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Here’s some background stolen from the net.[cOa3ftAKnzo].cfm

In the nineteenth-Century, ethnology, which involves the organized comparison of human societies, and relied on second hand materials collected by missionaries, explorers, or colonial officials, earned the ethnologists their current label of “arm-chair anthropologists” developed.

Culture Shock by Isabella Tree


I stumbled across this on the internet. It’s such a good background piece, I hope Isabella won’t mind if I reference it. Think of it as an act of unexpected homage. She certainly knows her stuff. Dogster’s insights are purile, in comparison. Bravo Isabella.
In the Trobriand Islands the annual yam festival is more than just ordinary. Nick burst out laughing when I told him I was heading for the Trobriand Islands.

“I hope you know how to bite off a man’s eyebrows,” he said. He saw the bewildered look on my face. “And eyelashes,” he added, wiping away tears of amusement. Nick was a native Trobriand islander, but he had been working as a doctor on ‘mainland’ Papua New Guinea for the past four years. In all that time he hadn’t been back, and he needed no encouragement to talk about the tiny archipelago where he was born, just an hour’s plane hop away in the beautiful Solomon Sea.

“It’s a crazy time of year,” he said. “The big yam harvest will be coming in now. And women will be given permission by the paramount chief to capture men and have their way with them.”

“You mean, assault them?” I asked, disbelieving. “Sexually.”

“That’s it,” said Nick. “They will rape them.” He pronounced it ‘rep,’ as in travelling salesman, and made it sound just as casual.

“The women lie in wait in the bushes,” he continued. “They jump out on a man when he goes to work in the gardens or even while he’s just waiting to get a lift to town. It’s always a man from another clan; women will never rape men from their own village. It’s a kind of ritual humiliation. It’s a very dangerous time for a man to be walking by himself. Men will be going round in twos and threes, just in case.”

Nick would elaborate no further. He’d already gone beyond the bounds of decency by talking about the practices to a dim-dim, a foreigner – and a woman at that.

“It’s tabu,” he reminded himself reproachfully and leaned forward to grab another can of South pacific, the Papua New Guinea beer that, appropriately, has a bird of paradise as its logo.

“The Trobs are a beautiful place,” he added wistfully. “Maybe I can give you one of my eyes to take with you so that I can see it all again.”

I thought of Nick as my light aircraft bumped to a halt on the runway on Kiriwina – a runway unimproved since it was built during World War II – and indeed wished I could have brought him along for the trip. I was feeling like a nun about to enter the world of Bacchus and badly in need of a chaperone.

There was little I’d read about the place that was reassuring. Some of it dated to just after World War I, when Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski wrote the then scandalous ‘Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia.’

When American GIs were stationed here some 30 years later, they reported that the Trobrian islanders, for all their hospitality and charm, seemed to relish misleading foreigners. The few outsiders who had visited this remote paradise found themselves the butt of merciless teasing, practical jokes, and sexual harassment.

The modern tourist appeared to be no exception. One visitor had found himself hounded by girls mocking him for his surname, Wheeler, which to them sounded hilariously similar to wila – a word for female private parts.

I girded up my loins and prepared for the fray.

At first glance, at least, the Trobriands looked much as one would expect paradise to look: bleached white sand, coconut palms, dugout canoes, and thatched fishing huts, a line of surf breaking on an off-shore reef, the ripping semaphore of waves out at sea, the aroma of bananas and guavas, and a warm sensuous breeze at once arousing and totally enervating. More the stuff of ‘South Pacific’ than ‘Fatal Attraction’.

The southern half of Kiriwina, the main island of the group, is rain forest; it is in the northern half – a flat, hot, open plain – that everything seems to happen, where the stereotypical expectations of paradise are supplanted by the bizarre and bewildering practices peculiar to the Trobriands. It is here that the all-important yam is elevated from staple food to status symbol, where competition between villages for the title of tokwaibagula, or ‘good gardener,’ is fiercest, where old rivalries can flare into tribal battles overnight.

It is also where the women are most audacious, wreaking revenge for past grievances by pouncing on hapless males in the post harvest mayhem.

I was greatly relieved to learn, on arriving in the village of Kaibola, that I had missed the annual bacchanalia by a good few weeks. It was late August and the yam harvest had been early that year, culminating in a festival at the end of July. The whirlwind of rampaging women had come and gone, and the place was beginning to return to normal. I could walk easy without being roped into a gang-bang.

However, the yam, the catalyst of all the excitement, was still very much in evidence. Beneath the shade of a giant fig tree, villagers were dividing the spoils. Enamel plates and baskets piled high with tubers were being distributed to each waiting family. Toddlers ran about, cradling the yams in their arms like fat, dusty babies.

In the centre of the village, in pride of place, stood the chief’s yam house – an elegant, stilted construction, part log cabin, part totem pole, already stocked to the gunwales with the best of the crap. The giant yams – some of them a priapic four feet long – had been installed here with great ceremony a week earlier. They stuck out indecently through the walls, like the cannons of a battle ship.

The children had fallen on me as a new source of amusement, and it wasn’t long before I was being shunted around the village like a captured hog.

“Dim-dim,” they chanted. “We’ve got a dim-dim. Over here. Come and catch us, dim-dim.”

When the young ones tired of me, I found myself the focus of the older children’s curiosity. The boys strutted around me like cockerels. One wore a hibiscus flower in his hair and a T-shirt with the handwritten slogan ‘Make love to Whoever takes your Fancy.’ Another had a US Virgin Islands T-shirt under which was written ‘No Probs – We Are Trobs.”

The older girls were more approachable, if irrepressibly coquettish. They wore colourful cotton dressed, woven grass armbands and anklets, and red palm bands in their hair.

They led me on a short walk through the yam and taro gardens to some local caves. I asked them if the boys, none of whom could have been older then ten, understood what their T-shirts suggested. They giggled and responded with a lesson in the Trobriand art of sexual sign language: when a boy gave a thumbs-up, for example, a girl could answer with a finger on the lips [which meant ‘yes’] or a toss of the head [which meant ‘no’]. Hitchhiking here was clearly a risky business.

The eldest girl, who told me she thought she was 14, said her mother would sometimes suggest boys to sleep with. It was a good way of getting to know who would make a good husband, she said.

To get married, I was told, all you had to do was make sure you were still in bed with your intended at dawn. Sometimes a girl would try to drug her boyfriend or make him sleep late by putting a spell on him with a love potion. Or she’d simply exhaust him with sexual antics throughout the night. Some of the boys were planning to make their fortune importing alarm clocks.

I was beginning to feel decidedly priggish. There seemed nothing those liberated youngsters didn’t know about – including sexual positions, and terminology that made my hair stand on end.

We made a lot of noise as we meandered down the path, partly because my companions thought my naïveté so hilarious, partly as a warning to couples who might be in the bushes. Making love was supposed to bring fertility to the crops, and the yam and sweet potato gardens were popular trysting sites – as was the cave to which they took me.

It was an undeniably seductive spot: a series of limestone chambers with soft, sandy floors, thrusting stalactites and stalagmites, and rock pools glowing with purple and green colours. The walls were plastered with graffiti: ‘Susan, give me a favour.’ ‘Joe, Tom, and time.’ ‘Clara, I am yours.’

It was only when the discussion moved on to the facts of life that I seemed to have the advantage over my companions. The girls believed that babies were conceived inside a woman’s head, the spirit of the unborn child arrived as a thought from the spirit island of Tuma, just across the water. The thought would travel down the woman’s body to materialize and grow in her womb.

Later, I learned from a health worker how this belief had persisted among the islanders, despite all efforts to persuade them otherwise. The Trobrianders believed there was no connection between the act of sex and conception. One theory had it that the yam, on which the islanders depended for the bulk of their food, acted in some way as a contraceptive, so that the majority of women conceived only when yam stocks began to dwindle every year, before the next harvest.

The health worker had heard that a Mexican species of yam contained a substance from which the contraceptive pill was first developed. As far as she was concerned, that theory did much to explain why the birthrate in the Trobriands was historically so low, especially considering the level of sexual activity, and why it has rocketed since the introduction of imported food like bread and rice.

There was a stubborn resistance to modern contraceptives, she added. When a boatload of condoms arrived at the dock in Losuia as part of Papua New Guinea’s national family planning program, the islanders blew them into balloons and sent them drifting out to sea.

One beautiful, warm evening, the villagers came down to the beach to rehearse their traditional dances for a local sing-sing. Each dance celebrated a different crop, and all reverberated with sexual suggestion. The girls performed a seductive, swaying cassava dance, making full play of the swishing grass miniskirts slung low on their hips. Their breasts were bare and glowing with coconut oil and yellow pollen. Their hands snaked from side to side.

The mweki-mweki dance performed by the boys was not so subdued. To the fiercely rhythmic sound of drums and whistles, the young bloods of the village lined up in a column three-deep. They wore nothing but their belts and cache-sexes of dried palm leaves. Their torsos were generously oiled and sprinkled with pollen, and they stamped their feet like toreadors, kicking up the sand and whipping up a fever of excitement among themselves and the girls who were watching them. In time to the drums and a lewd, untranslatable chant, they marched down the beach, thrusting and grinding their pelvises with gleeful vulgarity. They lined up in front of my camera as if daring me to hold my ground and then gyrated off down the beach. A band of infants ran behind the group, squealing with delight.

After the dancing I found myself sitting on the beach with some of the boys and a couple of other dim-dims. Talk turned, inevitably, to the excesses of the yam harvest just weeks before. Despite the taboo surrounding the subject, a couple of bottles of South Pacific were enough to loosen one boy’s tongue, and he agreed to describe what it was like to be raped, provided I, the only woman in the group, removed myself from earshot. One of the other tourists could repeat what he said, word for word; it was just that it was forbidden for me to hear it directly from his lips.

There followed a jaw-dropping account of an ambush, relayed in tantalizing installments as the dim-dim ran 50 yards up and down the beach between us, describing what had happened. Leaving out the details, the islander, who had been raped twice, confessed it was a surprisingly pleasant experience once he had got over his initial shock. What was harder to bear, he said, was the ridicule. Sometimes, if their victim can’t perform, the women urinate on him. And then there was the biting-off of eyebrows and eyelashes. When this poor chap, bedraggled, shaken and eyebrow-less, had returned to his village, he’d been teased relentlessly for days.

I was allowed to return to my place among the men only after the subject had changed. Sitting on a piece of driftwood, looking out to sea, it was difficult not to anticipate a downside to all this wild eroticism. How long before some irresponsible dim-dim brings Western diseases to the Islands of Love? How long before the serpent finds it’s way to paradise? Was I seeing the Trobriands in the last days of innocence?

The sliver of a new moon rose above the palm trees, and the young men leaped to their feet, whooping to welcome it. Some girls walked past with burning firebrands to look for crabs on the reef. A school of wild porpoises rose and fell on the seaward side of the bay.

As I got up to retire to my hut, one of the dancers handed me what he’d been making whilst we’d been chatting. He called it a katububula. A garland of white frangipani flowers, petals delicately folded back with spiders’ webs to expose the blossoms’ scent, it was the Trobriand token of love.


Isabella Tree

Isabella Tree was born in 1964. For two years she worked as senior travel correspondent for London’s Evening Standard. In 1991 the UK’s Society of Authors awarded her a grant to write about Papua New Guinea. The resulting book, Islands in the Clouds, published by Lonely Planet in 1996, was shortlisted for The Thomas Cook Travel Book Award.

In 1997 she won the Travelex Travel Writers’ Award for Best National Sunday Newspaper Feature, for an article on Tzotzil Indians in Chiapas, Mexico; and in 1999 was Overall Winner in the same awards for an article on the Living Goddess in Kathmandu.

Her latest book, Sliced Iguana: travels in Mexico, was published by Hamish Hamilton in 2001 and a travel recollection about her childhood on the island of Spetses in Greece featured in The Best American Travel Writing 2002.

Isabella is also author of The Bird Man: the extraordinary story of John Gould which was republished by Ebury Press in 2003. She is currently working on a novel set in Kathmandu.

 Love abounds on PNG islands

Liam Fox reported this story on Saturday, July 18, 2009 08:27:00

BRENDAN TREMBATH: They’re known as the islands of love, but it seems there’s a bit too much loving on the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea. There’s been a population explosion and it’s endangering the islanders’ culture.

PNG correspondent Liam Fox reports from the Trobriand Islands.

(Sound of children singing)

LIAM FOX: In a village on the island of Kiriwina children are dancing as people celebrate the filling of the local chief’s yam house. The growing of yams is central to Trobriands’ culture but scenes like this are becoming rare.

A population explosion means it’s becoming harder and harder to grow enough to feed everyone, let alone warrant celebrations.

Christopher Toposona taught the children how to dance but he’s worried their traditions are slowly dying.

CHRISTOPHER TOPOSONA: In previous years we, what will I say – lost our culture, so now we are trying to bring back our culture.

LIAM FOX: The Trobriands are known as the islands of love after anthropologists documented the locals care free attitude to sex.

But it seems there’s been too much loving going on. Officially the region’s population is 10,000 but locals say it’s more like 40,000. The soil is becoming depleted and traditional ceremonies surrounding food are becoming few and far between.

The biggest ceremony is the Milamala when communities from across the Trobriands come together to celebrate the yam harvest. But there hasn’t been one for 20 years.

In an effort to counter this, a group of locals has got together to organise a mini Milamala.

(Sound of music and singing).

LIAM FOX: Around 50 tourists have come to watch scantily clad men and women perform traditional dances.

The islanders are also master carvers and many are doing a roaring trade selling ornate ebony walking sticks and other carvings inlaid with mother of pearl.

Organiser Serah Clarke says the aim is to preserve their culture and hopefully generate a local tourism industry.

SERAH CLARKE: I think this culture is very interesting. We want to keep it going and with the help of travellers coming to them to see their performances, that will keep them interested in their culture and keep the culture alive.

LIAM FOX: Melbourne University student Tina Torabi has been on Kiriwina Island for three weeks living with a family in a nearby village.

TINA TORABI: They have invited me into their homes, around their fires and I couldn’t have expected anything more. They’re really welcoming people. I’m always trying to find a way to give back because they’ve given me so much.

LIAM FOX: The Trobriand Islands used to be a tourist hotspot in the ’60s and ’70s when regular flights meant dim dims or white people were a common sight here.

But the flow of visitors dried up after the country’s independence from Australia in 1975. PNG’s Minister for Tourism and Culture Charles Abel is hoping the mini Milamala will change that.

CHARLES ABEL: I think it’s very important in the sense that on the one hand it’s a celebration of what is a very vibrant and strong and unique culture.

But on the other hand too, given the context of these islands in that there is not very much out here, it the basis of an industry I guess, and economy that the Government wants to help support because there’s not much else out here and because there’s such a hug population.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Papua New Guinea’s Tourism Minister Charles Abel ending that report from PNG correspondent Liam Fox.

‘Island of Love’ causing population woes

14:22 AEST Mon Jul 13 2009
Papua New Guinea’s Trobriand Islands is experiencing food shortages due to a population explosion.

Papua New Guinea’s Trobriand Islands are famous for being the ‘islands of love’ but too much loving has led to a population explosion causing food shortages and serious health issues.

According to PNG’s official census the Trobriands, situated in Milne Bay Province in PNG’s south, have about 10,000 residents but locals say the number is now closer to 40,000. The islands’ infrastructure is stretched, their subsistence living is wearing thin and health issues are increasing. This population increase has added stress to gardens and soils so much that there is talk of importing nutrient-rich volcanic ash from an active volcano in PNG’s East New Britain province. So bad are the crops that the traditional yam festival (Minimala) has not been held for the last 20 years because harvest sizes are not good enough to literarily sing or dance about.

Trobriand Islander Serah Clark now organises a smaller Ugwabwena Yam festival on Kiriwina in an attempt to revive the islands’ dying traditions.

The Ugwabwena Festival last weekend drew 50 tourists from around the world to see famous local dances, singing and art and crafts. “Unfortunately Minimala has been dying because of lack of yams. “The amount of yams being produced has decreased and the chief can’t hold a dance without a big pile of yams, even if the people want to dance,” she said. Charles Abel, PNG’s Culture and Tourism minister, who comes from the Milne Bay Province, hopes tourism dollars can be used to tackle the islands problems.

“The population issue is key, when you’ve got limited space like this, unless we do something about the population there’s going to be a real issue”.

But does that mean the islands of love must stop what they are famous for?

“Culturally, it goes against the grain a bit but despite that, we’ve got to be practical, we can keep the culture, support the positive aspects of it but we have to fine tune it somewhat,” he said.

Earlier this year it was reported 40 Trobriand Islanders died from preventable diseases in less than a month due to severe medicine and health service shortages. The islands face not just sexual health issues but other disease outbreaks like typhoid, malaria and pneumonia due to polluted water, poor hygiene and a lack of medical infrastructure.


The Trobriand Islands (today officially known as the Kiriwina Islands) are a 170 mi² archipelago of coral atolls off the eastern coast of New Guinea. They are situated in Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea. Most of the population of 12,000 indigenous inhabitants live on the main island of Kiriwina, which is also the location of the government station, Losuia. Other major islands in the group are Kaileuna, Vakatu and Kivata.

The Trobriand People

The people of the area are mostly subsistence horticulturalists who live in traditional settlements. The social structure is based on matrilineal clans who control land and resources. People participate in the regional circuit of exchange of shells called kula, sailing to visit trade partners on seagoing canoes. In the late twentieth century, anti-colonial and cultural autonomy movements gained followers from the Trobriand societies. When inter-group warfare was forbidden by colonial rulers, the islanders developed a unique, aggressive form of cricket.

Although an understanding of reproduction and modern medicine is widespread in Trobriand Society, their traditional beliefs have been remarkably resilient, The real cause of pregnancy is always a baloma, who is inserted into or enters the body of a woman, and without whose existence a woman could not become pregnant; all babies are made or come into existence (ibubulisi) in Tuma. These tenets form the main stratum of what can be termed popular or universal belief. If you question any man, woman, or even an intelligent child, you will obtain from him or her this information. In the past, many held this traditional belief because the yam, a major food of the island, included chemicals (phytoestrogens and plant sterols) whose effects are contraceptive, so the practical link between sex and pregnancy was not very evident.Language

The language of the Trobriand peoples is Kilivila, though various different dialects of it are spoken amongst each different tribe. It is an Austronesian language, although has the distinction of having a complex system for classifing nouns. Foreign languages are less commonly spoken, although by the 1980s at least, Melanesian pidgin and English was occasionally spoken by Trobrianders. The term “Trobriand” itself is not Kilivilan, it was instead devised by French explorers.[3]

Drawing upon earlier work by Bronisław Malinowski, Dorothy D. Lee‘s scholarly writings refer to “non-lineal codifications of reality.” In such a linguistic system, the concept of linear progress of time, geometric shapes, and even conventional methods of description are lost altogether or altered. In her example of a specific indigenous yam, Lee explains that when the yam moves from a state of sprouting to ripeness to over-ripeness, the name for each object in a specific state changes entirely. This is because the description of the object at different states of development are perceived as wholly different objects. Ripeness is considered a “defining ingredient” and thus once it becomes over-ripe, it is a new object altogether. The same perception pertains to time and geometric shapes.


In Trobriand society, it is taboo to eat in front of others; as Jennifer Shute noted, “the Trobrianders eat alone, retiring to their own hearths with their portions, turning their backs on one another and eating rapidly for fear of being observed.”[citation needed] However, it is perfectly acceptable to chew betel nuts, particularly when mixed with some pepper plant and slaked lime to make the nut less bitter. The betel nut acts as a stimulant and is commonly used amongst Trobrianders, causing their teeth to often appear red.[4]

Marriage Customs

At seven or eight years of age, Trobrian children begin to play erotic games with each other and imitate adult seductive attitudes. About four or five years later, they begin to pursue sexual partners in earnest. They change partners often. Women are just as assertive and dominant as men in pursuing or refusing a lover.[2] This is not only allowed but encouraged.

In the Trobriand Islands, there is no traditional marriage ceremony. A young woman stays in her lover’s house instead of leaving it before sunrise. The man and woman sit together in the morning and wait for the bride’s mother to bring them cooked yams.[2] The married couple eat together for about a year, and then go back to eating separately. Once the man and woman eat together, the marriage is officially recognized.[2]

When a Trobriand couple wants to marry, they show that desire by sleeping together on a regular basis, spending time together in public, and staying with each other for long periods of time. The girl’s parents approve of the couple when a girl accepts a gift from a boy. After that, the girl moves to the boy’s house, eats her meals there, and accompanies her husband all day. Then word goes out that the boy and girl are married.[5]

If after one year, if a woman is unhappy with her husband, she may divorce him. A married couple may also get divorced if the husband chooses another woman. The man may try to go back with the woman he left by giving her family yams and other gifts, but it is ultimately up to the woman if she wants to be with that man.


A Trobriand woman is thought to be pregnant when an ancestral spirit enters her body and causes conception. Even after a child is born, it is the mother’s brother, not the father, who presents a harvest of yams to his sister so that her child will be fed with food from its own matrilineage, not the father’s.[2]

The Trobrianders practice many traditional magic spells. Young people learn spells from older kin in exchange for food, tobacco, and money. Spells are often partially or fully lost because the old people give away only a few lines at a time to keep getting gifts. Often, the old person dies before they finish passing on the spells. Trobrianders believe that no one can make up a new magic spell.

Sometimes a man gives a woman magic spells because he wants to give her more than betel nuts or tobacco. People also buy and sell spells. Literate villagers write their magic spells in books and hide them. The beauty magic words are chanted into coconut oil, and then a person rubs it onto their skin, or into flowers and herbs that decorate their armbands and hair. A person may direct magic spells toward heightening the visual and olfactory effects of their body to induce erotic feelings in their lover. Some spells are thought to make a person beautiful, even those who would normally be considered ugly.[2]

[edit] Currency

Trobrianders use yams as currency, and consider them a sign of wealth and power. Western visitors will often buy items from the Trobrianders using money. There is also a Kula exchange, which is a very important tradition among the Trobriand Islands.

Yam Exchanges

Each year, a man grows yams for his sister, and his daughter if she is married. The husband does not provide yams to his wife. The more yams a woman receives, the more powerful and rich she is. The husband is expected to give his wife’s father or brother a gift in turn for the yams they give his wife. When the woman is first married, she receives yams from her father until the woman’s brother thinks his sister and her husband are old enough for him to give the yams.

At the beginning of the yam harvest, the yams stay on display in gardens for about a month before the gardener takes them to the owner. The owner is always a woman. There is a great ceremony for this every year. The yams are loaded into the woman’s husband’s empty yam house. Young people come to the gardens dressed in their most festive traditional clothes early on the day the yams are delivered to the yam house. The young people are all related to the gardener, and carry the yam baskets to the owner’s hamlet. When they get to the owner’s hamlet, they sing out to announce the arrival of the yams while thrusting out their hips in a sexually provocative motion. This emphasizes the relation between yams and sexuality. A few days later, the gardener comes and loads the yam house, and the man is now responsible for the yam.

The yam house owner provides the gardener and young people with cooked yams, taro, and pork. Sometimes, no pig is killed, perhaps because the yam house owner did not have a pig to spare. The yam house owner also may decide not kill a pig for the gardener because he is unsatisfied with the number of yams, or is angry with the gardener for another reason. Once the yam houses are full, a man performs a special magic spell for the hamlet that wards off hunger by making people feel full.


When a person dies, mourning continues for months. The spouse is joined in mourning by women kin and the dead person’s father’s sisters. These villagers stay in the house and cry four times a day. If someone who did not attend the funeral comes to the village, he or she must immediately join in on the mourning that is taking place. Other workers observe many of the mourning taboos. Most of them shave their heads. People closely related to the deceased avoid eating “good food.” Those more distantly related may wear black clothes. Before this, however, everyone receives a payment from the owners for the part they had in the burial process.

The first set of exchanges takes place the day after burial and involves yams, taro, and small amounts of money. The spouse, the spouse’s matrilineage, and the dead person’s father or father’s representative, and members of his matrilineage get the largest distribution.[2]


The first European visitor to the islands was the French ship Espérance in 1793; the ship’s navigator Bruni d’Entrecasteaux named them after his first lieutenant, Denis de Trobriand. The first European to settle in the Trobriand islands was a Methodist minister who moved to the island of Kiriwina in 1894. He was followed a decade later by colonial officers from Australia who set up a governmental station nearby, and soon a small colony had begun to be set up by foreign traders on the island. Then in the 1930s, the Sacred Heart Catholic Mission set up a settlement containing a primary school nearby. It was following this European colonisation that the name “Trobriander” was legally adopted for this group of islands.[3]

The first anthropologist to study the Trobrianders was C.G. Seligman, who focused his emphasis on the Massim people of mainland New Guinea. Seligman was followed a number of years later by the Polish Bronisław Malinowski, who visited the islands during the First World War. Despite being a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which was at war with Australia which then controlled the Trobriand islands, he was allowed to stay.[6] His descriptions of the kula exchange system, gardening, magic and sexual practices, all classics of modern anthropological writing, prompted many foreign researchers to visit the societies of the island group and study other aspects of their cultures. The psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich drew on Malinowski’s studies of the islands in writing his The Invasion of Compulsory Sex Morality and consequently in developing his theory of sex economy in his 1936 work Die Sexualität im Kulturkampf.

Books by Malinowski about the Trobriands



The trobrianders are a tribe who are driven by a culture where magic holds a significant role. Before the arrival of the European missionaries magic was widely used in inter-tribal warfare. The British missionaries who arrived in the Trobriands around the late 19th century found the ritualized warfare of the Trobrianders “barbarous” and immediately forbade it. Coincidentally, they
introduced the game of cricket to the Islanders as a substitute for the conflict between two local groups, and to encourage morality. This game, which was introduced in its original form in the early 20th century, has changed quite a lot to fit into the culture of the Trobriand people.

This film was made to highlight the Trobriand Cricket as a great example of Acculturation – how one part of a culture is transmitted through contact between groups with different cultures, in this case the contact of the British missionaries with the people of the Trobriand Islands. It depicts how the game of cricket has undergone a remarkable cultural transformation, among the people of Trobriand islands.

Mixture of Good and Evil: The values important to this culture show that the Trobrianders believe in both the goodness and evilness of human nature. As an example for their belief in goodness, we can use the fact that the elder people are revered in this society. They may not play the game, but they are in charge of jobs like keeping in pace with the score-keeper of the game, counting off the number of batsmen left, and so on. Another example is the gifts of prestige food that these people exchange in the ceremony after the game. One more amazing aspect that their game has developed is the fact that the victory of the hosting
team is understood in advance, it is predecided. So according to our definitions, the game of cricket that these people play is not a sport. This is done in order to pay respect to the organizers of the game, especially the center man. This points out their belief in the goodness of human nature.

Similarly, their belief that Man also has evil in him, is evident when the game is abandoned and the narrator tells us that there is a certain air of suspicion among the players, that the opponents from the sponsoring political movement may have brought on rain with counter-magic to purposely stop the game. Man in harmony with Nature: The Trobrianders live in harmony with the nature that surrounds them, and this is evident in their sense of dressing, decoration, their tools. They use palm fronds to count the score of a game, or to count the number of baskets of yam, when they are farming. The bats, balls and stumps they use are carved out of light and hard wood. The clothes they wear, especially the traditional pubic covering that is expected of cricket players, which is made from the skin of a beetlenut tree. They use natural products as part of their everyday lives. The fact that man should in every way live in complete harmony with nature, is synthesized in their set of values.

Present Oriented: Although we can witness all the 3 different kinds of time-orientations, the present is valued a lot more than the past or the future. The Trobriand people do yam farming, but at the same time, during the harvest period they invest their time
for the game of cricket. They prefer living in the present. They do not worry too much about future, nor do they base their values upon what has happened in the past. As the narrator says, the game of cricket is still evolving in Trobriand, it shows that the people are open to changes in the game, and not prejudiced. Doing: The Trobriands have characteristic dances and chants, which
were specially created for the game of cricket. All the out dances are danced with chants that are to taunt the batsman from the opposing team who has just got out. They criticize and ridicule the ability of a player, using these chants. This shows that for these people Doing is very important. If you do not play well, you will be taunted at. If a batsman gets run out, he is taunted by chanting: “Stupidity! Stupidity! Wicket left open.” Here, the batsman who has got run out is being taunted for what he did (leaving the wickets uncovered-open) It doesn’t matter how good the player was, an out dance is performed for every batsman that gets out. This shows the emphasis on action in this culture. Even the center man, magicians and the organizers for the game are
respected for the work they do, not the positions they hold. This underlies the fact that it is Doing that is important to the Trobrianders. Their set of ideas for what is right or wrong, lay emphasis on action.

Group oriented: The first thing to be changed in the cricket game was the limited number of players. Twelve men on a side could not accommodate all the players in a tribe. The number was expanded to 50 or so, depending on how many showed up in the host
village for the game. The other side then was allowed to have the same number. This shows their need to work as a group, to function as a group. This need is also evident at the point where the field is being prepared for the game, people work in groups to get the field ready. All dances, rituals and chants are performed as a group. They work as one team, instead of separate individual
parts. No one commands anyone, even the center man works only as an organizer, not a leader.

B. What are the effects of outside influences on this culture? Is the culture changing? What will be gained/lost? The British missionaries who arrived in the Trobriands found that the ritualized form of inter-tribal warfare which also involved magic was barbarous and immediately forbade it. Coincidentally, they introduced the game of cricket to the Islanders. When introduced to the Trobrianders, however, something wonderful happened to the game of cricket. It underwent a remarkable cultural transformation. It was an evolutionary process, over the last 80 years, and it continues even today. The British influence from colonists, and more especially from missionaries, became felt less and less. The islanders slowly began to recapture their native customs. Ritualized warfare was still outlawed, but the magic lived in the people, and the fight was in the men.

The first thing to go in the cricket game was the limited number of players. Twelve men on a side could not accommodate
all the fighters in a tribe. The number was expanded to 50 or so, depending on how many showed up in the host village for the game. The other side then was allowed to have the same number of warriors (players). Then the magic came back.

In the old days there were many incantations and secret spells cast by the magician to empower the spear-throwers. These same spells, with some modification, began to be placed on the bats used in play. There were no balls generally used in the old tribal wars, so no magic was available for the balls.

But wait! There was magic for the throwing arm (formerly with spear in hand) and that same magic could grant strength and true-aim to a pitcher. And so on, the magic was used. Best of all was the transformation of the dancing and chanting into an element of the cricket game. What we see in the Trobriand Islands is a transformation of war into dance. On the morning of a game, by this decade, the warriors wake up, put on their paint and battle dress, and dance in line to the village hosting the game. They enter the field, dancing and chanting, taunting the other side to dare compete. The home team then does the same. The chants and
spectacle incorporate ancient tribal totems and current advertising slogans. The dancing is precise, vigorous, aggressive, and fierce.

The game is usually played for two days, involving as many innings as there are players, and no one is killed. The game ends with a feast provided by the host chief (for political reasons) and the Trobriand Cricket game is over. Hence we see that this game of
cricket has undergone quite a lot of change, change to suit the Trobriand way of life. The game was transformed in many ways. Perhaps the biggest change was that the home team was always the winner – this according to our definition does not
constitute a sport. In addition, the visiting teams batted first. Each out was followed by a celebration. The bowling action was not traditional. Runners as well as batsmen. Bat and ball were not regular. They bowled alternately from each end. There was no limit to the number of players. Scoring varied considerably with 6 runs being scored by a lost ball, or hitting the ball over the highest coconut tree. Umpire was from the batting side, and when sides changed so did the umpire. There were ritual entrance dances. There was the mascot dressed as a tourist. Instead of trophies, there was a ceremony of exchanging food with the home team putting on the feast. But more than changing the rules and format of the game, it also meant totally different things for the Trobriands. It was introduced as a substitute for intertribal warfare and much of the game took on war-like aspects: the throwing of the ball that replaced bowling was very similar to the action of spear throwing; the bodies were decorated in war colors and designs; and the field entry and exit dances were those of war formations. The Trobriands reinterpreted the English game of
cricket to suit their own culture. The Trobriand Island Cricket is transmitted by learned rules viewed visually and oral transmission of rules, rituals and traditions. Thus the outside influence of European missionaries during the late 19th century did change the culture of the Trobriand people. European colonialism brought with it industrial goods like chewing gum, modern form of dressing (shirts, trousers), carry bags, etc. The people were exposed to such products and adapted them to their own living. The brand name of a chewing gum, was used in chants to represent something that is sticky, in this case, it was  the hands of the person who catches a ball hit by a batsman and gets him out. It is very interesting to notice that the people have incorporated words like PK in their chants!! One can also notice some of the players not in the traditional pubic dressing, but instead in shorts made out of cotton cloth. I also noticed that the umpire had a small carry-bag wrapped around his shoulder. It is indeed fascinating to see all these products in the form that they have been incorporated into this culture. The Trobriand culture did lose a lot due to the
interference of the European missionaries. Their method of establishing superiority over an opposing tribe through warfare was stopped by the missionaries. This led to a drastic cultural change. The missionaries and the government officials now had to find something to replace the traditional warfare, and they did. They introduced the game of cricket to the people! It seems that this change brought about by the missionaries has brought about a more peaceful life in these islands. Had the missionaries not interfered in the first place, these islands would have been a different scene today!

The Kula Ring

The Trobriand Islanders, off the east coast of New Guinea, constitute the subjects of one of the earliest works of ethnography and economic anthropology authored by Bronislaw Malinowski, a major figure in the discipline (Malikowsi 1922). He identified several unique and fascinating economic institutions within Trobriand society but the “kula ring” has attracted the most attention. This system of exchange involves annual inter-island visits between trading partners who exchange highly valued shell ornaments. There are two types of shell valuables or vaygu’a

  1. necklaces (soulava) and 
  2. armbands (mwali)


 A Trobriand Kula expedition

Each participant is linked to two partners:

  1. one to whom he gives a necklace in return for an armband of equivalent value
  2. the other to whom he makes the reverse exchange of an armband for a necklace.

Although each individual is tied to only two other partners, each contact has an additional connection on either end of the distribution chain, which eventually forms a great circle linking more than a dozen islands over hundreds of miles of ocean.

Malinowski considers the motivation for the enormous expenditure of time and effort involved in kula expeditions to be fundamentally non-utilitarian “in that they [the kula valuables] are merely possessed for the sake of possession itself, and the ownership of them with the ensuing renown is the main source of their value”. However, the development of kula partnerships has many social implications.

  1. They establish friendly relations among the inhabitants of different islands and maintain a pattern of peaceful contact and communication,
  2. They provide the occasion for the inter-island exchange of utilitarian items, which are shipped back and forth in the course of kula expeditions,
  3. They reinforce status and authority distinctions, since the hereditary chiefs own the most important shell valuables and assume the responsibility for organizing and directing ocean voyages.

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