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Growing Artefacts, Displaying Relationships

Growing Artefacts, Displaying Relationships: Yams, Art and Technology amongst the Nyamikum Abelam of Papua New Guinea

Ludovic Coupaye
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Growing Artefacts, Displaying Relationships
    Book Description:

    What gives artefacts their power and beauty? This ethnographic study of the decorated long yams made by the Nyamikum Abelam in Papua New Guinea examines how these artefacts acquire their specific properties through processes that mobilise and recruit diverse entities, substances and domains. All come together to form the 'finished product' that is displayed, representing what could be an indigenous form of non-verbal 'sociology'. Engaging with several contemporary anthropological topics (material culture, techniques, arts, aesthetics, rituals, botany, cosmology, Melanesian ethnography), the text also discusses in depth the complex position of the study of 'technology' within anthropology.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-734-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Prolegomenon
    (pp. xii-xvii)

    Consider the book in your hand. It has specific dimensions, thickness, weight, texture and colours. When closed it is, roughly speaking, a rectangular parallelepiped, with two opposite sides larger than the four others. If it is a hardback copy (or perhaps a paperback), it may have a removable dust jacket, hopefully showing a colourful picture taken during my fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. Open the cover and you will find a few hundred pages, covered with signs, bound (or glued) together on one of the two larger sides to form a ‘spine’.

    The material characteristics of this object allow you...

  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  6. Introduction. Getting There, Meeting the Things
    (pp. 1-15)

    This book is about a particular type of artefacts: yams. It is also about a methodological standpoint from which to analyse objects and the relationships that people – in this particular case, the people known as the Abelam – develop with them. It is thus situated within contemporary discussions knitting together sociality, things, place, time and materials, viewed primarily through processes.

    As a result, my work benefits from of a series of studies mostly, but not solely, within Anglophone mainstream anthropology, which have brought objects back to the centre of anthropological examinations. These investigations have demonstrated how things, objects and artworks have...

  7. 1 Of Yams and Ethnography
    (pp. 16-59)

    The encounter with yams in the misty Balukwil yam house which I described in the introduction was not my first. Eight years before, as a second-year undergraduate student in anthropology of Pacific art, my classmates and I went on a trip to the Museum of Basel, Switzerland (now the Museum der Kulturen). There were many Abelam materials on display,¹ and Christian Kauffmann, then curator, had presented an initiation chamber and on the other side of the wall, the painted façade of a ceremonial house. In front of the facade, on a small-scale reconstruction of a public ground, a dozen synthetic...

  8. 2 Objects, Technology and Art
    (pp. 60-90)

    Once familiar with the artefact, we can explore the type of analytical and methodological framework we might use to unpack it. The aims of this chapter are twofold: to provide the reader with this analytical framework, and to place it within the wider field of anthropological approaches to material culture and specifically to ‘technology’. As such, this chapter may appear at odds with the rest of this book, which is ethnographically grounded and located within an Abelam community. The reader could decide to read only the first section of this chapter and then move to the next one — and perhaps...

  9. 3 Jëbaa (Work): Processes of Materialisation
    (pp. 91-158)

    Yams, as we have seen, interlink several dimensions: as food and as artefacts they are seen to be living beings, semi-sentient and capable of real actions (notably growing). This multidimensionality comes from the fact that, as I have argued, they are intentionally made as such. Yams do not stem fully clad and fully armed out of the garden with their values, qualities and properties as food, symbols, artworks or valuables. These come about because of technical process, which intentionally combines specific components thought to be able to imbue yams with specific properties.¹ Following Alfred Gell, one could focus on the...

  10. 4 Collectives as Components
    (pp. 159-206)

    The operational sequences presented in the previous chapter exhibit a wide range of situations, events, actions and elements: Takwundëng blows gently on the vines, as he stakes them on the trellis, so that the leaves can feed off the sun; bloodletting so that nefarious substances are not transmitted through the sweat of the hands when breaking down lumps of soil as the tuber berth is dug out; avoiding social conflicts so that shouting and anger do not affect the growth of the yams; calling uponwaalëspirits as the fertilizer is poured on the top of the mound. All these...

  11. 5 Waapi Saaki: Aligning Relationships
    (pp. 207-248)

    Long yams have been harvested, and discreetly transported to their owners’kadiga.Canes bearing the marks of tubers’ lengths are ‘secretly’ circulating between networks of friends, spreading rumours of particularly longwaapibeyond the borders of the village. Negotiations to find a pig to kill are well under way. Newkaare maturing in thekulë yaawi, and ‘old’kaare being harvested. Villages in the west have had their ceremonies, and the time grows near for Nyamikum to have its own.

    This chapter will describe and discuss the long yam ceremonies, during which tubers are displayed and evaluated, instantiating...

  12. 6 Of Properties of Artefacts: Food, Valuables and Images
    (pp. 249-295)

    Referring to my brief review in chapter 1 of work in relation to Abelam yams, the picture I have drawn fits Bruno Latour’s description of hybrids (1991) in more than one way. In the literature, yams indeed appear as caught between Nature (the geographical/horticultural pole) and Society (the anthropological/symbolic pole). In their own ethnographic setting, they appear as the complex result of a mixture of both humans’ and non-humans’ agencies and substances, of social relationships and of interactions with materials, all recruited through different domains which I qualified, following Philippe Descola, as ‘collectives’. I suggested that this mobilisation was done...

  13. Conclusion. Displays and Sprouts
    (pp. 296-309)

    The analogy Robin made between my work and growing a yam (cf. Prolegomenon) in order to explain my presence to other Nyamikum people showed the astuteness of his understanding, but also foresaw my theoretical direction, before I could actually realise it would.

    Indeed, the course of my investigation has taken me through many other layers and domains whose connections kept unravelling as the process of reading my fieldnotes, thinking, writing, reviewing and editing progressed. Unpacking or unravelling yams is, in fact, doing during an extended period of time exactly what Nyamikum (and Apangai, Nyelikum or Kimbangwa) people do when they...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 310-343)
  15. Index
    (pp. 344-352)