with them confirms and strengthens. They are the general favourites of the whites, form the best and most reliable servants, and traders who have resided long among them compare them favourably with other natives.

Their villages, like those of the previously described Massim, are scattered over wide areas. The fertile and flat foreshores which they inhabit are studded with small, compact hamlets of a dozen or so houses, hidden in the midst of one continuous plantation of fruit trees, palms, bananas and yams. The houses are built on piles, but are cruder architecturally than those of the S. Massim, and almost without any decorations, though in the olden days of head-hunting some of them were ornamented with skulls.

In their social constitution, the people are totemic, being divided into a number of exogamous clans with linked totems. There is no institution of regular chieftainship, nor have they any system of rank or caste such as we shall meet in the Trobriands. Authority is vested in the elders of the tribe. In each hamlet there is a man who wields the greatest influence locally, and acts as its representative on such tribal councils as may arise in connection with ceremonies and expeditions.

Their system of kinship is matrilineal, and women hold a very good position, and wield great influence. They also seem to take a much more permanent and prominent part in tribal life than is the case among the neighbouring populations. There is notably one of the features of Dobuan society, which seems to strike the Trobrianders as peculiar, and to which they will direct attention while giving information, even although in the Trobriands also women have a good enough social position. In Dobu, women take an important part in gardening, and have a share in performing garden magic, and this in itself gives them a high status. Again, the main instrument for wielding power and inflicting penalties in these lands, sorcery, is to a great extent in the hands of women. The flying witches, so characteristic of the Eastern New Guinea type of culture, here have one of their strongholds. We shall have to go into this subject more in detail when speaking about shipwreck and the dangers of sailing. Besides this, women practice ordinary sorcery, which in other tribes is only man's prerogative.

As a rule, amongst natives, a high position of women is associated with sex laxity. In this, Dobu is an exception. Not only are married women expected to remain faithful, and adultery considered a great crime, but, in sharp contrast to all surrounding tribes, the unmarried girls of Dobu remain strictly chaste. There are no ceremonial or customary forms of licence, and an intrigue would be certainly regarded as an offence.

A few more words must be said here about sorcery, as this is a matter of great importance in all inter-tribal relations. The dread of sorcery is enormous, and when the natives visit distant parts, this dread is enhanced by the additional awe of the unknown and foreign. Besides the flying witches, there are, in Dobu, men and women who, by their knowledge of magical spells and rites, can inflict disease and cause death. The methods of these sorcerers, and all the beliefs clustering round this subject are very much the same as those in the Trobriands which we shall meet later on. These methods are characterised by being very rational and direct, and implying hardly any supernatural element. The sorcerer has to utter a spell over some substance, and this must be administered by mouth, or else burnt over the fire in the victim's hut. The pointing stick is also used by the sorcerers in certain rites.

If his methods are compared with those used by flying witches, who eat the heart and lungs, drink the blood, snap the bones of their enemies, and moreover possess the powers of invisibility and of flying, the Dobuan sorcerer seems to have but simple and clumsy means at his disposal. He is also very much behind his Mailu or Motu namesakes — I say namesakes, because sorcerers throughout the Massim are called Bara'u, and the same word is used in Mailu, while the Motu use the reduplicated Babara'u. The magicians in these parts use such powerful methods as those of killing the victim first, opening up the body, removing, lacerating or charming the inside, then bringing the victim to life again, only that he may soon sicken and eventually die.

According to Dobuan belief, the spirits of the dead go to the top of Mt. Bwebweso on Normanby Island. This confined space harbours the shades of practically all the natives of the d'Entrecasteaux Archipelago, except those of Northern Goodenough Island, who, as I was told by some local informants, go after death to the spirit land of the Trobrianders. The Dobuans have also the belief in a double soul — one, shadowy and impersonal, surviving the bodily death for a few days only, and remaining in the vicinity of the grave, the other the real spirit, who goes to Bwebweso.

It is interesting to note how natives, living on the boundary between two cultures and between two types of belief, regard the ensuing differences. A native of, say, Southern Boyowa, confronted with the question: „how it is that the Dobuans place spirit-land on Bwebweso, whereas they, the Trobrianders, place it in Tuma?” does not see any difficulty in solving the problem. He does not regard the difference as due to a dogmatic conflict in doctrine. Quite simply he answers: „Their dead go to Bwebweso and ours to Tuma”. The metaphysical laws of existence are not yet considered subject to one invariable truth. As human destinies in life change, according to varieties in tribal custom, so also the doings of the spirit! An interesting theory is evolved to harmonise the two beliefs in a mixed case. There is a belief that if a Trobriander were to die in Dobu, when on a Kula expedition, he would go for a time to Bwebweso. In due season, the spirits of the Trobrianders would sail from Tuma, the spirit land, to Bwebweso, on a spirit Kula, and the newly departed one would join their party and sail with them back to Tuma.

On leaving Dobu, we sail the open sea, a sea studded with coral patches and sand-banks, and seamed with long barrier reefs where treacherous tides, running sometimes as much as five knots, make sailing really dangerous, especially for helpless native craft. This is the Kula sea, the scene of the inter-tribal expeditions and adventures which will be the theme of our future descriptions.

The Eastern shore of Ferguson Island, near Dobu, along which we are sailing, consists first of a series of volcanic cones and capes, giving the landscape the aspect of something unfinished and crudely put together. At the foot of the hills there stretches for several miles beyond Dobu a broad alluvial flat covered with villages — Deide'i, Tu'utauna, Bwayowa, all important centres of trade, and the homes of the direct Kula partners of the Trobrianders. Heavy fumes can be seen floating above the jungle, coming from the hot geysers of Deide'i, which spurt up in high jets every few minutes.

Soon we come abreast of two characteristically shaped, dark rocks, one half hidden in the vegetation of the shore, the other standing in the sea at the end of a narrow sand-spit dividing the two. These are Atu'a'ine and Aturamo'a, two men turned into stone, as mythical tradition has it. Here the big sailing expeditions, those starting northwards from Dobu, as well as those arriving from the North, still make a halt just as they have done for centuries, and, under observation of many taboos, give sacrificial offerings to the stones, with ritual invocations for propitious trade.

In the lee of these two rocks, runs a small bay with a clean, sandy beach, called Sarubwoyna. Here a visitor, lucky enough to pass at the right moment of the right season, would see a picturesque and interesting scene. There before him would lie a huge fleet of some fifty to a hundred canoes, anchored in the shallow water, with swarms of natives upon them, all engaged in some strange and mysterious task. Some of these, bent over heaps of herbs, would be mumbling incantations; others would be painting and adorning their bodies. An onlooker of two generations ago coming upon the same scene would no doubt have been led to suspect that he was watching the preparations for some dramatic tribal contest, for one of those big onslaughts in which the existence of whole villages and tribes were wiped out. It would even have been difficult for him to discern from the behaviour of the natives whether they were moved more by fear or by the spirit of aggression, as both these passions might have been read — and correctly so — into their attitudes and movements. That the scene contained no element of warfare; that this fleet had come here from about a hundred miles sailing distance on a well regulated tribal visit; that it had drawn up here for the final and most important preparations — this would not have been an easy guess to make. Nowadays — for this is carried out to this day with undiminished pomp — it would be an equally picturesque, but of course, tamer affair, since the romance of danger has gone from native life. As we learn in the course of this study to know more about these natives, their general ways and customs, and more especially about their Kula cycle of beliefs, ideas and sentiments, we shall be able to look with understanding eyes upon this scene, and comprehend this mixture of awe with intense, almost aggressive eagerness and this behaviour, which appears cowed and fierce at the same time.


Immediately after leaving Sarubwoyna and rounding the promontory of the two rocks, we come in sight of the island of Sanaroa, a big, sprawling, coral flat, with a range of volcanic hills on its western side. On the wide lagoon to the East of this island are the fishing grounds, where year after year the Trobrianders, returning from Dobu, look for the valuable spondylus shell, which, after their arrival home, is worked into the red discs, which form one of the main objects of native wealth. In the North of Sanaroa there is a stone in one of the tidal creeks called Sinatemubadiye'i, once a woman, the sister of Atu'a'ine and Aturamo'a, who, with her brothers came in here and was petrified before the last stage of the journey. She also receives offerings from canoes, coming either way on Kula expeditions.

Sailing further, some fine scenery unfolds itself on our left, where the high mountain range comes nearer to the sea shore, and where small bays, deep valleys and wooded slopes succeed one another. By carefully scanning the slopes, we can see small batches of some three to six miserable huts. These are the dwellings of the inhabitants, who are of a distinctly lower culture than the Dobuans, take no part in the Kula, and in olden days were the cowed and unhappy victims of their neighbours.

On our right there emerge behind Sanaroa the islands of Uwama and Tewara, the latter inhabited by Dobuan natives. Tewara is of interest to us, because one of the myths which we shall get to know later on makes it the cradle of the Kula. As we sail on, rounding one after the other the Eastern promontories of Fergusson Island, a group of strongly marked monumental profiles appears far on the horizon from behind the receding headlands. These are the Amphlett Islands, the link, both geographically and culturally, between the coastal tribes of the volcanic region of Dobu and the inhabitants of the flat coral archipelago of the Trobriands. This portion of the sea is very picturesque, and has a charm of its own even in this land of fine and varied scenery. On the main island of Fergusson, overlooking the Amphletts from the South, and ascending straight out of the sea in a slim and graceful pyramid, lies the tall mountain of Koyatabu, the highest peak on the island. Its big, green surface is cut in half by the white ribbon of a watercourse, starting almost half-way up and running down to the sea. Scattered under the lea of Koyatabu are the numerous smaller and bigger islands of the Amphlett Archipelago — steep, rocky hills, shaped into pyramids, sphynxes and cupolas, the whole a strange and picturesque assemblage of characteristic forms.

With a strong South-Easterly wind, which blows here for three quarters of the year, we approach the islands very fast, and the two most important ones, Gumawana and Ome'a, almost seem to leap out of the mist. As we anchor in front of Gumawana village at the S. E. end of the island, we cannot but feel impressed. Built on a narrow strip of foreshore, open to the breakers, and squeezed down to the water's edge by an almost precipitously rising jungle at its back, the village has been made sea-proof by walls of stone surrounding the houses with several bulwarks, and by stone dykes forming small artificial harbours along the sea front. The shabby and unornamented huts, built on piles, look very picturesque in these surroundings (see Plates VII and XLIII).

The inhabitants of this village, and of the four remaining ones in the archipelago, are a queer people. They are a numerically weak tribe, easily assailable from the sea, getting hardly enough to eat from their rocky islands; and yet, through their unique skill in pottery, their great daring and efficiency as sailors, and their central position half way between Dobu and the Trobriands, they have succeeded in becoming in several respects the monopolists of this part of the world. They have also the main characteristics of monopolists: grasping and mean, inhospitable and greedy, keen on keeping the trade and exchange in their own hands, yet unprepared to make any sacrifice towards improving it; shy, yet arrogant to anyone who has any dealings with them; they contrast unfavourably with their southern and northern neighbours. And this is not only the white man's impression. The Trobrianders, as well as the Dobuans, give the Amphlett natives a very bad name, as being stingy and unfair in all Kula transactions, and as having no real sense of generosity and hospitality.

When our boat anchors there, the natives approach it in their canoes, offering clay pots for sale. But if we want to go ashore and have a look at their village, there is a great commotion, and all the women disappear from the open places. The younger ones run and hide in the jungle behind the village, and even the old hags conceal themselves in the houses. So that if we want to see the making of pottery, which is almost exclusively women's work, we must first lure some old woman out of her retreat with generous promises of tobacco and assurances of honourable intentions.

This has been mentioned here, because it is of ethnographic interest, as it is not only white men who inspire this shyness; if native strangers, coming from a distance for trade, put in for a short time in the Amphletts, the women also disappear in this fashion. This very ostentatious coyness is, however, not a sham, because in the Amphletts, even more than in Dobu, married and unmarried life is characterised by strict chastity and fidelity. Women here have also a good deal of influence, and take a great part in gardening and the performance of garden magic. In social institutions and customs, the natives present a mixture of Northern and Southern Massim elements. There are no chiefs, but influential elders wield authority, and in each village there is a head man who takes the lead in ceremonies and other big tribal affairs. Their totemic clans are identical with those of Murua (District II). Their somewhat precarious food supply comes partly from the poor gardens, partly from fishing with kite and fish trap, which, however, can only seldom be carried out, and does not yield very much. They are not self-supporting, and receive, in form of presents and by trade, a good deal of vegetable food as well as pigs from the mainland, from Dobu and the Trobriands. In personal appearance they are very much like the Trobrianders, that is, taller than the Dobuans, lighter skinned, and with finer features.

We must now leave the Amphletts and proceed to the Trobriand Islands, the scene of most of the occurrences described in this book, and the country concerning which I possess by far the largest amount of ethnographic information.

Chapter II. The natives of the Trobriand Islands

I — Arrival in the coral Islands. First impression of the native. Some significant appearances and their deeper meaning. II — Position of women; their life and conduct before and after marriage. III — Further exploration in the villages. A cross country walk. Gardens and gardening. IV — The native's working power; their motives and incentives to work. Magic and work. A digression on Primitive Economics. V — Chieftainship, power through wealth; a plutocratic community. List of the various provinces and and political divisions in the Trobriands. VI — Totemism, the solidarity of clans and the bonds of kinship. VII — Spirits of the dead. The overweening importance of magic. Black magic. The prowling sorcerers and the flying witches. The malevolent visitors from the South, and epidemics. VIII — The Eastern neighbours of of the Trobrianders. The remaining districts of the Kula.


Leaving the bronzed rocks and the dark jungle of the Amphletts for the present — for we shall have to revisit them in the course of our study, and then shall learn more about their inhabitants — we sail North into an entirely different world of flat coral islands; into an ethnographic district, which stands out by ever so many peculiar manners and customs from the rest of Papuo-Melanesia. So far, we have sailed over intensely blue, clear seas, where in shallow places the coral bottom, with its variety of colour and form, with its wonderful plant and fish life, is a fascinating spectacle in itself — a sea framed in all the splendours of tropical jungle, of volcanic and mountainous scenery, with lively watercourses and falls, with steamy clouds trailing in the high valleys. From all this we take a final farewell as we sail North. The outlines of the Amphletts soon fade away in tropical haze, till only Koyatabu's slender pyramid, lifted over them, remains on the horizon, the graceful form, which follows us even as far as the Lagoon of Kiriwina.

We now enter an opaque, greenish sea, whose monotony is broken only by a few sandbanks, some bare and awash, others with a few pandanus trees squatting on their air roots, high in the sand. To these banks, the Amphlett natives come and there they spend weeks on end, fishing for turtle and dugong. Here is also laid the scene of several of the mythical incidents of primeval Kula. Further ahead, through the misty spray, the line of horizon thickens here and there, as if faint pencil marks had been drawn upon it. These become more substantial, one of them lengthens and broadens, the others spring into the distinct shapes of small islands, and we find ourselves in the big Lagoon of the Trobriands, with Boyowa, the largest island, on our right, and with many others, inhabited and uninhabited, to the North and North-West.

As we sail in the Lagoon, following the intricate passages between the shallows, and as we approach the main island, the thick, tangled matting of the low jungle breaks here and there over a beach, and we can see into a palm grove, like an interior, supported by pillars. This indicates the site of a village. We step ashore on to the sea front, as a rule covered with mud and refuse, with canoes drawn up high and dry, and passing through the grove, we enter the village itself (see Plate VIII).

Soon we are seated on one of the platforms built in front of a yam-house, shaded by its overhanging roof. The round, grey logs, worn smooth by contact with naked feet and bodies; the trodden ground of the village-street; the brown skins of the natives, who immediately surround the visitor in large groups — all these form a colour scheme of bronze and grey, unforgetable to anyone, who, like myself, has lived among these people.

It is difficult to convey the feelings of intense interest and suspense with which an Ethnographer enters for the first time the district that is to be the future scene of his field-work. Certain salient features, characteristic of the place, at once rivet his attention, and fill him with hopes or apprehensions. The appearance of the natives, their manners, their types of behaviour, may augur well or ill for the possibilities of rapid and easy research. One is on the lookout for symptoms of deeper, sociological facts, one suspects many hidden and mysterious ethnographic phenomena behind the commonplace aspect of things. Perhaps that queer-looking, intelligent native is a renowned sorcerer; perhaps between those two groups of men there exists some important rivalry or vendetta which may throw much light on the customs and character of the people if one can only lay hands upon it? Such at least were my thoughts and feelings as on the day of my arrival in Boyowa I sat scanning a chatting group of Trobriand natives.

The great variety in their physical appearance is what strikes one first in Boyowa. There are men and women of tall stature, fine bearing, and delicate features, with clear-cut aquiline profile and high foreheads, well formed nose and chin, and an open, intelligent expression (see Plates IX, XV, XVII). And besides these, there are others with prognatic, negroid faces, broad, thick-lipped mouths, narrow foreheads, and a coarse expression (see Plates X, XI, XII). The better featured have also a markedly lighter skin. Even their hair differs, varying from quite straight locks to the frizzly mop of the typical Melanesian. They wear the same classes of ornaments as the other Massim, consisting mainly of fibre armlets and belts, earrings of turtle shell and spondylus discs, and they are very fond of using, for personal decoration, flowers and aromatic herbs. In manner they are much freer, more familiar and confident, than any of the natives we have so far met. As soon as an interesting stranger arrives, half the village assembles around him, talking loudly and making remarks about him, frequently uncomplimentary, and altogether assuming a tone of jocular familiarity.

One of the main sociological features at once strikes an observant newcomer — the existence of rank and social differentiation. Some of the natives — very frequently those of the finer looking type — are treated with most marked deference by others, and in return, these chiefs and persons of rank behave in quite a different way towards the strangers. In fact, they show excellent manners in the full meaning of this word.

When a chief is present, no commoner dares to remain in a physically higher position; he has to bend his body or squat. Similarly, when the chief sits down, no one would dare to stand. The institution of definite chieftainship, to which are shown such extreme marks of deference, with a sort of rudimentary Court ceremonial, with insignia of rank and authority, is so entirely foreign to the whole spirit of Melanesian tribal life, that at first sight it transports the Ethnographer into a different world. In the course of our inquiry, we shall constantly meet with manifestation of the Kiriwinian chief's authority, we shall notice the difference in this respect between the Trobrianders and the other tribes, and the resulting adjustments of tribal usage.


Another sociological feature, which forcibly obtrudes itself on the visitor's notice is the social position of the women. Their behaviour, after the cool aloofness of the Dobuan women, and the very uninviting treatment which strangers receive from those of the Amphletts, comes almost as a shock in its friendly familiarity. Naturally, here also, the manners of women of rank are quite different from those of low class commoners. But, on the whole, high and low alike, though by no means reserved, have a genial, pleasant approach, and many of them are very fine-looking (see Plates XI, XII). Their dress is also different from any so far observed. All the Melanesian women in New Guinea wear a petticoat made of fibre. Among the Southern Massim, this fibre skirt is long, reaching to the knees or below, whereas in the Trobriands it is much shorter and fuller, consisting of several layers standing out round the body like a ruff (compare the S. Massim women on Plates V and VI with the Trobrianders on Plate IV). The highly ornamental effect of that dress is enhanced by the elaborate decorations made in three colours on the several layers forming the top skirt. On the whole, it is very becoming to fine young women, and gives to small slender girls a graceful, elfish appearance.

Chastity is an unknown virtue among these natives. At an incredibly early age they become initiated into sexual life, and many of the innocent looking plays of childhood are not as innocuous as they appear. As they grow up, they live in promiscuous free-love, which gradually develops into more permanent attachments, one of which ends in marriage. But before this is reached, unmarried girls are openly supposed to be quite free to do what they like, and there are even ceremonial arrangements by which the girls of a village repair in a body to another place; there they publicly range themselves for inspection, and each is chosen by a local boy, with whom she spends a night. This is called katuyausi (see Plate XII). Again, when a visiting party arrives from another district, food is brought to them by the unmarried girls, who are also expected to satisfy their sexual wants. At the big mortuary vigils round the corpse of a newly deceased person, people from neighbouring villages come in large bodies to take part in the wailing and singing. The girls of the visiting party are expected by usage to comfort the boys of the bereaved village, in a manner which gives much anguish to their official lovers. There is another remarkable form of ceremonial licence, in which indeed women are openly the initiators. During the gardening season, at the time of weeding, the women do communal work, and any strange man who ventures to pass through the district runs a considerable risk, for the women will run after him, seize him, tear off his pubic leaf, and ill-treat him orgiastically in the most ignominous manner. Side by side with these ceremonial forms of licence, there go, in the normal course of events, constant private intrigues, more intense during the festive seasons, becoming less prominent as garden work, trading expeditions, or harvesting take up the energies and attention of the tribe.

Marriage is associated with hardly any public or private rite or ceremony. The woman simply joins her husband in his house, and later on, there is a series of exchanges of gifts, which in no way can be interpreted as purchase money for the wife. As a matter of fact, the most important feature of the Trobriand marriage is the fact that the wife's family have to contribute, and that in a very substantial manner, to the economics of her household, and also they have to perform all sorts of services for the husband. In her married life, the woman is supposed to remain faithful to her husband, but this rule is neither very strictly kept nor enforced. In all other ways, she retains a great measure of independence, and her husband has to treat her well and with consideration. If he does not, the woman simply leaves him and returns to her family, and as the husband is as a rule economically the loser by her action, he has to exert himself to get her back — which he does by means of presents and persuasions. If she chooses, she can leave him for good, and she can always find someone else to marry.

In tribal life, the position of women is also very high. They do not as a rule join the councils of men, but in many matters they have their own way, and control several aspects of tribal life. Thus, some of the garden work is their business; and this is considered a privilege as well as a duty. They also look after certain stages in the big, ceremonial divisions of food, associated with the very complete and elaborate mortuary ritual of the Boyowans (see Plate IV). Certain forms of magic — that performed over a first-born baby, beauty-magic made at tribal ceremonies, some classes of sorcery — are also the monopoly of women. Women of rank share the privileges incidental to it, and men of low caste will bend before them and observe all the necessary formalities and taboos due to a chief. A woman of chief's rank, married to commoner, retains her status, even with regard to her husband, and has to be treated accordingly.

The Trobrianders are matrilineal, that is, in tracing descent and settling inheritance, they follow the maternal line. A child belongs to the clan and village community of its mother, and wealth, as well as social position, are inherited, not from father to son, but from maternal uncle to nephew. This rule admits of certain important and interesting exceptions, which we shall come across in the course of this study.


Returning to our imaginary first visit ashore, the next interesting thing to do, after we have sufficiently taken in the appearance and manners of the natives, is to walk round the village. In doing this, again we would come across much, which to a trained eye, would reveal at once deeper sociological facts. In the Trobriands however, it would be better to make our first observations in one of the large, inland villages, situated on even, flat ground with plenty of space, so that it has been possible to build it in the typical pattern. In the coastal villages, placed on marshy ground and coral outcrop, the irregularity of the soil and cramped space have obliterated the design, and they present quite a chaotic appearance. The big villages of the central districts, on the other hands, are built one and all with an almost geometrical regularity.

In the middle, a big circular space is surrounded by a ring of yam houses. These latter are built on piles, and present a fine, decorative front, with walls of big, round logs, laid crosswise on one another, so as to leave wide interstices through which the stored yams can be seen (see Plates XV, XXXII, XXXIII). Some of the store-houses strike us at once as being better built, larger, and higher than the rest, and these have also big, ornamented boards, running round the gable and across it. These are the yam houses of the chief or of persons of rank. Each yam house also has, as a rule, a small platform in front of it, on which groups of men will sit and chat in the evening, and where visitors can rest.

Concentrically with the circular row of yam houses, there runs a ring of dwelling huts, and thus a street going all round the village is formed between the two rows (see Plates III, IV, VIII). The dwellings are lower than the yam houses, and instead of being on piles, are built directly on the ground. The interior is dark and very stuffy, and the only opening into it is through the door, and that is usually closed. Each hut is occupied by one family (see Plate XV), that is, husband, wife and small children, while adolescent and grown-up boys and girls live in separate small bachelor's houses, harbouring some two to six inmates. Chiefs and people of rank have their special, personal houses, besides those of their wives. The Chief's house often stands in the central ring of the store-houses facing the main place.

The broad inspection of the village would therefore reveal to us the role of decoration as insignia of rank, the existence of bachelors' and spinsters' houses, the great importance attached to the yam-harvest — all these small symptoms which, followed up, would lead us deep into the problems of native sociology. Moreover, such an inspection would have led us to inquire as to the part played by the different divisions of the village in tribal life. We should then learn that the baku, the central circular space, is the scene of public ceremonies and festivities, such as dancing (see Plates XIII, XIV), division of food, tribal feasts, mortuary vigils, in short, of all doings that represent the village as a whole. In the circular street between the stores and living houses, everyday life goes on, that is, the preparation of food, the eating of meals, and the usual exchange of gossip and ordinary social amenities. The interior of the houses is only used at night, or on wet days, and is more a sleeping than a living room. The backs of the houses and the contiguous groves are the scene of the children's play and the women's occupations. Further away, remote parts of the grove are reserved for sanitary purposes, each sex having its own retreat.

The baku (central place) is the most picturesque part, and there the somewhat monotonous colour scheme of the brown and grey is broken by the overhanging foliage of the grove, seen above the neat fronts and gaudy ornamentation of the yam-houses and by the decorations worn by the crowd when a dance or ceremony is taking place (see Plates XIII, XXXIII). Dancing is done only at one time in the year, in connection with the harvest festivities, called milamala, at which season also the spirits of the dead return from Tuma, the nether-world, to the villages from which they hail. Sometimes the dancing season lasts only for a few weeks or even days, sometimes it is extended into a special dancing period called usigola. During such a time of festivities, the inhabitants of a village will dance day after day, for a month or longer, the period being inaugurated by a feast, punctuated by several more, and ending in a big culminating performance. At this many villages assist as spectators, and distributions of food take place. During an usigola, dancing is done in full dress, that is, with facial painting, floral decorations, valuable ornaments, and a head-dress ot white cockatoo feathers (see Plates XIII, XIV). A performance consists always of a dance executed in a ring to the accompaniment of singing and drum-beating, both of which are done by a group of people standing in the middle. Some dances are done with the carved dancing shield.

Sociologically, the village is an important unit in the Trobriands. Even the mightiest chief in the Trobriands wields his authority primarily over his own village and only secondarily over the district. The village community exploit jointly their garden lands, perform ceremonies, wage warfare, undertake trading expeditions, and sail in the same canoe or fleet of canoes as one group.

After the first inspection of the village, we would be naturally interested to know more of the surrounding country, and would take a walk through the bush. Here, however, if we hoped for a picturesque and varied landscape, we should receive a great disappointment. The extensive, flat island consists only of one fertile plain, with a low coral ridge running along portions of the coast. It is almost entirely under intermittent cultivation, and the bush, regularly cleared away every few years, has no time to grow high. A low, dense jungle grows in a matted tangle, and practically wherever we move on the island, we walk along between two green walls, presenting no variety, allowing of no broader view. The monotony is broken only by an occasional clump of old trees left standing — usually a tabooed place — or by one of the numerous villages which we meet with every mile or two in this densely populated country. The main element, both of picturesqueness and ethnographic interest, is afforded by the native gardens. Each year about one quarter or one fifth of the total area is under actual cultivation as gardens, and these are well tended, and present a pleasant change from the monotony of the scrub. In its early stages, the garden site is simply a bare, cleared space, allowing of a wider outlook upon the distant coral ridge in the East, and upon the tall groves, scattered over the horizon, which indicate villages or tabooed tree clumps. Later on, when the yam-vines, taro, and sugar cane begin to grow and bud, the bare brown — soil is covered with the fresh green of the tender plants. After some more time still, tall, stout poles are planted over each yam-plant; the vine climbs round them, grows into a full, shady garland of foliage, and the whole makes the impression of a large, exuberant hop-yard.


Half of the natives' working life is spent in the garden, and around it centres perhaps more than half of his interests and ambitions. And here we must pause and make an attempt to understand his attitude in this matter, as it is typical of the way in which he goes about all his work. If we remain under the delusion that the native is a happy-go-lucky, lazy child of nature, who shuns as far as possible all labour and effort, waiting till the ripe fruits, so bountifully supplied by generous tropical Nature, fall into his mouth, we shall not be able to understand in the least his aims and motives in carrying out the Kula or any other enterprise. On the contrary, the truth is that the native can and, under circumstances, does work hard, and work systematically, with endurance and purpose, nor does he wait till he is pressed to work by his immediate needs.

In gardening, for instance, the natives produce much more than they actually require, and in any average year they harvest perhaps twice as much as they can eat. Nowadays, this surplus is exported by Europeans to feed plantation hands in other parts of New Guinea; in olden days it was simply allowed to rot. Again, they produce this surplus in a manner which entails much more work than is strictly necessary for obtaining the crops. Much time and labour is given up to aesthetic purposes, to making the gardens tidy, clean, cleared of all debris; to building fine, solid fences, to providing specially strong and big yam-poles. All these things are to some extent required for the growth of the plant; but there can be no doubt that the natives push their conscientiousness far beyond the limit of the purely necessary. The non-utilitarian element in their garden work is still more clearly perceptible in the various tasks which they carry out entirely for the sake of ornamentation, in connection with magical ceremonies, and in obedience to tribal usage. Thus, after the ground has been scrupulously cleared and is ready for planting, the natives divide each garden plot into small squares, each a few yards in length and width, and this is done only in obedience to usage, in order to make the gardens look neat. No self-respecting man would dream of omitting to do this. Again, in especially well trimmed gardens, long horizontal poles are tied to the yam supports in order to embellish them. Another, and perhaps the most interesting example of non-utilitarian work is afforded by the big, prismatic erections called kamkokola, which serve ornamental and magical purposes, but have nothing to do with the growth of plants (comp. Plate LIX).

Among the forces and beliefs which bear upon and regulate garden work, perhaps magic is the most important. It is a department of its own, and the garden magician, next to the chief and the sorcerer, is the most important personage of the village. The position is hereditary, and, in each village, a special system of magic is handed on in the female line from one generation to another. I have called it a system, because the magician has to perform a series of rites and spells over the garden, which run parallel with the labour, and which, in fact, initiate each stage of the work and each new development of the plant life. Even before any gardening is begun at all, the magician has to consecrate the site with a big ceremonial performance in which all the men of the village take part. This ceremony officially opens the season's gardening, and only after it is performed do the villagers begin to cut the scrub on their plots. Then, in a series of rites, the magician inaugurates successively all the various stages which follow one another — the burning of the scrub, the clearing, the planting, the weeding and the harvesting. Also, in another series of rites and spells, he magically assists the plant in sprouting, in budding, in bursting into leaf, in climbing, in forming the rich garlands of foliage, and in producing the edible tubers.

The garden magician, according to native ideas, thus controls both the work of man and the forces of Nature. He also acts directly as supervisor of gardening, sees to it that people do not skimp their work, or lag behind with it. Thus magic is a systematising, regulating, and controlling influence in garden work. The magician, in carrying out the rites, sets the pace, compels people to apply themselves to certain tasks, and to accomplish them properly and in time. Incidentally, magic also imposes on the tribe a good deal of extra work, of apparently unnecessary, hampering taboos and regulations. In the long run, however, there is no doubt that by its influence in ordering, systematising and regulating work, magic is economically invaluable for the natives.

Another notion which must be exploded, once and for ever, is that of the Primitive Economic Man of some current economic text books. This fanciful, dummy creature, who has been very tenacious of existence in popular and semi-popular economic literature, and whose shadow haunts even the minds of competent anthropologists, blighting their outlook with a preconceived idea, is an imaginary, primitive man, or savage, prompted in all his actions by a rationalistic conception of self-interest, and achieving his aims directly and with the minimum of effort. Even one well established instance should show how preposterous is this assumption that man, and especially man on a low level of culture, should be actuated by pure economic motives of enlightened self-interest. The primitive Trobriander furnishes us with such an instance, contradicting this fallacious theory. He works prompted by motives of a highly complex, social and traditional nature, and towards aims which are certainly not directed towards the satisfaction of present wants, or to the direct achievement of utilitarian purposes. Thus, in the first place, as we have seen, work is not carried out on the principle of the least effort. On the contrary, much time and energy is spent on wholly unnecessary effort, that is, from a utilitarian point of view. Again, work and effort, instead of being merely a means to an end, are, in a way, an end in themselves. A good garden worker in the Trobriands derives a direct prestige from the amount of labour he can do, and the size of garden he can till. The title tokwaybagula, which means „good” or „efficient gardener”, is bestowed with discrimination, and borne with pride. Several of my friends, renowned as tokwaybagula, would boast to me how long they worked, how much ground they tilled, and would compare their efforts with those of less efficient men. When the labour, some of which is done communally, is being actually carried out, a good deal of competition goes on. Men vie with one another in their speed, in their thoroughness, and in the weights they can lift, when bringing big poles to the garden, or in carrying away the harvested yams.

The most important point about this is, however, that all, or almost all the fruits of his work, and certainly any surplus which he can achieve by extra effort, goes not to the man himself, but to his relatives-in-law. Without entering into details of the system of the apportionment of the harvest, of which the sociology is rather complex and would require a preliminary account of the Trobriand kinship system and kinship ideas, it may be said that about three quarters of a man's crops go partly as tribute to the chief, partly as his due to his sister's (or mother's) husband and family.

But although he thus derives practically no personal benefit in the utilitarian sense from his harvest, the gardener receives much praise and renown from its size and quality, and that in a direct and circumstantial manner. For all the crops, after being harvested, are displayed for some time afterwards in the gardens, piled up in neat, conical heaps under small shelters made of yam vine. Each man's harvest is thus exhibited for criticism in his own plot, and parties of natives walk about from garden to garden, admiring, comparing and praising the best results. The importance of the food display can be gauged by the fact that, in olden days, when the chief's power was much more considerable than now, it was dangerous for a man who was not either of high rank himself, or working for such a one, to show crops which might compare too favourably with those of the chief.

In years when the harvest promises to be plentiful, the chief will proclaim a kayasa harvest, that is to say, ceremonial, competitive display of food, and then the straining for good results and the interest taken in them are still higher. We shall meet later on with ceremonial enterprises of the kayasa type, and find that they play a considerable part in the Kula. All this shows how entirely the real native of flesh and bone differs from the shadowy Primitive Economic Man, on whose imaginary behaviour many of the scholastic deductions of abstract economics are based. The Trobriander works in a roundabout way, to a large extent for the sake of the work itself, and puts a great deal of aesthetic polish on the arrangement and general appearance of his garden. He is not guided primarily by the desire to satisfy his wants, but by a very complex set of traditional forces, duties and obligations, beliefs in magic, social ambitions and vanities. He wants, if he is a man, to achieve social distinction as a good gardener and a good worker in general.

I have dwelt at this length upon these points concerning the motives and aims of the Trobrianders in their garden work, because, in the chapters that follow, we shall be studying economic activities, and the reader will grasp the attitude of the natives best if he has it illustrated to him by various examples. All that has been said in this matter about the Trobrianders applies also to the neighbouring tribes.


With the help of this new insight gained into the mind of the native, and into their social scheme of harvest distribution, it will be easier to describe the nature of the chief's authority. Chieftainship in the Trobriands is the combination of two institutions: first, that of headmanship, or village authority; secondly, that of totemic clanship, that is the division of the community into classes or castes, each with a certain more or less definite rank.

In every community in the Trobriands, there is one man who wields the greatest authority, though often this does not amount to very much. He is, in many cases, nothing more than the primus inter pares in a group of village elders, who deliberate on all important matters together, and arrive at a decision by common consent. It must not be forgotten that there is hardly ever much room for doubt or deliberation, as natives communally, as well as individually, never act except on traditional and conventional lines. This village headman is, as a rule, therefore, not much more than a master of tribal ceremonies, and the main speaker within and without the tribe, whenever one is needed.

But the position of headman becomes much more than this, when he is a person of high rank, which is by no means always the case. In the Trobriands there exist four totemic clans, and each of these is divided into a number of smaller sub-clans — which could also be called families or castes, for the members of each claim common descent from one ancestress, and each of them holds a certain, specified rank. These subclans have also a local character, because the original ancestress emerged from a hole in the ground, as a rule somewhere in the neighbourhood of their village community. There is not one sub-clan in the Trobriands whose members cannot indicate its original locality, where their group, in the form of the ancestress, first saw the light of the sun. Coral outcrops, water-holes, small caves or grottoes, are generally pointed out as the original „holes” or „houses”, as they are called. Often such a hole is surrounded by one of the tabooed clumps of trees alluded to before. Many of them are situated in the groves surrounding a village, and a few near the sea shore. Not one is on the cultivable land.

The highest sub-clan is that of the Tabalu, belonging to the Malasi totem clan. To this sub-clan belongs the main chief of Kiriwina, To'uluwa, who resides in the village of Omarakana (see Plate II and Frontispiece). He is in the first place the headman of his own village, and in contrast to the headmen of low rank, he has quite a considerable amount of power. His high rank inspires everyone about him with the greatest and most genuine respect and awe, and the remnants of his power are still surprisingly large, even now, when white authorities, very foolishly and with fatal results, do their utmost to undermine his prestige and influence.

Not only does the chief — by which word I shall designate a headman of rank — possess a high degree of authority within his own village, but his sphere of influence extends far beyond it. A number of villages are tributary to him, and in several respects subject to his authority. In case of war, they are his allies, and have to foregather in his village. When he needs men to perform some task, he can send to his subject villages, and they will supply him with workers. In all big festivities the villages of his district will join, and the chief will act as master of ceremonies. Nevertheless, for all these services rendered to him he has to pay. He even has to pay for any tributes received out of his stores of wealth. Wealth, in the Trobriands, is the outward sign and the substance of power, and the means also of exercising it. But how does he acquire his wealth? And here we come to the main duty of the vassal villages to the chief. From each subject village, he takes a wife, whose family, according to the Trobriand law, has to supply him with large amounts of crops. This wife is always the sister or some relation of the headman of the subject village, and thus practically the whole community has to work for him. In olden days, the chief of Omarakana had up to as many as forty consorts, and received perhaps as much as thirty to fifty per cent of all the garden produce of Kiriwina. Even now, when his wives number only sixteen, he has enormous storehouses, and they are full to the roof with yams every harvest time.

With this supply, he is able to pay for the many services he requires, to furnish with food the participants in big feasts, in tribal gatherings or distant expeditions. Part of the food he uses to acquire objects of native wealth, or to pay for the making of them. In brief, through his privilege of practising polygamy, the chief is kept supplied with an abundance of wealth in food stuffs and in valuables, which he uses to maintain his high position; to organise tribal festivities and enterprises, and to pay, according to custom, for the many personal services to which he is entitled.

One point in connection with the chief's authority deserves special mention. Power implies not only the possibility of rewarding, but also the means of punishing. This in the Trobriands is as a rule done indirectly, by means of sorcery. The chief has the best sorcerers of the district always at his beck and call. Of course he also has to reward them when they do him a service. If anyone offends him, or trespasses upon his authority, the chief summons the sorcerer, and orders that the culprit shall die by black magic. And here the chief is powerfully helped in achieving his end by the fact that he can do this openly, so that everybody, and the victim himself, knows that a sorcerer is after him. As the natives are very deeply and genuinely afraid of sorcery, the feeling of being hunted, of imagining themselves doomed, is in itself enough to doom them in reality. Only in extreme cases, does a chief inflict direct punishment on a culprit. He has one or two hereditary henchmen, whose duty it is to kill the man who has so deeply offended him, that actual death is the only sufficient punishment. As a matter of fact, very few cases of this are on record, and it is now, of course, entirely in abeyance.

Thus the chief's position can be grasped only through the realisation of the high importance of wealth, of the necessity of paying for everything, even for services which are due to him, and which could not be withheld. Again, this wealth comes to the chief from his relations-in-law, and it is through his right to practise polygamy that he actually achieves his position, and exercises his power.

Side by side with this rather complex mechanism of authority, the prestige of rank, the direct recognition of his personal superiority, give the chief an immense power, even outside his district. Except for the few of his own rank, no native in the Trobriands will remain erect when the great chief of Omarakana approaches, even in these days of tribal disintegration. Wherever he goes, he is considered as the most important person, is seated on a high platform, and treated with consideration. Of course the fact that he is accorded marks of great deference, and approached in the manner as if he were a supreme despot, does not mean that perfect good fellowship and sociability do not reign in his personal relations with his companions and vassals. There is no difference in interests or outlook between him and his subjects. They sit together and chat, they exchange village gossip, the only difference being that the chief is always on his guard, and much more reticent and diplomatic than the other, though he is no less interested. The chief, unless he is too old, joins in dances and even in games, and indeed he takes precedence as a matter of course.

In trying to realise the social conditions among the Trobrianders and their neighbours, it must not be forgotten that their social organisation is in certain respects complex and ill-defined. Besides very definite laws which are strictly obeyed, there exist a number of quaint usages, of vague graduations in rules, of others where the exceptions are so many, that they rather obliterate the rule than confirm it. The narrow social outlook of the native who does not see beyond his own district, the prevalence of singularities and exceptional cases is one of the leading characteristics of native sociology, one which for many reasons has not been sufficiently recognised. But the main outlines of chieftainship here presented, will be enough to give a clear idea of it and of some of the flavour of their institutions, as much, in fact, as is necessary, in order to understand the chief's role in the Kula. But it must to a certain extent be supplemented by the concrete data, bearing upon the political divisions of the Trobriands.

The most important chief is, as said, the one who resides in Omarakana and rules Kiriwina, agriculturally the richest and most important district. His family, or sub-clan, the Tabalu, are acknowledged to have by far the highest rank in all the Archipelago. Their fame is spread over the whole Kula district; the entire province of Kiriwina derives prestige from its chief, and its inhabitants also keep all his personal taboos, which is a duty but also a distinction. Next to the high chief, there resides in a village some two miles distant, a personage who, though in several respects his vassal, is also his main foe and rival, the headman of Kabwaku, and ruler of the province of Tilataula. The present holder of this title is an old rogue named Moliasi. From time to time, in the old days, war used to break out between the two provinces, each of which could muster some twelve villages for the fight. These wars were never very bloody or of long duration, and they were in many ways fought in a competitive, sporting manner, since, unlike with the Dobuans and Southern Massim, there were neither head-hunting nor cannibalistic practices among the Boyowans. Nevertheless, defeat was a serious matter. It meant a temporary destruction of the loser's villages, and exile for a year or two. After that, a ceremony of reconciliation took place, and friend and foe would help to rebuild the villages. The ruler of Tilataula has an intermediate rank, and outside his district he does not enjoy much prestige; but within it, he has a considerable amount of power, and a good deal of wealth, in the shape of stored food and ceremonial articles. All the villages under his rule, have, of course, their own independent headman, who, being of low rank, have only a small degree of local authority.

In the West of the big, Northern half of Boyowa (that is of the main island of the Trobriand Group) are again two districts, in past times often at war with one another. One of them, Kuboma, subject to the chief of Gumilababa, of high rank, though inferior to the chief of Kiriwina, consists of some ten inland villages, and is very important as a centre of industry. Among these villages are included those of Yalaka, Buduwaylaka, Kudukwaykela, where the quicklime is prepared for betel chewing, and also the lime pots made. The highly artistic designs, burnt in on the lime pots, are the speciality of these villagers, but unfortunately the industry is fast decaying. The inhabitabts of Luya are renowned for their basket work, of which the finest specimens are their production. But the most remarkable of all is the village of Bwoytalu, whose inhabitants are at the same time the most despised pariahs, the most dreaded sorcerers, and the most skilful and industrious craftsmen in the island. They belong to several sub-clans, all originating in the neighbourhood of the village, near which also, according to tradition, the original sorcerer came out of the soil in the form of a crab. They eat the flesh of bush-pigs, and they catch and eat the stingaree, both objects of strict taboos and of genuine loathing to the other inhabitants of Northern Boyowa. For this reason they are despised and regarded as unclean by the others. In olden days they would have to crouch lower and more abjectly than anyone else. No man or woman would mate with anyone from Bwoytalu, whether in marriage or in an intrigue. Yet in wood carving, and especially in the working out of the wonderful, round dishes, in the manufacture of plaited fibre work, and in the production of combs, they are far more skilful than anyone else, and acknowledged to be such; they are the wholesale manufacturers of these objects for export, and they can produce work not to be rivalled by any other village.

The five villages lying on the western coast of the northern half, on the shores of the Lagoon, form the district of Kulumata. They are all fishing villages, but differ in their methods, and each has its own fishing grounds and its own methods of exploiting them. The district is much less homogeneous than any of those before mentioned. It posesses no paramount chief, and even in war the villagers used not to fight on the same side. But it is impossible to enter here into all these shades and singularities of political organisation.

In the southern part of Boyowa, there is first the province of Luba, occupying the waist of the island, the part where it narrows down to a long isthmus. This part is ruled by a chief of high rank, who resides in Olivilevi. He belongs to the same family as the chief of Omarakana, and this southern dominion is the result of a younger line's having branched off some three generations ago. This happened after an unsuccessful war, when the whole tribe of Kiriwina fled south to Luba, and lived there for two years in a temporary village. The main body returned afterwards, but a number remained behind with the chief's brother, and thus the village of Olivilevi was founded. Wawela, which was formerly a very big village, now consists of hardly more than twenty huts. The only one on the Eastern shore which lies right on the sea, it is very picturesquely situated, overlooking a wide bay with a clean beach. It is of importance as the traditional centre of astronomical knowledge. From here, for generation after generation up to the present day, the calendar of the natives has been regulated. This means that some of the most important dates are fixed, especially that of the great annual festival, the Milamala, always held at full moon. Again, Wawela is one of the villages where the second form of sorcery, that of the flying witches, has its main Trobriand home. In fact, according to native belief, this form of sorcery has its seat only in the Southern half, and is unknown to the women in the North, though the Southern witches extend their field of operations all over Boyowa. Wawela, which lies facing the East, and which is always in close touch with the villages of Kitava and the rest of the Marshall Bennetts, shares with these islands the reputation of harbouring many women who can fly, kill by magic, who also feed on corpses, and are especially dangerous to seamen in peril.

Further down to the South, on the Western shore of the Lagoon, we come to the big settlement of Sinaketa, consisting of some six villages lying within a few hundred yards from one another, but each having its own headman and a certain amount of local characteristics. These villages form, however, one community for purposes of war and of the Kula. Some of the local headmen of Sinaketa claim the highest rank, some are commoners; but on the whole, both the principle of rank and the power of the chief break down more and more as we move South. Beyond Sinaketa, we meet a few more villages, who practice a local Kula, and with whom we shall have to deal later on. Sinaketa itself will loom very largely in the descriptions that follow. The Southern part of the island is sometimes called Kaybwagina, but it does not constitute a definite political unit, like the Northern districts.

Finally, south of the main island, divided from it by a narrow channel, lies the half-moon-shaped island of Vakuta, to which belong four small villages and one big one. Within recent times, perhaps four to six generations ago, there came down and settled in this last mentioned one a branch of the real Tabalu, the chiefly family of highest rank. But their power here never assumed the proportions even of the small chiefs of Sinaketa. In Vakuta, the typical Papuo-Melanesian system of government by tribal elders — with one more prominent than the others, but not paramount — is in full vigour.

The two big settlements of Sinaketa and Vakuta play a great part in the Kula, and they also are the only two communities in the whole Trobriands where the red shell discs are made. This industry, as we shall see, is closely associated with the Kula. Politically, Sinaketa and Vakuta are rivals, and in olden days were periodically at war with one another.

Another district which forms a definite political and cultural unit is the large island of Kayleula, in the West. The inhabitants are fishermen, canoe-builders, and traders, and undertake big expeditions to the western d'Entrecasteaux islands, trading for betel nut, sago, pottery and turtle shell in exchange for their own industrial produce.

It has been necessary to give a somewhat detailed description of chieftainship and political divisions, as a firm grasp of the main, political institutions is essential to the understanding of the Kula. All departments of tribal life, religion, magic, economics are interwoven, but the social organisation of the tribe lies at the foundation of everything else. Thus it is essential to bear in mind that the Trobriands form one cultural unit, speaking the same language, having the same institutions, obeying the same laws and regulations, swayed by the same beliefs and conventions. The districts just enumerated, into which the Trobriands are subdivided, are distinct politically and not culturally; that is, each of them comprises the same kind of natives, only obeying or at least acknowledging their own chief, having their own interests and pursuits, and in case of war each fighting their own fight.

Again, within each district, the several village communities have each a great deal of independence. A village community is represented by a headman, its members make their gardens in one block and under the guidance of their own garden magician; they carry on their own feasts and ceremonial arrangements, mourn their dead in common, and perform, in remembrance of their departed ones, an endless series of food distributions. In all big affairs, whether of the district or of the tribe, members of a village community keep together, and act in one group.


Right across the political and local divisions cut the totemic clans, each having a series of linked totems, with a bird as principal one. The members of these four clans are scattered over the whole tribe of Boyowa, and in each village community, members of all four are to be found, and even in every house, there are at least two classes represented, since a husband must be of a different clan from his wife and children. There is a certain amount of solidarity within the clan, based on the very vague feeling of communal affinity to the totem birds and animals, but much more on the many social duties, such as the performance of certain ceremonies, especially the mortuary ones, which band the members of a clan together. But real solidarity obtains only between members of a sub-clan. A sub-clan is a local division of a clan, whose members claim common ancestry, and hence real identity of bodily substance, and also are attached to the locality where their ancestors emerged. It is to these sub-clans that the idea of a definite rank attaches. One of the totemic clans, the Malasi, includes the most aristocratic sub-clan, the Tabalu, as well as the lowest one, the local division of the Malasi in Bwoytalu. A chief of the Tabalu feels very insulted if it is ever hinted that he is akin to one of the stingaree-eaters of the unclean village, although they are Malasi like himself. The principle of rank attached to totemic divisions is to be met only in Trobriand sociology; it is entirely foreign to all the other Papuo-Melanesian tribes.

As regards kinship, the main thing to be remembered is that the natives are matrilineal, and that the succession of rank, membership in all the social groups, and the inheritance of possessions descend in the maternal line. The mother's brother is considered the real guardian of a boy, and there is a series of mutual duties and obligations, which establish a very close and important relation between the two. The real kinship, the real identity of substance is considered to exist only between a man and his mother's relations. In the first rank of these, his brothers and sisters are specially near to him. For his sister or sisters he has to work as soon as they are grown up and married. But, in spite of that, a most rigorous taboo exists between them, beginning quite early in life. No man would joke and talk freely in the presence of his sister, or even look at her. The slightest allusion to the sexual affairs, whether illicit or matrimonial, of a brother or sister in the presence of the other, is the deadliest insult and mortification. When a man approaches a group of people where his sister is talking, either she withdraws or he turns away.

The father's relation to his children is remarkable. Physiological fatherhood is unknown, and no tie of kinship or relationship is supposed to exist between father and child, except that between a mother's husband and the wife's child. Nevertheless, the father is by far the nearest and most affectionate friend of his children. In ever so many cases, I could observe that when a child, a young boy or girl, was in trouble or sick; when there was a question of some one exposing himself to difficulties or danger for the child's sake, it was always the father who worried, who would undergo all the hardships needed, and never the maternal uncle. This state of things is quite clearly recognised, and explicitly put into words by the natives. In matters of inheritance and handing over of possessions, a man always shows the tendency to do as much for his children as he is able, considering his obligations to his sister's family.

It is difficult, in one phrase or two, to epitomise the distinction between the two relations, that between a boy and his maternal uncle, and that between a son and a father. The best way to put it shortly might be by saying that the maternal uncle's position of close relation is regarded as right by law and usage, whereas the father's interest and affection for his children are due to sentiment, and to the intimate personal relations existing between them. He has watched the children grow up, he has assisted the mother in many of the small and tender cares given to an infant, he has carried the child about, and given it such education as it gets from watching the elder ones at work, and gradually joining in. In matters of inheritance, the father gives the children all that he can, and gives it freely and with pleasure; the maternal uncle gives under the compulsion of custom what he cannot withhold and keep for his own children.


A few more words must be said about some of the magico-religious ideas of the Trobrianders. The main thing that struck me in connection with their belief in the spirits of the dead, was that they are almost completely devoid of any fear of ghosts, of any of these uncanny feelings with which we face the idea of a possible return of the dead. All the fears and dreads of the natives are reserved for black magic, flying witches, malevolent disease-bringing beings, but above all for sorcerers and witches. The spirits migrate immediately after death to the island of Tuma, lying in the North-West of Boyowa, and there they exist for another span of time, underground, say some, on the surface of the earth, though invisible, say others. They return to visit their own villages once a year, and take part in the big annual feast, milamala, where they receive offerings. Sometimes, at this season, they show themselves to the living, who are, however, not alarmed by it, and in general the spirits do not influence human beings very much, for better or worse. In a number of magical formulae, there is an invocation of ancestral spirits, and they receive offerings in several rites. But there is nothing of the mutual interaction, of the intimate collaboration between man and spirit which are the essence of religious cult.

On the other hand, magic, the attempt of man to govern the forces of nature directly, by means of a special lore, is all-pervading, and all-important in the Trobriands. Sorcery and garden magic have already been mentioned. Here it must suffice to add, that everything that vitally affects the native is accompanied by magic. All economic activities have their magic; love, welfare of babies, talents and crafts, beauty and agility — all can be fostered or frustrated by magic. In dealing with the Kula — a pursuit of immense importance to the natives, and playing on almost all their social passions and ambitions — we shall meet with another system of magic, and we shall have then to go more into detail about the subject in general.

Disease, health, or death are also the result of magic or counter-magic. The Trobrianders have a very complex and very definite set of theoretical views on these matters. Good health is primarily of course the natural, normal state. Minor ills may be contracted by exposure, over-eating, over-strain, bad food, or other ordinary causes. Such ailments never last, and have never any really bad effects, nor are they of immediate danger. But, if a man sickens for any length of time, and his strength seems to be really sapped, then the evil forces are at work. By far the most prevalent form of black magic, is that of the bwaga'u, that is the black sorcerer, of whom there are a number in each district. Usually even in each village there are one or two men more or less dreaded as bwaga'u. To be one does not require any special initiation except the knowledge of the spells. To learn these that is, to learn them in such a manner as to become an acknowledged bwaga'u — can only be done by means of high payment, or in exceptional circumstances. Thus, a father will often „give” his sorcery to his son, always, however, without payment; or a commoner will teach it to a man of rank, or a man to his sister's son. In these two latter cases a very high payment would have to be given. It is important as a characteristic of the kinship conditions of this people, that a man — receives sorcery gratis from his father, who according to the traditional kinship system is no blood-relation, whereas he has to pay for it to his maternal uncle, whose natural heir he is.

When a man has acquired the black art, he applies it to a first victim, and this has always to be some one of his own family. It is a firm and definite belief among all the natives that if a man's sorcery has to be any good, it must first be practised on his mother or sister, or any of his maternal kindred. Such a matricidal act makes him a genuine bwaga'u. His art then can be practised on others, and becomes an established source of income.

The beliefs about sorcery are complex; they differ according as to whether taken from a real sorcerer, or from an outsider; and there are also evidently strata of belief, due perhaps to local variation, perhaps to superimposed versions. Here a short summary must suffice.

When a sorcerer wants to attack someone, the first step is to cast a light spell over his habitual haunts, a spell which will affect him with a slight illness and compel him to keep to his bed in his house, where he will try to cure himself by lying over a small fire and warming his body. His first ailment, called kaynagola, comprises pains in the body, such as (speaking from our point of view) would be brought about by rheumatism, general cold, influenza, or any incipient disease. When the victim is in bed, with a fire burning under him, and also, as a rule, one in the middle of the hut, the bwaga'u stealthily approaches the house. He is accompanied by a few nightbirds, owls and night-jars, which keep guard over him, and he is surrounded by a halo of legendary terrors which make all natives shiver at the idea of meeting a sorcerer on such a nocturnal visit. He then tries to insert through the thatch wall a bunch of herbs impregnated with some deadly charm and tied to a long stick, and these he attempts to thrust into the fire over which the sick man is lying. If he succeeds, the fumes of the burnt leaves will be inhaled by the victim, whose name has been uttered in the charm, and he will be seized by one or other of the deadly diseases of which the natives have a long list, with a definite symptomatology, as well as a magical etiology. Thus the preliminary sorcery was necessary, in order to keep the victim to his house, in which spot only can the mortal magic be performed.

Of course, the sick man is on the defensive as well. First of all, his friends and relatives this is one of the main duties of the wife's brothers will keep a close watch over him, sitting with spears round the hut, and at all approaches to it. Often have I come across such vigils, when walking late at night through some village. Then, the services of some rival bwaga'u are invoked (for the art of killing and curing is always in the same hand), and he utters counter-spells, so that at times the efforts of the first sorcerer, even should he succeed in burning the herbs according to the dreaded toginivayu rite, are fruitless.

Should this be so, he resorts to the final and most fatal rite, that of the pointing-bone. Uttering powerful spells, the bwaga'u and one or two accomplices boil some coco-nut oil in a small pot, far away in a dense patch of jungle. Leaves of herbs are soaked in the oil, and then wrapped round a sharp stingaree spine, or some similar pointed object, and the final incantation, most deadly of all, is chanted over it. Then the bwaga'u steals towards the village, catches sight of his victim, and hiding himself behind a shrub or house, points the magical dagger at him. In fact, he violently and viciously turns it round in the air, as if to stab the victim, and to twist and wrench the point in the wound. This, if carried out properly, and not counteracted by a still more powerful magician, will never fail to kill a man.

I have here summarised the bare outlines of the successive application of black magic as it is believed by sorcerer and outsider alike to be done, and to act in producing disease and death. There can be no doubt that the acts of sorcery are really carried out by those who believe themselves to possess the black powers. It is equally certain that the nervous strain of knowing one's life to be threatened by a bwaga'u is very great, and probably it is much worse when a man knows that behind the sorcerer stands the might of the chief and this apprehension certainly contributes powerfully towards the success of black magic. On the other hand, a chief, if attacked, would have a good guard to protect him, and the most powerful wizards to back him up, and also the authority to deal directly with anyone suspected of plotting against him. Thus sorcery, which is one of the means of carrying on the established order, is in its turn strengthened by it.

If we remember that, as in all belief in the miraculous and supernatural, so also here, there is the loophole of counterforces, and of the sorcery being incorrectly or inefficiently applied, spoilt by broken taboos, mispronounced spells, or what not; again, that suggestion strongly influences the victim, and undermines his natural resistance; further that all disease is invariably traced back to some sorcerer or other, who, whether it is true or not, often frankly admits his responsibility in order to enhance his reputation, there is then no difficulty in understanding why the belief in black magic flourishes, why no empirical evidence can ever dispel it, and why the sorcerer, no less than the victim, has confidence in his own powers. At least, the difficulty is the same as in explaining many contemporary examples of results achieved by miracles and faith healing, such as Christian Science or Lourdes, or in any cure by prayers and devotion.

Although by far the most important of them all, the bwaga'u is only one among the beings who can cause disease and death. The often-mentioned flying-witches, who come always from the Southern half of the island, or from the East, from the islands of Kitava, Iwa, Gava, or Murua, are even more deadly. All very rapid and violent diseases, more especially such as show no direct, perceptible symptoms, are attributed to the mulukwausi, as they are called. Invisible, they fly through the air, and perch on trees, house-tops, and other high places. From there, they pounce upon a man or woman and remove and hide „the inside”, that is, the lungs, heart and guts, or the brains and tongue. Such a victim will die within a day or two, unless another witch, called for the purpose and well paid, goes in search and restores the missing „inside”. Of course, sometimes it is too late to do it, as the meal has been eaten in the meantime! Then the victim must die.

Another powerful agency of death consists of the tauva'u, non-human though anthropomorphic beings, who cause all epidemic disease. When, at the end of the rainy season the new and unripe yams have come in, and dysentery rages, decimating the villages; or, when in hot and damp years an infectious disease passes over the district, taking heavy toll, this means that the tauva'u have come from the South, and that, invisible, they march through the villages, rattling their lime gourds, and with their sword-clubs or sticks hitting their victims, who immediately sicken and die. The tauva'u can, at will, assume the shape of man or reptile. He appears then as a snake, or crab, or lizard, and you recognise him at once, for he will not run away from you, and he has as a rule a patch of some gaudy colour on his skin. It would be a fatal thing to kill such a reptile. On the contrary, it has to be taken up cautiously and treated as a chief; that is to say, it is placed on a high platform, and some of the valuable tokens of wealth — a polished green stone blade, or a pair of arm-shells, or a necklace of spondylus shell beads must be put before it as an offering.

It is very interesting to note that the tauva'u are believed to come from the Northern coast of Normanby Island, from the district of Du'a'u, and more especially from a place called Sewatupa. This is the very place where, according to Dobuan belief and myth, their sorcery originated. Thus, what to the local tribes of the originating place is ordinary sorcery, practised by men, becomes, when looked at from a great distance, and from an alien tribe, a non-human agency, endowed with such super-normal powers as changing of shape, invisibility, and a direct, infallible method of inflicting death.

The tauva'u have sometimes sexual intercourse with women; several present cases are on record, and such women who have a familar tauva'u become dangerous witches, though how they practise their witchcraft is not quite clear to the natives.

A much less dangerous being is the tokway, a wood sprite, living in trees and rocks, stealing crops from the field and from the yam-houses, and inflicting slight ailments. Some men in the past have acquired the knowledge of how to do this from the tokway, and have handed it on to their descendants.

So we see that, except for the very light ailments which pass quickly and easily, all disease is attributed to sorcery. Even accidents are not believed to happen without cause. That this is the case also with drowning, we shall learn more in detail, when we have to follow the Trobrianders in their dangerous sea-trips. Natural death, caused by old age, is admittedly possible, but when I asked in several concrete cases, in which age was obviously the cause, why such and such a man died, I was always told that a bwaga'u was at the back of it. Only suicide and death in battle have a different place in the mind of the natives, and this is also confirmed by the belief that people killed in war, those that commit suicide, and those who are bewitched to death have, each class, their own way to the other world.

This sketch of Trobriand tribal life, belief and customs must suffice, and we shall still have opportunities of enlarging upon these subjects that most matter to us for the present study.


Two more districts remain to be mentioned, through which the Kula trade passes on its circuit, before it returns to the place from where we started. One of them is the Eastern portion of the Northern Massim, comprising the Marshall Bennett Islands (Kitava, Iwa, Gawa, Kwayawata), and Woodlark Island (Murua), with the small group of Nada Islands. The other district is that of St. Aignan Island, called by the natives Masima, or Misima, with the smaller island Panayati.

Looking from the rocky shores of Boyowa, at its narrowest point, we can see over the white breakers on the fringing reef and over the sea, here always blue and limpid, the silhouette of a flat-topped, low rock, almost due East. This is Kitava. To the Trobrianders of the Eastern districts, this island and those behind it are the promised land of the Kula, just as Dobu is to the natives of Southern Boyowa. But here, unlike in the South, they have to deal with tribesmen who speak their own language, with dialectic differences only, and who have very much the same institutions and customs. In fact, the nearest island, Kitava, differs only very little from the Trobriands. Although the more distant islands, especially Murua, have a slightly different form of totemism, with hardly any idea of rank attached to the sub-clans, and consequently no chieftainship in the Trobriand sense, yet their social organisation is also much the same as in the Western province. I know the natives only from having seen them very frequently and in great numbers in the Trobriands, where they come on Kula expeditions. In Murua, however, I spent a short time doing field work in the village of Dikoyas. In appearance, dress, ornaments and manners, the natives are indistinguishable from the Trobrianders. Their ideas and customs in matters of sex, marriage, and kinship are, with variations in detail only, the same as in Boyowa. In beliefs and mythology, they also belong to the same culture.

To the Trobrianders, the Eastern islands are also the chief home and stronghold of the dreaded mulukwausi (flying witches); the land whence love magic came, originating in the island of Iwa; the distant shores towards which the mythical hero Tudava sailed, performing many feats, till he finally disappeared, no one knows where. The most recent version is that he most likely finished his career in the white man's country. To the Eastern islands, says native belief, the spirits of the dead, killed by sorcery, go round on a short visit not stopping there, only floating through the air like clouds, before they turn round to the North-West to Tuma.

From these islands, many important products come to Boyowa (the Trobriands), but none half as important as the tough, homogeneous green-stone, from which all their implements were made in the past, and of which the ceremonial axes are made up till now. Some of these places are renowned for their yam gardens, especially Kitava, and it is recognised that the best carving in black ebony comes from there. The most important point of difference between the natives of this district and the Trobrianders, lies in the method of mortuary distributions, to which subject we shall have to return in a later part of the book, as it is closely connected with Kula.

From Murua (Woodlark Island) the Kula track curves over to the South in two different branches, one direct to Tubetube, and the other to Misima, and thence to Tubetube and Wari. The district of Misima is almost entirely unknown to me — I have only spoken once or twice with natives of this island, and there is not, to my knowledge, any reliable published information about that district, so we shall have to pass it over with a very few words. This is, however, not so alarming, because it is certain, even from the little I know about them, that the natives do not essentially differ from the other Massim. They are totemic and matrilineal; there is no chieftainship, and the form of authority is the same as in the Southern Massim. Their sorcerers and witches resemble those of the Southern Massim and Dobuans. In industries, they specialise in canoe-building, and in the small island of Panayati produce the same type of craft as the natives of Gawa and Woodlark Island, slightly different only from the Trobriand canoe. In the island of Misima, a very big supply of areca (betel) nut is produced, as there is a custom of planting a number of these nuts after a man's death.

The small islands of Tubetube and Wari, which form the final link of the Kula, lie already within the district of the Southern Massim. In fact, the island of Tubetube is one of the places studied in detail by Professor Seligman, and its ethnographical description is one of three parallel monographs which form the division of the Southern Massim in the treatise so often quoted.

Finally, I want to point out again that the descriptions of the various Kula districts given in this and in the previous chapter, though accurate in every detail, are not meant to be an exhaustive ethnographic sketch of the tribes. They have been given with a few light touches in order to produce a vivid and so-to-speak personal impression of the various type of natives, and countries and of cultures. If I have succeeded in giving a physiognomy to each of the various tribes, to the Trobrianders, to the Amphlettans, the Dobuans, and the Southern Massim, and in arousing some interest in them, the main purpose has been achieved, and the necessary ethnographic background for the Kula has been supplied.

Chapter III. The essentials of the Kula

I — A concise definition of the Kula. II — Its economic character. III — The articles exchanged; the conception of vaygu'a. IV — The main rules and aspects of the Kula: the sociological aspect (partnership); direction of movement; nature of Kula ownership; the differential and integral effect of these rules. V — The act of exchange; its regulations; the light it throws on the acquisitive and „communistic” tendencies of the natives; its concrete outlines; the sollicitory gifts. VI — The associated activities and the secondary aspects of the Kula: construction of canoes; subsidiary trade — their true relation to the Kula; the ceremonial, mythology and magic associated with the Kula; the mortuary taboos and distributions, in their relation to the Kula.


Having thus described the scene, and the actors, let us now proceed to the performance. The Kula is a form of exchange, of extensive, inter-tribal character; it is carried on by communities inhabiting a wide ring of islands, which form a closed circuit. This circuit can be seen on Map V, where it is represented by the lines joining a number of islands to the North and East of the East end of New Guinea. Along this route, articles of two kinds, and these two kinds only, are constantly travelling in opposite directions. In the direction of the hands of a clock, moves constantly one of these kinds long necklaces of red shell, called soulava (Plates XVIII and XIX). In the opposite direction moves the other kind bracelets of white shell called mwali (Plates XVI and XVII). Each of these articles, as it travels in its own direction on the closed circuit, meets on its way articles of the other class, and is constantly being exchanged for them. Every movement of the Kula articles, every detail of the transactions is fixed and regulated by a set of traditional rules and conventions, and some acts of the Kula are accompanied by an elaborate magical ritual and public ceremonies.

On every island and in every village, a more or less limited number of men take part in the Kula that is to say, receive the goods, hold them for a short time, and then pass them on. Therefore every man who is in the Kula, periodically though not regularly, receives one or several mwali (arm-shells), or a soulava (necklace of red shell discs), and then has to hand it on to one of his partners, from whom he receives the opposite commodity in exchange. Thus no man ever keeps any of the articles for any length of time in his possession. One transaction does not finish the Kula relationship, the rule being „once in the Kula, always in the Kula”, and a partnership between two men is a permanent and lifelong affair. Again, any given mwali or soulava may always be found travelling and changing hands, and there is no question of its ever settling down, so that the principle „once in the Kula, always in the Kula” applies also to the valuables themselves.

The ceremonial exchange of the two articles is the main, the fundamental aspect of the Kula. But associated with it, and done under its cover, we find a great number of secondary activities and features. Thus, side by side with the ritual exchange of arm-shells and necklaces, the natives carry on ordinary trade, bartering from one island to another a great number of utilities, often unprocurable in the district to which they are imported, and indispensable there. Further, there are other activities, preliminary to the Kula, or associated with it, such as the building of sea-going canoes for the expeditions, certain big forms of mortuary ceremonies, and preparatory taboos.

The Kula is thus an extremely big and complex institution, both in its geographical extent, and in the manifoldness of its component pursuits. It welds together a condiderable number of tribes, and it embraces a vast complex of activities, interconnected, and playing into one another, so as to form one organic whole.

Yet it must be remembered that what appears to us an extensive, complicated, and yet well ordered institution is the outcome of ever so many doings and pursuits, carried on by savages, who have no laws or aims or charters definitely laid down. They have no knowledge of the total outline of any of their social structure. They know their own motives, know the purpose of individual actions and the rules which apply to them, but how, out of these, the whole collective institution shapes, this is beyond their mental range. Not even the most intelligent native has any clear idea of the Kula as a big, organised social construction, still less of its sociological function and implications. If you were to ask him what the Kula is, he would answer by giving a few details, most likely by giving his personal experiences and subjective views on the Kula, but nothing approaching the definition just given here. Not even a partial coherent account could be obtained. For the integral picture does not exist in his mind; he is in it, and cannot see the whole from the outside.

The integration of all the details observed, the achievement of a sociological synthesis of all the various, relevant symptoms, is the task of the Ethnographer. First of all, he has to find out that certain activities, which at first sight might appear incoherent and not correlated, have a meaning. He then has to find out what is constant and relevant in these activities, and what accidental and inessential, that is, to find out the laws and rules of all the transactions. Again, the Ethnographer has to construct the picture of the big institution, very much as the physicist constructs his theory from the experimental data, which always have been within reach of everybody, but which needed a consistent interpretation. I have touched on this point of method in the Introduction (Divisions V and VI), but I have repeated it here, as it is necessary to grasp it clearly in order not to lose the right perspective of conditions as they really exist among the natives.


In giving the above abstract and concise definition, I had to reverse the order of research, as this is done in ethnographic field-work, where the most generalised inferences are obtained as the result of long inquiries and laborious inductions. The general definition of the Kula will serve as a sort of plan or diagram in our further concrete and detailed descriptions. And this is the more necessary as the Kula is concerned with the exchange of wealth and utilities, and therefore it is an economic institution, and there is no other aspect of primitive life where our knowledge is more scanty and our understanding more superficial than in Economics. Hence misconception is rampant, and it is necessary to clear the ground when approaching any economic subject.

Thus in the Introduction we called the Kula a „form of trade” and we ranged it alongside other systems of barter. This is quite correct, if we give the word „trade” a sufficiently wide interpretation, and mean by it any exchange of goods. But the word „trade” is used in current Ethnography and economic literature with so many different implications that a whole lot of misleading, preconceived ideas have to be brushed aside in order to grasp the facts correctly. Thus the aprioric current notion of primitive trade would be that of an exchange of indispensable or useful articles, done without much ceremony or regulation, under stress of dearth or need, in spasmodic, irregular intervals — and this done either by direct barter, everyone looking out sharply not to be done out of his due, or, if the savages were too timid and distrustful to face one another, by some customary arrangement, securing by means of heavy penalties compliance in the obligations incurred or imposed. Waiving for the present the question how far this conception is valid or not in general — in my opinion it is quite misleading — we have to realise clearly that the Kula contradicts in almost every point the above definition of „savage trade”. It shows to us primitive exchange in an entirely different light.

The Kula is not a surreptitious and precarious form of exchange. It is, quite on the contrary, rooted in myth, backed by traditional law, and surrounded with magical rites. All its main transactions are public and ceremonial, and carried out according to definite rules. It is not done on the spur of the moment, but happens periodically, at dates settled in advance, and it is carried on along definite trade routes, which must lead to fixed trysting places. Sociologically, though transacted between tribes differing in language, culture, and probably even in race, it is based on a fixed and permanent status, on a partnership which binds into couples some thousands of individuals. This partnership is a lifelong relationship, it implies various mutual duties and privileges, and constitutes a type of inter-tribal relationship on an enormous scale. As to the economic mechanism of the transactions, this is based on a specific form of credit, which implies a high degree of mutual trust and commercial honour — and this refers also to the subsidiary, minor trade, which accompanies the Kula proper. Finally, the Kula is not done under stress of any need, since its main aim is to exchange articles which are of no practical use.

From the concise definition of Kula given at the beginning of this chapter, we see that in its final essence, divested of all trappings and accessories, it is a very simple affair, which at first sight might even appear tame and unromantic. After all, it only consists of an exchange, interminably repeated, of two articles intended for ornamentation, but not even used for that to any extent. Yet this simple action — this passing from hand to hand of two meaningless and quite useless objects — has somehow succeeded in becoming the foundation of a big inter-tribal institution, in being associated with ever so many other activities. Myth, magic and tradition have built up around it definite ritual and ceremonial forms, have given it a halo of romance and value in the minds of the natives, have indeed created a passion in their hearts for this simple exchange.

The definition of the Kula must now be amplified, and we must describe one after the other its fundamental characteristics and main rules, so that it may be clearly grasped by what mechanism the mere exchange of two articles results in an institution so vast, complex, and deeply rooted.


First of all, a few words must be said about the two principal objects of exchange, the arm-shells (mwali) and the necklaces (soulava). The arm-shells are obtained by breaking off the top and the narrow end of a big, cone-shaped shell (Conus millepunctatus), and then polishing up the remaining ring. These bracelets are highly coveted by all the Papuo-Melanesians of New Guinea, and they spread even into the pure Papuan district of the Gulf. The manner of wearing the arm-shells is illustrated by Plate XVII, where the men have put them on on purpose to be photographed.

The use of the small discs of red spondylus shell, out of which the soulava are made, is also of a very wide diffusion. There is a manufacturing centre of them in one of the villages in Port Moresby, and also in several places in Eastern New Guinea, notably in Rossell Island, and in the Trobriands. I have said „use” on purpose here, because these small beads, each of them a flat, round disc with a hole in the centre, coloured anything from muddy brown to carmine red, are employed in various ways for ornamentation. They are most generally used as part of earrings, made of rings of turtle shell, which are attached to the ear lobe, and from which hang a cluster of the shell discs. These earrings are very much worn, and, especially among the Massim, you see them on the ears of every second man or woman, while others are satisfied with turtle shell alone, unornamented with the shell discs. Another everyday ornament, frequently met with and worn, especially by young girls and boys, consists of a short necklace, just encircling the neck, made of the red spondylus discs, with one or more cowrie shell pendants. These shell discs can be, and often are, used in the make-up of the various classes of the more elaborate ornaments, worn on festive occasions only. Here, however, we are more especially concerned with the very long necklaces, measuring from two to five metres, made of spondylus discs, of which there are two main varieties, one, much the finer, with a big shell pendant, the other made of bigger discs, and with a few cowrie shells or black banana seeds in the centre (see Plate XVIII).

The arm-shells on the one hand, and the long spondylus shell strings on the other, the two main Kula articles, are primarily ornaments. As such, they are used with the most elaborate dancing dress only, and on very festive occasions such as big ceremonial dances, great feasts, and big gatherings, where several villages are represented, as can be seen in Plate VI. Never could they be used as everyday ornaments, nor on occasions of minor importance, such as a small dance in the village, a harvest gathering, a love-making expedition, when facial painting, floral decoration and smaller though not quite everyday ornaments are worn (see Plates XII and XIII). But even though usable and sometimes used, this is not the main function of these articles. Thus, a chief may have several shell strings in his possession, and a few arm-shells. Supposing that a big dance is held in his or in a neighbouring village, he will not put on his ornaments himself if he goes to assist at it, unless he intends to dance and decorate himself, but any of his relatives, his children or his friends and even vassals, can have the use of them for the asking. If you go to a feast or a dance where there are a number of men wearing such ornaments, and ask anyone of them at random to whom it belongs, the chances are that more than half of them will answer that they themselves are not the owners, but that they had the articles lent to them. These objects are not owned in order to be used; the privilege of decorating oneself with them is not the real aim of possession.

Indeed — and this is more significant — by far the greater number of the arm-shells, easily ninety per cent, are of too small a size to be worn even by young boys and girls. A few are so big and valuable that they would not be worn at all, except once in a decade by a very important man on a very festive day. Though all the shell-strings can be worn, some of them are again considered too valuable, and are cumbersome for frequent use, and would be worn on very exceptional occasions only.

This negative description leaves us with the questions: why, then, are these objects valued, what purpose do they serve? The full answer to this question will emerge out of the whole story contained in the following chapters, but an approximate idea must be given at once. As it is always better to approach the unknown through the known, let us consider for a moment whether among ourselves we have not some type of objects which play a similar role and which are used and possessed in the same manner. When, after a six years' absence in the South Seas and Australia, I returned to Europe and did my first bit of sight-seeing in Edinburgh Castle, I was shown the Crown jewels. The keeper told many stories of how they were worn by this or that king or queen on such and such occasion, of how some of them had been taken over to London, to the great and just indignation of the whole Scottish nation, how they were restored, and how now everyone can be pleased, since they are safe under lock and key, and no one can touch them. As I was looking at them and thinking how ugly, useless, ungainly, even tawdry they were, I had the feeling that something similar had been told to me of late, and that I had seen many other objects of this sort, which made a similar impression on me.

And then arose before me the vision of a native village on coral soil, ond a small, rickety platform temporarily erected under a pandanus thatch, surrounded by a number of brown, naked men, and one of them showing me long, thin red strings, and big, white, worn-out objects, clumsy to sight and greasy to touch. With reverence he also would name them, and tell their history, and by whom and when they were worn, and how they changed hands, and how their temporary possession was a great sign of the importance and glory of the village. The analogy between the European and the Trobriand vaygu'a (valuables) must be delimited with more precision. The Crown Jewels, in fact, any heirlooms too valuable and too cumbersome to be worn, represent the same type as vaygu'a in that they are merely possessed for the sake of possession itself, and the ownership of them with the ensuing renown is the main source of their value. Also both heirlooms and vaygu'a are cherished because of the historical sentiment which surrounds them. However ugly, useless, and — according to current standards — valueless an object may be, if it has figured in historical scenes and passed through the hands of historic persons, and is therefore an unfailing vehicle of important sentimental associations, it cannot but be precious to us. This historic sentimentalism, which indeed has a large share in our general interest in studies of past events, exists also in the South Seas. Every really good Kula article has its individual name, round each there is a sort of history and romance in the traditions of the natives. Crown jewels or heirlooms are insignia of rank and symbols of wealth respectively, and in olden days with us, and in New Guinea up till a few years ago, both rank and wealth went together. The main point of difference is that the Kula goods are only in possession for a time, whereas the European treasure must be permanently owned in order to have full value.

Taking a broader, ethnological view of the question, we may class the Kula valuables among the many „ceremonial” objects of wealth; enormous, carved and decorated weapons, stone implements, articles of domestic and industrial nature, too well decorated and too clumsy for use. Such things are usually called „ceremonial”, but this word seems to cover a great number of meanings and much that has no meaning at all. In fact, very often, especially on museum labels, an article is called „ceremonial” simply because nothing is known about its uses and general nature. Speaking only about museum exhibits from New Guinea, I can say that many so-called ceremonial objects are nothing but simply overgrown objects of use, which preciousness of material and amount of labour expended have transformed into reservoirs of condensed economic value. Again, others are used on festive occasions, but play no part whatever in rites and ceremonies, and serve for decoration only, and these might be called objects of parade (comp. Chap VI, Div. I). Finally, a number of these articles function actually as instruments of a magical or religious rite, and belong to the intrinsic apparatus of a ceremony. Such and such only could be correctly called ceremonial. During the So'i feasts among the Southern Massim, women carrying polished axe blades in fine carved handles, accompany with a rythmic step to the beat of drums, the entry of the pigs and mango saplings into the village (see Plates V and VI). As this is part of the ceremony and the axes are an indispensable accessory, their use in this case can be legitimately called „ceremonial”. Again, in certain magical ceremonies in the Trobriands, the towosi (garden magician) has to carry a mounted axe blade on his shoulders, and with it he delivers a ritual blow at a kamkokola structure (see Plate LIX; compare Chapter II, Division IV).

The vaygu'a — the Kula valuables — in one of their aspects are overgrown objects of use. They are also, however, ceremonial objects in the narrow and correct sense of the word. This will become clear after perusal of the following pages, and to this point we shall return in the last chapter.

It must be kept in mind that here we are trying to obtain a clear and vivid idea of what the Kula valuables are to the natives, and not to give a detailed and circumstantial description of them, nor to define them with precision. The comparison with the European heirlooms or Crown jewels was given in order to show that this type of ownership is not entirely a fantastic South Sea custom, untranslatable into our ideas. For — and this is a point I want to stress — the comparison I have made is not based on purely external, superficial similarity. The psychological and sociological forces at work are the same, it is really the same mental attitude which makes us value our heirlooms, and makes the natives in New Guinea value their vaygu'a.


The exchange of these two classes of vaygu'a, of the armshells and the necklaces, constitutes the main act of the Kula. This exchange is not done freely, right and left, as opportunity offers, and where the whim leads. It is subject indeed to strict limitations and regulations. One of these refers to the sociology of the exchange, and entails that Kula transactions can be done only between partners. A man who is in the Kula — for not everyone within its district is entitled to carry it on — has only a limited number of people with whom he does it. This partnership is entered upon in a definite manner, under fulfilment of certain formalities, and it constitutes a life-long relationship. The number of partners a man has varies with his rank and importance. A commoner in the Trobriands would have a few partners only, whereas a chief would number hundreds of them. There is no special social mechanism to limit the partnership of some people and extend that of the others, but a man would naturally know to what number of partners he was entitled by his rank and position. And there would be always the example of his immediate ancestors to guide him. In other tribes, where the distinction of rank is not so pronounced, an old man of standing, or a headman of a hamlet or village would also have hundreds of Kula associates, whereas a man of minor importance would have but few.

Two Kula partners have to kula with one another, and exchange other gifts incidentally; they behave as friends, and have a number of mutual duties and obligations, which vary with the distance between their villages and with their reciprocal status. An average man has a few partners near by, as a rule his relations-in-law or his friends, and with these partners, he is generally on very friendly terms. The Kula partnership is one of the special bonds which unite two men into one of the standing relations of mutual exchange of gifts and services so characteristic of these natives. Again, the average man will have one or two chiefs in his or in the neighbouring districts with whom he kulas. In such a case, he would be bound to assist and serve them in various ways, ani to offer them the pick of his vaygu'a when he gets a fresh supply. On the other hand he would expect them to be specially liberal to htm.

The overseas partner is, on the other hand, a host, patron and ally in a land of danger and insecurity. Nowadays, though the feeling of danger still persists, and natives never feel safe and comfortable in a strange district, this danger is rather felt as a magical one, and it is more the fear of foreign sorcery that besets them. In olden days, more tangible dangers were apprehended, and the partner was the main guarantee of safety. He also provides with food, gives presents, and his house, though never used to sleep in, is the place in which to foregather while in the village. Thus the Kula partnership provides every man within its ring with a few friends near at hand, and with some friendly allies in the far-away, dangerous, foreign districts. These are the only people with whom he can kula, but, of course, amongst all his partners, he is free to choose to which one he will offer which object.

Let us now try to cast a broad glance at the cumulative effects of the rules of partnership. We see that all around the ring of Kula there is a network of relationships, and that naturally the whole forms one interwoven fabric. Men living at hundreds of miles' sailing distance from one another are bound together by direct or intermediate partnership, exchange with each other, know of each other, and on certain occasions meet in a large intertribal gathering (Plate XX). Objects given by one, in time reach some very distant indirect partner or other, and not only Kula objects, but various articles of domestic use and minor gifts. It is easy to see that in the long run, not only objects of material culture, but also customs, songs, art motives and general cultural influences travel along the Kula route. It is a vast, inter-tribal net of relationships, a big institution, consisting of thousands of men, all bound together by one common passion for Kula exchange, and secondarily, by many minor ties and interests.

Returning again to the personal aspect of the Kula, let us take a concrete example, that of an average man who lives, let us assume, in the village of Sinaketa, an important Kula centre in the Southern Trobriands. He has a few partners, near and far, but they again fall into categories, those who give him arm-shells, and those who give him necklaces. For it is naturally an invariable rule of the Kula that arm-shells and necklaces are never received from the same man, since they must travel in different directions. If one partner gives the armshells, and I return to him a necklace, all future operations have to be of the same type. More than that, the nature of the operation between me, the man of Sinaketa, and my partner, is determined by our relative positions with regard to the points of the compass. Thus I, in Sinaketa, would receive from the North and East only arm-shells; from the South and West, necklaces are given to me. If I have a near partner next door to me, if his abode is North or East of mine, he will always be giving me arm-shells and receiving necklaces from me. If, at a later time he were to shift his residence within the village, the old relationship would obtain, but if he became a member of another village community on the other side of me, the relationship would be reversed. The partners in villages to the North of Sinaketa, in the district of Luba, Kulumata, or Kiriwina all supply me with arm-shells. These I hand over to my partners in the South, and receive from them necklaces. The South in this case means the southern districts of Boyowa, as well as the Amphletts and Dobu.

Thus every man has to obey definite rules as to the geographical direction of his transactions. At any point in the Kula ring, if we imagine him turned towards the centre of the circle, he receives the arm-shells with his left hand, and the necklaces with his right, and then hands them both on. In other words, he constantly passes the arm-shells from left to right, and the necklaces from right to left.

Applying this rule of personal conduct to the whole Kula ring, we can see at once what the aggregate result is. The sum total of exchanges will not result in an aimless shifting of the two classes of article, in a fortuitous come and go of the armshells and necklaces. Two continuous streams will constantly flow on, the one of necklaces following the hands of a clock, and the other, composed of the arm-shells, in the opposite direction. We see thus that it is quite correct to speak of the circular exchange of the Kula, of a ring or circuit of moving articles (comp. Map V). On this ring, all the villages are placed in a definitely fixed position with regard to one another, so that one is always on either the arm-shell or on the necklace side of the other.

Now we pass to another rule of the Kula, of the greatest importance. As just explained, the armshells and shellstrings always travel in their own respective directions on the ring, and they are never, under any circumstances, traded back in the wrong direction. Also, they never stop. It seems almost incredible at first, but it is the fact, nevertheless, that no one ever keeps any of the Kula valuables for any length of time. Indeed, in the whole of the Trobriands there are perhaps only one or two specially fine armshells and shell-necklaces permanently owned as heirlooms, and these are set apart as a special class, and are once and for all out of the Kula. 'Ownership', therefore, in Kula, is quite a special economic relation. A man who is in the Kula never keeps any article for longer than, say, a year or two. Even this exposes him to the reproach of being niggardly, and certain districts have the bad reputation of being 'slow' and 'hard' in the Kula. On the other hand, each man has an enormous number of articles passing through his hands during his life time, of which he enjoys a temporary possession, and which he keeps in trust for a time. This possession hardly ever makes him use the articles, and he remains under the obligation soon again to hand them on to one of his partners. But the temporary ownership allows him to draw a great deal of renown, to exhibit his article, to tell how he obtained it, and to plan to whom he is going to give it. And all this forms one of the favourite subjects of tribal conversation and gossip, in which the feats and the glory in Kula of chiefs or commoners are constantly discussed and re-discussed Thus every article moves in one direction only, never comes back, never permanently stops, and takes as a rule some two to ten years to make the round.

This feature of the Kula is perhaps its most remarkable one, since it creates a new type of ownership, and places the two Kula articles in a class of their own. Here we can return to the comparison drawn between the vaygu'a (Kiriwinian valuables) and the European heirlooms. This comparison broke down on one point: in the European objects of this class, permanent ownership, lasting association with the hereditary dignity or rank or with a family, is one of its main features. In this the Kula articles differ from heirlooms, but resemble another type of valued object, that is, trophies, gauges of superiority, sporting cups, objects which are kept for a time only by the winning party, whether a group or an individual. Though held only in trust, only for a period, though never used in any utilitarian way, yet the holders get from them a special type of pleasure by the mere fact of owning them, of being entitled to them. Here again, it is not only a superficial, external resemblance, but very much the same mental attitude, favoured by similar social arrangements. The resemblance goes so far that in the Kula there exists also the element of pride in merit, an element which forms the main ingredient in the pleasure felt by a man or group holding a trophy. Success in Kula is ascribed to special, personal power, due mainly to magic, and men are very proud of it. Again, the whole community glories in a specially fine Kula trophy, obtained by one of its members.

All the rules so far enumerated — looking at them from the individual point of view — limit the social range and the direction of the transactions as well as the duration of ownership of the articles. Looking at them from the point of view of their integral effect, they shape the general outline of the Kula, give it the character of the double-closed circuit. Now a few words must be said about the nature of each individual transaction, in so far as its commercial technicalities are concerned. Here very definite rules also obtain.


The main principle underlying the regulations of actual exchange is that the Kula consists in the bestowing of a ceremonial gift, which has to be repaid by an equivalent counter-gift after a lapse of time, be it a few hours or even minutes, though sometimes as much as a year or more may elapse between payments. But it can never be exchanged from hand to hand, with the equivalence between the two objects discussed, bargained about and computed. The decorum of the Kula transaction is strictly kept, and highly valued. The natives sharply distinguish it from barter, which they practise extensively, of which they have a clear idea, and for which they have a settled term in Kiriwinian: gimwali. Often, when criticising an incorrect, too hasty, or indecorous procedure of Kula, they will say: „He conducts his Kula as if it were gimwali”.

The second very important principle is that the equivalence of the counter-gift is left to the giver, and it cannot be enforced by any kind of coercion. A partner who has received a Kula gift is expected to give back fair and full value, that is, to give as good an arm-shell as the necklace he receives, or vice versa. Again, a very fine article must be replaced by one of equivalent value, and not by several minor ones, though intermediate gifts may be given to mark time before the real repayment takes place.

If the article given as counter-gift is not equivalent, the recipient will be disappointed and angry, but he has no direct means of redress, no means of coercing his partner, or of putting an end to the whole transaction. What then are the forces at work which keep the partners to the terms of the bargain? Here we come up against a very important feature of the native's mental attitude towards wealth and value. The great misconception of attributing to the savage a pure economic nature, might lead us to reason incorrectly thus: „The passion of acquiring, the loathing to lose or give away, is the fundamental and most primitive element in man's attitude to wealth. In primitive man, this primitive characteristic will appear in its simplest and purest form Grab and never let go will be the guiding principle of his life. The fundamental error in this reasoning is that it assumes that „primitive man”, as represented by the present-day savage, lives, at least in economic matters, untrammelled by conventions and social restrictions. Quite the reverse is the case. Although, like every human being, the Kula native loves to possess and therefore desires to acquire and dreads to lose, the social code of rules, with regard to give and take by far overrides his natural acquisitive tendency.

This social code, such as we find it among the natives of the Kula is, however, far from weakening the natural desirability of possession; on the contrary, it lays down that to possess is to be great, and that wealth is the indispensable appanage of social rank and attribute of personal virtue. But the important point is that with them to possess is to give and here the natives differ from us notably. A man who owns a thing is naturally expected to share it, to distribute it, to be its trustee and dispenser. And the higher the rank, the greater the obligation. A chief will naturally be expected to give food to any stranger, visitor, even loiterer from another end of the village. He will be expected to share any of the betel-nut or tobacco he has about him. So that a man of rank will have to hide away any surplus of these articles which he wants to preserve for his further use. In the Eastern end of New Guinea a type of large basket, with three layers, manufactured in the Trobriands, was specially popular among people of consequence, because one could hide away one's small treasures in the lower compartments. Thus the main symptom of being powerful is to be wealthy, and of wealth is to be generous. Meanness, indeed, is the most despised vice, and the only thing about which the natives have strong moral views, while generosity is the essence of goodness.

This moral injunction and ensuing habit of generosity, superficially observed and misinterpreted, is responsible for another wide-spread misconception, that of the primitive communism of savages. This, quite as much as the diametrically opposed figment of the acquisitive and ruthlessly tenacious native, is definitely erroneous, and this will be seen with sufficient clearness in the following chapters.

Thus the fundamental principle of the natives' moral code in this matter makes a man do his fair share in Kula transaction and the more important he is, the more will he desire to shine by his generosity. Noblesse oblige is in reality the social norm regulating their conduct. This does not mean that people are always satisfied, and that there are no squabbles about the transactions, no resentments and even feuds. It is obvious that, however much a man may want to give a good equivalent for the object received, he may not be able to do so. And then, as there is always a keen competition to be the most generous giver, a man who has received less than he gave will not keep his grievance to himself, but will brag about his own generosity and compare it to his partners meanness; the other resents it, and the quarrel is ready to break out. But it is very important to realise that there is no actual haggling, no tendency to do a man out of his share. The giver is quite as keen as the receiver that the gift should be generous, though for different reasons. Then, of course, there is the important consideration that a man who is fair and generous in the Kula will attract a larger stream to himself than a mean one.

The two main principles, namely, first that the Kula is a gift repaid after an interval of time by a counter-gift, and not a bartering; and second, that the equivalent rests with the giver, and cannot be enforced, nor can there be any haggling or going back on the exchange — these underlie all the transactions. A concrete outline of how they are carried on, will give a sufficient preliminary idea.

„Let us suppose that I, a Sinaketa man, am in possession of a pair of big armshells. An overseas expedition from Dobu in the d'Entrecasteaux Archipelago, arrives at my village. Blowing a conch shell, I take my armshell pair and I offer it to my overseas partner, with some such words as „This is a vaga (opening gift) — in due time, thou returnest to me a big soulava (necklace) for it!” Next year, when I visit my partner's village, he either is in possession of an equivalent necklace, and this he gives to me as yotile (return gift), or he has not a necklace good enough to repay my last gift. In this case he will give me a small necklace — avowedly not equivalent to my gift — and he will give it to me as basi (intermediary gift). This means that the main gift has to be repaid on a future occasion, and the basi is given in token of good faith but it, in turn, must be repaid by me in the meantime by a gift of small arm-shells. The final gift, which will be given to me to clinch the whole transaction, would then be called kudu (clinching gift) in contrast to basi” (loc. cit., p. 99).

Although haggling and bargaining are completely ruled out of the Kula, there are customary and regulated ways of bidding for a piece of vaygu'a known to be in the possession of one's partner. This is done by the offer of what we shall call solicitary gifts, of which there are several types. „If I, an inhabitant of Sinaketa, happen to be in possession of a pair of arm-shells more than usually good, the fame of it spreads, for it must be remembered that each one of the first-class armshells and necklaces has a personal name and a history of its own, and as they circulate around the big ring of the Kula, they are all well known, and their appearance in a given district always creates a sensation. Now, all my partners whether from overseas or from within the district compete for the favour of receiving this particular article of mine, and those who are specially keen try to obtain it by giving me pokala (offerings) and kaributu (solicitary gifts). The former (pokala) consist as a rule of pigs, especially fine bananas, and yams or taro; the latter (kaributu) are of greater value: the valuable, large axe-blades (called beku), or lime spoons of whale bone are given” (loc. cit, p. 100). The further complication in the repayment of these solicitary gifts and a few more technicalities and technical expressions connected herewith will be given later on in Chapter IV.


I have enumerated the main rules of the Kula in a manner sufficient for a preliminary definition, and now a few words must be said about the associated activities and secondary aspects of the Kula. If we realise that at times the exchange has to take place between districts divided by dangerous seas, over which a great number of people have to travel by sail, and do so keeping to appointed dates, it becomes clear at once that considerable preparations are necessary to carry out the expedition. Many preliminary activities are intimately associated with the Kula. Such are, particularly, the building of canoes, preparation of the outfit, the provisioning of the expedition, the fixing of dates and social organisation of the enterprise. All these are subsidiary to the Kula, and as they are carried on in pursuit of it, and form one connected series, a description of the Kula must embrace an account of these preliminary activities. The detailed account of canoe building, of the ceremonial attached to it, of the incidental magical rites, of the launching and trial run, of the associated customs which aim at preparing the outfit — all this will be described in detail in the next few chapters.

Another important pursuit inextricably bound up with the Kula, is that of the secondary trade. Voyaging to far-off countries, endowed with natural resources unknown in their own homes, the Kula sailors return each time richly laden with these, the spoils of their enterprise. Again, in order to be able to offer presents to his partner, every outward bound canoe carries a cargo of such things as are known to be most desirable in the overseas district. Some of this is given away in presents to the partners, but a good deal is carried in order to pay for the objects desired at home. In certain cases, the visiting natives exploit on their own account during the journey some of the natural resources overseas. For example, the Sinaketans dive for the spondylus in Sanaroa Lagoon, and the Dobuans fish in the Trobriands on a beach on the southern end of the island. The secondary trade is complicated still more by the fact that such big Kula centres as, for instance, Sinaketa, are not efficient in any of the industries of special value to the Dobuans. Thus, Sinaketans have to procure the necessary store of goods from the inland villages of Kuboma, and this they do on minor trading expeditions preliminary to the Kula. Like the canoe-building, the secondary trading will be described in detail later on, and has only to be mentioned here.

Here, however, these subsidiary and associated activities must be put in proper relation with regard to one another and to the main transaction. Both the canoe-building and the ordinary trade have been spoken of as secondary or subsidiary to the Kula proper. This requires a comment. I do not, by thus subordinating the two things in importance to the Kula, mean to express a philosophical reflection or a personal opinion as to the relative value of these pursuits from the point of view of some social teleology. Indeed, it is clear that if we look at the acts from the outside, as comparative sociologists, and gauge their real utility, trade and canoe-building will appear to us as the really important achievements, whereas we shall regard the Kula only as an indirect stimulus, impelling the natives to sail and to trade. Here, however, I am not dealing in sociological, but in pure ethnographical description, and any sociological analysis I have given is only what has been absolutely indispensable to clear away misconceptions and to define terms.

By ranging the Kula as the primary and chief activity, and the rest as secondary ones, I mean that this precedence is implied in the institutions themselves. By studying the behaviour of the natives and all the customs in question, we see that the Kula is in all respects the main aim: the dates are fixed, the preliminaries settled, the expeditions arranged, the social organisation determined, not with regard to trade, but with regard to Kula. On an expedition, the big ceremonial feast, held at the start, refers to the Kula; the final ceremony of reckoning and counting the spoil refers to Kula, not to the objects of trade obtained. Finally, the magic, which is one of the main factors of all the procedure, refers only to the Kula, and this applies even to a part of the magic carried out over the canoe. Some rites in the whole cycle are done for the sake of the canoe itself, and others for the sake of Kula. The construction of the canoes is always carried on directly in connection with a Kula expedition. All this, of course, will become really clear and convincing only after the detailed account is given. But it was necessary at this point to set the right perspective in the relation between the main Kula and the trade.

Of course not only many of the surrounding tribes who know nothing of the Kula do build canoes and sail far and daringly on trading expeditions, but even within the Kula ring, in the Trobriands for instance, there are several villages who do not kula, yet have canoes and carry on energetic overseas trade. But where the Kula is practised, it governs all the other allied activities, and canoe building and trade are made subsidiary to it. And this is expressed both by the nature of the institutions and the working of all the arrangements on the one hand, and by the behaviour and explicit statements of the natives on the other.

The Kula — it becomes, I hope, more and more clear — is a big, complicated institution, insignificant though its nucleus might appear. To the natives, it represents one of the most vital interests in life, and as such it has a ceremonial character and is surrounded by magic. We can well imagine that articles of wealth might pass from hand to hand without ceremony or ritual, but in the Kula they never do. Even when at times only small parties in one or two canoes sail overseas and bring back vaygu'a, certain taboos are observed, and a customary course is taken in departing, in sailing, and in arriving; even the smallest expedition in one canoe is a tribal event of some importance, known and spoken of over the whole district. But the characteristic expedition is one in which a considerable number of canoes take part, organised in a certain manner, and forming one body. Feasts, distributions of food, and other public ceremonies are held, there is one leader and master of the expedition, and various rules are adhered to, in addition to the ordinary Kula taboos and observances.

The ceremonial nature of the Kula is strictly bound up with another of its aspects — magic. „The belief in the efficiency of magic dominates the Kula, as it does ever so many other tribal activities of the natives. Magical rites must be performed over the sea-going canoe when it is built, in order to make it swift, steady and safe; also magic is done over a canoe to make it lucky in the Kula. Another system of magical rites is done in order to avert the dangers of sailing. The third system of magic connected with overseas expeditions is the mwasila or the Kula magic proper. This system 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” (loc. cit., p. 100).

It is clear that an institution so closely associated with magical and ceremonial elements, as is the Kula, not only rests on a firm, traditional foundation, but also has its large store of legends. „There is a rich mythology of the Kula, in which stories are told about far-off times when mythical ancestors sailed on distant and daring expeditions. Owing to their magical knowledge they were able to escape dangers, to conquer their enemies, to surmount obstacles, and by their feats they established many a precedent which is now closely followed by tribal custom. But their importance for their descendants lies mainly in the fact that they handed on their magic, and this made the Kula possible for the following generations” (loc. cit., p. 100).

The Kula is also associated in certain districts, to which the Trobriands do not belong, with the mortuary feasts, called so'i. The association is interesting and important, and in Chapter XX an account of it will be given.

The big Kula expeditions are carried on by a great number of natives, a whole district together. But the geographical limits, from which the members of an expedition are recruited, are well defined. Glancing at Map V, „we see a number of circles, each of which represents a certain sociological unit which we shall call a Kula community. A Kula community consists of a village or a number of villages, who go out together on big overseas expeditions, and who act as a body in the Kula transactions, perform their magic in common, have common leaders, and have the same outer and inner social sphere, within which they exchange their valuables. The Kula consists, therefore, first of the small, internal transactions within a Kula community or contiguous communities, and secondly, of the big over-seas expeditions in which the exchange of articles takes place between two communities divided by sea. In the first, there is a chronic, permanent trickling of articles from one village to another, and even within the village. In the second, a whole lot of valuables, amounting to over a thousand articles at a time, are exchanged in one enormous transaction, or, more correctly, in ever so many transactions taking place simultaneously” (loc. cit., p. 101). „The Kula trade consists of a series of such periodical overseas expeditions, which link together the various island groups, and annually bring over big quantities of vaygu'a and of subsidiary trade from one district to another. The trade is used and used up, but the vaygu'a — the armshells and necklets — go round and round the ring” (loc. cit. , p. 105).

In this chapter, a short, summary definition of the Kula has been given. I enumerated one after the other its most salient features, the most remarkable rules as they are laid down in native custom, belief and behaviour. This was necessary in order to give a general idea of the institution before describing its working in detail. But no abridged definition can give to the reader the full understanding of a human social institution. It is necessary for this, to explain its working concretely, to bring the reader into contact with the people, show how they proceed at each successive stage, and to describe all the actual manifestations of the general rules laid down in abstract.

As has been said above, the Kula exchange is carried on by enterprises of two sorts; first there are the big overseas expeditions, in which a more or less considerable amount of valuables are carried at one time. Then there is the inland trade in which the articles are passed from hand to hand, often changing several owners before they move a few miles.

The big overseas expeditions are by far the more spectacular part of the Kula. They also contain much more public ceremonial, magical ritual, and customary usage. They require also, of course, more of preparation and preliminary activity. I shall therefore have a good deal more to say about the overseas Kula expeditions than about the internal exchange.

As the Kula customs and beliefs have been mainly studied in Boyowa, that is, the Trobriand Islands, and from the Boyowan point of view, I shall describe, in the first place, the typical course of an overseas expedition, as it is prepared, organised, and carried out from the Trobriands. Beginning with the construction of the canoes, proceeding to the ceremonial launching and the visits of formal presentation of canoes, we shall choose then the community of Sinaketa, and follow the natives on one of their overseas trips, describing it in all details. This will serve us as a type of a Kula expedition to distant lands. It will then be indicated in what particulars such expeditions may differ in other branches of the Kula, and for this purpose I shall describe an expedition from Dobu, and one between Kiriwina and Kitava. An account of inland Kula in the Trobriands, of some associated forms of trading and of Kula in the remaining branches will complete the account.

In the next chapter I pass, therefore, to the preliminary stages of the Kula, in the Trobriands, beginning with a description of the canoes.

Chapter IV. Canoes and sailing

I — The value and importance of a canoe to a native. Its appearance, the impressions and emotions it arouses in those who use or own it. The atmosphere of romance which surrounds it for the native. II — Analysis of its construction, in relation to its function. The three types of canoes in the Trobriand Islands. III--V Sociology of a large canoe (masawa). III—(A) — Social organisation of labour in constructing a canoe; the division of functions; the magical regulation of work. IV—(B) — Sociology of canoe ownership; the toli-relationship; the toliwaga, „master” or „owner” of a canoe; the four privileges and functions of a toliwaga. V—(C) — The social division of functions in manning and sailing a canoe. Statistical data about the Trobriand shipping.


A canoe is an item of material culture, and as such it can be described, photographed and even bodily transported into a museum. But — and this is a truth too often overlooked — the ethnographic reality of the canoe would not be brought much nearer to a student at home, even by placing a perfect specimen right before him.

The canoe is made for a certain use, and with a definite purpose; it is a means to an end, and we, who study native life, must not reverse this relation, and make a fetish of the object itself. In the study of the economic purposes for which a canoe is made, of the various uses to which it is submitted, we find the first approach to a deeper ethnographic treatment. Further sociological data, referring to its ownership, accounts of who sails in it, and how it is done; information regarding the ceremonies and customs of its construction, a sort of typical life history of a native craft all that brings us nearer still to the understanding of what his canoe truly means to the native.

Even this, however, does not touch the most vital reality of a native canoe. For a craft, whether of bark or wood, iron or steel, lives in the life of its sailors, and it is more to a sailor than a mere bit of shaped matter. To the native, not less than to the white seaman, a craft is surrounded by an atmosphere of romance, built up of tradition and of personal experience. It is an object of cult and admiration, a living thing, possessing its own individuality.

We Europeans — whether we know native craft by experience or through descriptions — accustomed to our extraordinarily developed means of water transport, are apt to look down on a native canoe and see it in a false perspective — regarding it almost as a child's plaything, an abortive, imperfect attempt to tackle the problem of sailing, which we ourselves have satisfactorily solved. But to the native his cumbersome, sprawling canoe is a marvellous, almost miraculous achievement, and a thing of beauty (see Plates XXI, XXIII, XL, XLVII, LV). He has spun a tradition around it, and he adorns it with his best carvings, he colours and decorates it. It is to him a powerful contrivance for the mastery of Nature, which allows him to cross perilous seas to distant places. It is associated with journeys by sail, full of threatening dangers, of living hopes and desires to which he gives expression in song and story. In short, in the tradition of the natives, in their customs, in their behaviour, and in their direct statements, there can be found the deep love, the admiration, the specific attachment as to something alive and personal, so characteristic of the sailors' attitude towards his craft.

And it is in this emotional attitude of the natives towards their canoes that I see the deepest ethnographic reality, which must guide us right through the study of other aspects — the customs and technicalities of construction and of use; the economic conditions and the associated beliefs and traditions. Ethnology or Anthropology, the science of Man, must not shun him in his innermost self, in his instinctive and emotional life.

A look at the pictures (for instance Plates XXI, XXIV, XXXIX, or XLVII) will give us some idea of the general structure of the native canoes: the body is a long, deep well, connected with an outrigger float, which stretches parallel with the body for almost all its length (see Plates XXI and XXIII), and with a platform going across from one side to the other. The lightness of the material permits it to be much more deeply immersed than any sea-going European craft, and gives it greater buoyancy. It skims the surface, gliding up and down the waves, now hidden by the crests, now riding on top of them. It is a precarious but delightful sensation to sit in the slender body, while the canoe darts on with the float raised, the platform steeply slanting, and water constantly breaking over; or else, still better, to perch on the platform or on the float — the latter only feasible in the bigger canoes — and be carried across on the sea on a sort of suspended raft, gliding over the waves in a manner almost uncanny. Occasionally a wave leaps up and above the platform, and the canoe — unwieldy, square raft as it seems at first — heaves lengthways and crossways, mounting the furrows with graceful agility. When the sail is hoisted, its heavy, stiff folds of golden matting unroll with a characteristic swishing and crackling noise, and the canoe begins to make way; when the water rushes away below with a hiss, and the yellow sail glows against the intense blue of sea and sky — then indeed the romance of sailing seems to open through a new vista.

The natural reflection on this description is that it presents the feelings of the Ethnographer, not those of the native. Indeed there is a great difficulty in disentangling our own sensations from a correct reading of the innermost native mind. But if an investigator, speaking the native's language and living among them for some time, were to try to share and understand their feelings, he will find that he can gauge them correctly. Soon he will learn to distinguish when the native's behaviour is in harmony with his own, and when, as it sometimes happens, the two are at variance.

Thus, in this case, there is no mistaking the natives' great admiration of a good canoe; of their quickness in appreciating differences in speed, buoyancy and stability, and of their emotional reaction to such difference. When, on a calm day, suddenly a fresh breeze rises, the sail is set, and fills, and the canoe lifts its lamina (outrigger float) out of the water, and races along, flinging the spray to right and left — there is no mistaking the keen enjoyment of the natives. All rush to their posts and keenly watch the movements of the boat; some break out into song, and the younger men lean over and play with the water. They are never tired of discussing the good points of their canoes, and analysing the various craft. In the coastal villages of the Lagoon, boys and young men will often sail out in small canoes on mere pleasure cruises, when they race each other, explore less familiar nooks of the Lagoon, and in general undoubtedly enjoy the outing, in just the same manner as we would do.

Seen from outside, after you have grasped its construction and appreciated through personal experience its fitness for its purpose, the canoe is no less attractive and full of character than from within. When, on a trading expedition or as a visiting party, a fleet of native canoes appears in the offing, with their triangular sails like butterfly wings scattered over the water (see Plates XLVIII), with the harmonious calls of conch shells blown in unison, the effect is unforgettable. When the canoes then approach, and you see them rocking in the blue water in all the splendour of their fresh white, red, and black paint, with their finely designed prowboards, and clanking array of large, white cowrie shells (see Plates XLIX, LV) — you understand well the admiring love which results in all this care bestowed by the native on the decoration of his canoe.

Even when not in actual use, when lying idle beached on the sea front of a village, the canoe is a characteristic element in the scenery, not without its share in the village life. The very big canoes are in some cases housed in large sheds (see Plate XXII), which are by far the largest buildings erected by the Trobrianders. In other villages, where sailing is always being done, a canoe is simply covered with palm leaves (see Plates I, LIII), as protection from the sun, and the natives often sit on its platform, chatting, and chewing betel-nut, and gazing at the sea. The smaller canoes, beached near the sea-front in long parallel rows, are ready to be launched at any moment. With their curved outline and intricate framework of poles and sticks, they form one of the most characteristic settings of a native coastal village.


A few words must be said now about the technological essentials of the canoe. Here again, a simple enumeration of the various parts of the canoe, and a description of them, a pulling to pieces of a lifeless object will not satisfy us. I shall instead try to show how, given its purpose on the one hand, and the limitations in technical means and in material on the other, the native ship-builders have coped with the difficulties before them.

A sailing craft requires a water-tight, immersible vessel of some considerable volume. This is supplied to our natives by a hollowed-out log. Such a log might carry fairly heavy loads, for wood is light, and the hollowed space adds to its buoyancy. Yet it possesses no lateral stability, as can easily be seen. A look at the diagrammatic section of a canoe Fig. I (i), shows that a weight with its centre of gravity in the middle, that is, distributed symmetrically, will not upset the equilibrium, but any load placed so as to produce a momentum of rotation (that is, a turning force) at the sides (as indicated by arrows at A or B) will cause the canoe to turn round and capsize.

If, however, as shown in Fig. I (2), another smaller, solid log (C) be attached to the dug-out, a greater stability is achieved, though not a symmetrical one. If we press down the one side of the canoe (A) this will cause the canoe to turn round a longitudinal axis, so that its other side (B) is raised, Fig. I (3). The log (C) will be lifted out of the water, and its weight will produce a momentum (turning force) proportional to the displacement, and the rest of the canoe will come to equilibrium. This momentum is represented in the diagram by the arrow R. Thus a great stability relative to any stress exercised upon A, will be achieved. A stress on B causes the log to be immersed, to which its buoyancy opposes a slight resistance. But it can easily be seen that the stability on this side is much smaller than on the other. This assymetrical stability plays a great part in the technique of sailing. Thus, as we shall see, the canoe is always so sailed that its outrigger float (C) remains in the wind side. The pressure of the sail then lifts the canoe, so that A is pressed into the water, and B and C are lifted, a position in which they are extremely stable, and can stand great force of wind. Whereas the slightest breeze would cause the canoe to turn turtle, if it fell on the other side, and thus pressed B C into the water.

Another look at Fig. I (2) and (3) will help us to realise that the stability of the canoe will depend upon (i) the volume, and especially the depth of the dug-out; (ii) the distance B--C between the dug-out and the log; (iii) the size of the log C. The greater all these three magnitudes are, the greater the stability of the canoes. A shallow canoe, without much freeboard, will be easily forced into the water; moreover, if sailed in rough weather, waves will break over it, and fill it with water.

(i) The volume of the dug-out log naturally depends upon the length, and thickness of the log. Fairly stable canoes are made of simply scooped-out logs. There are limits, however, to the capacity of these, which are very soon reached. But by building out the side, by adding one or several planks to them, as shown in Figure I (4), the volume and the depth can be greatly increased without much increase in weight. So that such a canoe has a good deal of freeboard to prevent water from breaking in. The longitudinal boards in Kiriwinian canoes are closed in at each end by transversal prow-boards, which are also carved with more or less perfection (see Plates XXIV c, XLVII).

(ii) The greater the distance B--C between dug-out and outrigger float, the greater the stability of the canoe. Since the momentum of rotation is the product of B--C (Fig. I), and the weight of the log C, it is clear, therefore, that the greater the distance, the greater will be the momentum. Too great a distance, however, would interfere with the wieldiness of the canoe. Any force acting on the log would easily tip the canoe, and as the natives, in order to manage the craft, have to walk upon the outrigger, the distance B--C must not be too great. In the Trobriands the distance B--C is about one-quarter, or less, of the total length of the canoe. In the big, sea-going canoes, it is always covered with a platform. In certain other districts, the distance is much bigger, and the canoes have another type of rigging.

(iii) The size of the log (C) of which the float is formed. This, in sea-going canoes, is usually of considerable dimensions. But, as a solid piece of wood becomes heavy if soaked by water, too thick a log would not be good.

These are all the essentials of construction in their functional aspect, which will make clear further descriptions of sailing, of building, and of using. For, indeed, though I have said that technicalities are of secondary importance, still without grasping them, we cannot understand references to the managing and rigging of the canoes.

The Trobrianders use their craft for three main purposes, and these correspond to the three types of canoe. Coastal transport, especially in the Lagoon, requires small, light, handy canoes called kewo'u (see Fig. II (i), and Plates XXIV, top foreground, and XXXVI, to the right); for fishing, bigger and more seaworthy canoes called kalipoulo (see Fig. II (2), and Plates XXIV, and XXXVI, to the left, also XXXVII) are used; finally, for deep sea sailing, the biggest type is needed, with a considerable carrying capacity, greater displacement, and stronger construction. These are called masawa (see Fig. II (3) and Plates XXI, XXIII, etc. ). The word waga is a general designation for ail kinds of sailing craft.

Only a few words need to be said about the first two types, so as to make, by means of comparison, the third type clearer. The construction of the smallest canoes is sufficiently illustrated by the diagram (i) in Fig. II. From this it is clear that it is a simple dug-out log, connected with a float. It never has any built-up planking, and no carved boards, nor as a rule any platform. In its economic aspect, it is always owned by one individual, and serves his personal needs. No mythology or magic is attached to it.

Type (2), as can be seen in Fig. II (2), differs in construction from (i), in so far that it has its well enclosed by built-out planking and carved prow-boards. A framework of six ribs helps to keep the planks firmly attached to the dug-out and to hold them together. It is used in fishing villages. These villages are organised into several fishing detachments, each with a headman. He is the owner of the canoe, he performs the fish magic, and among other privileges, obtains the main yield of fish. But all his crew de facto have the right to use the canoe and share in the yield. Here we come across the fact that native ownership is not a simple institution, since it implies definite rights of a number of men, combined with the paramount right and title of one. There is a good deal of fishing magic, taboos and customs connected with the construction of these canoes, and also with their use, and they form the subject of a number of minor myths.

By far the most elaborate technically, the most seaworthy and carefully built, are the sea-going canoes of the third type (see Fig. II (3)). These are undoubtedly the greatest achievement of craftsmanship of these natives. Technically, they differ from the previously described kinds, in the amount of time spent over their construction and the care given to details, rather than in essentials. The well is formed by a planking built over a hollowed log and closed up at both ends by carved, transversal prow-boards, kept in position by others, longitudinal and of oval form. The whole planking remains in place by means of ribs, as in the second type of canoes, the kalipoulo, the fishing canoes, but all the parts are finished and fitted much more perfectly, lashed with a better creeper, and more thoroughly caulked. The carving, which in the fishing canoes is often quite indifferent, here is perfect. Ownership of these canoes is even more complex, and its construction is permeated with tribal customs, ceremonial, and magic, the last based on mythology. The magic is always performed in direct association with Kula expeditions.


After having thus spoken about, first, the general impression made by a canoe and its psychological import, and then about the fundamental features of its technology, we have to turn to the social implications of a masawa (sea-going canoe).

The canoe is constructed by a group of people, it is owned, used and enjoyed communally, and this is done according to definite rules. There is therefore a social organisation underlying the building, the owning, and the sailing of a canoe. Under these three headings, we shall give an outline of the canoe's sociology, always bearing in mind that these outlines have to be filled in in the subsequent account.

(A) Social organisation of labour in constructing a Canoe.

In studying the construction of a canoe, we see the natives engaged in an economic enterprise on a big scale. Technical difficulties face them, which require knowledge, and can only be overcome by a continuous, systematic effort, and at certain stages must be met by means of communal labour. All this obviously implies some social organisation. All the stages of work, at which various people have to co-operate, must be co-ordinated, there must be someone in authority who takes the initiative and gives decisions; and there must be also someone with a technical capacity, who directs the construction. Finally, in Kiriwina, communal labour, and the services of experts have to be paid for, and there must be someone who has the means and is prepared to do it. This economic organisation rests on two fundamental facts — (i) the sociological differentiation of functions, and (2) the magical regulation of work.

(1) The sociological differentiation of functions. — First of all there is the owner of the canoe, that is, the chief, or the headman of a village or of a smaller sub-division, who takes the responsibility for the undertaking. He pays for the work, engages the expert, gives orders, and commands communal labour.

Besides the owner, there is next another office of great sociological importance, namely, that of the expert. He is the man who knows how to construct the canoe, how to do the carvings, and, last, not least, how to perform the magic. All these functions of the expert may be, but not necessarily are, united in one person. The owner is always one individual, but there may be two or even three experts.

Finally, the third sociological factor in canoe-building, consists of the workers. And here there is a further division. First there is a smaller group, consisting of the relations and close friends of the owner or of the expert, who help throughout the whole process of construction; and, secondly, there is, besides them, the main body of villagers, who take part in the work at those stages where communal labour is necessary.

(2) The magical regulation of work. — The belief in the efficiency of magic is supreme among the natives of Boyowa, and they associate it with all their vital concerns. In fact, we shall find magic interwoven into all the many industrial and communal activities to be described later on, as well as associated with every pursuit where either danger or chance conspicuously enter. We shall have to describe, besides the magic of canoe-making, that of propitious sailing, of shipwreck and salvage, of Kula and of trade, of fishing, of obtaining spondylus and Conus shell, and of protection against attack in foreign parts. It is imperative that we should thoroughly grasp what magic means to the natives and the rôle it plays in all their vital pursuits, and a special chapter will be devoted to magical ideas and magical practices in Kiriwina. Here, however, it is necessary to sketch the main outlines, at least as far as canoe magic is concerned.

First of all, it must be realised that the natives firmly believe in the value of magic, and that this conviction, when put to the test of their actions, is quite unwavering, even nowadays when so much of native belief and custom has been undermined. We may speak of the sociological weight of tradition, that is of the degree to which the behaviour of a community is affected by the traditional commands of tribal law and customs. In the Trobriands, the general injunction for always building canoes under the guidance of magic is obeyed without the slightest deviation, for the tradition here weighs very heavily. Up to the present, not one single masawa canoe has been constructed without magic, indeed without the full observance of all the rites and ceremonial. The forces that keep the natives to their traditional course of behaviour are, in the first place, the specific social inertia which obtains in all human societies and is the basis of all conservative tendencies, and then the strong conviction that if the traditional course were not taken, evil results would ensue. In the case of canoes, the Trobrianders would be so firmly persuaded that a canoe built without magic would be unseaworthy, slow in sailing, and unlucky in the Kula, that no one would dream of omitting the magic rites.

In the myths related elsewhere (Chap. XII) we shall see plainly the power ascribed to magic in imparting speed and other qualities to a canoe. According to native mythology, which is literally accepted, and strongly believed, canoes could be even made to fly, had not the necessary magic fallen into oblivion.

It is also important to understand rightly the natives' ideas about the relation between magical efficiency and the results of craftsmanship. Both are considered indispensable, but both are understood to act independently. That is, the natives will understand that magic, however efficient, will not make up for bad workmanship. Each of these two has its own province: the builder by his skill and knowledge makes the canoe stable and swift, and magic gives it an additional stability and swiftness. If a canoe is obviously badly built, the natives will know why it sails slowly and is unwieldy. But if one of two canoes, both apparently equally well constructed, surpasses the other in some respect, this will be attributed to magic.

Finally, speaking from a sociological point of view, what is the economic function of magic in the process of canoe making? Is it simply an extraneous action, having nothing to do with the real work or its organisation? Is magic, from the economic point of view, a mere waste of time? By no means. In reading the account which follows, it will be seen clearly that magic puts order and sequence into the various activities, and that it and its associated ceremonial are instrumental in securing the co-operation of the community, and the organisation of communal labour. As has been said before, it inspires the builders with great confidence in the efficiency of their work, a mental state essential in any enterprise of complicated and difficult character. The belief that the magician is a man endowed with special powers, controling the canoe, makes him a natural leader whose command is obeyed, who can fix dates, apportion work, and keep the worker up to the mark.

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