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After the Cult

After the Cult: Perceptions of Other and Self in West New Britain (Papua New Guinea)

Holger Jebens
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 250
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  • Book Info
    After the Cult
    Book Description:

    In many parts of the world the "white man" is perceived to be an instigator of globalization and an embodiment of modernity. However, so far anthropologists have paid little attention to the actual heterogeneity and complexity of "whiteness" in specific ethnographic contexts. This study examines cultural perceptions of other and self as expressed in cargo cults and masked dances in Papua New Guinea. Indigenous terms, images, and concepts are being contrasted with their western counterparts, the latter partly deriving from the publications and field notes of Charles Valentine. After having done his first fieldwork more than fifty years ago, this "anthropological ancestor" has now become part of the local tradition and has thus turned into a kind of mythical figure. Based on anthropological fieldwork as well as on archival studies, this book addresses the relation between western and indigenous perceptions of self and other, between "tradition" and "modernity," and between anthropological "ancestors" and "descendants." In this way the work contributes to the study of "whiteness," "cargo cults" and masked dances in Papua New Guinea.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-822-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of maps and figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    The period of colonisation and missionisation in Melanesia has long since become part of the past. Papua New Guinea achieved independence as a state more than a quarter of a century ago, and in many places white people exist only in the memory or the imagination. Dealing with cultural difference, however, has in no way lost its significance. What Joel Robbins (2004a: 171) states with respect to the Urapmin of Sandaun Province certainly applies to most other societies in the region as well: ‘the opposition of black and white skin is now as important in organizing thought as are those...

  6. 2 Valentine’s Kivung
    (pp. 23-54)

    The Western influence noted in and around Koimumu emanated from the nearby Gazelle Peninsula, where the ships of the first whites landed and from where they spread along the coast of the rest of New Britain.¹

    The trade in Western manufactured goods such as metal tools and calico became more intensive towards the end of the 1870s, before the so-called ‘blackbirders’ tried to recruit workers for plantations in Queensland and Fiji from among the inhabitants of the coast of New Britain.² At the end of the nineteenth century, trade and ‘labour recruitment’ became less important than the coconut plantations of...

  7. 3 Present-day memories
    (pp. 55-82)

    In April 1996, I travelled along the coast of the Hoskins Peninsula looking for a region suitable for future fieldwork, just as Goodenough had done forty-five years earlier. Greg Mongi, a public servant from the north of the Willaumez Peninsula, told me about a charismatic movement called ‘Rosa Mystica’ that had spread within the Catholic Church. Its adherents were being accused of merely wanting to seduce women and engage in a cargo cult.¹ With respect to Koimumu, which I had not yet visited, Greg said that it was a ‘big traditional village’ which, in earlier times, had provided building materials...

  8. 4 Indigenous interpretation
    (pp. 83-106)

    In and around Koimumu, no one adopted Valentine’s historical perspective with respect to older beliefs, the Batari movement and the Kivung (Chapter 2) as explicitly as Titus Mou. Apparently without knowing anything of Valentine’s report to the colonial administration, he, too, stressed that, if the adherents of the Batari movement and the Kivung had not been the same people, they had at least been guided by the same beliefs and needs.¹ Following his description of the Batari movement, for example, Titus continued as follows: ‘and on, and on, the cargo cult did not die … it still remained strong. People...

  9. 5 Indigenous perceptions of other and self
    (pp. 107-134)

    When the people in the Koimumu area speak about the Kivung or the Batari movement, they are ultimately referring to an attempt to overcome the differences between the Western and ancestral ways of life, whether through Christian and economic activities or through the acquisition of Western goods. As constructions ofkago, therefore, these accounts offer a medium through which cultural perceptions of the Other in particular are given expression. At the same time, however, the formulation of the corresponding ideas is by no means restricted to the context of cult movements.

    For the Nakanai as a whole, white missionaries, colonial...

  10. 6 Anthropological perceptions of other and self
    (pp. 135-152)

    When Charles Valentine arrived in Rapuri on 27 April 1954, he did so not only with the aim of studying the Kivung, but also assuming that there existed a cargo cult in the region. As he had already written in a letter to his parents in 1952, and also in accordance with the way his doctoral supervisor, Ward Goodenough, understood the term, the villagers were thought to expect ships full of Western goods and to believe that ‘native and white will have equal statuses or the Europeans will be driven out’.¹ In the course of his first field trip, Valentine’s...

  11. 7 Subjects and objects
    (pp. 153-168)

    The cultures that encounter or collide with one another in the course of colonisation and missionisation may mutually influence each other (Chapter 6), and yet they do not dissolve but maintain their own respective identities while changing. I see this as a precondition for any comparison between indigenous and anthropological perceptions of Other and Self.¹

    In the context of cargo research, Nancy McDowell bemoans a ‘failure to do genuine comparison’ and claims that intercultural differences have been exaggerated and similarities neglected (Chapter 6). Her criticism suggests a need to do the opposite in the future: to direct one’s attention to...

  12. Appendices
    (pp. 169-208)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 209-212)
  14. References
    (pp. 213-234)
  15. Index
    (pp. 235-244)