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Culture of Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea

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    Trobriander’s Culture

    Different cultures have their differences and what makes them unique but in the end when you really look at a culture, there are some general characteristics that are similar to your own culture. These kin ties make their lineage stronger; show how they bond with each other and one’s specific roles in their family lineage. In The Trobrianders of Papua New Guniea by Annette B. Weiner, she describes that their society is structured as a matrilineage. There are many exchanges that occur in this society between “owners” and “workers” of this lineage. As well as, everyone plays their own part when one passes away and when someone does it weakens their lineage.

    The Trobrianders society is different from our society in some ways. Their society is based on matrilineal descent and has a ranked society. The wife’s brother is the head of the family and takes care of her children. The status of a person in the family would be determined by the amount of items they receive or give during marriage, death and gardening. Patrilocal post-marital residency occurs when a couple becomes married. When the woman is just about to give birth she moves in with her mother and stays for a few months after the birth, to allow her mother to help with the baby. The Trobrianders believe that when someone passes away their spirit passes on their material wealth, social and political relationships. The Trobrianders’ society is a bit more complex than our own. In our society today, it is not based on matrilineal or patrilineal descent; it is based on bilateral descent. Even though some may not have contact with one side of their family, we trace our lineage through both our mothers and fathers. Just like the Trobrianders though, the mother’s brother will help out with their children if the father is no longer present in their lives. For example, my uncle is no longer present in his children’s lives so their mother’s brother stepped up to help her out. However, when one gets married they do not move in with the bride’s or groom’s family, they get their own place to start their new life together. Our society structure has some similarities to the Trobrianders when you actually think about and evaluate it.

    To the Trobrianders giving does not just mean caring but also intention, they believe that if they give they will be expecting to receive something in return, even if it is in the near future. In their society the amount of money you have does not define your wealth or power. Yams are their currency and are the ones that are considered as a sign of wealth and power. The size and amount of yams you own determines you status of wealth and power. According to Annette B. Weiner, “…the reason for a man to give yams to a woman ultimately involves women’s wealth” (Weiner 1988:82). The brother of the wife is the one to grow the yams for his sister. A man will receive a higher status if he has more than one wife; it allows him to receive more yams from his wives brothers. Men do not give the yams to their sisters to feed them, they give it to them “to finance the household” (Weiner 1988:82). Weiner reports that Malinowski says, “it is because of her, for her and for her children’s maintenance that the annual gift is given” (Weiner 1988:82).

    Unlike the Trobrianders’ society, we do not receive our status of power and wealth from yams and social relationships. We get our wealth from working, having a career. Our wealth is very different from their wealth. Today’s society we use dollar bills and coins as our currency instead of yams. They can grow their wealth in their backyards, we cannot. The Trobrianders depend on each other and their lineages to gain that wealth; they have to invest in one another. In our society we do not have to depend on each other, we go out there and look for work that will make us wealthy.

    When someone dies, the Trobrianders believe that sorcery was the cause to weaken the lineage. Each death shows the complex relationships to the deceased and how strong the matrilineage is. During death the “owners” are the ones part of the matrilineage and take care of the burial and exchanges. The “workers” are the ones who are related to the deceased through marriage. Through Weiner’s observations and participation there is a long process that takes place when someone passes away. The “workers” are the ones that do the “hard labor”. They prepare the grave and carry the deceased’s body to the grave. They get paid after the burial has taken place. The “workers” get paid in yams, taro and small amounts of money. Weiner states, “the sizes [of
    the yams] and the amounts given depending on the status of the person and upon her or his relationship to the deceased” (Weiner 1988:44). Getting paid the services goes back to your status in the society and how you will get paid based on your ranking. Not only do the “owners” pay the “workers” but the “workers” also pay the “owners”. They pay them with large clay pot and stone axe-blades. This type of payment is known as a “compensation payment” to show their innocence to the death and that they were not the ones that committed it. The “workers” get paid to help with the burial proceedings but in return they have to pay to show that they are innocent. Since men get yams from their wives’ matrilineage they must help make the skirts and bundles when a person of the wife’s matrilineage dies. The female kin in the matrilineage, also known as the owners, are the ones who have to pay everyone back who helped during the burial proceedings. The mourning of the death lasts until the last wealth distribution of the skirts and banana leaf bundles. This distribution as well as the others takes place during the yam harvest season.

    The kinswomen receive help form “the married daughters of the men who are members of the dead person’s matrilineage” (Weiner 1988:116). Each woman works to gather large amounts of skirts and bundles until the day of the exchange. The woman owners have help when they distribute to the ones that are considered “workers” who took place in some part of the mourning of the deceased. There are many exchanges that occur during the death ceremony that shows the different kin ties in the Trobrianders’ society. When someone dies, the burial proceedings are none like the Trobrianders’ burial services. There are no “workers” or “owners” that get paid for helping during the proceedings, and we do not have to shave our heads and paint our bodies black. However there are a few exchanges during this time. The family and friends of the deceased send flowers and attend the services. From a recent death in my family I noticed that many family and friends host fundraisers to help provide money for the burial services, since they are expensive. And during the services they bring flowers to display at the grave site as well as for the home of the deceased’s parents. Our burial rituals are kind of similar to the Trobrianders’ rituals. But I believe the Trobrianders’ rituals are unique than ours.

    In the Trobrianders’ society men exchange items as well, known as men’s wealth. Kula is the exchange of armshells and necklaces. In this exchange the armshells only move counter clockwise and necklaces only move clockwise. Men often travel across the seas to make this trade possible. These items were treasured and handed on every year. If they waited long enough their gift would come back around. If they know that their Kula partner has a particularly valuable that they want they can offer another gift to them. If the exchange is accepted it means that the desired gift will be given at the next Kula exchange. The more valuable necklace or armshells one has means the more wealth or statues power he has. During this exchange one tries to receive an item that has great value to him than the item he already has. It is like an investment to become wealthier.

    In our society, men’s wealth is not like the Trobrianders’s wealth. Men do not travel to exchange items to become wealthy and have a higher status. Men’s wealth is no different from women’s wealth. We are not like the Trobrianders exchanging yams, banana leafs, necklaces and armbands for wealth and power. They work together to achieve their status unlike us we work on our own but some may get help from their families, like the Trobrianders get help from their matrilineage. However, like the Trobrianders we do invest in others to become wealthier, like in business. It is like gambling as well, you have to take risks to become wealthy. Even though what we exchange to become wealthy is far from being the same as the Trobrianders’ we all have the same intentions.

    In conclusion, cultures are similar in one way or another. Even though we live in a more civilized society than the Trobrianders’ in a way we still perform the same rituals. Women are the ones’ to run their society because of the matrilineage but in our society everybody is equal when it comes to that. Even when we do not think about it we perform similar exchanges as the Trobrianders, we are just used to them that we do not notice.

    Culture of Trobrianders of Papua New Guinea. (2016, Dec 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/trobrianders-of-papua-new-guinea-2/

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