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Wives and Wanderers in a New Guinea Highlands Society

Wives and Wanderers in a New Guinea Highlands Society

Marie Olive Reay
Edited by Francesca Merlan
with additional introduction by Marilyn Strathern
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Wives and Wanderers in a New Guinea Highlands Society
    Book Description:

    Wives and Wanderers in a New Guinea Highlands Society brings to the reader anthropologist Marie Reay’s field research from the 1950s and 1960s on women’s lives in the Wahgi Valley, Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Dramatically written, each chapter adds to the main story that Reay wanted to tell, contrasting young girls’ freedom to court and choose partners, with the constraints (and violence) they were to experience as married women.

    eISBN: 978-1-925022-16-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Editor’s Introduction
    (pp. xi-xlviii)
    Francesca Merlan

    The book before you was found in 2011, seven years after the death of its author, Marie Olive Reay, and about 50 years after she had made last amendments to the manuscript—probably around 1965.Wives and Wandererspresents vivid, ethnographically based narrative of the lives of women of the Wahgi Valley, in the Central Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Reay explores the experiences of courting, attraction, love, marriage, and the combination of male dominance and barely restrained female resentment and rebelliousness which she found to be characteristic of this setting. Reay’s attention was focused on what she saw as...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. xlix-lxii)
    Marilyn Strathern

    This is a remarkable publication by any account. What has been so skilfully unearthed and edited by Francesca Merlan is a vivid first-hand description of conditions in the New Guinea Highlands encountered early on in the short decades between the establishment of the post-war administration and Papua New Guinea’s independence. Its historical value is immense, and no small portion of that comes from the directness and immediacy of Marie Reay’s presentation, which appears such a short step from original field notes. Therein, as the reader discovers, lies part of the author’s craft. For she has compiled a work from a...

  5. Preface
    (pp. lxiii-lxvi)
  6. Chapter 1: The World of a Woman
    (pp. 1-20)

    The Wahgi River meanders through a fertile green basin in the Central Highlands of New Guinea. The Minj people (called after the government station and the sub-district in the Western Highlands which it serves) inhabit the part of the valley that lies south of the river. They build their dwellings on wooded spurs that reach out towards the centre of the valley basin and in narrow sidevalleys formed by tributaries that rise in the Kubor Mountains and flow into the Wahgi. The valley is bounded by mountains, the Kubors in the south and the Wahgi-Sepik Divide in the north. Minj...

  7. Chapter 2: Carrying Leg
    (pp. 21-40)

    The Minj Agamp do not ‘make love’; in their own language they ‘give love’. Giving love, in a strictly physical sense, was of continual interest to them. A man had to give love to his wife or wives in order to obtain children, and he also had to give it to any of the unmarried girls who solicited him. The female life cycle was divided sharply from the onset of puberty into concupiscent adolescence and then severe married chastity, with no gradual preparation for this sudden change. The rules of social living forbade a man to give love to another...

  8. Chapter 3: A Girl is Marked
    (pp. 41-60)

    Black-bearded As If was an ageing hypochondriac who had neglected his gardens since his younger brother, Proud, had died some months ago. Proud had been a young man of fire and promise; so long as he had lived As If derived a certain prestige and respect from being his older brother and no one realized how fully the older man depended upon his initiative and labour. After Proud’s death the true character of As If gradually revealed itself. He had married, many years earlier, a woman of Ngeni-Muruka clan who had given him two daughters and then died. Snailshell, the...

  9. Chapter 4: A Rubbish Man Takes a Wife
    (pp. 61-68)

    The Government road passed through the territories of many clans. Talk Eastward and his two companions were going home from the Government Station, and they had just crossed the bridge over the Minj River into their own Kugika territory when they saw two figures climbing the steep hill in front of them. Talk Eastward recognized them as Pain and her brother. He had heard that the white man she was living with had sent her home, and he assumed that the brother had gone to Minj to take her back to Tangilka territory.

    Pain was a handsome girl by local...

  10. Chapter 5: Lothario Gains a Bride
    (pp. 69-82)

    The two youths Head and Tail were age-mates belonging to Dambakanim subdivision of Penkup subclan. They had the same bestowed name, but they were such close associates that the use of the original name for both of them would have been confusing. They had gained the distinguishing nicknames in their childhood, when Head had eaten the head of a possum and Tail had eaten its tail. Now they were handsome young men who spent much time attending courting ceremonies and carrying leg with girls. Neither was married yet, though Tail had tried several times to obtain a bride for himself...

  11. Chapter 6: The Amazonian Mood
    (pp. 83-94)

    A man of the Minj Agamp was always hospitable towards his brother-in-law. You Ate’s wife, You Did, was a Konumbuga woman, and he frequently entertained her relatives. Their daughter, South River, had married a Konumbuga man, Westerly, and had gone to live at Konmil. But Konmil is not far from Kondambi, and when You Ate and You Did moved to the temporary village on the edge of the ceremonial ground for the duration of the Pig Ceremonial, South River visited them so often that it was hard to say whether she was living with her husband at Konmil or with...

  12. Chapter 7: Meri Tultul
    (pp. 95-96)

    One thing I have always felt to be wrong about this book is that it makes no mention of one quite extraordinary Kuma woman, a woman at Kudjip who was atultulwhen I was in New Guinea. I had no idea of writing a book about women when I went to New Guinea, or I would certainly have obtained her life history. As it was, I met her briefly on two occasions. I did want to find out how a woman could become atultul, but in those days there was a very bad road to Kudjip and only...

  13. Chapter 8: Wandering Wives
    (pp. 97-112)

    Love Woman was a morose character in her early twenties, quite plain by both Australian and Agamp standards, and with a rare smile that seemed shamefaced and tinged with bitterness. When I first met her, she was staying with her mother, Dance, and her stepfather, Forest Tree, who was her father’s brother. Every morning Forest Tree asked her when she was going back to her husband, but Love Woman said nothing and went to help her mother in the gardens. Some of the other Kugika women told me that Dance’s daughter was a wandering woman, ‘a real harlot’. Gradually I...

  14. Chapter 9: A Woman of the Kugika
    (pp. 113-126)

    Raggiana had married his first wife, Vine, when he had been warring in the north of the valley. He had brought her home as the widow of one of the vanquished, and with her was her small daughter, Cass, whom Raggiana learned to treat as his own. Cass was about nine years old when Original, son of both Raggiana and Vine, was born.

    Raggiana acquired other wives including Spinach, who bore him three daughters, and Bluebell, the mother of his second son. Vine and Spinach joined forces to send away another wife he had obtained, and Spinach and Bluebell chased...

  15. Chapter 10: The Witch-Girl and the Shrew
    (pp. 127-128)

    [This chapter of Reay’s manuscript is missing.]...

  16. Chapter 11: True Cousin
    (pp. 129-138)

    In 1963-64 a precarious marriage took place between the girl Close River and the boy Jacob Sitting. Sitting was the son of the mild-mannered Burikup orator, You Ate, and his more impulsive wife, You Did. When I had known him during my first visit, he had been an undistinguished little boy who had acquiesced in all the mischief of the other lads of his subclan and had eagerly enjoyed the more brutal pleasures of the Buri-Penkup gang when they joined forces against the Koimamkup. He had taken part in all the formalized kicking matches of traditional pattern and in games...

  17. Chapter 12: One Family
    (pp. 139-140)

    Kombuk, the son of Tultul Tai and his oldest wife, Mai, married soon after he began to attend courting ceremonies. His bride, Mandigl, was a girl Tultul Tai had secured for him from his own brother-in-law, and the marriage had been his father’s idea, not his own. He told me that he envied boys who were older than he and still unmarried, for his work had multiplied. He had to build a separate house for Mandigl at the ceremonial village and chop firewood for her every day, but his father expected him to continue to act as unpaid servant for...

  18. Chapter 13: Laik Bilong Man
    (pp. 141-162)

    In October 1963 Konangil and his wife were talking together. She was a girl the late Raggiana had procured for him from his own brothers-in-law in Dingekup clan. Raggiana’s Dingekup wife was lamenting that none of her clanswomen was with her among the Penkup. ‘Plenty of Konumbuga girls have come to Kondambi’ she complained, ‘but I am the only Dingekup woman here’. Konangil agreed that the Dingekup should be encouraged to send more wives to the Kugika Penkup.

    ‘But you know what happens these days’ he said. ‘A man betrothes a girl and when the time comes for marriage the...

  19. Chapter 14: ‘Wandering Women’ and ‘Good Women’
    (pp. 163-168)

    Everyone wanted to participate in the Pig Ceremonial—the men and girls to decorate themselves and dance, and the married women to watch the spectacular proceedings and be present at the final mass slaughter of pigs. It was especially important for the men to take part. Failure to do so would deprive them of the rewards of fertility in their wives and pigs and gardens.

    At any other time, the prospect of going to gaol for some offence against good order would not have worried them. Imprisonment may be a temporary inconvenience, but no stigma attaches to it. Indeed, people...

  20. Appendix A
    (pp. 169-170)
  21. Appendix B
    (pp. 171-174)
  22. Appendix C
    (pp. 175-176)
  23. Appendix D
    (pp. 177-188)
  24. Appendix E Obituary: Marie Olive Reay, Born Maitland, NSW, Died Booragul, NSW, 16 September 2004, Aged 82
    (pp. 189-194)
    Michael W. Young
  25. Index
    (pp. 195-202)