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Echoes of the Tambaran

Echoes of the Tambaran: Masculinity, history and the subject in the work of Donald F. Tuzin

David Lipset
Paul Roscoe
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Echoes of the Tambaran
    Book Description:

    In the Sepik Basin of Papua New Guinea, ritual culture was dominated by the Tambaran —a male tutelary spirit that acted as a social and intellectual guardian or patron to those under its aegis as they made their way through life. To Melanesian scholarship, the cultural and psychological anthropologist, Donald F. Tuzin, was something of a Tambaran, a figure whose brilliant and fine-grained ethnographic project in the Arapesh village of Ilahita was immensely influential within and beyond New Guinea anthropology. Tuzin died in 2007, at the age of 61. In his memory, the editors of this collection commissioned a set of original and thought provoking essays from eminent and accomplished anthropologists who knew and were influenced by his work. They are echoes of the Tambaran. The anthology begins with a biographical sketch of Tuzin's life and scholarship. It is divided into four sections, each of which focuses loosely around one of his preoccupations. The first concerns warfare history, the male cult and changing masculinity, all in Melanesia. The second addresses the relationship between actor and structure. Here, the ethnographic focus momentarily shifts to the Caribbean before turning back to Papua New Guinea in essays that examine uncanny phenomena, narratives about childhood and messianic promises. The third part goes on to offer comparative and psychoanalytic perspectives on the subject in Fiji, Bali, the Amazon as well as Melanesia. Appropriately, the last section concludes with essays on Tuzin's fieldwork style and his distinctive authorial voice.

    eISBN: 978-1-921862-46-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Donald F. Tuzin, An Anthropologistʹs Anthropologist
    (pp. 1-22)
    David Lipset and Paul Roscoe

    In 2007, Donald Francis (Don) Tuzin died at the age of sixty-one. We who knew him as students and colleagues or simply admired his work from afar lost an anthropologistʹs anthropologist—a kind that has gone out of fashion, to say the least. He combined the interests of a generalist with the skills of an experienced field ethnographer. His work drew from and contributed to archaeology as well as reflexive anthropology. Driven by methodological individualism and a strong commitment to comparativism, he focused on social control, dreams, politics and art, cannibalism, food symbolism, the psychodynamics of masculinity, the origins of...

  5. Section One: History, Masculinity and Melanesia

    • 1. The Abelam ʹInvasionʹ and the Rise of Ilahita Revisited
      (pp. 25-44)
      Paul Roscoe

      With a 1959 population of not quite 1300, the Arapesh-speaking village of Ilahita in the East Sepik Province was by no means the largest of New Guineaʹs villages. This honour belonged instead to several coastal fisher-forager groups. The Kawenak Asmat village of Ayam was found to have 1409 inhabitants in its first reliable census, in 1960; in 1930, 1702 inhabitants were counted in the census in the Waropen village of Nubuai; and the two village complexes that made up the Koriki ʹtribeʹ in the early 1920s had 3960 inhabitants between them (Roscoe 2006:40). Even in the Sepik, Ilahita was only...

    • 2. The String Bag of the Tambaran: The fragile loops of concealing and revealing in Abelam culture
      (pp. 45-72)
      Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin

      Some things only become clear with hindsight. This goes for my own fieldwork in the Sepik area (between 1972 and 1983), and it is probably true of other anthropologists as well, many of whom, as I gather from their writings, went through the same difficulties as I did. When I set out for Papua New Guinea, I took with me a pre-postmodern conception of ʹcultureʹ, fuelled by the fascination for other, preferably still ʹautochthonousʹ world views and agency in faraway societies. This predisposition often made it difficult to grasp what appeared to me in my understanding of ʹcultureʹ as seemingly...

    • 3. ʹSkirts–Money–Masksʹ, and Other Chains of Masculine Signification in Post-Colonial Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 73-102)
      David Lipset

      With revision, the Lacanian phallus—qua concept of the subject in culture as based on a void of meaning—might also serve as a starting point for this chapter. Here, however, I do not intend to theorise the emptiness of the subject in an abstract, psychoanalytic sense. Instead, my conceptual and empirical focus is on a particular group of rural, post-colonial men. Specifically, this chapter concerns shifting signifiers of masculinity in the Sepik region in Melanesia, this being the issue and region that so vexed Tuzin (1997) in his magisterial account of the demise of the male cult in Ilahita...

    • 4. Men, Modernity and Melanesia
      (pp. 103-114)
      Bruce M. Knauft

      During the period of Donald Tuzinʹs impressive fieldwork—from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s—themes of traditional male cults and masculine assertion in Melanesia (MMM1) had special purchase in the anthropology of Oceania and more widely. By the 2000s, another triplicate—of mobile men with money (MMM2)—has gained particular purchase (for example, Lepani 2008), along with various other dimensions of modern masculinity. In many of these more recent treatments (see Taylor 2008), Melanesian masculinity is often seen through the lenses of guns, drunkenness and pronounced, often brutal, male violence.

      In 1997, an articulation between the first of these...

  6. Section Two: Culture, the Agent and Tuzinʹs Methodological Individualism

    • 5. Signs and Wonders: The uncanny verum and the anthropological illusion
      (pp. 117-136)
      Kevin Birth

      As a Caribbeanist studying under Donald Tuzin, I was struck by the ways in which Don could make the implications of his ethnographic work relevant to my struggles with material from Trinidad. Often this involved delving into the ontological and epistemological relevance of ethnographic details, in order to create a context to relate Trinidad and New Guinea. This chapter is, in many respects, a continuation of some of those conversations.

      An uncanny event is normally viewed as something unexpected and unexplainable. Even in anthropological thought, uncanniness is a phenomenological concept that serves as a catalyst for cultural meaning but eludes...

    • 6. Comparison, Individualism and ʹInteractionalismʹ in the Work of Donald F. Tuzin
      (pp. 137-166)
      Don Gardner

      Don Tuzin left a magnificent corpus of work on the Ilahita Arapesh, one that presents a compelling analysis of two remarkable transitions in the history of a people. His work is also striking because of the sheer range of issues on which he focused his fine analytical eye; his work might focus on the emotions, dispositions and moral conflicts of particular persons or categories thereof (specific elders, initiands, or Christians, men, women) as readily as on the structural or historically contingent circumstances within which agents must act, and which tend to produce grand historical transformations. There are also significant essays...

    • 7. Stories from Childhood: Windows on experience or cultural meta-narratives? Evidence from Papua New Guinea
      (pp. 167-182)
      Stephen C. Leavitt

      Childhood stories in personal narratives of Western subjects often convey pivotal moments of experience aimed at communicating personal identity. Such strategies rely on cultural models that see identity as the product of past life events, with childhood experience especially important. But what do personal childhood stories reveal in societies with very different cultural models of early lifeʹs role in shaping identity? Among the Bumbita Arapesh of Papua New Guinea—a group bordering the Ilahita Arapesh—childhood is the time of life when a new growing being takes in essential life substance from parental nurturing, supplemented by ritual transformation in initiation...

    • 8. On Messianic Promise
      (pp. 183-194)
      Joel Robbins

      I have learned many things from Don Tuzinʹs books. One of the formative texts of my education, as a graduate student interested in religious secrecy, was The Voice of the Tambaran (1980), and I poured over The Ilahita Arapesh: Dimensions of Unity (1976) just as carefully. Later, The Cassowaryʹs Revenge (1997) became a guiding light for me during the process of writing my thesis on Christianity and cultural change among the Urapmin of Papua New Guinea. As it has for many of my generation, this book has been a condition of possibility for my own work—a book from the...

  7. Section Three: Comparativism, Psychoanalysis and the Subject

    • 9. Klein in Bali and Ilahita: A reflection on cultural fantasy and the deep unconscious
      (pp. 197-224)
      Michele Stephen

      Although many anthropologists would not even accept the existence of a deep unconscious such as outlined by psychoanalytic theory of various persuasions, the ethnographic data often provide examples of cultural constructs that seem such vivid realisations of themes described in psychoanalytic practice that one can only stand amazed. If there is no ʹunconsciousʹ, from whence do these extraordinary visions emerge and how is it they have such constancy across cultures? In this chapter, I employ Melanie Kleinʹs work on gender, fantasy and psychosocial development as a framework for comparing Balinese and Ilahita imaginings of the feminine and the maternal.


    • 10. Hierarchy and Equality in Fijian Kindergartens
      (pp. 225-240)
      Karen J. Brison

      In 1983, when I was a graduate student, Donald Tuzin changed the course of my career by writing a National Science Foundation grant, part of which funded my dissertation research among the Kwanga of the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. Tuzin proposed an ambitious comparative study of four neighbouring Sepik cultures. He argued that an important part of socialisation came through experience with other children. Among the Ilahita Arapesh, boys tell each other fearsome stories about cult spirits, and even though they later learn that these stories are just lies designed to frighten women and children, they continue...

    • 11. The Torments of Initiation and the Question of Resistance
      (pp. 241-258)
      Thomas A. Gregor

      In 1982 Donald Tuzin published a short but trenchant article titled, ʹRitual Violence Among the Arapesh: The Dynamics of Moral and Religious Uncertaintyʹ. The work probes a question of broad human significance. The Ilahita Arapesh, in the course of their long initiatory cycles, terrorised their children and subjected them to excruciating ordeals. Tuzin self-consciously ascribes the word ʹbrutalʹ to these acts, partly because many of the Ilahita themselves so saw them, but also because we, if we are honest with ourselves, do so as well. Ilahita ritual (which no longer takes place) was particularly disturbing in that it was at...

    • 12. Talking About Sex: On the relationship between discourse, secrecy and sexual subjectivity in Melanesia
      (pp. 259-274)
      Gilbert Herdt

      All human societies are concerned with the regulation of sexuality—a truism of anthropology. And all of them, past and present, exert cultural, political, economic and even psychological controls over how people talk about sex: when, where, with whom and why—not why they are motivated, but why they must be stopped from sexual discourse. These barriers to sexual communication are created for a variety of reasons—notably, gender power, the strictures on childhood sexual and gender development, the regulation of the development of pleasure, the social control of adult morality and the inhibition of sexual behaviour that violates norms...

  8. Section Four: Style

    • 13. Courtesy and Method in Ethnography
      (pp. 277-296)
      Alexander H. Bolyanatz

      Don Tuzin was, among his many other virtues, unerringly gracious and polished. Those fortunate enough to have known him will have their favourite anecdotes about how he gently corrected those in error or deflected indignity from a deserving target. The denizens of Ilahita village were no strangers to Tuzinʹs magnanimity. This is evidenced over and over in The Cassowaryʹs Revenge (1997), his poignant memoir of his return to Ilahita in 1985 after a 13-year absence.

      In this book, Tuzin weaves a remarkable account that begins in 1969 when he first arrived at Ilahita, moves through an interlude in (mostly) the...

    • 14. The Anthropologistʹs Voice: Margaret Mead and Donald Tuzin
      (pp. 297-312)
      Diane Losche

      This chapter is dedicated, as is this book, to the memory of Don Tuzin, a great anthropologist who studied the Arapesh-speaking village of Ilahita in the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. If I seem, at times, to be a wayward admirer, critiquing as well as giving homage, I hope that this will be taken in the spirit meant—as an essay presented in the absence of a great talk with Don, usually a brief time out from the chatter of professional meetings when, for a few moments, two voices might be heard speaking animatedly, sometimes hesitantly, grasping for the...

  9. Donald F. Tuzin: A bibliography
    (pp. 313-318)