The highlanders of New Guinea are renowned for their elaborate systems of
ceremonial exchange. Although much has been written about them, previous
accounts have concentrated far less on the conduct of exchange events than
on the structure of exchange systems. This book deals centrally with the
conduct of particular exchange events, and shows through examination of
them how larger social structures are reproduced and transformed.
As part of the emphasis on exchange as social action, the book closely
examines the oratory that plays a crucial part in the events. Basing their
study on original fieldwork carried out in the Nebilyer Valley, Francesca
Merlan and Alan Rumsey focus on an inter related set of large-scale
compensation payments which arose out of an episode of warfare. This cycle
is particularly remarkable, as women stopped the fighting, and participated
for the first time as transactors and orators in the ensuing exchange
events. This book furthers our understanding of the interaction between
social structures and historical events; and particularly of the crucial
role of talk. It will be of special interest to anthropologists and linguists.
The writing admirably combines detailed ethnography, clear summaries of the
state of the Melanesianist field, and the broader theoretical implications
of their work. Ethnography at its best.
Social & Behavioral Sciences
As the data are excellent and provide much food for thought, the book
certainly validates its claim 'to contribute to a more fully accountable
anthropology of situated action'... a major contribution to the textual
microstudy of exchange systems.
Eric Schwimmer, Pacific Affairs