Ancestors in Trobriand Ritual

By Dr. Allan Darrah


        This paper is the first in a series, spanning 30 years, devoted to Thoughts on Trobriand Thoughts. It began in Jay Crain's Trobriand Seminar at CSUS in 1970 and has had three major re-writes as well as several minor ones.  The first version focused on the yam/man metaphor, which is a central theme in all of the papers.  The next version was  presented to Paul Bohannon's History of Anthropology seminar in 1970,  at which time it acquired a focus on  the relationship of the baloma to magic. In the spring of 1971 it was re-worked again and submitted to Roy Wagner at Northwestern.  In the fall and winter of 1971-72 it was re-done yet again and submitted to Victor Turner at the University of Chicago. It represents hundreds of hours of laborious combing and re-combing of the Trobriand Corpus---- the kind of research that Digital Ethnography Project's searchable database of Trobriand texts greatly simplifies. 


        Theoretical interest in magic has waned over the last thirty years as the boundaries of religion and magic have blurred.  One of the criteria which is used to distinguish between religion and magic, the participation of spiritual mediators, was popularized years ago by the works of Bronislaw Malinowski; however, a study of "magic" in the context of the total design of the Trobriand system of supernatural beliefs demonstrates the dubious value of the use of this distinction in Trobriand ethnography and raises further doubts about its general applicability.

       Malinowski set out in his fieldwork to challenge Sir James Frazer's ideas about the differences between magic and religion and ended up affirming them. (1961 73) [1]  Frazer maintained that magic involved man's direct control of natural forces for a practical end while religion involved an appeal to higher beings for intervention. (1948 19)  Malinowski's support has, no doubt, been instrumental in the continued influence of Frazer's formulation of the dichotomy.  John Middelton, as recently as 1967, distinguished magic as man's unmediated control of nature:

                 may say that the realm of magic is that in which human beings believe that

                 they may directly affect nature and each other, for good or ill, by their own efforts ...

                  as distinct from appealing to divine powers by sacrifice or prayer." (Middelton  1967 ix)

          When Levi‑Strauss suggests that "religion consists in a humanization of natural laws and magic in a naturalization of human actions", he affirms the complimentarity of the supernatural powers of men and the powers of supernatural men.  (1966 221)

          Malinowski reports finding Trobriand beliefs that ancestral spirits (baloma) participated in magical ceremonies but, he concluded, that the force of magic was in the spell which worked its effect independent of the baloma.   His conclusion that the texts which he recorded were spells rather than ritualized prayers was bolstered by his observations of the attitudes of the performers.   His early works stressed his findings that a Trobriander's interaction with his ancestors was not characterized by either great awe or fear. [2]

           The generalizations which Malinowski drew from the Trobriand emphasis on spells were soon challenged by Evans‑Pritchard who, nevertheless, supported Malinowski's conclusion that the function of magic was to fill in "a gap left by lack of knowledge in man's pragmatic pursuits". (Middelton 3) Malinowski collected and published a larger number of spells; he reports both their ritual and "pragmatic" contexts, however, in most cases his analytical insights were exhausted once he had demonstrated a metaphorical link between the practical goal of the magic and one or the other of Frazer's principles of magical logic‑‑‑similarity and contagion. (1961 432)  It was this interest in the linear "pragmatic" goal of magic which prevented Malinowski from viewing magic as part of a cyclical process; he could not see the forest for the canoe that the tree would become.

         In spite of the current interest in all things symbolic, the notion persists, perhaps as part of Malinowski's theoretical legacy, that magic is much less expressive than other forms of ritual:

                   Magical belief and practices are particularly significant in being

                   mainly instrumental, with little expressive content; by contrast, the

                   mythological and cosmological notions...are almost entirely expressive and

                   symbolic."(Middelton ix) [ ]

          This article will demonstrate that when a non‑linear view of magic is taken the instrumental becomes laden with expressive potential.

          In his excellent in-depth investigation of the ritual symbols of a single society, Victor Turner found that the full significance of a symbol can only be obtained by looking at all of its appearances in the total ritual system.(1968 1)  Symbols are particularly thick with multiple mean­ings when individuals and/or groups are in a liminal state or betwixt and between their regular roles.  Turner suggests that communication within liminality involves three simultaneous processes:

         "The first is the reduction of culture into recognized components or factors; the second is their reconstruction in fantastic or monstrous patterns and shapes; and the third is their recombination in ways that make sense with regard to the new state and status that the neophyte will enter." (1967 106)

         In spite of the wealth of material and the distortion there is a logic to ritual‑‑‑often it is one based in metaphors of biological process which treat the change of identity as part of a cyclical process‑‑‑the logic of Trobriand rites de passage for men and yams asserts the identity (unity) of life and death.

         In Part I we shall review what Malinowski and other students of Trobriand ethnography have said about the participation of the baloma and other spiritual agents in magic.  After documenting the Trobriand belief that the success of magic is dependent upon the good will of the baloma, we shall explore the possibility that metaphors of exchange provide a pattern for interaction between baloma and men.

          Part II is an examination of the metaphorical analogies between men and yams found in the rites de passage of the two species.  The natural characteristics of yams make them eminently suitable things to think with for they represent a vegetable equivalent of the autochthonous birth of man. The powers of the garden magician over the life and death of taytu provide an analogy for life and death powers of chiefs and their ancestors over men. Part III after an examination of the nature of Trobriand liminality and its associated polysemic symbols the analogs of life after death for yams and men are explored.



         The acceptance of Frazer's position led to lifelong problems for Malinowski who had to explain allusions to ancestor involvement contained in both spells and his informant's exegesis of them.   This paradox led Malinowski to formulate his seminal notion of mythical charters which Nadel has appraised as one of Malinowski's most enduring contributions. (Firth 206) The listing of the ancestors' names in the u'ula (beginning) of the spell was part of the mythical tradition of the magic and had the sociological function of authenticating the performer's ownership. (1948 215)

         The baloma are believed to be keenly interested in the affairs of the villages of their former residence. They not only assist the leaders of rituals but they also attend the ceremonies which celebrate the successful conclusion of the venture which the rituals effect.  When a ritual leader is rewarded for his services, he shares this reward with the baloma who assisted him by giving them a portion called the ula'ula.

         In Trobriand cosmology man emerged from the ground bringing with him various items of his culture, the most important of which was magic; tools and the materials from which they were made came with them along with insignia of hereditary rank.  (1948 114)  Austin adds yams to the list of cultural items of autochthonous origin and reports a belief that gardens, houses and cooking pots were already in existence. (Austin 1940)

         The metaphor of emergence from the earth is suggested in the division of magical spells into three parts‑‑‑u'ula, tapwana, and matala‑‑‑the model for this division is a tree:

         "The image is derived from a tree or a pillar or a spear; u'ula‑‑‑in its literal sense the foot of the tree, the base, the foundation‑‑‑has come, by extension, to mean cause, origin, source of strength; tapwana, the middle part of the trunk, also means the trunk itself, the main body of an elongated object, the length of a road; matala‑‑‑originally eye, or point (as in spear), and sometimes replaced by the word 'dogina' or 'dabwana', the tip of a tree or the top of any high object‑‑‑stands for the highest part, or, in more abstract metaphor, the final word, the highest expression." (1929a 167‑68)

         In this model, the u'ula is the part of an object which is based in the ground and provides its source of strength.  A man's spiritual u'ula would be his ancestors while in terms of body metaphor. it would be his legs; a fact which becomes significant later when we find that the fibula of one's predecessor is a symbol of chiefly office and ritual authority.

         The u'ula of magical spell consists, in part, of a listing of the pedigree of the spell; the previous owners of the spell are listed and, in some cases, they are exhorted to assist the speaker.  A survey of u'ula reveals that special attention is frequently given to the recent dead. (1961 200, 265, 337,440; 1948 200)   In one spell, the speaker's predecessor is asked to breathe the spell over the head of the spell's first owner.(1961 440) Special attention is also paid as to whether the recently dead owners of the spell were veyola (kinsmen) or were related to ego in other ways.  It is the magician's predecessor who also provides the dreams which inaugurate various activities‑‑‑additional evidence that a special ritual relationship exists between the two. (1961 423)  Ancestors are mentioned in the u'ula of fishing magic, weather magic, kula magic, garden magic, as well as some sorcery. (1948 212)

         The performance of some spells are accompanied by kariyala or signs which are interpreted as proof that the spell will be successful.

         "When a magic formula is spoken, a violent, natural upheaval will take place....In certain forms of magic, a portent would take place whenever the formula is uttered, in others, this will not be so regular, but a kariyala will invariably occur when a magician dies. When asked what is the real cause of any of the natural phenomena enumerated, they will say:  'Magic is the real cause (u'ula); they are a kariyala of magic'." (1961 422)

         If we substitute ancestors for "real cause", which is a valid alternative, the final sentence of this quote reads "magic is the baloma; they are a kariyala of magic".

         The kariyala is a kind of legitimization of the magician and his work and as such can become a focus of political commentary.   In cases when kariyala are not observed it is believed that the magic was not properly performed on that occasion or alternatively it is sometimes argued that the kariyala went unobserved. (1965 130)

         Malinowski asked the question as to whether the u'ula were "real prayers" for intercession on the part of the baloma or names hallowed by tradition which contributed magical virtue to the force of the spell.  He allowed that both elements were, undoubtedly, present. (1948 196)  He later cautions against the view that spirits take an active role in magic:

         "The natives at time express meekly the idea that a benevolent attitude of the spirit is very favorable to the  fishing or gardening, and that if the spirits were angry they  would do harm. The latter negative view was, undoubtedly, more pronounced.  The baloma participate in some vague manner in such ceremonies as are performed for their benefit, and it is better to keep on the right side of them, but this view, by no means, implies the idea that they are the main agents, or even the subsidiary agents of any activity.  The magical virtue lies in the spell itself." (ibid 214)

        Malinowski went on to state that the sanctity of the names was sufficient reason for their inclusion and he states that a native would see them as such:

        "...and that he would never see in them any appeal to the spirits, any invitation to the baloma to come and act; the spells uttered whilst giving the ula'ula being, perhaps, an exception." (ibid. 215)

        In a footnote, Malinowski cautioned that these general comments were "preliminary" and would be supported later by proper documentation. (ibid 269) Unfortunately, like Malinowski's promises of a definitive work on Trobriand kinship, a definitive statement on the role of baloma in magic was never made. There is, however, a perceptible shift in his later writings toward a more active role in magic for the baloma.

        Occasionally, Malinowski reported statements such as the following which document beliefs of a relationship between the baloma's good will and success of a venture:

        "When the Milamala (season of the visiting spirits) comes, we dance. The spirits rejoice in it.   They look at it, they are pleased with it.  They give us good crops that year." (1929b 400)

        He also recorded some statements to the effect that the baloma would punish people that they were not happy with.  In Argonauts of the Western Pacific, he dismissed the possibility that the baloma had punitive powers, in spite of his informant's statement to the contrary.   He had collected some data about the kula prerogatives of the Tolabwaga dala of Sinaketa; this dala was traditionally the first to launch their canoes and sail for Dobu on southern kula expeditions.  (1961 455‑58)  He was told that if the Tolabwaga dala did not sail first, the baloma would become angry and their efforts would fail. (ibid 455‑58)   In his commentary on these predictions, Malinowski said:

        "Here it is explained how far the baloma would become angry and how they would act if a custom were broken. It can be distinctly seen from it that the anger of the spirits is only a phase, covering all those forces which keep the natives to the observance of old customs.   The baloma would go no further than reproach them for breaking the old rules, and there are no definite  ideas among these natives about actual punishment being meted out by offended spirits." (ibid 459)

        In defense of his position, he argues that linguistic evidence must give way to sociological knowledge in this case:

        "These considerations show convincingly that no linguistic analysis can disclose the full meaning of a text without the help of an adequate knowledge of the sociology, of the customs and of the beliefs, current in a given society."(ibid)

         In Sexual Life of Savages, Malinowski allows that the disposition of the baloma might be a convention for avoiding the discrediting of magic when it had failed:

        "...prophetic dreams are double‑edged; when they come true, this is not only radically useful, but proves the good will of ancestors and the validity of magic; when they do not come true, it is a sign the spirits are angry and that they are punishing the community for some reason, and still the truth of magical tradition is upheld." (1929a 390)

        This appears to be a step back from his position in Argonauts of the Western Pacific:  "The baloma would go no further than to reproach them...." ( 1961 450)
         The timing of the inauguration of various garden activities is seen by both ethnographers and Trobrianders as crucial to a successful harvest.   Both Malinowski and Austin report a great deal of ambiguity in the Trobriand lunar calendar which is thought to vary from 12 to 13 lunar months.  Leach has offered an ingenious solution as to how Trobrianders are able to adjust their lunar calendar to a solar calendar.  He suggests that their standard for the solar years is the appearance of a flight of insects which appear on the same day of each solar year.  When the lunar calendar fails to predict the insects arrival they adjust their lunar calendar; but this adjustment is made with hindsight and cannot help a towosi (garden leader) in selecting the best time for planting though it can keep him from being too far wrong.

        Towosi depend to some extent on ritual specialists, who study the movement of certain constellation of stars, for help in predicting the right time for inaugurating the gardening cycle.   This empirical approach is bolstered by the authority of the baloma.  The exact date is established when the towosi receives a dream in which a dead towosi instructs him as to when to proceed. (1929a 390)   The timing of fishing expeditions and other important cooperative activities are also fixed by prophetic dreams.   Part of the authority of the ritual special to direct the village in its communal work comes from the belief that he is acting under the guidance of the baloma.

        In Coral Gardens and Their Magic, Malinowski concludes that his data is less than adequate on the issue of the baloma's punitive powers:

        "The real presence of the spirits at Milamala enhances the belief which exists throughout the year that if tradition is not properly observed, spirits will be displeased and will  bring some form of bad luck on the natives.  What is exactly the relation between mischance brought about by offended spirits and mischance brought about by malicious magic?  I  cannot say, for again I have not investigated this problem as fully in the field as I should have done.  The fact is that I very often heard and noted down casual remarks that such  mishap‑‑‑slight drought, blight, pests, attacks of bush‑pigs; unsuccessful kula or bodily accident‑‑‑was due to the wrath of the baloma (pela baloma igiburuwasi). I also occasionally inquired whether it was really wrath of the baloma or the evil intent of magic.  But the answer would usually be 'I do not know'."  (468)

        Malinowski goes on to suggest that when ancestors are called upon by name and/or are given food it can be assumed that they are more likely present but he was not able to ascertain if they were believed to be really there and, if they were, what they did. (ibid)

         Fortunately, we have an additional piece of evidence about the of baloma in magic and ritual.   Powell notes in a recent publication that the harvest of 1950 was extremely poor‑‑‑about half a normal year's:

        "Mitakata Guyau of Omarakana was said by some informants to be responsible for the poor harvest of 1950, on the grounds that he had failed at the previous harvest to put out an adequate supply of valuables (vaygu'a) for the spiritual enjoyment of the dead revisiting Omarakana at the Milamala (harvest festivities).  His magical attempts to insure good weather in 1950 were, therefore, frustrated by de­ceased  weather magicians.  On the 1950 harvest Mitakata  commented...'the harvest is not worth peo­ple's inspection; we  are simply getting it into the yam houses to finish with it'."  (1969b 602)

        The u'ula can frustrate the magician's efforts though how they do this is not clear.   It is possible that the u'ula work counter‑magic; however, if they are instrumental in the magical process, their refusal to cooperate would be sufficient to insure failure.  When magic fails to achieve the desired ends of the community, the cause of this failure becomes a political issue.

Exchange with the Baloma:

        Malinowski also reported beliefs that there is a relationship between presentations to the baloma and gardening success:

        " informants were able to demonstrate to me by actual experience the connection between scarcity of food and a bad Milamala, on the one hand, and the anger of the spirits and bad weather on the other.  The spirits may even go further and cause drought, and thus spoil the next year's crops.  This is the reason why very often several bad years follow each other, because a bad year and poor crops make it impossible for the men to arrange a good Milamala, which again angers the baloma, who spoil next year's crops..." (1948 184)

        This notion of a vicious circle indicates that Trobrianders use cyclical metaphors for their relationship with the baloma.  The exchanges involved in garden ritual follow a common kula pattern though the substances exchanged varies.  Men give a gift of fish to the baloma expecting yams in return. The baloma give men a small gift of yams when the yams are thinned and men repay this with kula objects.  At harvest, the baloma repay man for the original gift of fish.

        The first ritual of a new gardening cycle is preceded by a ceremonial distribution of fish which dramatizes the identity of interests between the towosi and the ancestral spirits (baloma).  The towosi directs the old men to collect yams and exchange them with coastal villages for fish which will be offered to the baloma. [3]

        This exchange is an inversion of the order of sagali exchange on two counts and is called wasi.  Usually sagali is collected and given to the chief for distribution on behalf of the community, and the yams are received in the village of the donors rather than carried to the village of the recipients. [4]   The exceptions to the sagali pattern are when individuals solicit (pokala) goods, services or titles, as during kula activities.  At the onset of a period when the community's solidarity is emphasized, it is people act­ing as individuals, rather than the chief, who collect the fish and present it to the towosi and the ancestors. (1965i  53)  The women of the village then report to the towosi who distributes the fish to them. (ibid 95)   The women are strangers (non‑domiciled residents) and since it is the yams which they brought to the village as urigubu which purchased the fish, there is a unique instance of reciprocity in this set of exchanges‑‑‑in most food distributions women or their lineages can be seen to benefit only indirectly through the husband's prestige.

         The logic of the idiom of exchange found in the wasi has interesting homologies with certain marriage exchanges.  The saykwala is a gift of fish given by the groom to the bride's father in return for the first large gift of yams given in the girl's name.  The first gift of urigubu yams and return payment of fish is one of two sets of required marriage exchanges. (1929a 93) In a marriage with a minimal number of exchanges, the gift of yams is an expression of the bride's kinsmen's support of the marriage while the saykwala fish, which are the reciprocal repayment, go to the bride's father (not her kinsmen) for he is said to represent the mother and may play a crucial part in soliciting the approval of the bride's kinsmen. (Robinson 1962).

        If we accept as an axiom of Trobriand exchange the notion that fish are exchanged for yams and/or services, and use the saykwala metaphor in the garden setting, we can predict that the gift of fish is either repayment for a gift of yams or is an initial gift that will require repayment in yams. For present purposes, we will assume the latter to be the case. Following the saykwala metaphor further, we infer that the village males are the grooms, that the towosi is the bride's father and that the baloma are the bride's kinsmen.  The bride is, of course, the garden plot and it is at this point that a functionalist may appreciate the logic of this metaphor.  Trobriand men arc forbidden to concern themselves in both the sexual and marital affairs of their kinswomen.  Malinowski calls this an extension of the incest taboo and demonstrates how rigidly brother and sister are segregated.  At another level, the lands on which a man is domiciled and which he gardens are symbolized in the myths of a dala's origin holes as the source of the ancestors.  The farmer is a direct descendant of the earth he works and were it not for the rituals which transform him into a husband, his actions would have an incestuous overtone.

        The mechanics of kula exchange provide a model for determining if the saykwala wasi fish are an opening or closing gift.  Frequently, in kula exchanges, the opening gift is followed by an exchange of two gifts of smaller but equal value before a final gift, of equal value to the opening gift, is returned.   These intermediate gifts are called basi and are seen to play an important part in the kula.  The basi is a stalling tactic which allows the debtor to find an appropriate gift for a return.  It also plays an important role in kula strategy; if a man receives an exceptional armshell he can get a large number of opening gifts of exceptional size from partners who hope to get it in return.  Only one of the partners gets his return in short order while the others get basi which gives the man time to take the extra necklaces and exchange them for armshells to repay his other partners.   Thus, the basi is both a deferment of payment and a device for increasing one's holdings.

        The idiom of garden exchanges also contains a basi.  Approximately six months after planting the yams are thinned and this activity is called basi.  The seed yam which is spent and decayed is removed along with any young yams which have imperfections and are, therefore, considered bad.  The bad yams are called black while the ones which are left are called white. The purpose of this activity is to give space for the good tubers to develop properly.  The yams which have been thinned are consumed without ceremony. This mini‑harvest comes at a time when food supplies are running low and helps augment the diet until the main harvest which may be several months away.

        The yams garnered as basi are forbidden to the towosi and the ancestors.  In the towosi's case, this would be tantamount to admitting that the basi was a satisfactory repayment.  Leaders of kula expeditions arc also required to refrain from accepting their host's gifts of food until they have finished their kula exchanges for this very reason.   In marriage, exchanges of cooked food sent by the bride's relatives is returned in exact measure by the boy's family for a similar reason. (1929a 89)

        The interaction between humans and the baloma takes on new meaning when viewed as a yearly cycle of exchanges.  These exchanges follow the logic of kula transactions.  Malinowski treated kula and garden activities as separate entities for descriptive convenience and only briefly considered how the institutions, which he described, were integrated into a society. (1965i 455)  If ancestors were anything more than occasional assistants in ritual then man's manipulation of them would be prayer, rather than a magical spell, and this would have introduced religion into primitive man's pragmatic behavior.  He had found that the magician's attitude towards the u'ula was not characterized by humility or awe which accompanies supplication such as are made for other spirits called tauava. (1961 437)  If, however, magic is part of an exchange process with the baloma, the magician's lack of emotion is analogous to the studied casualness of kula transactions.




        A full appreciation of the implications of the use of exchange metaphor in garden ritual necessitates a consideration of the metaphorical relationships between cultigens and men.  Recently, students of Melanesian societies have found it fruitful to treat the ideas of various groups about plants as metaphors for their cosmologies.  A study of Tabalu garden rituals indicates that Kiriwians use TAYTU (yams) as a cosmological idiom.  Trobriand garden ritual contains a number of symbols homologous with symbols in rituals marking the transfer of humans into and out of this world; this suggests that yams are like people on one level and that gardens are like society on another level.

Life As A Cycle:

        The Trobrianders see men as inhabiting two worlds with the earth's surface representing the dividing line between them; tomwata (men) live above ground and baloma (spirits) live below the ground.  The sea represents the liminal state of transit between these two worlds; the spirits of children yet to be reborn and the spirits of the dead are both made to cross the sea. They gain entry to the next world only with the help of their kinsmen and/or family.  The rituals which surround the transfer of individuals into and out of these two worlds provide a number of insights into the relationship of men and baloma.

        The Trobrianders believe in reincarnation; the spirit is believed to lose all of its identity prior to rebirth except for kinship‑‑‑a spirit will be reborn into the lineage (dala) of its previous reincarnation. (1929a 171)  Dead spirits who live underground on the Island of Tuma -- located several miles northwest of Boyowa, the main Trobriand island "undergo reincarnation as a result of sorcery or, in some cases, of their own free will. (ibid)  Baloma are subject to an aging process just as tomwata are but men have lost the secret of rejuvenation while the baloma have not.   In a manner similar to the snake's baloma will shed his old skin and become young again (ibid 434);  Malinowski quotes an informant as saying:

        "The spirits go to a spring called 'Washing Water' it lies on the beach.  There they wash their skin with brackish water.  They become young men once more." (1929b 402)

        Sometimes this process transforms the individual into a child spirit rather than into a youth; these infant spirits enter the sea and take hold of some flotsam in the hope that they will be carried across the sea to the main island.  The infant spirits collect, in large numbers on the shores suggesting that some will not get a chance to be reborn; possibly these represent the baloma of lineages which have died out above ground.  If this is indeed the case, the logic of Trobriand cosmology gives an individual a personal as well as collective interest in preserving the future of the lin­eage which is represented by the fecundity of its females. [5] This personal interest of the individual in his future offsets the belief that man must kill kin, preferably mother or sister, to become a sorcerer. (1961 73)

Human Conception:

        Conception is achieved when a waywaya (spirit child) is united with the body of a woman who has been prepared to receive it.  In most cases, this union is brought about by the baloma of one of the woman's kinsmen, kinswomen, or the baloma of the woman's father.  The baloma places the waywaya in the woman's hair from whence it is carried to her stomach by the menstrual blood which has collected.  This suggests that the custom of shaving one's head on the death of someone from another clan may impede fecundity and thus balance the loss of the bereaved clan with a temporary denial of the other clan's fecundity.  In any case, the waywaya, which is placed in the woman's hair, is a spirit without substance. (Austin 1934 108)

        Often the woman has a dream in which the responsible baloma informs the woman that she is pregnant.  Given the crucial importance of a dead kinsman's cooperation in magical rites such dreams could very well be interpreted later as evidence of a kind of charismatic link between the child and an influential ancestor.

        A woman may also conceive without the assistance of a dead kinsman, in which case the waywaya simply enters the woman's vagina while she is swimming or bathing.  If a woman is infertile, a close kinsman may gather a bowl of water which is placed by her bed so that a spirit may enter her body while she is asleep.  In this case, she still has a dream in which a baloma tells her she is with child. (1929a 175‑76)   These actions of male tomwata on the behalf of their kinswomen's spiritual fecundity can be contracted with their avoidance of all matters which involve the physical nature of their kinswomen.

         Trobriand notions of conception have provided a continuing battleground for polemics; Austin indicates that intercourse is believed to aid conception by creating two states which are vital preconditions to conception. (1934)  The woman's vagina must be opened by regular intercourse; Malinowski was of the opinion that this was necessary so that the spirit child (waywaya) can enter the mother and he thought this contradicted the notion that the waywaya was placed on the mother's head by the baloma of one of her dead relatives.  One possible explanation of this confusion is that Malinowski's informant believed that the vagina had to be dilated so that the waywaya could exit rather than enter the body and that the baloma would not conceive a woman whose vagina had not been prepared for birth.  This line of reasoning would dispel the paradox set out in the following quote from Sexual Life of Savages:

         "This statement was volunteered by Niyoya, a sound informant in Oburaku:  'A virgin does not conceive, because there is no way for the children to go, for that woman to conceive.  When the orifice is wide open, the spirits are aware, they give the child.'  This is quite clear; but, during the same sitting, the same informant had previously given me a detailed  description of how the spirit lays the child on the woman's  head."  (180 81)

        The second function of intercourse is to stop the flow of menstrual blood; the pounding of the male penis is likened to the pounding of betel nut in a mortar.  Betel nut is crushed with white lime and a small piece of the moiia fruit to produce a blood red colour which is used to decorate the lips. [6] (Austin 34 103)  Frequent intercourse causes the menstrual blood to collect and after several months the woman is ready to conceive.

        The drama of the yowota, the rite which inaugurates the gardening cycle contains a number of elements which suggests that it may be a metaphor of courtship and conception, superimposed on garden activities.  The leader of this ritual, called a towosi, is usually the chief, his heir, or the chief's son.  Malinowski was interested in the social identity of the towosi but he was not interested in his ritual identity (the various roles which the towosi enacts during the rites) though his data is extensive enough to allow fruitful analyses.

        The word towosi may have some metaphorical significance itself for Malinowski suggests that it is a compound of a masculine prefix to‑‑‑combined to the word for dance‑‑‑wosi.  Malinowski argued that Trobriand dance was devoid of sexual representations though elsewhere he did note that on occasions men would wear women's dress for dancing.  (1929a 397,348   1948 176)  Malinowski's data neither supports nor denies the assumption that a dancer acts out various roles during his performance but Baldwin offers abundant evidence that they do.  (1945 1950)  As the ritual cycle of gardening unfolds the towosi enacts the roles of ancestor, kinswomen, and husband in relationship the earth which is symbolized as a woman.

        Malinowski reports that towosi's function was expressed in terms such as "he strikes our soil" and "he strikes our garden".  (19651 93)   The towosi possess a staff (kaylepa) which is one of the few ritual objects which maintains a sacred identity after the completion of a ritual cycle.  During the inaugural ceremonies the towosi strikes the garden's soil with his staff and calls upon the soil to swell up as with child.  If we look at these actions in the light of Trobriand models for human conception and recall that a father's function in conception is to open the vagina and that during pregnancy the pounding of the husband's penis prevents a miscarriage by securing the waywaya, then it would be neither unreasonable or terribly Freudian to see the towosi as a father/husband and the staff as a penis.

The Vatuvi Spell:

        After the towosi has eaten his share of the wasi (fish), the men of the village bring him their axes over which he performs the opening ritual of the gardening cycle.  The towosi calls upon the baloma  to banish the insects which attack the gardens;  the spell  is spoken directly to the spirits.  (19651 96)

        "Here, this is our oblation, O' old men, our ancestral spirits!  I am laying it down for you, behold!   Here, this is our joint oblation, O'Yowana, my father, he. hold!   Tomorrow, we shall enter our gardens, take heed! O'Vikita, O'Iyavata, fountainhead of our myth and magic, banish the pests, the insects and grubs." (ibid 95‑6)

        Yowana was the father of Bagido'u, the man whom Malinowski is quoting here; the fact that Bagido'u singles out his father for attention suggests that there may be a special bond between the two even after death. The spell goes on:

ba‑vasasewo                    kam     Karikeda            Kaulokiki

I might burst open            thy     passage            (a sea channel)

kam            kovasasa                        Kiya'u                                  Ku‑vapulupulu            Kuwaya
thy            open passage            (a sea channel)thou drown            thou get there

        Malinowski interpreted this spell as driving pests in the direction of Tuma. A key word in this passage may be wayaWaya refers to the heads of inlets which furnish origin holes for some dala.  (ibid 342)   Waya also means old and when combined with num‑ becomes numwaya, old woman,  (probably old breasts);  tomwaya means old man.  Waywaya means foetus but can be used for a child that is still crawling; an alternative form is pwaypwaya.  Both foetus (waywaya) and the elderly (tomwaya) are close to their origin holes (waya) in the sense that they both represent states of existence adjacent to transition through the earth's surface (pwaypwaya). 

        Waya appears again in the word pwaypwaya:

        "They...state that pwaypwaya, the real soil or earth, is to  be found only where the bush (odila) grows, and that after having cut the trees and shrubs you can plant crops." (ibid  76)

        Elsewhere, Malinowski gives pwaypwaya a translation label of "magically amenable soil". (ibid II 87)  Pwaya and popu are both words which means excrement. (1929a 446)  There seems to be a pattern in the formation of these words:


A                                                      B

l. waya (inlet containing                waywaya ‑ a spirit in
an origin hole)                              transition into life

2. pwaya (excrement)                    pwaypwaya ‑ fertile soil

3. ula (polluting substance,            ula ula ‑ gift of food to baloma

         Column A are all things which are polluting and, therefore, a threat to fecundity and/or life, represented in Column B; origin holes are used to store bones of dead ancestors and are off limits for women.  (Silas 105)   Defecation in the gardens will cause the crops to die. (CGM 119)  Just as each village is kept clean by dumping all garbage on neat piles, called wawa, gardens are also kept neatly clean and the twigs and stones (ula) are placed in mounds.  (19651 121)

        Malinowski states that the translation of some of the words used in spells is often inconclusive because of archaic usages.  In discussing the meaning of the word vatuvi, Malinowski lists a number of different possibilities; Bagido'u told him that the word meant "make something rise".  (ibid II 260) Malinowski suggests that vatu means coral boulder and that the spell may draw from this association a metaphor of steadfastness.  Indeed, Austin reports that, at one time, the Trobrianders had erected huge megalithic structures out of coral boulders and that some of the garden rituals of Kasania are associated with the remnants of one of these vatu. (Austin 1939)

         "Another, undoubtedly, fortuitous but none the less strong and probably effective association is that between the word vatuvi and the root tuvi,  'to foment'.   The causative prefix va‑ compounded with the root tuvi would mean 'to heal', 'magically  to foment.   This association again, undoubtedly, plays into the essential meanings of vatuvi.  As a matter of fact, one or two natives, though not Bagido'u himself, gave me this explanation of the word when commenting upon the spell." (1965 II 260)

         Both the Trobrianders and their ethnographer, when faced the ambiguity of certain magical words, resort to breaking them down in an effort to find meaning in their roots.

        The vatuvi spell contains numerous repetition of the metaphors of human birth; the swelling belly followed by a release of its distention.  In vatuvi ritual, white substances are used to produce beautiful white tubers as an expectant mother is made white to ensure the health of her child. (ibid 106) This spell is a reoccurring theme in garden ritual for it is spoken at all the major junctures.

Yowota Rituals:

        On the day following the charming of the axes, the village garden team assembles at the garden site; they have cleaned themselves, painted their faces, and are wearing the aromatic herbs of semi‑festive occasions. (ibid I 99) Undoubtedly, each has performed his own system of beauty magic; the men are approaching the gardens as suitors would the girls of a distant village.

         At the point where a path traverses the garden's boundary, six plots, three on each side of the path, are marked off as the focus of garden ritual. The towosi, personally, performs the rituals over these plots while his helpers may work on the others;  these plots (leywota) set a standard for garden activities which it is said all men should emulate by trying to keep work on their plots abreast with the condition of the leywota.

        The towosi cuts down a sapling, which he addresses as bad wood (kaygaga); he speaks a spell over it and then casts it into the bush.  He cuts another sapling, which is called the kaywota, and sticks this in the ground, in the manner of a woman, with his buttocks touching the earth, something men never do.   He tears up a handful of weeds and rubs the soil while reciting a spell which calls for the garden's belly to rise and decline as if giving multiple births.  This rite is said to make the soil soft and the sapling is said to make the crops sprout and grow. (ibid 102)  Finally, the towosi strikes the soil with his kaylepa (ritual staff) and says the following spell:

        "I strike thee, O' soil, open thou up and let the crops  through the ground.  Shake, O' soil, swell out, O' soil, swell out as with a child, O' soil." (ibid 102)

        The saplings may be phallic symbols with designations of good and bad corresponding between a woman's husband and adultery.  The rubbing of the ground, and weeding, done by the towosi, acting as a woman, may be a metaphor for grooming; unu'unu (body hair) is thought to be unattractive and is shaved off.  Weeds, which retard the growth of the taytu plant, are called munumunu and are continually being removed by women. The striking of the kaylepa opens the way for the crops to enter/exit the ground which is analogous to the service the husband's penis performs for the mother.  The set of rites performed at the yowota enacts the major gardening activity which occupies the period preceding the Milamala, i.e.  the cutting of the brush, but it also has reference to future events.


        Conception is signaled by the swelling of the breasts, a darkening of the nipples, and a dream given by the baloma.  Months of pregnancy are counted from the time the breasts swell and do not include the previous period marked by the cessation of the menstrual blood. (Austin 34 109)   During the first four to five months following conception‑‑‑about the third to seventh month of pregnancy in our reckoning system‑‑‑the child is called kapora kikoni (bundle‑rolled‑up rat). [7] It is during the fourth to fifth month of pregnancy that a number of important changes occur in the child, its mother and their relationship to others.  It is during this period that the stomach's swelling becomes pronounced, (1929a 212) and intercourse ceases. (ibid 228)   The child's classification is changed to imilagwaki (it simulating child) (Austin 34 111), the mother is placed under dietary restrictions (1929a 227) and an important pregnancy ritual is performed. (ibid 223)

First Pregnancy Ritual:

        During the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy the woman goes to live with her parents; if it is her first pregnancy, a set of rituals are performed by the kinswomen of her father.  They assemble and make two grass skirts to be worn after the birth and two cloaks (saykeulo) one of which is worn for the rest of the pregnancy period and the other to be worn after the birth.  The purpose of these cloaks is to prevent the sun from darkening the woman's skin.  The rituals surrounding pregnancy are full of white symbols which are thought to whiten the woman's skin and protect the child.  She is made to wear white cosmetics on her face and to wash frequently.  Dark skin is regarded as a sign that she has adulterous thoughts. (ibid 226)  The woman's father seeks out women who know black magic which can cause the skin to turn black and presents them with yams to secure their good will. (ibid 224) The system of black magic which these women practice is associated with a black millipede which is also the focus of the system of rain magic which controls both rain and drought in the gardens.

        It is possible that the symbolic stress on whiteness and water may have something to do with preparing the new mother for nursing for these dual concerns continue after birth. (ibid 225)  Intercourse, with even the husband, is thought to blacken the skin and it is prohibited for several years after birth.  It is possible that Trobrianders believe that postpartum intercourse will jeopardize lactation.

        An igava'u, or a woman undergoing her first pregnancy, goes to the sea or the local water hole with her tabugu (father's kinswomen) who form a human bridge for the girl to walk on out into the water.  The tabugu ritually wash the girl and then carry her to a mat where they apply beauty magic to her. When the beauty magic is complete she is dressed in the saykeulo and then carried to her father's house where she rests on a small platform; if she is of higher rank than her father, she goes to her mother's brother's house and sits on a higher platform. (ibid 222) [8]  While on the platform she is not allowed to speak except to ask for food, she cannot move except to wash herself, and she cannot feed herself.  These restrictions last for varying lengths of time‑‑‑up to five days‑‑‑depending on the woman's and/or her husband's rank.

        Malinowski reckons that the woman wears the saykeulo for two months before it wears out and that it is discarded two months before her confinement. (ibid 223)  However, Malinowski, unlike Austin, does not assume that Trobrianders do not count the first two‑three months of pregnancy which precede the swelling of the breasts; his account, therefore, allows four months from the saykeulo ritual to confinement while Austin's allows only two. (ibid 223)(Austin 109) [9]

        Trobrianders apparently believe that humans have a six to seven month gestation period and that the last two‑three months preceding birth are crucial; particularly during a woman's first pregnancy.

        Malinowski was given several explanations for the ritual bath; he was told that it would loosen the child in the womb to make for an easy birth. One of the purposes of the ritual is to dramatize the need for the mother to refrain from intercourse.  Up until this time, intercourse is deemed beneficial‑‑‑perhaps to prevent a miscarriage since one of the functions of the father's penis was to cause the woman's blood to cease flowing‑‑‑but its cessation paves the way for the child's exit from the womb.  The bath is also believed to have a beneficial effect on the formation of the foetus.

        These are the same restrictions which are placed on the spouse of a dead man during mourning.
        During the latter portion of her pregnancy, a woman must refrain from eating certain fruits and vegetables which form a class called kavaylu'a. (1929a 227)   The foods of this class are regarded as wild or grown on uninhabited land and can include banana, breadfruit, mango and natu (a small fruit which is greatly despised but becomes the food of last resort during famine).  Food grown in the garden is called kaula and in its narrowest sense is used to refer to TAYTU, kuvi (two types of yams) and taro, but can be stretched to cover other garden products.  Food of the kavaylu'a class is thought to be pleasant tasting but lacking in substance and unable to fill the belly the way that kaula does.

        If a woman eats food of the kavaylu'a class during pregnancy, it is believed that the child will be born with a stomach swollen with excrement, which will cause it to die.  Dietary restrictions of pregnancy fall within a broader pattern of the use of kaula to symbolize an individual's relationship to other people, this proscription to eat kaulo during pregnancy for the mother, who is the agent for a spirit's entry into this world, can be contrasted with a prohibition on eating kaulo which is imposed on a dead man's spouse, who may be the ritual agent of a spirit's entry into Tuma.

Taytu Conception:

        In garden ritual planting/conception is marked by the construction of symbolic breasts which are called kamkokola.  Although other crops may be planted prior to this rite officially, taytu may not be. (1965 I 124)   The main activity of the kamkokola is the erection of huge "magical prisms" on the corners of the garden site followed by miniature kamkokola on the four corners of each garden plot (baleko).  The towosi sends men out to gather poles for the constructions which consists of one tall vertical pole sunk into the ground with three other poles laid at an angle‑‑‑slanting from the top of the vertical pole to the ground and forming the outline of a pyramid with the ground as a base.  The taller the poles the better the taytu will grow. (ibid. 129)

        The corners of the gardens are called nunula, which means breast or nipple, but Malinowski apparently did not see any connection between this and the kamkokola which were constructed on them. (ibid. 140)  The root kola is also found in another word for breasts, vitakola.   (Fellows 179)  The planting of taytu (sopu) is done in conjunction with the erection of the kamko­kola; the association of these two events coincide with metaphors of human development‑‑‑the presenting of the waywaya occurs at the time when a woman's breasts change.  The planting follows the striking of the earth by two to three months; if Austin's data on Trobriand chronology of pregnancy is correct, the Trobriand notions of conception noted by Malinowski are patterned on taytu metaphor.

        The identity of the seed yam is crucial for determining the rules of  the other actors in this drama.  Yagogu is the name of seed taytu, and it offers no linguistic clue but the names for taro do.  Malinowski mentions that taro appears much more frequently in garden ritual and suggests that taytu was introduced after its development.

                       "The old tuber, which the natives call woma, 'stale root','spent root', does not,

                       of course, regenerate into a new one; but a number of new roots sprout from it,

                       one of which grows  into a tuber and gradually be­comes the main tuber and is

                       called ina‑la, 'mother'. Other new roots grow beside it, presumably out of the

                       woma, and produce secondary plants  called latula.

                       Those which sprout first would be called tuwala, 'older sibling', and the later

                       ones bwada'la,  'younger sibling'.  Thus, a whole family terminology is

                       reproduced by the growing taro underground." (ibid II 106)

        Up until the time of planting, ritual treats the earth as a mother. It is prepared to receive the waywaya and it is given breasts to encourage the children's growth after their birth.  The conjunction between the erection of the kamkokola and the planting of the seed yams suggests that the latter is a waywaya but, on another level, the seed yams are mothers who give birth to other taytu‑‑‑here is the botanical equivalent to autochthonous woman springing from the soil, full grown, to begin a new race.  The kamko­kola ritual is one of a number which prepare the taytu for their death and subsequent removal from the earth.  The taytu are alive (white) when under the ground and are killed (turned black) by another ritual.  Garden ritual is the inverse of pregnancy ritual; the latter is a seven month prepara­tion for life above ground while the first is a seven month life under ground in preparation for death.  The imposition of the metaphors upon each other leads to the circular logic of life is death and vice versa.

        The bulk of Malinowski's information on garden ritual was gathered in Omarakana from his friend, Bagido'u, who for some reason failed to inform Malinowski that, in addition to the various inaugural rituals, there was also magic which would make the taytu grow.  Having discovered this lacuna through conversation with a towosi from another village, he was able to collect the spells from Bagido'u during his last expedition. [10 ] One of these spells, the vapuri, causes the young tubers to break forth on the roots of the mother.  "Va is a causative prefix, and the verb puri here means to break forth in clusters." (CGM I 149) [11]  In the vapuri spell taytu are called upon to return.  Subsequently, the taytu are called upon to break forth their own roots and "anchor" themselves. (ibid II 298)  Just as men are liminal in crossing the sea so are taytu; both require ritual which secures their spirits' attachment to land and substance.  In one of the few instances where he broaches the possibility that taytu are anthropomorphic, Malinowski says that he was unable to ascertain if there was a belief that the spells were thought to resurrect the new taytu from the old. (CGM I 150)

        The magical return of the taytu is marked by the taytu's lifting up of the soil to form mounds. (ibid II 301)  The class of yams which are called upon to make the mounds are named nabugwa and nakoya;  Malinowski suggests that the prefix "na" in these two words is a shortened form of ina (mother).  Koya means mountain and bugwa is the name of the small mounds made by yams.  Mother of the mountain would be the seed yam and the mountain which it gives birth to would be a lineage of taytu.  In kula magic, mountains are symbols for the community one is visiting; more specifically, the lineage of one's partner.  The bugwa, which are symbols of life, are surrounded by piles of coral stones called karige'i, which are symbols of death‑‑­ba‑karige means "I shall die" (ibid II 288)  The karige'i serve as boundary markers when it is time to clear the land to make new gardens.

        Garden ritual provides numerous other opportunities for Trobrianders to contemplate the similarities between taytu and men.  The taytu counterpart to the saykeulo (pregnancy mantle) is a spider web ritually woven to  cover over the gardens. (ibid I 148)  Like men, taytu have certain innate qualities, therefore, the performance of garden magic is primarily for the benefit of inferior taytu‑‑‑superior taytu need only see the inferior kind getting ahead to be spurred into action. (ibid. 142)  Magic can make inferior yams better but achievement will make superior taytu better yet.  However, this emphasis on achievement is tempered by another ritual with a contradicting logic.  It is believed that the size and quality of a taytu's vine determines the size and quality of tubers which it will produce. The  qualities of a vine stem are determined by the height of the kavatam (vine support) which is provided for it. The collecting of poles to make kavatam is keenly competitive for those who want to be recognized as tokwaybagula (first class gardeners).  Men of low rank, who are not gardening for the chief, would be content with cutting the short trees found near the village for they would be afraid that longer poles would betray ambition which would make them a target of the chief's sorcery.   Those who did not possess magic to exorcize the tokway spirits which live in the larger trees found in the bush, would also have to settle for shorter poles.  Competition would be limited to men of rank and commoners who were courting the favor of the chief by gardening for him.

        In his attempts to determine if Trobrianders were really ignorant of physiological paternity, Malinowski had proposed that conception and gestation were similar to horticulture:

              "To the simile of a seed being planted in the soil and the plant growing out of

               the seed they remained irresponsive.  They were curious, indeed, and asked

               whether this was 'the white man's manner of doing it', but they were quite certain

               that this was not the 'custom' of Kiriwina. (1948 223)

        Powell was told that Malinowski's informants had withheld another version of procreation which held that the father was biologically involved; (Montague 359) perhaps this denial of the seed simile was another attempt to deceive the ethnographer or it might be that Malinowski's informants were not conscious of the implications of their ritual metaphors. Alternatively, their  curiosity may have resulted from the similarity of Malinowski's proposal to their beliefs while their denial stemmed from the crucial distinction that yams and men are the products of the baloma's intervention while seeds are not.








        Garden ritual enacts the rites of passage of taytu and these rites are consistently analogous with human rites de passage.  Taytu have spirits whose residential cycle alternates between air and earth.  A period of liminality symbolized by a passage over/or through water or fire‑‑‑the sea and the boiling pot‑‑‑punctuates a transfer from one element to the other.  The residents of both elements go to great lengths to insure that the transfer is secured.  Before considering the continuing similarity of men and taytu after death, as portrayed in mortuary and harvest ritual, it will be necessary to look more closely at liminality in Trobriand society.

        Trobriand liminality is most dramatically expressed in mortuary customs and the rituals surrounding dangers at sea; the kayga'u system of magic is performed on both occasions as protection against dreaded flying witches called mulukwausi.  The identity of the mulukwausi and their kindred spirits, the tauva'u, bares directly on the nature of Trobriand liminality.

        Not all magic is of autochthonous origin; some forms of sorcery were presented to man by tauva'u (demons) from one of the islands to the south, as was the magic of the mulukwasi (flying witches). (1948 130) According to Trobriand myth an extremely tall tree growing on Normanby Island had been cut down and its tip (matala) landed in Vakuta, the southern most of the Trobriand islands.  In the tree's branches were three "malignant beings", two males and a female, who passed their magic on to some of the people of Vakuta.  These three beings correspond to the tauva'u, male spirits which causes epidemics; the mulukwasi, flying witch, who cause quick deaths and feed on corpses; and the tokway, mischievous spirits that sometimes helps a sorcerer by entering the victim's body. (ibid 130)  A group of evil beings descend from the sky bringing with them magic which causes liminality in a myth which is similar to the many myths in which lineages of men arrive from inside the earth with magic which fixes men and taytu to the soil.  The oppositions here high/low and group/lineage are worth noting; height and movement across water are major symbols of liminality while attachment to the soil expresses kinship.

The Polysemic Snake:

        Tauva'u are invisible spirits who have the power to make themselves visible to men on certain occasions by changing themselves into snakes, or other reptiles. (MSR 131)  All snakes and their eggs are treated with rever­ence on the chance that they might be tauva'u.  Silas indicates that the spirits of dead chiefs occasionally enter into snakes to make their presence  manifest:

        "The Trobrianders also possess a belief that when the spirit of a chief desires to revisit its old home, it will enter for the purpose into a live snake. Should they see a snake in the dead chief's house, all honors due to a chief would be paid  to it, including an offering of wealth. They would implore the snake not to harm them and to go away, for they would not want it to stay, although they would be afraid to harm it for fear of evil befalling them." (Silas 108)

        Seligmann reports that Bellamy had recorded the view that snakes were sorcerers:

         "Some snakes are supposed to be sorcerers in disguise, but it would appear there are no special snakes into which a sorcerer enters.  If a snake is found on the track and it does not attempt to escape when approached, then it is not really a snake but a man, and must not be killed. It may be offered food but this is not necessary. There is no question about snake worship at  all." (683)

        Malinowski regards snakes as tauva'u from the south and does not consider them to be sorcerers or the spirits of dead sorcerers:

        "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 recognize him at once, for he will not run away from would be 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...must be put before it as an offering." (SWP 77)

        Malinowski reports that there are sorcerers in Tuma; in fact, it is their work which causes baloma to weaken and turn into spirit children who are then reincarnated:

        "Some of my informants pointed out that in Tuma, as on earth, there are plenty of sorcerers. Black magic is frequently practiced, and can reach a spirit and make him weak, sick and  tired of life; then and then only, will he go back to beginning of his existence and change into a spirit‑child."  (SLS 171)

        Silas and Baldwin both report beliefs that deny that sorcerers exist in Tuma:

        "...nevertheless, sorcerers and witches do not exist in the spirit‑world, so that it may be assumed that the souls of these evil people remain forever earth­bound; or one might  suppose that, since sorcery and witchcraft are hereditary, they transmit their evil powers to their relatives before their beautified souls depart for Tuma."  (Silas 110)

        Silas makes two suggestions worth consideration:

     1. The spirits of sorcerers or some portion thereof may not go to Tuma‑‑‑perhaps they become tauva'u.

   2. Their powers are passed on before or immediately after death.

        Baldwin has written that:

        "In theory, murderers, black magicians, and children born dead have no entry into Tuma." (1945 228)

        When a sorcerer dies he produces two spirits, a regular baloma and a kousi; the latter is a black smoke cloud which hangs over the village and is visible to other sorcerers. (CCSS 90)  At one point, Malinowski describes it as harmless but he also reports a case where the niece of a dead chief was greatly frightened by his kousi.  A man was sent to the spot where it had been seen to perform some magic which would turn the kousi into a singing bird. (SHSS 410)  The belief in a kousi may give rise to the belief that there are no sorcerers in Tuma‑‑‑the baloma of chiefs and sorcerers may pass on to Tuma while their black arts stay on in the form of a kousi.  Perhaps the belief that there is no sorcery in Tuma is an expression of the hope that the wicked will not inherit both sides of the earth or it may result from the teachings of missionaries that the wicked and good are separated after death.

        The kayga'u magic has its origins in a remarkable myth which tells of a family consisting of four people, a mother, two sons, and a sister.(AWP 262‑63)   The mother was a mulukwausi and she belonged to the Lukwasisiga clan as did the eldest son and the daughter; the youngest son was a dog and belonged to the Lukaba clan, an anomaly that could only occur in myth.   The second son's name was Tokulubweydoga, which means something like man‑with-circular‑tusks‑in‑his‑head; a truly liminal personage who incorporates three of the four major clans in his identity for tusks are the, symbol of yet another clan, the Molasi. [12]

        The mother gave the kayga'u magic to her second son, who was then able to swim in the sea without fear of mulukwausi or sea monsters.  The spell produces a mist or fog which blinds the eyes of the mulukwausi; it creates an individual without clan identification and this state of liminality would be important if mulukwausi attack only clansmen.  This would also explain why the mother did not pass the magic on to her son, who was of her own class and clan.

        Malinowski gives the following passage in discussing the kayga'u spell:

                     "Tobunaygu (repeated), Manemanaygu (repeated), my
                     mother a snake, myself a snake; myself a snake, my
                     mother a snake.  Tokulubwaydoga, Isendoga, Matatagai,
                     Kalaytaytu;...I shall befog the front, I shall shut
                     off the rear; I shall befog the rear, I shall shut
                     off the front." (1961 264)

        The snake is the totem of the Lukwasisiga clan and one interpretation of the spell would be that the speaker is trying to convince the mulukwausi that he is of that clan; however, the snake also symbolizes the tauva'u who can become invisible at will. (ibid 265)

        Malinowski reports an informant's account of how baloma must cross a bridge on entry into Tuma; the bridge is "in reality a wriggling snake" and if a man is not worthy of entry, he will be thrown off the snake's back into the sea where he is transformed into a beast which is half‑shark and half‑man. (SHSS 403)  The snake is the symbol of eternal life (rejuvenation) for it sheds its skin and renews itself; but it is also the symbol of death, authority, sorcery, ancestor spirits, and acts as the mediator between this world and Tuma for it can cause the breaking of the cycle of reincarnation. Snakes symbolize the nexus between systems of linear and cyclical time and, as such, express the essence of temporal liminality. (Leach 1966 125)

Where There's Fire There's Smoke:

        The generic term for all things magical is megwa. (1961 424)  The root gwa is probably a form of the word for fog‑‑‑gwa'u or ga'u‑‑‑while the prefix me‑‑‑is used only in magical words to represent a tense of in­definite duration. (ibid. 450 426) Magic is a fog of indefinite duration. Fog is the physical symbol for the blindness of the mulukwausiKayga'u, the name for the system of magic which is said to blind the mulukwausi, has a root of ‑ga'u (fog) and a prefix of kay‑ (wood) which suggests a possible translation label of smoke (wood  fog). (1961 250)

         Fire and smoke are a common theme throughout the Trobriand ritual system at times of liminality; pregnant women are ritually cooked just preceding and after birth.  The woman is placed on a plank bed and a small fire is built under her to "make the blood flow". (SLS 230)  Heat and smoke are used here as positive forces while cold would have an opposite effect‑‑‑the black magic which can cause protracted labor is called chilling the uterus. (SLS 229)

        The use of fire and smoke preceding birth is continued after birth for the first crucial month of the baby's life; the woman and child continue to sit on a platform over a small smokey fire as protection against sorcery, and the end of this period is marked by a rite which emphases the smoke which is created by the burning of white substances. (SLS 232) Smoke and its scent play an important part in Trobriand ritual symbols:

        "Indeed, the sense of smell is the most important factor in laying of spells on people; magic, in order to  achieve its greatest potency, must enter through the nose.  Love charms are borne into the victim on the scent of some spellbound aromatic substance. In the second, and very dangerous, stage of sorcery, the object or compound over which black magic has been done is  burned, and the smoke enters through the nostrils into the body against which it is directed and causes disease  (silami)."(SLS 449)

        Smells mark important ritual oppositions; good smells such as flowers, mint and ginger are used extensively in spells while foul smells like excrement and carrion are associated with sorcery and death.  The smoke made from the burning of good smelling white flowers is believed to protect the child and it is likely that burning foul smelling black substances would have the opposite effect. [13]  The smoke of cook fires are believed to be in some way inimical to the welfare of the taytu and cook fires are purposely located at a distance from the yamhouses.

Ambiguity And Ambivalence Of The Mulukwausi

        A mulukwausi, who wants her daughter to become one also, reverses the procedures which women usually follow after pregnancy. She buries the afterbirth in the house, rather than in the garden; the burial of the placenta in the garden is done to fix the child's mind on them and thus ensure that he be a good gardener.  A person's citizenship is determined by his place of burial and not his place of residence; therefore, the burial of the placenta in the lineage's garden may also insure that the child's attention will turn to the lineage's gardens rather than remain with his father's gardens. (1965 I 431)  The burial of the child's placenta by the mulukwausi in her kinsmen's home would then symbolize a future interest in the sexual life of the dala‑‑‑an interest which has incestuous overtones by Trobriand standards.

        The mulukwausi washes her daughter in sea water rather than fresh heated water. (1929a 234, 1961 239)  Instead of sleeping over a fire with the child she seeks out a cold place to sleep.   The mother teaches her child to eat raw human flesh and accustoms her to flight.  However, the fledgling witch's full powers are only developed after she has had intercourse with a tauva'u. [14]

        The ritual surrounding shipwreck is an affirmation of the cycloid nature of the spirit; the crew are turned into waywaya‑‑‑albeit one's with­out totemic identity [15] ‑‑‑and are then guided ashore by large fish. (1961 253) On reaching land they make their way to the house of a kinsman where they are ritually cooked for five days. (ibid 257)

        The canoe itself is thought to present a danger to the crew; the totemic prow boards which are said to represent human figures and/or fish hawks are thought to eat men. (ibid, 255 343)  At the launching of a canoe, the prowboards (tabuyo) are stained red in a ceremony called kaytalula wadola waga ("staining red of the mouth of the canoe"). (ibid 147) As many other ritual words, kaytalula may be a compound; kayta means sexual intercourse and ula means prohibited or polluting.   The canoe is a representation of a mulukwausi; among the categories of prohibited intercourse the archaic type is incest which raises again the possibility that mulukwausi are kinswomen.

        The kayga'u spell includes the names of the villages where witches are known to reside.  Malinowski says that witches were limited to certain areas of Boyowa.  He collected much of his information on witches from the Village of Oburaku; he may have misunderstood the evidence or have been misled.  Walwale and other villages near Oburaku are thought to contain mulukwausi; it is highly unlikely that men from Oburaku do not occasionally marry women from their nearest neighboring villages and thus bring mulukwausi to their own villages.  In fact, it would make sense in terms of those domiciled at Oburaku to say that there are no mulukwausi there, only if mulukwausi were female kinswomen since this is the only category of women that may not reside at Oburaku for any length of time.  An exception would occur in a case. of cross‑cousin marriage. (AWP 244) [16]  Men freely marry known witches even though wives, through infidelity, are able to slow down the progress of their husband's canoes; thus increasing the husbands' exposure to the dangers of witches.  If men do not fear women of other clans, they must fear those of their own clan.  Women, as prime targets of their kinsmen's sorcery, have motives for killing their kinsmen.

        One of the kayga'u spells closes with the speaker covering the sexual organs of the body of the woman who has sent her spirit in search of him:

        "I hit thy flanks; I fold over thy mat, thy bleached mat of pandanus; I shall make it into thy mantle.   I take thy sleeping doba (grass skirt), I cover thy loins; remain there, snore with thy house." (AWP 251)

        The reference to the mantle may be an illusion to the pregnancy mantle which a woman wears during the last few months of pregnancy; its use marks a period when the woman must abstain from even the thought of sex.  The covering of the loins suggests that some of the mulukwausi powers may derive from her sexual organs.

        Malinowski's portrayal of the mulukwausi is incomplete.  He maintains that, although some women are publicly recognized as mulukwausi, these women know no rites or spells; he, therefore, concludes "...this type of female magic lives merely in legend and fiction." (SLS 47)  If spells did exist, there is good reason to believe that knowledge of them would have to be kept from a male ethnographer, no matter how close his relationship to her.  Sorcery, the male counterpart of mulukwausi magic, is never passed onto a woman, even in a case where the last males in the lineage are dying, though other forms of magic would be passed on to female veyola to preserve them for the lineage.

        To become a sorcerer, a man must kill his mother, his sister, or some other veyola (kinsman), for the magic to become really effective. (AWP 73) For a mulukwasi to gain full control of her magic, it is necessary for her to have intercourse with a tauva'u. (SLS 47)  It is possible that the tauva'u is the baloma of a dead kinsman (veyola), and that the evils of sorcery and witchcraft grow out of incest.  The malevolence of the mulukwausi is one of a number of indications of structural conflict within Trobriand society; on the surface, an opposition of male and female can be seen but underneath lies an opposition of male and female veyola.

        The myth of Mokatuboda serves as a warning of the dangers of conflict within the dala; it relates how man lost through fratricide magic which could make canoes fly.  Mokatuboda was a famous chief who possessed the magic of the flying canoe.  This magic enabled him to collect the best kula objects by helping him to get to the expedition's destination first.  This success aroused the anger and jealousy of his neighbors.  He also possessed magic which controlled rainfall and he used this magic to cause a universal drought with the exception of his own fields.  Public outrage encouraged his jealous younger brother to act.  Having killed Mokatuboda, the younger brother found that he had been given an incomplete system of magic. (AWP 311 16)  The myth appears to be a charter for the removal of chiefs who misuse their magical powers.  The mythical origins of the mulukwausi can be traced to the conflict between Mokatuboda and his brother.  The sisters of these two men were so enraged over the loss of their clan's heritage that they flew away.  Later the sisters were turned into stones; the one facing Dobu ate men which explains why the Dobuians are cannibals, while the one facing the Trobriands did not eat men. (AWP 315 16)  The myth suggests that mulukwausi may have benevolent, as well as malevolent, characteristics.

        After a death the mulukwausi assemble to feast on the spiritual essence of the dead man's organs.  Magic and food are constantly combined in Trobriand symbolism.  The acquisition of magic is compared to the process of eating.  "The mind, nanola, by which term intelligence, power of discrimination, capacity for learning magical formula, and all forms of non‑manual skills are described, as well as moral qualities, resides somewhere in the larynx." (AWP 408)  The stomach serves as the memory.  Food taboos are kept to avoid contamination of magical power. (AWP 140)   The parts of the body signaled out for consumption of witches are the stomach, the tongue and the eyes.  Perhaps the witches are after the man's sorcery; it will be recalled that sorcery is the one form of magic which is never passed on to women. If this is the case, the witches are protecting themselves and the welfare of the dala by symbolically attacking the sources of their sorrow.   The  muluk­wausi's removal of the organs of sorcery may also be viewed as protecting the living from the recently dead‑‑‑on reaching Tuma, the spirits drink a potion of forgetfulness which, theoretically, erases his ill will.

        We know that a man's rite of passage for becoming a sorcerer is the killing of his mother or another maternal kinsman.  A logical, though not inevitable, corollary is that women become mulukwausi by eating the flesh of their male kin, preferably a brother or uncle.  Women must have hostility towards kin who kill them; it is the mother who teaches the daughter to kill and eat flesh, and it would seem natural that the mother would direct the daughter's hostility towards politically ambitious kinsmen who are likely to practice sorcery on her.

        The identity of the mulukwausi is wrapped up in their sexuality and has some overtones of incest.   The kayga'u magic protects men from their dreaded powers by making the magician and his followers liminal.  This liminality is linked with Trobriand concepts of clans and time; crew's become invisible to the mulukwausi by changing or obliterating their clan identity and the rites which remove them from this self imposed liminality involves skipping a portion of the normal cycle of a spirit‑‑‑the transfer to Tuma and life there‑‑‑to jump ahead to the waywaya state.  After being ritually cooked the crew emerge from their kinsmen's homes as adults just as autochthonous man once emerged from the earth.

The Liminal Taytu:

        The final ritual of a taytu's existence in the ground is an inversion of the procedures of human birth.  The towosi performs magic which causes the taytu to turn black. (1965 I 168)  He cuts the stem of the vine‑‑‑the taytu's throat‑‑‑and then takes a stone of volcanic origin and presses the earth with it as a kinswoman will press a woman's shoulders to insure an easy delivery.  In some villages, the towosi cuts open the first taytu he harvests and thus dramatizes its white interior.

        Once the taytu have been removed from the ground and cleaned of their roots they are used to assembly carefully constructed conical piles of urigubu presentations called gugula.  The affines of the man who grew them carry the yams from the garden and reassemble the gugula in front of the recipient's yam house; later, they will store them away in the yamhouse.  A chief's yam house is compartmentalized so that the gifts of each of his major affines, who represent the various villages under the chief's authority, are kept in separate compartments.  In good years the yams form a column which reaches high into the air to touch the eaves of the bwayama; the reciprocals of these high columns are the high platforms which are built for the baloma at Milamala as a reward for a good harvest. (1948 184)

        Malinowski noted that there were a large number of similarities between the magic and terminology used for canoes and that which was used for yam houses.   He suggests that the rituals which are performed to preserve the taytu, exorcize any pests present and sends them off in a spirit canoe while the healthy taytu are left in another "firmly anchored canoe‑‑‑the yam house. [ ](1965 I 249)   Canoes are symbols of human liminality while yam houses are symbols of taytu liminality.

        The yams given to the chief are used for sagali‑‑‑distributions of food on ceremonial occasions.  On important occasions such as mortuary ceremonies or the launching  of a kula expedition, large prismatic food receptacles (pwata'i) are constructed. The pwata'i resemble an upside down kamkokola and symbolize the onset of the yams return from liminality for they will be taken home to be cooked and eaten.  On some ceremonial occasions yams are roasted by placement next to red hot stones instead of being boiled thus dramatizing that the application of fire precedes the transformation to whiteness‑‑the boiling of yams is preceded by the removal of their skins. (1961 149, Silas 194)

There are definite analogies between the wastes (yosewo) produced by the consumption of food and by the migration of a spirit to Tuma.  The re­mains of both are highly polluting and provide reciprocals of the father/son bond;  the father pollutes himself with his son's wastes and the son returns the favor during the father's mortuary services.  In some areas adjacent to the Trobriands the final mortuary exchange which ends the period of mourning is called So'i.  So'i means to evacuate the bowels. (Fellows 182)

A Contention of Bones:

        Malinowski states that because of their immediate transfer to Tuma after death the baloma were oblivious of the mortuary services performed on their bodies. (1929a 149)  However, he also recorded a belief that the spirits of those killed by sorcery would travel to the east before heading for Tuma. (1961 79)  In other accounts he reports beliefs that the spirit would make his way to coastal village on the western shore of the island and there get a boat to sail across to Tuma.  Malinowski also flatly states that there is no association between the baloma of a dead man and the relics of his body" (1948 172)   Yet Trobrianders definitely believe that bones have spiritual properties and though we lack any statement by natives directly linking baloma and their relics, ritual metaphor indicate such a tie.

        At death the individual divides into a spirit and a body.  Mortuary services again divide these parts further.  The major divisions of body and spirit has subdivisions of visible and invisible; the visible portion of the body is symbolically eaten by the man's sons (affines) while the invisible part of the body is consumed by a mulukwausi.  The sons consume only a token portion of the body but they do destroy its order and preserve the bones which are apparently untouched by the mulukwausi.  The bones retain part of both the visible and invisible aspects of the body.  The spirit also has visible and invisible aspects; the former is lost when the baloma bathes in a special spring making him invisible to the unaided human eye.

        Normally the bones are removed by a man's sons and given to his various affines.  They return to their villages to bury them in the grave of a near relative who will carry them to Tuma. (Silas 117, Seligman 718)   Thus the spirit portion is removed while physical portion is exhumed and made into relics which are worn or used by the affine. These relics may be viewed with distaste but are not feared. (ibid 727)

        Seligman and Silas both report that for an undetermined interval the name of the dead man is not used.  The names of his nearest relatives would also be avoided.  Seligman concludes:

        "Mr. Bellamy could find no reason for these observances 'except that the dead were in the habit of calling one's name.  One man explained that it was because they were"ashamed" to hear their names mentioned when the dead could no longer call them, but where the shame came in I could not discover." (Seligman 720)

        Here is a paradox; the dead are in the habit of calling the names of the living and conversing with them directly yet the avoidance of names results from the dead names inability to call them. (1948 160)  Clearly the baloma's indisposition is temporary just as avoidance of the names is also temporary.

        During the liminal period the dead man's spirit may attempt to return to its body; the bodily orifices are plugged and the arms and legs are bound probably to prevent a return. (1929b 408‑09)  Sorcerers are buried face down in case their spirit returns they will dig themselves further into the ground rather than escape the grave.  If a medium is present at the ceremo­ies following death the new baloma may take possession of him;  Malinowski reports a case where this happens but though the voice is the spirit's the language is unrecognizable. (1929b 408‑09)  A few days later a man who has been dead for some time possesses the medium and reports, in familiar language, the deadman's wishes in regards to the disposal of his property. (ibid 416) Baloma are unable to communicate directly with their relatives until the mortuary services are completed and probably more specifically until the man's jawbone has been removed from liminality.

        Garden magic is performed over important persons during the mortuary vigil;  Malinowski does not indicate at what point this happens, what spells are performed, or why this is done. (1968 244)  It may be a means of restoring the memory removed by the mulukwausi; in any case, it is further evidence of a ritual analogy between the corpse and taytu.  Silas reports that the graves are marked by piles of stones for commoners and by a palmleaf canopy  .... suggestive of the roof of a yam house  ....  for men of rank. (197)

        Baldwin indicates that all bones buried within a village must be removed before the village can perform Milamala dances. (1940 216)  Since the Milamala dances are one of the means of insuring the baloma's cooperation in the ensuing garden season this prohibition provides an incentive for the completion of the mortuary exchanges which must precede the removal of the bones from the village.  Austin indicates that two years lapsed after Touluwa's death before his successor was able to move his bones to the Tabalu burial caves; during this period Mitakata, the successor, was both economically and ritually strapped. (Austin 1945a 29)  Each lineage apparently has its own burial cave or hole in which very well may be the dala's origin hole. [18]  The bones are carried to these burial spots in wooden bowls for commoners, and in miniature yamhouses for the relics of men of rank. (ibid)

        The bones are then set out in wooden bowls or clay pots as if they were food. (Austin 1936 42)  Here we are exposed to the metaphorical similarity between bones and yams in its purest form; in ritual metaphor taytu in yam houses are liminal‑‑‑black [19] on the outside but white on the inside‑‑‑while taytu which have been cooked and served as food are alive (white) suggesting that the removal of the bones to the caves may involve a ritual restoration of a spirit latent in the bones.

        In contrast to the passive attitude towards the relics when they are in the village both Seligman and Silas report that the bones in the caves are greatly feared. (Seligman 727, Silas 105)  Silas also indicates that sorcery is connected with them:

        "There is a native law that women may not look upon these remains, but even if there were no such rule, fear  of evil magic would deter them from going near the places. The people believe that anyone entering one of these sacred  spots without pronouncing the correct incantation would  inevitably be struck down by the spirits; and, therefore, the carina have come to be used by evilly disposed sorceress, who  come there to lay plans for the disposal of their enemies."  (Silas 105‑06)

        We can't be certain that the spirits guarding the burial place are baloma but we can be sure that the bones seem to be spiritually alive in some way.  The prohibition against women seeing the bones is very strict and extends to European women as well; when it was learned that the resident magistrate's wife would accompany Silas to one of the caves all the bones were hidden. (Silas)  This prohibition may be in some way linked to the notion that sorcery spells must never be taught to women.

        One of the burial caves called Kituma is mentioned in a spell given by Malinowski. (Austin 1934 45)  In a spell used by a woman as part of the beauty magic associated with combing the hair the following lines appear:

               "Who makes the beauty magic"-
               To heighten the beauty, to make it come out?
               Who makes it on the slopes of Kituma?" (1929a 356)

         Malinowski indicates that a sorcerer's strongest and most fatal rite is called the "pointing‑bone".

        Uttering powerful spells, the bwaga'u and one or two accomplices, boil some coconut oil in a small pot, far away in a dense patch of jungle.  Leaves of herbs are soaked in the oil, and then wrapped around a sharp stingaree spine, or some  similar pointed object...then the bwaga'u steals towards the village, catches sight of his victim, and hiding himself  behind the 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."(1961 75)

        Unfortunately, Malinowski does not report the spells involved in this magic, therefore, we can only infer the possibility of a link between the "bone" dagger and the ancestor's relics.

        The fibula appear to have special significance for they are literally the u'ula of the u'ula‑‑‑the legs of the ancestor.  Legs appear frequently in ritual metaphor; mulukwausi and sorcerers are said to kick their victims. Kula magic contains references to kicking "the mountain"‑‑‑the symbol of the partners community.  The gifts given to a sorcerer or garden magician are called "poultice for his leg" because their work requires them to walk long distances; stone and wood carvers would be given poultices for their hands. (1961 183)  Interestingly enough, though there are relatively few men with malformed limbs, there is a special ritual at the end of the Milamala celebrations to drive away lame baloma. (1929a 289, 1948 186)  The day preceding this ritual the strong baloma have been respectfully asked to leave; the exorcism of the weak, women, children and crippled is called "pem ioba" or chasing away of the lame and it is performed in an abusive manner by young children.  The use of lameness to signify the whole category of weak ancestors makes more sense in terms of ritual metaphor than bodily metaphor‑‑‑lame ancestors would be those without any role in magic, and they, therefore, would provide a safe target for abuse.

        Ritual metaphors suggest that yams are like men and vice versa; yams are killed by a ritual specialist, the tubers are removed from the ground and then given to affines just as men are killed by chiefs and their bones are  given to affines.  Mortuary exchange results in their return to the lineage of their origin through a delayed exchange of one for the other.  The tubers and bones are liminal until this exchange process has taken place, after which they are ritually cooked and their spirits are restored.  The performance of these exchanges establishes a bond between a dead magician and his heir, thus ensuring the former's cooperation in the prospering of the lineage.

        The attachment of the spirit to the parts of the body after death is the basis of the baloma's bond with individual kinsmen; and it is this bond, between the dead magician and his heir, established by an exchange of services, which is the basis of office in the Trobriand political system.  The aspirant to office performs a number of services for the incumbent who then teaches him the magic which designates the aspirant as the incumbent's heir.  When the incumbent dies the heir repays him for the magic by paying for the mortuary services.  During the period between the incumbent's death and the final mortuary service the heir is thought to be ritually weak. (Seligman 667), 722‑23)  Most important of these services is the removal of bones from the body by the incumbent's sons and their transformation of relics.  The heirs return to strength appears to coincide with the return of these bones.

        Not all of the bones are returned to the caves within several years after death; H. Ian Hogbin, one of Malinowski's students, left this account of his visit with Mitakata in 1945‑‑‑some fifteen years after Touluwa's death:

        "He displayed the liveliest interest when informed of my  relations with Malinowski and explained that the Trobrianders  knew him as 'Man of Songs'. I  was permitted to handle a lime spoon fashioned from the tibia of Touluwa, the former chief, Malinowski's close friend...." (72)

         In Trobriand metaphor Hogbin, as Malinowski's student, would have been heir to the late great man; Mitakata's display of the ritual symbol of his own inheritance as a response has a poetic quality about it.


[1] All works cited are by Malinowski unless indicated otherwise.

[2] The lengths to which he went to test native reactions to the dead suggests that his acceptance of Frazer's position may have, in part, hinged on the results.  After returning from a funeral in a neighboring village he would send a boy at night to fetch back something he had purposely left to see if he was afraid of the dead man's ghost. (1948 152)

[3] Unless indicated otherwise, rites refer to Omarakana. not fish and must exchange yams for fish.  Omarakana does not fish and must exchange yams for fish.

[4] Urigubu is a different class of food gift and should not be confused with sagaliSagali yams consist of urigubu yams which have been ritually treated and thus form another class.

[5]Malinowski reports that men take a great deal of interest in the number of women in their dala.  The Tabalu of Omarakana who had only two adult females in their dala, were touchy on this subject and fell back to the position that the Tabalu line in another village was blessed with an abundance of females.

[6] This metaphor of the crushed betel nut appears frequently in Trobriand ritual.  Magic to induce pregnancy employs leaves of the betel nut tree. (1929a 177‑Austin 1934 ill)

[7] The time sequence presented by Austin is much clearer than Malinowski's as to whether he is using native reckoning or a western one.   The sequence presented here is a combination of both because Malinowski gives more details on pregnancy ritual.  Unless otherwise specified, the native system of reckoning is used.

[8] The height at which an individual keeps his head in a relationship to other people's heads is an idiom of rank.  The higher one's head, the higher one's rank. Women do not usually occupy their kinsmen's platforms; this aspect or the pregnancy ritual may dramatize the child's rank as much as the woman's.

[9] Malinowski reports that changes of the breast and a dream "diagnose" pregnancy which is confirmed after two‑three months in that the menstrual flow does not appear.  The abdomen begins to swell four months after the dream and causes the tabagu to prepare the ceremonial garments.  Malinowski goes on to state that these are presented in the fifth month of pregnancy which can only be true if the natives believe that the breasts swell and the baloma appear in the month which westerners mark as conception. (1929a 211‑212)  Assuming that Trobriand women's breast change about the same time as American women, Austin is placing the Trobriand notion of conception at second or third month in a western model of pregnancy and this is more logical.

[10] Bagido'u omission of these rituals may be significant since he was being well rewarded for each spell.

[11] Puri‑puri which Malinowski says means swarm or break forth is also a term which is used for sorcery. (Silas)  Puri is the return of yams to life while puri‑puri is the return of spirits to Tuma.  The metaphor of swarming appears in the Milamala; the return of the spirits is marked by the swarming of a certain insect.

[12] Names are clan property and it would be safe to assume that the dog's name was property of the Molasi clan. (MSR)

[13] Tobacco was introduced into the Trobriand Islands as a trade good and proved so successful that Trobrianders are reputed to be the heaviest smokers in Papua.  Europeans pay for most of their goods and services with tobacco.  Given the Trobriand notions about the beneficial effects of smoke on the health, it may have appeared initially as a European form of magic which had great advantages over a smoke-filled room.  One could inhale greater amounts of smoke, it could be used with greater mobility, and it came from the clever Europeans who exhibited little fear of sorcery or witchcraft.

[14] The snake is also a phallic symbol in at least one myth. Two sisters go in search of eggs; one of the sisters takes some that she finds on the ground in spite of her sister's warning that they may belong to a snake. The snake tracked down the woman and entered her vulva until only its tail and nose remained exposed.  A man in another village dreams of what has happened and saves the girl by removing the snake and killing it.  As his reward, he marries both sisters. (SLS 403)

[15] They became non‑totemic birds

[16] Each lineage or clan would pinpoint different locations as the residence of mulukwausi.

[17] Baldwin reports that damaged canoe planks are often used by chiefs to make emblems of their totem and rank to be placed on their yam storehouses. (1945 213)  These emblems are called Kaidawaga which is also the name of the board which is used by women in scraping grass for their skirts.  One of the important oppositions in the Trobriand myth of incest is a mother's overconcern for modesty contrasted with her daughter's lack of concern for it, expressed around a theme of grass skirts.  On a chief's death his kinsmen throw stones at eave boards of his yam houses to deface them.

[18] Seligman was under the impression that various clans mixed their bones together (727) but Austin indicates that commoners and chiefs have different burial caves. (1943a 29)

[19] Black is the color of mourning.