Gaiyowa's grave

Doba and Death

By Luciana J. Lusso
Department of Anthropology
Durham University


From the author

         This dissertation is the result of my own work completed following a field-trip to Papua New Guinea in the summer of 1991. The material has therefore been largely gained first hand, and supported by anthropologists mentioned withing the following text.
         A total of two hour was spent with my tutor, Professor Robert Layton during which time we discussed the following: the length; the definitions of various ambiguous anthropological terms; and the presentation. As the information was already aquired, the meetings concerned the appropriate presentation of the material in both a graphical and written form.
        The total length of the dissertation is approximately 16,000 words inclusive of acknowledgements, contents, footnotes, appendices and bibliography.


        The expedition to the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea was only made possible through the efforts of many, both in Papua New Guinea and here in Britain.
        Through the strong friendship that Jutta Malnic -- a close and personal friend of mind -- has created with the people of Yalumgwa village on Kiriwina Island the primary contacts were obtained, and it is to her that I owe the most profound thanks for the trip's execution. With the much appreciated help of John Kasaipwalove, a member of the Kwainama lineage, Lukwasisiga clan and the most likely successor of Chief Nalubutau -- our host and present Chief of the clan -- formalities concerning the Institute of Papua New Guinean Studies and the issuing of my research visa were assisted and made readily possible.
        At the British end, many individuals contributed to the trip's successful termination. Firstly, the generous sponsorship by Durham University Expedition Society and the highly compact medical kit provided at exceptionally low cost by the University Medical Centre could not have been more useful. The assistance of Professor Robert Layton and Dr. Charles Gullick in briefings, as to the requirements and general expectations of a research field trip, assisted greatly in our preparations and later field research methods. The generous sponsorships gained from: Mr. R Agnew; Old Etonian Trust 1990 Fund; Mr. G Wombell; Collingwood College; Hatfield College; Henry Squire and Sons; and Sportswise 'Gregson Pack, made the trip to the Trobriands possible and it is to them that I am also highly grateful.
      Most profound thanks go to the people of the Kwainama lineage, Lukwasisiga clan, of Yalumgwa village who could not have welcomed us more sincerely and offered us a more worthwhile experience. Chief Nalubutau and his people ensured our stay was highly profitable and it is to them that the greatest appreciation and thanks are due. Thanks also to the Smedleys, who welcomed us warmly in Port Moresby, both on our primary arrival in Papua New Guinea and our departure two and a half months later.
      Throughout the trip's organization and the writing of this dissertation my parents could not have offered more support and I am eternally grateful to their faith and encouragement throughout the completion of both.    


        The trip to the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea from early-July to mid-September 1991 was conceived in my first year at Durham University and made possible by my personal contact, Jutta Malnic, who for many years has visited the Trobriand Islands as a professional photographer and friend of the people.
        The Trobriand Islands are located to the East of the most Eastern peninsular of mainland Papua New Guinea and are a part of the Milne Bay Province. During the colonial period they came to be considered part of the Massim. Since the late sixteenth century, the area has received many visitors in the form of missionaries, explorers, anthropologist and even military forces during World War II. Today, this is clearly acknowledged in the culture of the northern Massim -- the Trobriand Islands -- where I spent my ten week field trip in the summer of 1991. There are four main inhabited islands in the Trobriand group and the research period was spent entirely on the largest, Kiriwina Island, which is 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. The people are known as Melanesians, practicing subsistence cultivation in yams and sweet potato and taro. Only on ceremonial occasions is pig ever eaten, and the other source of protein is fish, which in the inland villages like Yalumgwa was not common. With the "Western" influences, today much food is derived from the island food stores so a more varied diet containing high protein is exploited.
      On departing England with my companion and fellow student, Edward Russell, I had prepared to carry out studies similar to those done by Annette Weiner, the American anthropologist who since the early 1970's has spent many years researching the importance of the women, socially, economically and politically within the Trobriand society. Having read her major work, "Women of Value,Men of Renown," I believed it to be a valid study with her research providing me with a complete grounding. It was only on arrival on Kiriwina Island that I was faced with realities which were to alter slightly the emphasis of my research.
       A month prior to our arrival, the younger brother of the Chief Nalubutau died and this meant the entire village consisting of seven hamlets (approximately 500 people) was in mourning. Due to the state of the village, my work took on a slightly different angle as not only was I able to study the methods of manufacture of doba but also the implications within the society as they were emphasised by the death of GAIYOWA.
       The methods employed to gain information were most often informal conversations in English with our hosts, Andrew, Kenneth, Jenny and other members of the village. Questions concerning the origins of women's wealth, the methods of manufacture and the translations of the mourning verse could only be obtained through more formalized interviews with the elders of the village. For such sessions dictaphones were used to record the language, and later translated by Kenneth. His patience and thoroughness allowed the stories from both male and female elders to be documented and vital information which I needed for a thorough understanding was acquired.
       The degress of Westernization was indeed surprising as prior to arrival it was believed the language would create obstacles and the living conditions would be a great novelty. The installation of the English language and culture meant that little time was wasted in adapting to the unfamiliar situation thus allowing the research to begin immediately.
       The following pages have been divided into three Sections. The first Section deals entirely with the doba, commencing with a thorough description of its origins and methods of manufacture and continuing with its importance within the Trobriand culture on both the physical and cosmological level. The second Section appears on first inspection to have little relevance to the wealth of women, however as one reads on it will become evident that the death of Gaiyowa wa the primary cause for the women, so labouriously, to involve themselves with the manufacture of doba throughout my stay. The events following Gaiyowa's death have all been documented, however it is only those at which I was present that have been detailed at length. The final Section of the disseration primarily discusses the links between the death of Gaiyowa and the production of the women's wealth and concludes in answering the question of whether the position of women and their wealth within Trobriand society will continue to exist despite the intense pressures of Westernization.


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