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The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea Essay

In this ethnographic work of Annette Weiner, we discover the social and economical differences of this distinguished group of people. The trobrianders lived their lives in a much different sense. There life is centered on their Martilineage, and the philosophy of family is greatly sacred. The traditions of the trobrianders was of such high ordinance that even Malinkwoski had stated, there resilience o the trobiranders to cultural change. The social life of the trobrianders underlay on a focus for reputation and disguising. They believed that if they do not disguise there true feelings towards others, sorcery would be the consequence. Sorcery was a common fear that spread across many different taboos, in mourning ceremonies to not show your sadness towards the dead would imply you had part in the death. The belief of the islanders is that birth and death, both signify an interconnected meaning behind life.

Through the youth cycle they experiment with their sexuality and their future spouse, and a signifying factor in each member is within the jewelry and necklaces. Different styles and colors would correlate the time of which one is ready for marriage, or at the time of death. As Weiner described the red-chama shell necklaces, indicated a women-entering adolescence. Marriage is among the most important aspects of a clan. This act of mating must occur between two, distinguished clans. When different clans come together and unite, it creates a new relationship between the two and therefore it is of great importance. Among the social and cultural aspects of the trobrianders, was there most essential economical product, Yams. The attention and value of yams are such degree, that it is preferred over money among many islanders. It’s the most symbolical representation of wealth among the trobrianders, and its value is shown in many different ways.

The Husband must accommodate all his belongings to purchase yams for his bride and create a yam garden; in other places men challenge others to a Yam competition, to see who has the largest. Not only a significant social factor towards the islanders, but it’s also of great custom for the politics of the tribes. As Weiner stated, Chief Vanoi had 9 wives at the time he had passed and was promised 3 others, each wife would need a yam garden built for them, and this showed the power that he held. Not only were yams a great part in the trobrianders life, but it played as one of the highest currencies in use. The emphasis on the kulu was also of great interest to Weiner, it was a delicate system of trade that created relationships between different island partners, as it was the portrayed as the path to success and profit. The lifestyle of the islanders and the view, in which Weiner described it, intrigued me as how it related to our studies. The Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea had an efficient system of giving and receiving. The brothers and sisters of the women, through martilineage, build the yam gardens.

The women then give the yams to her relatives as a sign of appreciation. The Trobrianders had great traditions towards there kin, and therefore everything centered on it. Weiner had some difficulties at times through her studies culturally relating to the Inuit’s. As we focused in class on the work of Malinowski, I can now see how it was described the society as an organism. The Trobrianders had a less stratified society as everyone relied on one another for the well being of all. The traditions and customs of the islanders were so sacred that Malinowski had said cultural change would be a long and difficult process. Cultural change for the trobrianders emphasized more on innovations (Internal Change). Rather than importing goods from other foreign lands, the Trobrianders attempted to build upon there own tools by developing innovative techniques. Innovations in yam gardening and stone axe-blades where among the many things they focused on, creating more efficient and longer lasting products.

Being very resistant to change from other societies and cultures, the trobrianders had a small-scale society that relied on its own interconnectedness. The islanders managed to keep their boundaries with other groups by withholding a very discreet mechanism of trade and travel. Weiner discussed a few times, the mistakes she made addressing someone in the village and her dilemma of cultural relativism. Most of the ethnographic work of Weiner was based upon participant-observation and photography. She emphasized the value the Trobrianders had towards well being of their hamlet, and showed it through the pictures she had taken on the islands. This work focused deeply on the subjective viewpoint of the Trobriander people, and in a small-scale society such as the islanders, we see a strong urge to sustain hierarchical relations between the chiefs and the commoners.

Unlike many other societies that over time have culturally diffused to the new ways of the world, the Trobrianders continue to be among the most resilient societies towards the change. What seems to be even more interesting was the self sufficiency the Trobrianders had, and how they had created such a mutualistic system for all its members. A truly functionalist system, it centered social and economical culture for the well being of all its members. Although the trobrianders had simpler tools and technologies than most western nations, they possessed the perfect system of “give” and “receive”, where all people benefited from.

As I read through ethnographic work, I felt as though I had a better understating of a functionalist perspective of culture. The view in which Weiner described the cultures and traditions of the trobrianders, made me relate as to why ethnocentrism can be so devastating to any anthropologist. I felt as though the islanders had a much better perceived ideology to the circle of life. In western cultures, the imperialist elite create a beneficial system for the few, and leave the commoners outside of the circle. The case from the islanders differ, as everyone in the society relies upon another member to assist them, whether it be sociably or economically.

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