Social Reproduction and Value in a New Ireland Society, Tanga Islands, Papua New Guinea

Author: 
Foster, Robert John
Year: 
1988

     In this thesis I describe and analyze mortuary feasting and ceremonial exchange in Tanga, a society in Papua New Guinea." The introduction "outlines some of the key terms and concepts of the study and suggests why I find them appropriate to the task. I do not erect a theoretical framework easily detachable from the ethnography constructed herein. Rather, I present the organizing concepts of the ethnography and indicate their significance for understanding local conventions about feasting and exchange. . . . My primary concerns in this introduction are to place the thesis in the context of Melanesian studies and to highlight important aspects of my argument." The study is divided into three parts, the first of which "includes two background chapters on the history and social organization of the Tanga Islands" The next section is "devoted to the ethnography of sequential mortuary feasting," with one chapter describing "the feasts associated with waking, burial and mourning" and another, "the sequence of feasts that accompanies the construction of a commemorative men's house (pok bif)." The final section "comprises three chapters in which I analyze the mortuary sequence in terms of the concepts and concerns sketched" in the introduction. Here, "I explore the implications of my proposal that Tangans construe social reproduction as a process of 'replacement' effected by mortuary feasting or kastam. This involves first of all explaining how the exchanges which accompany mortuary feasts ground the process of lineage replacement." Then the "argument shifts emphasis from the structure of exchange and the form of social reproduction to the value-orientation of actors. By value-orientation I mean the definite assumptions which not only inform practice but also lend practice its character as morally compelling." Finally, "I claim that the mortuary sequence realizes for the host lineage a temporary transcendence of death and consumption." The study concludes "with a tentative attempt to typologize the form of Tangan social reproduction for the purpose of comparative analysis of social reproduction in Papua New Guinea."