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Wealth Items in the Western Highlands of West Papua

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  • John MacDougall
    Wealth Items in the Western Highlands of West Papua Journal article by Anton Ploeg; Ethnology, Vol. 43, 2004 Wealth Items in the Western Highlands of West
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 24, 2007
      Wealth Items in the Western Highlands of West Papua

      Journal article by Anton Ploeg; Ethnology, Vol. 43, 2004

      Wealth Items in the Western Highlands of West Papua (1)

      by Anton Ploeg

      This article compares the distinctive uses of wealth items among Grand
      Valley Dani, Western Dani, and Me, the largest ethnic groups in West
      Papua. The time period covered is primarily from first contact with
      Europeans to the early 1970s. (Wealth items, inalienability, ancestor
      cult, exchange)

      The Western Highlands of West Papua extend from the Grand Valley of
      the Baliem to the western tip of the Central Highlands (see map). The
      area coincides with the "Western Sphere" of the Highlands as
      identified by Hyndman and Morren (1990). They define a sphere as "a
      potentially expansive, segmentary, reticulated mosaic of local groups
      that, notwithstanding observable ethnolinguistic diversity, share a
      common tradition and are strongly influenced by one or more core
      populations at the historic-geographic centre of their region"
      (Hyndman and Morren 1990:10). Hyndman and Morren (1990:13) distinguish
      three such spheres in the Central Highlands: Eastern, Central, and
      Western. The Eastern Sphere centers on "a chain of eight valleys from
      Arona-Aiyura to Tari-Koroba"; the Central on "the Sepik Source Basin
      and the Sibil valley"; and the Western centers "on the Baliem valley
      and the Paniai Lakes."


      A number of ethnic groups, well represented in ethnographic studies,
      reside in the Western Highlands of West Papua. Best known are the
      Grand Valley Dani, the Western Dani, and the Me. The Grand Valley is
      located in the lower reaches of the Baliem River where it flows
      southeast through a wide valley with a relatively flat floor before it
      leaves the Highlands via the Baliem Gorge (see map). The habitat of
      the Grand Valley Dani is formed by the floor, the slopes of the
      valley, and its tributary valleys. The habitat of the Western Dani
      centers on the valleys of the North Baliem, the Boko, north of the
      Grand Valley, the Toli, the Yamo, and the Ila rivers. They occupy the
      entire middle section of the Western Highlands north and west of the
      Grand Valley. In the recent past they pushed further west. As a
      result, the valleys of the Ila, the upper Kema, the Nogolo, and the
      Dora have an ethnically mixed population of Western Dani, Damal, Moni,
      and some smaller groups. The habitat of the Me runs from the middle
      reaches of the Kema to the westernmost tip of the Highlands. Most Me
      live around the Paniai, Tigi, and Tage lakes, and in the valley of the
      Edege River and its tributaries. The Grand Valley Dani, the Western
      Dani, and the Me are by far the largest Highlands groups, and are the
      focus of this article.


      The establishment of colonial rule in the West Papua Highlands started
      in the late 1930s in the Paniai Lakes area. The extension of colonial
      control was interrupted by World War II. Missionaries and
      administrative officers settled in the Dani areas in the 1950s, in
      1954 in the Grand Valley, and in 1956 among the Western Dani (Hayward
      1980:124), and missionaries of various denominations have remained
      active. In 1963, the Indonesian government took over the
      administration of the area, and when highlanders appeared to resist
      it, they were dealt, to all appearances, extremely harsh measures
      (Defert 1996:ch. 12; Meiselas 2003:142-44). Ethnographic coverage of
      this incorporation is understandably slight. The Me have been studied
      by Pospisil (1958, 1963, 1978, 1989), who referred to the people as
      the Kapauku, more recently by Hylkema, a Franciscan missionary and
      self-taught ethnographer, and by Giay (1995), himself a Me. Giay is
      one of the proponents of the name Me rather than Kapauku or Ekagi
      (Ekari), names still in use. At his death in 1998, Hylkema left behind
      many monographs and writings in draft, based on his association with
      the Me that lasted from 1969 to 1994. I am editing and introducing two
      incomplete manuscripts that he worked on shortly before his death
      (Hylkema n.d.a and n.d.b). In addition, there is ethnographic material
      about the Me by the administrative officers de Bruijn and Dubbeldam,
      the botanist Eyma, and the medical officers van der Hoeven and Boelen.

      Publications on the Western Dani have been made by the missionaries
      Larson, on Ilaga Dani, and Hayward, who worked in the Mulia area; by
      Wirz and O'Brien, who worked in the Toli Valley, and by myself on the
      Wanggulam, in Bokondini. Based on the extensive notes on the North
      Baliem Western Dani written by the missionary-linguists Norman and
      Sheila Draper, Szalay (1999) has written a comparative thesis on West
      Papua Highlands ethnography. Finally, Pierre and Anne-Marie Petrequin
      have researched production, use, and significance of stone artifacts
      in the Highlands. Their work includes discussion of stone wealth
      items. Long-term field research among the Grand Valley Dani has been
      carried out by Heider, Broekhuyse, the missionary/anthropologist
      Peters, and recently, by Butt and Hampton. Heider (1970:300-01) worked
      in the northeast of the valley, Broekhuyse in the same area and in the
      southeast, while Peters (1967:18-20) collected most of his data in an
      eastern side valley of the Baliem. Hampton's (1999:xviii-xxii) report
      refers to the area where Heider worked. Butt (1998:51-52) worked west
      of the Baliem. To what extent these ethnographies represent the way of
      life of all, or most, Grand Valley Dani over the last 40 years is not

      Most of the research by anthropologists was carried out in the 1950s
      and early 1960s, when the Dutch administered West Papua. An exception
      is Wirz, who worked in the Toli Valley in 1921. Consequently, most of
      this work refers to an era shortly before or shortly after the
      imposition of colonial control; it reflects theoretical concerns that
      have since become less urgent and was often done with imperfect
      knowledge of the vernacular languages. The shortage of recent research
      prevents understanding about present-day usage and how the use of
      wealth items changed between colonial and postcolonial times. In
      several instances, people have stopped using the artifacts discussed here.

      Ethnographic information about the Papua New Guinea Highlands is many
      times greater than that for the Highlands of West Papua. Moreover, it
      is theoretically far more sophisticated. However, this discrepancy
      allows me to use theoretical models and concepts generated to analyze
      Papua New Guinea Highlands ways of life for the subject of the present
      essay: comparing how the Me, the Western Dani, and the Grand Valley
      Dani used their wealth items. Specifically, this essay uses Godelier's
      (1982, 1991) model of the transformation of Great Man to Big Man
      societies as a general guide. Godelier's transformation model,
      elaborated by Lemonnier (1990), posits differential processes of
      sociocultural change leading toward the late precolonial Great Man and
      Big Man "social logics." The discussion of this model by, among
      others, Lederman (1991) and Wiessner and Tumu (1998) has pointed to a
      greater variety of pathways of change than Godelier at first
      envisioned. The data from the Western Highlands of West Papua
      presented in this article add to this variety. But the data that
      enable constructing models of sociocultural change in the Papua New
      Guinea Highlands are largely absent for West Papua.

      The term "wealth items" refers to movable objects, accorded great
      value and used as means of payment, as gifts, as ritual objects, and
      as markers of identity. I turn first to the Me, then the Western Dani,
      and third to the Grand Valley Dani, using this order because the Grand
      Valley Dani are the most distinctive in their use of wealth items,
      compared to other Highlands groups, both in West Papua and in Papua
      New Guinea.


      The Me had a persistent mistrust of and opposition to foreigners
      (ogai), whether Dutch or Indonesian, government people or
      missionaries. While Me interacted with them, they maintained their own
      world. During Dutch rule, there were three uprisings; in the last, in
      1956, the colonial administration deployed its marines (van Baal
      1989:532-34; Giay 1995:47-51). Proselytizing met with little success
      until local trainees started to spread the gospel (Giay 1995:31). A Me
      catechist set up an alternative church, based on reinterpreted
      Christian doctrine, that attracted a large following (Giay 1995).

      Pospisil worked among the Me in the Kamu area, the valleys of the
      upper Edege and its tributaries, west of the three Paniai lakes, first
      in 1954-55, before a patrol post had been established there (Pospisil
      1958:4, 65). Hylkema (2002) claims that the Me should be divided into
      three cultural groups: the people around the Paniai and Tage lakes,
      those near Lake Tigi and in the Kamu area, and those living further
      west and northwest at the fringes of the Highlands. Hylkema calls
      these people the Mapia Me, and believes that in the late precolonial
      era they were gradually becoming ethnically different from the Me
      further east. Hence, Pospisil's data pertain to the Kamu-Tigi Me, less
      to the Paniai-Tage Me, and probably much less to the Mapia Me.
      Hylkema's data on wealth items deal primarily with the Paniai-Tage and
      the Kamu-Tigi Me.

      Wealth Items

      The primary wealth items among Paniai-Tage and Kamu-Tigi Me were
      cowrie and nassa shells and pigs (Pospisil 1963:301, 1978:18; Hylkema
      n.d.a). Shells had to be included in bridewealth (Pospisil 1963:204,
      212; Hylkema n.d.b: ch 2), but the two authors differ about the
      inclusion of pigs. Pospisil (1963:212) says that "at least" one pig
      must be included; but Hylkema has collected only a few cases that
      included pigs. These cases concerned the Kamu-Tigi area, which for
      Hylkema are culturally separate, so the discrepancy is likely the
      result of cultural divergence. Cowries drew the greatest attention.
      They came by trade from the coast, which limited their availability.
      While Pospisil (1963:308) located their origin on the south coast,
      according to Hylkema (n.d.a), they reached the Me from the north. (2)
      Moreover, following Dubbeldam (1964:299), Hylkema (n.d.a) opines that
      the cowry supply increased sharply in the recent past due to the
      intensification of bird-of-paradise hunting in the area north of the
      Me habitat. While he offers regrettably little evidence for this view,
      it seems plausible, given the settlement of Dutch in the Cenderawasih
      Bay area since 1856 and the resulting increase in trade (Rutherford
      2003:183-88; see also Ellen 2003:134-47).

      Hughes (1977), who conducted field research in the central parts of
      what became Papua New Guinea, investigating the indigenous trade that
      had taken place in the early twentieth century, favors the process
      hypothesized by Hylkema. Hughes (1977:198-202) concludes that during
      the period before Europeans entered the Highlands, the import of
      goods, including cowries, had increased greatly there. Moreover, more
      cowries were traded in from the north rather than from the south
      (Hughes 1977:187-88).

      The Me graded cowries into categories and subcategories based on size,
      shape, and color, and further distinguished between old cowries
      (traded before colonial incorporation) and those imported by colonial
      newcomers. The categories differed widely in value, with the recently
      imported ones less valuable. Pospisil (1963:301-04) writes that the Me
      in the Kamu area in the mid 1950s distinguished five categories of old
      cowries, with a value differential of over 300 or more, often
      expressed in multiples of six, in accordance with the Me sexagesimal
      counting system (Pospisil 1989:20). Dubbeldam, an administrative
      officer among the Me in the Paniai area around 1960 (Watson 1964:vi),
      reports a slightly different gradation of cowrie denominations, with
      another series of names. Moreover, cowries became smoother with use,
      and so acquired more value. Hylkema (2002:235) writes that Me had
      designed yet another set of refined criteria on the basis of which
      each separate shell could be differentiated within its own category.
      Assigning specific cowries to their appropriate categories and
      subcategories required expertise which few people, apparently always
      men, attained (Hylkema n.d.a). Hylkema gives the impression that their
      rulings were contested. The fact that a cowrie had been successfully
      used in a transaction provided an alternative testimony of its value
      (Hylkema 2002:235).

      As long as cowries had to be acquired from other Papuans, their number
      remained limited. A further restriction on the number of shells was
      that those in the middle categories were on a string that in time
      tended to damage them (Pospisil 1963:308). With colonial
      incorporation, large numbers of shells were imported, especially into
      the Paniai area, the center of administrative activities. In keeping
      with their mistrust of the newcomers, the Me started distinguishing
      between old and newly imported cowries (Robbins and Akin 1999:24). By
      such means, they succeeded in letting the old ones retain their value
      into the 1970s (Hylkema n.d.a). Some Me attempted to counterfeit old
      shells by frequently wearing those introduced by the colonial
      newcomers (Pospisil 1963:301, 304, 338; Dubbeldam 1964:302; Giay
      1995:38-40). In 1969, the year that Hylkema started work among the Me,
      the scope for cowrie transactions had increased due to increased
      importation by foreigners. This made it easier for women to acquire
      cowries even though men claimed that managing cowries pertained to
      them. Hylkema (n.d.a) observed that men were sometimes taken aback by
      the high-quality cowries that women owned.

      Hylkema (n.d.a) argues that over time, the Me shifted their
      categorizations and evaluations of cowries. The further from Paniai,
      his supposed point of entry, the more valuable were the categories.
      Hylkema's insights explain the differences between the categorizations
      reported at almost the same time by Pospisil for the Kamu Me and by
      Dubbeldam for the Paniai Me. Moreover, they assert that the steady
      import of cowries was a novelty to the Me, which is in line with the
      people's intense preoccupation with these shells and with their
      grading. Discussing Melanesian currencies, Foster (1999:230-01)
      concludes, "Money forms will always be subject to skeptical reception,
      an awareness that these harbor within them unrevealed possibilities
      for the future, hidden agencies and identities that might be exploited
      or might engender exploitation in as yet unimagined ways." This is
      precisely how the Me perceived their cowries.

      Apart from cowries, some types of nassa-shell necklaces were used as
      valuables, especially as part of bridewealth. Pospisil (1963:304)
      regards both cowries and the shorter nassa necklaces as money. At the
      time of his first field research, necklaces of tiny (one- to
      four-milimeter), multicolored glass beads also served as money
      (Pospisil 1963:304), but Hylkema (n.d.a) writes that they were no
      longer in use when he arrived among the Me in 1969. Pospisil, quoting
      Umbreit, Elgin, and Kinter (1948), defines money as "the common medium
      of exchange and the common measure of value." He subsequently points
      to the very wide range of goods that the Me could purchase with
      cowries, and their habit of expressing the value of goods in terms of
      cowries (Pospisil 1963:301). At the same time these objects show the
      features that Godelier (1996:222-26, 1999) associates with "objects
      precieux" (wealth items). First, Godelier points to their uselessness
      in productive activities and in everyday life; second, to their
      abstraction, by which he means that these objects are taken out of
      their previous context and can thus be resignified (3); and third, to
      the beauty that people perceive in them.

      Me valuables appear to conform to the definition of money as given by
      Umbreit and his collaborators. Moreover, Giay (1995:20) and Breton
      (1999) have followed Pospisil's usage, with the provisos that Giay's
      statement refers to the 1950s, when Me had been exposed to European
      influences for two decades, and Breton based his view from fieldwork
      among the Wodani, in the mid 1990s. Nonetheless, it seems useful to
      add what kind of money was used. Shells, shell strings, and shell
      necklaces seem to have been coins, or assemblages of coins. These were
      valuables in their own right, as opposed to most present-day coins,
      whose metal value is a fraction of their face value. Shell items
      lacked the anonymity of present-day coins. Among the Me, there was no
      immaterial money like bank accounts, nor were there drawing rights on
      banks or financial institutions, the usual form of bank credit. Hence,
      the supply of money was limited. In Western monetary systems, material
      money is being used decreasingly and immaterial money increasingly
      (Klamer and van Dalen 1998). But given the Me's preoccupation with the
      physical properties of their cowries, such a development is unlikely
      to have taken place among them, had the colonial powers not intervened.

      What further distinguished Me cowries from money used in the Western
      world is that precious cowries had to be included in bridewealth
      prestations (Hylkema n.d.b:ch.2). This suggests that the amount in
      itself was not critical, but that the quality of the shells also
      mattered (cf. Gregory 1982:49). Moreover, Hylkema (2002:235) states
      that the strings held shells of various values. This suggests again
      that numbers alone were insufficient, unlike Western money. From what
      Hylkema writes, it seems that the strings were a megavaluable, and
      that the constituent shells were withdrawn from circulation. (4)


      Pospisil's insistence that the Kamu Me employed money is part of his
      wider argument that they ran a capitalist economy. Several features of
      their way of life prompted him to use this characterization: people,
      especially men, were after the accumulation of cowries, of money.
      Pospisil calls them "businessmen" (Pospisil 1963:333, 1978:21).
      Sometimes he puts the word in the mouth of his Me spokesmen (Pospisil
      1978:30). Hylkema employs this term also (2002:235).Wealth differences
      were considerable, and when men co-operated, their individual
      contributions to the co-operative projects remained, as Pospisil
      (1978:31) remarks, "readily perceivable and separable from [those] of
      others." Sales, in exchange for cowries, of a wide range of goods
      played the most important part in circulation. Prices fluctuated
      depending on supply and demand. Barter did not occur much and gifts
      were unknown. But what Pospisil (1963:31) means by gifts, "a giving
      without expectation of approximately equal reciprocation," differs
      sharply from definitions of Mauss and others, notably Godelier.

      The social institution that drew the greatest number of participants,
      and which required the longest and most laborious preparations, was a
      pig feast initiated by a wealthy pig-owner and co-sponsored by other
      pig-owners, culminating in a massive sale of pork and other goods for
      cowries (Pospisil 1963:327-31; de Bruijn 1978:171-73). During these
      feasts many Me joined in and offered goods for sale. Kamu Me economy
      deviated from Western capitalism in what Pospisil, inspired by Veblen,
      calls its "conspicuous generosity" (Pospisil 1963:361):

      Generosity might take the form of loans, or lavish distributions of
      food free of charge on such occasions as birth ceremonies or [the
      ceremony] on the opening day of the sequence of dances connected with
      a pig feast. There exists almost a compulsion for extensions of credit
      in this native society. In some regions, such as that of the Paniai
      Lake, rich people who prove to be stingy with their credits are even
      punished by execution. (Pospisil 1963:31)

      By being generous, Me men acquired followers: a person's debtors were
      his "stoutest supporters" (Pospisil 1978:50-51). Status and kin
      considerations influenced the operation of the law of supply and
      demand on price formation. But Gregory (1982:51) regards Pospisil's
      "conspicuous generosity" as evidence that his statements about Me
      capitalism are a "profound misunderstanding," pointing to the
      prevalence of gift relationships, which seems correct, if we allow for
      the fact that people were often pressured into gifting.

      Although Pospisil does not use the term Big Man and does not touch
      greatly upon the ethnography of the Papua New Guinea Highlands, his
      data make it clear that Kamu Me leaders operated in polities pervaded
      by, in Godelier's (1982, 1991) expression, a Big Man logic. Giay
      (1995:21-22) implicitly acknowledges this by quoting Strathern's
      (1971) characterization of Melpa leadership while describing Me leaders.


      Before dealing with the matter of inalienable wealth items among the
      Me, I mention several modalities of inalienability as they occur more
      in general. One form is that movable or immovable objects cannot or
      may not be transferred by their owner or owners in the course of their
      lifetime. At death these objects go to the heirs. Another modality is
      that such objects cannot be transferred to people viewed as outsiders,
      such as members of other kin groups, other polities, etc. Yet another
      is that objects, although they are transferable to others, inescapably
      retain aspects that link them to their former owner(s), holder(s),
      and/or maker(s). A fourth modality that has not been reported for the
      West Papua Highlands is that an object is disposed of together with
      its owner when he or she dies, as among the Melpa (Strathern 1971:191-92).

      The above discussion of Kamu Me wealth items shows that shells were
      freely transferred to others, and that they gradually increased in
      value, which transformed them into treasured old shells. They thus
      acquired an identity that one might call inalienable. Moreover,
      necklaces of a specific type, decorated with dogs' teeth, nassa
      shells, and cowries, were "usually regarded as heirlooms, inherited in
      the main line," presumably the male line (Pospisil 1963:275-76,
      1958:201). Pospisil never mentions objects, sacred or not, held by
      individuals, and denies the existence of shared property among the
      Kamu Me (1958:115), which might have given them identity in the
      perception of outsiders and which, as Weiner (1992) and Godelier
      (1999:36) argue, shored up the exchanges in which these individuals

      Trade or Gift Exchange

      Were Me transactions carried out to make a profit, as in a capitalist
      economy, or were they gifts and part of a larger chain of transactions
      entailed by and adding to a new or existing relationship? Pospisil is
      only partly clear about this. From what he says about the organization
      of the pig feast, and even more about what he calls the "pig market"
      (Pospisil 1963:333), it seems that at least some transactions were
      chance events. However, this information suggests that others were
      not. The same hybrid impression is created by Boelen's (n.d.:5, 216)
      description of pig feasts, which is probably based on observations
      made in the Paniai area in the early 1950s, when Boelen was posted there.

      The pig feast proper is more like a fair. The pigs are tied to poles,
      on show. Two by two, the men withdraw very secretively to talk
      business. They discuss which piece of pork one of them will buy and
      what it should cost. The prospective buyer tries to sell the pork to
      others in smaller quantities and calculates if he can get a small
      profit. The person who has secured a smaller piece, tries in his turn
      to hawk it and explores whether it will bring him a few shells to
      complement the bridewealth which his son needs, or to buy himself a
      new penis gourd or a skirt, for his wife.... All this, while the
      animal concerned is still grunting at its pole. (Boelen n.d.:167-68)

      Such negotiations were held after buyers and sellers might have met
      the previous weeks at the dances held in the dance house on the
      feasting ground. While Pospisil (1963:333) writes that pig feasts were
      not frequent, Boelen (n.d.:172) stresses their frequency, especially
      in the Paniai area, and the large numbers of attendants, so people
      were likely to meet repeatedly and may have transacted again and
      again. Hylkema's observations from 1969 agree in part with those of
      Boelen. He seems to deny the frequency of reselling, but observes that
      pig feasts were often held in quick succession and that organizing a
      feast challenged other prominent men to organize one. Most exchanges
      were with kin or affines, so were likely often repeated. Yet after a
      seller had laid out portions of pork for sale, prospective buyers
      approached him from behind, offering a cowrie without revealing who
      they were. The seller was entitled to refuse the shell or to offer a
      smaller portion of pork than he had originally laid out. Hylkema
      describes this process as a contest with one winner and one loser.
      While Pospisil, as mentioned above, stresses the value that Me put on
      generosity, Hylkema points out that, at least in cowrie transactions,
      there was a lot of "pressure for generosity" (Peterson 1993:860). (5)
      Similarly, the main assemblers of a bridewealth payment aggressively
      exhorted their fellow contributors to increase their contributions.
      What remains unclear, however, is whether the organizer of a pig feast
      pressured men on whom he had a claim to bring pigs to his feast. It
      would have been plausible for him to do so, since the more pigs
      slaughtered for the feast, the more impressive the occasion (Hylkema

      I believe that during the Me pig feasts a variety of transactions took
      place: gifts, reciprocating earlier gifts but deviating from the
      Maussian model in that the partners in the relationship could refuse
      gifts and press for more; transactions for profit; and transactions
      which, during ensuing interactions, turned out to be the beginning of
      a gift relationship. An analogy might be the hybrid character of kula
      encounters, as described by Uberoi (1962:ch. 8) and by Campbell
      (1983:203) for the southern Trobriands. Campbell, moreover, points to
      another similarity between kula encounters and Me pig feasts; namely,
      the "fun and play" aspect.


      The Western Dani form the largest ethnic group in West Papua. Most
      recently, Hayward (1997:7) estimated their number at 134,000, slightly
      more than Silzer and Heikkinen Clouse's (1991:19) estimate of 119,000.
      Their habitat is formed by V-shaped valleys stretching from the Grand
      Valley of the Baliem westward beyond the Ila Valley and northward to
      the fringes of the Highlands.

      At the beginning of the colonial era the Western Dani were expanding
      out of the North Baliem Valley into valleys to its north and west
      (O'Brien 1969b:24; van Rhijn 1969:52; Hayward 1997:10; Larson
      1986:318-21). In the absence of prehistoric research, it has remained
      unclear when or where these migrations started. Western Dani oral
      traditions have their ancestors originating in the southeast of the
      Grand Valley (Larson 1986:11; Hayward 1997:26, 279). Because Western
      Dani speak mutually understandable dialects, it is most plausible that
      their ancestors once formed a single group. The cultural differences
      noted by the ethnographers have then to be explained by residence in
      separate valleys, mitigated and complicated by encounters with earlier
      inhabitants and by the adoption of cultural traits due to migrations
      and possibly by contacts with other ethnic groups.

      Around 1960, strikingly soon after missionaries had settled among the
      Western Dani, and before anthropologists had started field research
      there, the people began converting en masse to Christianity. They
      abandoned or destroyed, first, objects with religious significance,
      including ancestral stones. This was followed in Bokondini and Konda,
      and possibly other Dani groups, by discarding the polished stones that
      they had used as wealth objects (O'Brien and Ploeg 1964:287-88).
      Cowries and cowrie bands remained longer in use. As a result of the
      early conversion, there are no thorough descriptions of the pagan
      Western Dani religion, or religions, and of the artifacts used
      therein. In due course, Western Dani at Mulia, Bokondini, and probably
      elsewhere much reduced the size of bridewealth payments, and many
      Mulia Dani argued in favor of their abandonment entirely (Hayward

      Sociocultural Organization

      Before conversion, Western Dani sociocultural organization showed
      several traits that suggest Godelier's Big Man logic. Polities
      contained several hundred people (Ploeg 1969; Hayward 1997:5-8), more
      (Larson 1986:120) or less (O'Brien 1969a:202), and agriculture was
      intensive. There was an intense exchange of wealth items with
      life-cycle rites and compensation payments. Yet Western Dani leaders
      cannot be characterized as Big Men. Leadership among them resulted
      from a mix of qualifications, with leadership in warfare possibly the
      most important (Larson 1986:232; Hayward 1980:63-67; O'Brien
      1969b:265-76; Ploeg 1969:75-84). Other leadership criteria mentioned
      are wealth (i.e., the ownership of pigs and other valuables), wives,
      oratory skill, and supernatural knowledge. Wealth items changed hands
      during ceremonial events that had to be organized and co-ordinated.
      The largest ceremonies were compensations for killings and pig feasts.
      The literature does not indicate that this was done by a special
      category of leaders, so it seems that war leaders performed these
      tasks. If so, these leaders resembled those warrior-organizers of
      exchanges whom Lemonnier (1990), in his analysis of leadership in the
      eastern half of New Guinea, identified as intermediate between Great
      Men and Big Men. Lemonnier refers to them as Leaders (1990:ch. 6) or
      leaders (1991:18-20). If that status includes organizers of wars as
      well as the community aspect of the exchanges, it characterizes
      Western Dani leadership.

      But the Western Dani did not conform completely to Lemonnier's
      characteristics. Apart from the people at Tiom and surrounding areas
      (Draper, pers. comm.; Amonen, in Draper and Draper 1990:213), Western
      Dani married allies rather than enemies, and there was equality rather
      than inequality among wife-givers and wifetakers. Among most Western
      Dani, the important social groups were directed inward. They were
      centered on two subclans or patrilineages between which preferential
      marriage relations existed. Marriages occasioned exchanges of wealth
      items. These Western Dani practiced the delayed exchange of
      classificatory sisters, combined with marriage payments.

      Exchange Items

      Western Dani used a wider range of wealth items than did the Me. These
      included pigs and pork, oblong polished stones, cowrie shells (both
      odd shells and shells set in long, narrow, tightly looped bands),
      slabs of salt, looped carrier bags, and strips of tightly looped
      thread, often decorated, used in women's skirts (Draper 1958:4;
      O'Brien 1969b:42-51; Ploeg 1969:10; Hayward 1980:32-34; Larson
      1986:127). The term used by the majority of Western Dani for the
      polished stones is ye. Ye, shells, and salt had to be imported. Ye
      were obtained from quarries in the northern fringe of the Highlands
      (Petrequin and Petrequin 1993:155). There were salt wells in and near
      the Western Dani areas, but those preferred were in Ilaga and in the
      far west, at least until recently outside the Dani area (Petrequin and
      Petrequin 1993:154; Wakerkwa, in Draper and Draper 1990:245; Yakiya,
      in Draper and Draper 1990:252; Hayward 1980:29-30; Larson
      1986:306-07). (6)

      Among the various Western Dani, the relative importance of these items
      differed. During the first stages of my fieldwork among the Wanggulam,
      in Bokondini, the ye were the most cherished. They were hidden until
      needed for an exchange ceremony. Then they were polished with pig
      grease, fondled, and laid out side by side in a row. Wanggulam had
      three seemingly unrelated methods to differentiate and evaluate ye.
      First, they distinguished between those male and female; the males
      were shorter, more cylindrical, and penile in form, while females were
      longer, flatter, and often vaguely triangular. When arranging and
      rearranging a row, men alternated male and female stones. Second, the
      most valuable stones were given names and were put in the middle of
      the row. Wedding payments had to include such precious stones. Third,
      Wanggulam saw a wedding payment as representing the body of the bride,
      with single ye representing the various body parts.

      Second in importance for the Wanggulam were either pigs or looped
      bands set with cowries. There was an acute "shell hunger" among the
      Wanggulam when I first arrived in May 1960. (Draper [1958:7] reported
      a similar phenomenon among the North Baliem Dani at Tiom.) Many
      Wanggulam offered to work for me or to sell food or artifacts to get
      cowries. On occasion, the Wanggulam used odd cowries in what seemed
      commercial transactions with each other. But the usual "biography"
      (Kopytoff 1986) of a cowrie was to have its back removed and then
      attached to a looped band and used as a gift in ceremonial transfers
      of wealth. On these occasions, the bands set with shells were
      displayed by putting them on the row of ye, in the direction of the row.

      After the Western Dani had converted, Wanggulam put little effort into
      raising pigs. A household, typically an elementary family, might own
      one to three adult pigs, rarely more. It seems they were not keen to
      increase their number, since many piglets were killed and eaten by the
      owning household. Perhaps this was due to the context in which I did
      my fieldwork, since people were preoccupied with a revitalization
      movement (O'Brien and Ploeg 1964). Moreover, there were no plans to
      assemble a compensation payment or hold a pig feast, so people may
      have seen no need to expand their herds. After the Western Dani had
      converted to Christianity, missionaries attempted to promote the
      celebration of Christmas by combining it with a pig feast (O'Brien
      1969b:65), and at Mulia the Dani consumed "hundreds" of pigs at
      Christmas celebrations (Hayward 1997:178-79). But Larson (1986:34)
      reports that in Ilaga such celebrations "are now giving way to Dani
      markets at which pork is sold for cash rather than distributed
      reciprocally between individuals and groups."

      The decorated, looped carrier bags and the string used for women's
      skirts were used as gifts during the first part of a wedding, when the
      bride was dressed in a ceremonial skirt, consisting in part of the
      balls of string brought along by female participants. The bride stood
      holding a horizontal bar tied to two poles, while women wound string
      around her hips, fashioning it into a skirt. Later that day the bride
      distributed the bags.

      Ye were distributed by men and apparently kept by men until they were
      needed. Women might carry them in a carrier bag to a wealth transfer,
      but I never saw women cherish them as men did. Cowries were handled
      and used both by men and women for trading. Both men and women were
      immensely interested in acquiring them. Hence, although the bands to
      which they were tied were looped by men, and although during a
      transfer the bands, like the ye, were distributed by men, cowries were
      less of a male domain than the ye. This also held for pigs, which were
      cared for more by women than by men. In contrast, the carrier bags and
      the looped string pertained primarily to women: they were made and
      used by women, although men may have gathered the raw materials.
      During a wedding, there was a clear division, with men transacting
      with men and women with women.

      Most of the Western Dalai seem to have used the same wealth items as
      the Wanggulam (Draper 1958:4; Larson 1986:127; Hayward 1997:141).
      While the Konda Valley Dani did use ye, O'Brien (1969b:408) writes
      that in Kuttime, and in Kanggime, both located west of the Konda, in
      the upper reaches of the Toli River, ye were not used, but Wirz
      (1924:64-66) reports their occurrence in the lower Toli Valley in
      1921. O'Brien (1969b) writes that ye were not used in the Yamo, but
      this statement may refer to the upper Yamo only, since Hayward
      (1997:141) writes that "sacred stones" were part of Mulia Dani wedding
      payments. In their study of stone artifacts in West Papua, the
      Petrequins (1993:208) report that in the North Baliem only the
      female-type ye is found. In seeming agreement with this report, Larson
      (1986) does not mention the distinction in his discussion of Ilaga
      wealth payments. As for shells, Draper (1958:7) states that at Maki in
      the lower North Baliem, cowries were not in demand, with people using
      nassa shells and imported beads instead.

      Wedding Payments

      Among most Western Dani there were three wedding payments: first, a
      betrothal payment; second, a payment assembled by the bride's father
      and transferred to his wife's relatives (called uak); and third,
      bridewealth, assembled by the groom's father on the occasion of a
      wedding and transferred to the bride's father. The bridewealth had at
      least to equal the uak, and the uak in turn had to be at least equal
      to the uak for the bride's mother. Thus the payments were linked
      across the generations. They were not competitive or "agonistic"
      (Mauss 1990:7; Godelier 1996:57). The lack of competitiveness is a
      strong reason for arguing that Western Dani did not follow a Big Man
      logic. In line with this view is that assembling and distributing
      wedding payments caused wealth items to change hands within the
      community. Similarly, the pigs slaughtered during weddings were often
      consumed primarily by community members, suggesting a degree of
      inalienability about these items. But alienability existed with regard
      to the most precious ye, since people might remember their
      transactions and who gave which to whom.

      Rating of Wealth Items

      The composition of wedding payments among Western Dani groups suggests
      differences in the rating of wealth items. I refer here to wedding
      payments only because most of the authors quoted have witnessed their
      transfer, unlike cases of killing a person. Larson (1986:127) writes
      for the Ilaga, "The ... uak payment consisted of 30 to 35 small live
      pigs and an equal number of wealth objects, including chunks of salt
      ash ... cowrie shell strings ... and steel axe heads ... together with
      many items of lesser value such as steel knives ... and individual
      cowries." For the Mulia, Hayward (1997:141) states, "Such a payment
      typically consists of gifts of 7-8 pigs, 2-3 sacred stones and perhaps
      18-20 shell bands," and for the Konda, O'Brien (1969a:220) calculated
      very similar amounts. There, the uak included an average of 8.1 pigs,
      2.3 stones, 18.9 shell bands, 2.1 "other items," 12.3 nets, and 7.0
      balls of braid. The averages were based on seven uak. For Wanggulam,
      on the basis of nine uak, I calculated an average of 2.9 pigs, 29 ye,
      20.5 shell bands, and 0.6 steel implements (Ploeg 1969:28).
      Notwithstanding the similarities in the figures that Hayward and
      O'Brien reported, it should be noted that Mulia and Konda were
      separated by an area where ye exchange stones were not in use.

      If the actual composition of the payments followed preference, then
      pigs got the highest rating among the Ilaga Dani. It is also
      noteworthy that in Ilaga the uak contained live pigs (Larson
      1986:127). Among the Wanggulam, pigs were killed while the uak was
      assembled and their meat distributed first to the contributors to the
      uak, and one or a few days later to the relatives of the groom who
      welcomed the bride to his hamlet. However, among the Ilaga Dani, it
      seems pigs were transferred live and presumably, like the other items
      of the uak, given to those who a generation earlier had contributed to
      the uak for the bride's mother. The Wanggulam payments included by far
      the smallest number of pigs. Notable also is the comparatively large
      number of ye in the Wanggulam payments.

      Western Dani groups appear to have categorized wealth items in
      dissimilar ways. Like the Wanggulam, the Konda Valley Dani
      distinguished between male and female ye (O'Brien 1969b:408). However,
      Hayward writes that Mulia Dani "sacred stones" did not show the male
      and female forms of Wanggulam and Konda Valley ye, and that the Mulia
      Dani denied that they categorized their ye in this way (Hayward
      1997:112, 127n1). I also do not know whether other Western Dani
      regarded the ye of their wedding payments as representations of the
      bride's body parts. The North Baliem Dani at Tiom seem to have graded
      or ranked their cowries. They delighted in seeing valuable specimens
      (Draper 1958:29).

      Ritual Wealth

      Ethnographers have reported the existence of inalienable ritual wealth
      items among all Western Dani groups which have been investigated.
      Since these objects were discarded soon after Europeans had settled
      among them, only Larson, an early settler, provides a description that
      seems to be based on actual observation. Larson (1986:68, 71-73)
      writes that a range of objects were associated with the ancestors:
      string nets and arm bands to which were tied hundreds of pig tails,
      belts and necklaces set with cowries and other shells, and "large
      smooth stones," to some of which "a tail and shell pair" had been
      attached. These were kept in closets in men's houses or in a special
      "war house" (Larson 1986:72). During large rituals, these objects were
      laid out on banana leaves and/or worn during dances. The stones were
      the object of cleansing rites, apparently especially or only during
      male initiation. Larson does not discuss the ownership of these
      objects, but it seems plausible that objects associated with ancestors
      were held by some or all of their descendants. Reports of other
      Western Dani groups, based on oral information, suggest close
      similarities (Hayward 1997:109-10; Maynard, quoted in Hayward
      1980:1377; O'Brien 1969b:90). Some of these objects were personally
      owned (Hayward 1980:137). In addition, he refers to the prominence of
      the ancestor cult, also in Mulia (Hayward 1997:145). However, O'Brien
      is silent on this matter, although she discusses ghosts and spirits.
      My data do not suggest the prominence of such a cult. So in this
      respect there seems to have been variety among the Western Dani.


      In contrast to the Western Dani, most Grand Valley Dani were averse,
      if not actively opposed, to the influence of administrators and
      missionaries. The mass conversion of the Western Dani around 1960,
      stopped at the northwestern tip of the Grand Valley, where the Baliem
      River enters it, suggesting a sharp cultural boundary and important
      cultural differences between the two groups. Also, in the 1960s,
      missionaries had little success (Heider 1997:160). The first patrol
      post in the Grand Valley was set up in 1956 (Veldkamp 1996), and from
      1958 the colonial administration attempted, often by force, to put an
      end to Dani warfare (Gonsalves and Verhoog 1999:67; Meiselas
      2003:86-87). These efforts were hardly successful. Warfare persisted.
      Grand Valley Dani regarded warfare as a religious duty, a requirement
      for the support of the ancestral ghosts (Peters 1967:79-80, 1975:76;
      Broekhuyse 1967:217, 1996:103).

      Grand Valley Dani polities were of much larger scale than those among
      the Western Dani. However, in several other respects they were
      similar. They focused inward, with a tendency toward endogamy among
      pairs of lineages, and with outside boundaries defined by permanent
      hostility and frequent wars with neighbors. In their descriptions of
      the Grand Valley Dani way of life, ethnographers have given more
      prominence to inalienable than to alienable wealth items; i.e.,
      artifacts held as sacred items by lineages or subclans and not
      transferred to outsiders. These descriptions differ from the early Me
      and Western Dani ethnographies, where the emphasis is the other way
      around; i.e., on wealth items that are exchanged.

      In part, the difference is due to the bias of the ethnographers
      concerned. Since Peters, Broekhuyse, and Heider focused on religious
      life, long sections of their monographs consist of the description of
      rituals. However, as noted above, the different foci of the Western
      Dani and Central Dani ethnographies are also in part differences
      between their respective ways of life. Ritual seems to have been more
      important for Grand Valley Dani than for the Western Dani. For
      instance, in his 1970 monograph, Heider spends twenty pages on
      elaborate funeral ceremonies (Heider 1970:146-66). They included
      display of wealth items, and Heider intimates that this aspect of
      wealth item was more important than their exchange. Lemonnier
      (1991:19) writes that Grand Valley polities had Leaders, but in this
      case they were primarily masters of ceremonies and ritual rather than
      organizers of exchanges (see also Butt 2001:80, n. 1).

      Exchange Items

      The items that Grand Valley Dani exchanged were similar to those in
      circulation among the Western Dani; oblong polished stones, cowries
      set on looped bands, and carrying nets (Heider 1970:292). Many of the
      stones came from the same source as those with the Western Dani
      (Petrequin and Petrequin 1993:194-95), but their size was possibly
      larger. Many stones were decorated with feathers, fur, and items of
      female dress (Heider 1970:289), while Western Dani stones were bare,
      as I observed among the Wanggulam. Representing whole persons, they
      were laid down in a row and were subdivided into "bone" stones in the
      center and "leg" stones at both ends (Heider 1970:287), reminiscent of
      the Wanggulam notion that they represented human body parts. The nets
      included strapless ones (Heider 1970:151) and long, rectangular nets,
      open along two sides, which are usually reserved for funeral
      exchanges. Such nets have not been reported for the Western Dani. It
      is noteworthy that the volume of items exchanged at funerals seems to
      have been larger than at weddings. This feature is associated with the
      prevalence of the ancestor cult among the Grand Valley Dani (Ploeg
      2001). Wedding payments were linked across the generations (Heider
      1972:180), again reminiscent of the Western Dani. Whether the bride's
      father's payment had to equal that for the bride's mother remains
      unclear. Heider's (1972:180) table of marriage prestations indicates
      that pigs and pork on the one hand, and stones, shell bands, and nets
      on the other, moved in opposite directions during the exchanges. This
      did not occur to the same extent among Western Dani.

      Heider (1997:163-64) remarks that a young man in the northeast Grand
      Valley in 1988 had remained a bachelor since he was unable to assemble
      the pigs and shells needed for bridewealth. So in this part of the
      valley, bridewealth was still to be paid and shells were part of it.
      At that time, Indonesian money was in circulation in the Grand Valley
      (unpublished report by Naylor, quoted in Meiselas 2003:128), and by
      then the Me had abandoned their cowries.

      Ritual Wealth Items

      It is useful to divide inalienable wealth items among the Grand Valley
      Dani into two or three categories. One consists of artifacts,
      especially the sacred stones, held by groups of men and kept in the
      men's houses. A second is of similar sacred artifacts held in war
      men's houses, thus called on account of either the special sacred
      stones held there (Peters 1967:82, 1975:80) or the prominent war
      leaders living there (Heider 1970:85; Broekhuyse 1967:98, 122-25). A
      third category consists of personal possessions, especially the
      amulets (tipat) that men and women wore for protection. Whether these
      are inalienable goods, in the sense used by Weiner and Godelier, is
      uncertain, since these authors refer primarily to goods held by
      groups. The amulets were consecrated in group ritual (Heider 1972:192;
      Peters 1967:143-45, 1975:151-53; Broekhuyse 1967:108-12, 141).
      Broekhuyse (1967:111) writes, "The great significance of the tipat is
      made clear by the fact that one finds it round the neck of almost
      every man and every initiated boy [pace Peters (1967:144, 1975:151-52)
      who reports that also women and girls wear one]. They do not want to
      give them up." I have found no reference to what happened to the tipat
      when a person died and was cremated.

      Ganekhe were stones similar to exchange stones and very prominent
      sacred possessions. Like the Grand Valley exchange stones, they were
      provided with wrappings (Broekhuyse 1967:100-01). They included other
      kinds of objects, like shell bands, and Broekhuyse reports the
      occurrence of one made of bone found under mysterious circumstances
      and believed to have been left behind by a ghost. Subsequently, a
      cowrie believed to date back to the ancestors had been fastened to it.
      Ganekhe were associated with ancestral ghosts and were on occasion
      refurbished (Peters 1967:112, 151-59, 1975:115, 160-72; Broekhuyse
      1967:102), as happened during a ritual in the presence of male lineage
      members. Pigs were slaughtered, and the ganekhe were rubbed with pig
      fat. During such a ritual, Peters (1967:152-59, 1975:161-72) observed
      the wrappings to be renewed, and two men uttered spells.

      Ethnographers disagree about ganekhe ownership. Heider (1970:25) says
      that individual men owned them and might take them when they moved to
      another men's house. Broekhuyse (1967:98), however, maintains that
      they were common property of "the members of one ... lineage or local
      clan." He admits exceptions, and mentions a man who regarded one as
      his "personal" ganekhe (Broekhuyse 1967:100). Hampton (1999:127-28)

      insists that the ganekhe were owned by individual men. However, more
      important than the matter of ownership seems to be the fact that
      ganekhe ritual was to benefit the group. On this the early authors agree.

      The second category of inalienable possessions also consisted of
      ganekhe that were kept in the war men's houses for the ancestors
      killed in hostilities (Peters 1967:159-60, 1975:173). Of these there
      was one per lineage (Peters 1967:82, 1975:80). It seems that the
      ritual of refurbishing the war ganekhe took longer than that for other
      ganekhe, and included consecration of new neck amulets. A greater
      number of pigs was killed and eaten. For one day, working the land was
      forbidden, and even pigs were kept in their sties. The ritual was
      directed toward success in war, while the ritual refurbishing the
      ganekhe held in the other men's houses was for the welfare people
      hoped to obtain from their ancestors (Peters 1967:88-101, 151-52,
      1975:87-102, 160-61).

      When Heider returned briefly to the northeast Grand Valley in 1988,
      warfare there had ceased and men's houses had become accessible to
      women (Heider 1997:159). Whereas Heider intimates that the ancestral
      stones had lost their potency, Hampton's subsequent observations, made
      where Heider had conducted his field research, suggest otherwise. In
      1989, or possibly a little later, Hampton (1999:145) attended a ritual
      refurbishing of ganekhe, and his description makes it clear that the
      ritual had changed little from the early 1960s, when the earlier
      ethnographers carried out their field research. By the mid-1990s, such
      rituals included the veneration of ganekhe, and had "replaced warfare
      as the key way to control the actions of ancestors" (Butt 1998:77-81).

      Pigs and Pork

      Pigs and pork were essential in all Grand Valley rituals. Pork might
      be given as a welcoming gift, or as the acknowledgment of a gift that
      remained to be reciprocated (cf. Lemonnier 1993:37; Ploeg 2001:35-36).
      Consuming pork was part of ritual, whether done communally (Heider
      1997:123) or as an indicator of an individual's role in the ritual
      (Peters 1967:89, 94-95, 1975:88, 94-95). In any case, which parts
      persons were given (e.g., fat, bacon, entrails, organs, head, and so
      on) had special significance. As the ethnographers focused on rituals,
      it is not clear whether the consumption of pork in rituals entailed
      gift transactions. The nonconsumable parts of pigs (i.e., tails,
      bones, and teeth) were retained to serve as tools, finery, and ritual
      objects (Heider 1970:55). It is clear that pigs formed part of
      marriage and compensation payments (Heider 1972:180, 183-84).


      At an early stage of research in the Highlands, Brookfield (1964:33)
      noticed the differential agricultural potential of highland areas
      across New Guinea. Much later, Feil (1987:14-18) and Modjeska
      (1991:251) argued that these differences facilitated the emergence of
      Big Man leadership and Big Man economics. Such a development did take
      place in the Paniai-Tage and Kamu-Tigi areas, but not in the Grand
      Valley, where agricultural intensification occurred. Of the peoples
      considered in this essay, the Me conformed most closely to Godelier's
      model, although they live farthest away from Papua New Guinea. The
      contrast that Hylkema (2002) noted between, on the one hand, the
      Paniai-Tage and the Kamu-Tigi versions of the Me way of life and, on
      the other, the Mapia version, suggests a transformation away from a
      time when agricultural intensification was of minor importance and
      animal food was obtained primarily by hunting and fishing. As in the
      Highlands of Papua New Guinea, the transformation may have started
      before the introduction of the sweet potato.

      The Grand Valley Dani deviated most from the Great Man-Big Man model,
      since they used their increased productive capacity (and the resulting
      increase in wealth items) to maintain or intensify their ancestor
      cult, rather than build a network of exchange relations. They were
      most interested in the stones used for ritual purposes. The Western
      Dani, however, were keenly interested in acquiring the cowries
      administrative officers and missionaries brought (Ploeg, In press),
      and held onto them after discarding their exchange stones and ritual

      The wealth items used by Me, Western Dani, and Grand Valley Dani were
      largely similar, but the Me did not use the polished stone blades,
      even though many lived not much further away from the quarries than
      did the Western Dani and the Grand Valley Dani. This seems to be
      another instance of the selectivity with which Me met new
      opportunities; e.g., they adopted tobacco; many, but not all, adopted
      the sweet potato as their staple; and they did not adopt maize. If
      Hylkema is correct in stating that the import of cowries among the Me
      had sharply increased before Europeans settled among them, the desire
      for these shells may have induced them to step up production,
      especially of pigs, to obtain them. The Me used wealth items not only
      to build and maintain a wide network of gift relations, but also to
      transact with each other on a casual basis. Possibly they did so also
      with a view toward the gift relations in which they were, with the
      once-only transactions, for profit or to obtain a good needed for a
      gift, subsidiary to gift exchanges. They also availed themselves of
      the opportunities their grading of cowries provided them to pressure
      their partners to upgrade their prestations.

      While all three peoples had pigs as wealth items, they used them for
      different purposes. For the Me, pigs were an important means to
      collect cowries. The Western Dani used them primarily as alienable
      gift items, as ingredients of gifts. They also used them for ritual
      purposes, but due to the early mass conversions to Christianity, what
      and how varied these uses were among the Western Dani groups is
      unknown. The Grand Valley Dani used pigs primarily for rituals in
      their ancestor cult and their pig feast.

      The variety of uses for similar objects points to the variety in
      significance that people accorded these objects. In contrast, similar
      significance also can be accorded to different objects. For example,
      the gradations in value that the Paniai-Tage and the Kamu-Tigi Me
      attributed to cowries resemble the gradations in value which Wanggulam
      accorded their exchange stones, and the positioning of shells of
      different value in the Me shell strings resembles the positioning of
      exchange stones in the layout of a Wanggulam ceremonial payment.

      Weiner (1992:43) argues that alienable and inalienable possessions are
      linked in that some objects are given away while others are held.
      "What motivated reciprocity is ... the desire to keep something back
      from the pressures of give and take. This something is a possession
      that speaks to and for an individual's or a group's social identity
      and, in so doing, affirms the difference between one person or group
      and another." Godelier's (1999:36) view is that gift exchange does not
      operate in a void, but has to be rooted: "There is always, in every
      human activity if it is to become constituted, something that precedes
      exchange and in which exchange takes root, something that exchange
      both alters and preserves, extends and renews at the same time."
      Godelier improves Weiner's formulation, which applies well to the
      Grand Valley Dani, where the ancestor cult provided the context for
      death and compensation payments. By implication, the formulations
      apply also to the Western Dani because their exchange stones lost
      value soon after they had discarded their wealth items that,
      presumably, had been inalienable. However, they apply much less to the
      Me, whose cowrie transactions apparently were not rooted in an
      ideology made manifest in inalienable wealth items. In this respect,
      too, the cultural differences between the three ethnic groups are

      Finally, I return to Hyndman and Morren's (1990) notion of the Western
      Sphere of the Central Highlands. The area concerned stands out in
      several respects. Population density is high compared to the
      surrounding areas, and the scale of linguistic and political groups is
      large (Ploeg 2001). Hyndman and Morren (1990) posit that groups having
      a single sphere as their habitat share a common tradition, but Western
      Highlands groups do not. Admittedly, many claim to have originated
      from the same area, the southeast of the Grand Valley, but at the time
      of first contact, the inhabitants of this area, the Grand Valley Dani,
      did not exert a strong influence on the people who had moved away. On
      the contrary, it seems likely that one of the migrating groups, the
      Western Dani, had exerted such an influence on the groups that they
      encountered during their west and northward expansion. The inhabitants
      of the western part of this Western Sphere, especially the Moni and
      the Me, claim origin from the east, but in my view represent separate
      ways of life that were growing apart.


      (1.) This article was originally presented at the 2001 and 2002
      meetings of the Association for Social Anthropology in Oceania (ASAO)
      in the session, "Transformations of Exchange Systems." I thank the
      participants in the session, especially Paula Brown Glick, one of the
      conveners, for their stimulus. I also thank the anonymous reviewers of
      Ethnology and John A. Barnes for their instructive comments on the
      penultimate draft of the article. This article contains several
      quotations from Dutch publications, all translated by me.

      (2.) Pouwer, who worked on the south coast in the early 1950s,
      supports Hylkema's view (pers. comm.).

      (3.) What goes against his interpretation of the term abstraction is
      that Godelier makes its meaning clear by referring to the curved boar
      tusks used as wealth items in several parts of Melanesia. These tusks,
      however, are a reminder of successful productive activities, if not
      successful management of life force.

      (4.) The Wodani, like the Me, employed pigs and cowries as their main
      wealth items. Cowries were a general medium of exchange, and for that
      reason Breton (1999:558) considers them as "money in the strictest
      sense." Yet the Wodani also regarded each shell "as an individual, a
      unique piece in its own right," and they gave names to the most
      precious ones (Breton 1999:559-61, 2002). As regards these two
      features, Wodani money differs from Western money. Further, Wodani
      conceive of cowries as "perpetual persons who are the instruments of
      human reproduction" (Breton 1999:567).

      (5.) I am grateful to Dr. Eric Venbrux for drawing my attention to
      Peterson's paper.

      (6.) C. Ballard (pers. comm) links the location of salt wells with the
      direction of migrations. The Amungme south of the main ranges kept the
      location of their salt wells hidden from the Dani to keep them away.

      (7.) Hayward (1980:137) quotes from a letter that Maynard, an
      eyewitness to the burnings, sent to the office of the Unevangelised
      Fields Mission. The letter lists the objects burned: "innumerable
      bows, arrows, spears, stone and bone knives, shells, beautiful fur
      headdresses, pig tails, nose bones, bits of string, all sorts and
      sizes of feathers, large and small bridal stones, pieces of cane,
      armbands, 'feather dusters' (large feather affairs used for waving
      about to chase evil spirits), necklaces, rare ornamental shell plus a
      host of wrapped items which we didn't see."


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      University of Mich<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)
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