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In the Midst of Life

In the Midst of Life: Affect and Ideation in the World of the Tolai

A. L. Epstein
Copyright Date: 1992
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  • Book Info
    In the Midst of Life
    Book Description:

    The Tolai are among the most distinctive of Papua New Guinea's indigenous peoples. For all their success in the pursuit of modernity, the Tolai remain traditional in their attitudes toward death, the cultural elaboration of which colors almost every aspect of their existence. In his new book, A. L. Epstein develops an emotional profile of the Tolai, contending that societies are distinguished as much by the shape of their emotional life as they are by their social arrangements and cultural styles. Epstein describes a wide range of mourning ceremonies and other more and less public occasions. By investigating not only the words that stand for emotions but also the way affect enters into and informs people's conduct, he charts a new course for ethnography that seeks to integrate the study of the emotions into anthropological analysis.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91164-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 Exploring Affect: Some Preliminary Issues
    (pp. 1-28)

    I cite this passage from Aldous Huxley’s novelEyeless in Gaza(1969:468) not for any startling insight it offers, but rather because it embodies a number of assumptions that many would consider unexceptionable, if not trite: what we think and what we feel, we are being told, are far from being the same thing; thought is often overborne by feelings which can profoundly affect our physical well-being as well as our conduct. And indeed most of us are able to recognize without difficulty the importance that emotion plays not only in the lives of those characters we encounter in a...

  5. 2 The Tolai: Habitat, History, Society
    (pp. 29-52)

    Like so many parts of Papua New Guinea, the island of New Britain, lying to the east of the mainland, is a rugged and mountainous region, thinly populated by a variety of small, scattered groups. Its northeastern comer, however, sealed off from the rest of the island by the virtually impassable Baining mountains, is a highly distinctive area: the Gazelle Peninsula. Tiny in size, it covers no more than about three hundred square miles. This is the home of a people known nowadays as the Tolai. Living for the most part in small local communities, none of which lies much...

  6. 3 The Language of the Emotions
    (pp. 53-79)

    Among the first persons I sought out on my return to Matupit early in 1986 was John Vuia, one of the few surviving of that cohort of senior men from whom I had gained so much during my earlier stay on the island in 1960–61. I had brought back with me, and was keen to present to him, a cassette of the tape I had recorded on the occasion of the obsequies for his brother Tollot many years before, the most elaborate ceremonies that were staged at Matupit in that period (see Epstein 1969:232). When eventually we listened to...

  7. 4 Work, Ambition, and Envy
    (pp. 80-115)

    To anyone who is familiar with English the words “anger,” “envy,” “greed,” and the like present no difficulties: they are readily seen as labels for well-known emotions that can serve as powerful propellants to action; they are also seen as carrying a negative connotation in that they refer to attributes that may be felt to be antithetic to the image of self. In the English lexicon, as in other Western languages, terms for the negative affects predominate, a fact that, I believe, serves both to express and to color our view of the emotions as a whole. Nevertheless, we do...

  8. 5 Of Kin, Love, and Anger
    (pp. 116-149)

    In the previous chapter the primary focus was on affect as it was encountered in the context of certain activities with the barest of references to the social relationships of those participating in them. In this chapter, social relationships are central, my concern being with affect as it is experienced in the context of social interaction. This is an aspect of the problem that poses particular difficulties for the anthropologist in the field. Where work is concerned, for example, the researcher may not only be able to observe, but even to participate in many of the tasks that have to...

  9. 6 Tambu, Grief, and the Meaning of Death
    (pp. 150-197)

    When, in 1875, the Wesleyan missionary George Brown landed on New Britain, he encountered a people whose ways contrasted sharply with those of the Samoans among whom he had previously lived and worked for many years. It quickly appeared to Brown that in their political organization, in their modes of government, and in so many of their arts of life, the Samoans enjoyed a much more advanced culture than the Melanesians; all the more remarkable therefore was the difference between the two peoples in regard to their commercial activities and attitudes, for here their positions were reversed. “A Samoan gives,...

  10. 7 Affect and the Self
    (pp. 198-247)

    In earlier chapters I looked at the way emotions are generated in, or are associated with, certain kinds of activity or fields of relationship. Then in the previous chapter I sought to show how understanding of particular Tolai institutions, tambu or shell money, for example, could be deepened if full account were taken of the affective dimension of the problem; pursuing this line of attack quickly led into other areas of Tolai culture and behavior, to an appreciation of data of whose significance one had previously been unaware, and of connections among the data that had not hitherto been perceived....

  11. 8 Epilogue: The Anthropologist as Onion-Peeler
    (pp. 248-280)

    The central aim of this book has been to present some account of the way of life of a specific group of people, the Tolai of the Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain, that takes full cognizance of the part the emotions play in the various aspects of their social existence. The task, that is, has been seen as essentially ethnographic. Unfortunately the matter is not quite so simple as it sounds. Any attempt to describe the emotional life of a human group, one’s own or some more exotic one, calls for data of a kind that until quite recently anthropologists...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 281-298)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-310)
  14. Index
    (pp. 311-317)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 318-318)