The Work of Marriage and Death: Ritual and Political Process among the Lak, Southern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea

Author: 
Albert, Steven M.
Year: 
1987

      "The Lak view marriage and mortuary ritual, their fundamental exchange events, as fundamentally alike. Both involve tondon, glossed as 'exchange of live pigs'; and tondon is accordingly spoken of as 'the work of marriage and of death.' . . . The common name (tondon), similarity in overt form (use of live pigs and wooden scaffolds), and sociological link between the two led to a series of questions. Why should marriage and mortuary ritual be paired so explicitly? Since this pairing links life-cycle rites with the overt political career of Lak big men, who host mortuary ritual as they define the extent of social units, how is the 'dissolution' of the person in mortuary ritual keyed to the 'renewability' or permanence of clan segments . . . ? Finally, how is the indigenous theory of exchange, which links marriage and mortuary ritual, relevant for the organization of symbolism in the mortuary ritual itself?"
     The first section "of the dissertation sets the scene for analysis of 'the work of marriage and of death' by providing background materials on the Lak. As little is known of the region, Chapter 2 brings together a diverse set of sources to piece together a history of southern New Ireland from the period of contact to the present. . . . Chapter 3 gives the Lak view of their past and their commentary on the forces that brought them to leave dispersed interior settlements to take up residence along the coast. The chapter provides an ethnography of the Lak, stressing social organization and cosmology." The second part of the study "analyzes Lak exchange and shows how it operates in a number of spheres. The Lak big man, or kamgoi, and his role in intermoiety and affinal relations are examined in Chapter 4, the feasting system in Chapter 5, and the exchange basis of Lak ritual in Chapter 6. Big men turn out to be critical in this discussion because they are the pre-eminent managers of resources. They shunt the normal flow of affinal prestations toward feasts that demonstrate their status as men with 'names,' that is, men who administer land (piu), men's houses (pal), ritual possessions (tubuan, talun), and stores of shell wealth (sar). The most significant arena for demonstration of this authority is mortuary ritual." The "final section of the dissertation . . . builds on the preceding section to turn to the symbolism of the mortuary ritual itself. Chapter 7 explores in detail the theory of representation evident in Lak ritual and asks how the identification of a deceased with the funerary scaffolds 'finishes' a deceased. A conclusion brings these themes together and examines some of the implications of the Lak data.