Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea

Topics: Papua New Guinea, Trobriand Islands, Milne Bay Province Pages: 7 (2182 words) Published: November 9, 2013
The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea

The Trobrianders are a cultural group living in the Trobriand Islands located just off the eastern coast of Papua New Guinea in the Solomon Sea. The Trobriands consist of four major islands: Kiriwina, Kitava, Vakuta, and Kaileuna (Ember, 2001). Kiriwina is the largest island of the four, and currently has a population of approximately 12,000 people inhabiting 60 villages (Weiner, 1988, pg 11). With 900 other languages spoken in Papua New Guinea, it is not uncommon for villagers to speak multiple languages. The most common one in the Trobriand Islands, however, is Kilivila, which is spoken in 5 dialects (Weiner, 1988). Many races inhabit Papua New Guinea; some are tall while some are short, many are frizzy-haired while others have straight, and while several have dark skin, numerous have lighter toned skin (Malinowski, 1932). The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea are a fascinating group of many unique rituals, practices, customs and symbolisms of power.

The Trobriand Islands have been referred to as “one of anthropologies most sacred places” by several anthropologists (Weiner, 1988, pg 1). The two primary anthropologists to this nation are arguably Bronislaw Malinowski and Annette Weiner. Malinowski explained that he lived in the Trobriand Islands for numerous years, making three expeditions to the islands during 1914 and 1920 (Young, 2004). He focused mainly on the activities of the male Trobrianders, observing the way they went about fulfilling their daily tasks (Gordon, 2011). One method Malinowski used to study the men and become one with the natives was by separating himself from the other white men and instead, spending the majority of his time with the villagers (Malinowski, 1932). Malinowski also learned that being an ethnographer does not mean to only observe, but to “put aside [the] camera, notebook, and pencil, and to join in himself in what is going on” (Malinowski, 1932, pg 60). This way, the Trobrianders viewed him less as just a ‘white man’ or a ‘celebrity’, but as an equal. He watched as they performed their rituals, customs and ceremonies (mainly the “kula”) throughout these years (Young, 2004). Contrasting Malinowski’s work which illustrated a larger interest in gaining perspective from the males of the group, Weiner drew her attention mainly on the women; on their value and power in their social system (Myers, 1997). Following Malinowski’s work, Weiner took five expeditions to the Trobriand Islands from 1971-1981, spending 22 months there in total (Weiner, 1976). Weiner focused primarily on the role the females played in the family as well as their participation and expression of wealth during mortuary ceremonies (Myers, 1997).

The Trobrianders’ unique culture is recognized by their stern eating etiquette, their great hospitality, and the regular sharing of betel nut between friends. It is not a cultural normality to eat in the presence of others in the same way sharing betel nut is sociably acceptable (Weiner, 1976). While a limited amount of exceptions occur, Trobrianders are forbidden to consume food in the presence of another individual. Instead, food will be cooked and prepared by the mothers of the family, and each member will disperse into their individual rooms to eat with oneself (Weiner, 1976). A hospitable and welcoming home is of utmost importance throughout Papua New Guinean culture. Although some families have lower income than others, it is still expected to offer what one has to whatever guest visits their home (Gordon, 2011). Frequently, home owners will give visitors coconuts, tobacco, and most commonly, betel nut. Although eating is not a sociable act, sharing and chewing betel nut is a traditional activity Trobrianders consistently engage in with one another (Gordon, 2011). The nut is combined with a piece of pepper plant and lime powder which turns a bright red colour after being chewed (the same way one would chew...

References: Ember, M., & Ember, C.R. (2001). Countries and Their Cultures: Laos to Rwanda, 3. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Gordon, R., Lyons, A.P., & Lyons, H.D. (2011). Fifty Key Anthropologists (pp 141-146). London and New York: Routledge.
Hartsock, J.M. The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. Retrieved on October 08, 2013, from
Malinowski, B. (1932). Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: George Routledge & Sons, LTD.
Myers, F. (1997). Annette Weiner: 1933-1997. New York: Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania.
Weiner, A.B. (1976). Women of Value, Men of Renown: New Perspectives in Trobriand Exchange. Austin, University of Texas Press.
Weiner, A.B. (1988). The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovaovich College College Publishers.
Young, M.W. (2004). Malinowski: Odyssey of an Anthropologist 1884-1920. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
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