Review: Argonauts of the Western Pacific
by Bronislaw Malinowski
Beginning an introduction with a plan concerning how the ethnographer will go about presenting his findings, conveys much validity, strength and conviction, especially doing so in a fashion similar to the scientific method so that there is opportunity to repeat the same exact procedure and more room to test or falsify one’s convictions, to say the least. Bronislaw Malinowski does this in such a way that devotes a detailed account of his experience and psychological insight including behavior, observations, surveys, sources, and statements from the natives he studied, to name a few. Malinowski does a good job in helping to understand his experience while speaking of his first assignment in Omarakana (Trobriand Islands) on the south coast of New Guinea by asking you to imagine yourself as an amateur ethnographer who just set foot on your own journey to learning about an exotic culture completely unfamiliar to you. He demonstrates that his introduction, communication and collection of data with a foreign culture are very difficult and definitely not meant for those who are shy or introverted (Page 4 of 65). Without the distraction and opinions of other ‘white men’ like himself, Malinowski grows more comfortable with the tribes-people and his surroundings in order to be able to better learn about them.
It’s easy for me to agree with the statement that “an Ethnographer who sets out to study only religion, or only technology, or only social organization cuts out an artificial field for inquiry, and he will be seriously handicapped in his work” (page 10) because not just with the help of the author’s reasoning behind this, it seems common sense to me that one cannot truly comprehend or formulate answers to all of the questions concerning one area of a culture without studying the culture all together and being close with the natives for a long period of time so there is a better understanding of it and less chance for deficiencies and missing pieces. Just like in science, simply stated, new problems and difficulties present themselves and it takes further experimentation to possibly find an answer or conclusion. I agree it is of the utmost importance, as stated by Malinowski, to study “what concerns man most intimately, that is, the hold which life has on him.” Also very well put, “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.” (Page 25)
Malinowski begins his first chapter titled ‘The Country and Inhabitants of the Kula District’ with a map and well described layout and view of the land of New Guinea. The inhabitants he studies are those that are the accessible ones and not those that live deep inland, in the hills or near swamps. The Papuasians of the eastern peninsula of New Guinea and its archipelagoes are named Papuo-Melanesians. The Papuo-Melanesians are divided into two groups, a Western and an Eastern one, which are called the Western Papuo-Melanesians and the Massim respectively. (Page 28) Malinowski speaks of the two cultures almost synonymously because the Kula sphere of influence and the ethnographic area of the Massim tribes almost completely overlap.
Shockingly, the Northern and Southern Massim were once wild savages, cannibals at that, until the government put a stop to it (It is not said who’s government or how long ago this took place) as well as took part in raids and warfare. Malinowski goes on to paint a picture of the physical appearance of the people in the tribe as well as the village, houses, food, ornaments, canoes, tools, plants, beaches and water surrounding them. Similar to what I have personally learned in the past about many cultures,...