UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Kewa reciprocity : cooperation and exchange in a New Guinea Highland culture LeRoy, John D.


Melanesian cultures characteristically assign great importance to the transaction of objects, and many have highly complex systems of exchange; yet few anthropologists have sought to define social structure in terms of reciprocity. This thesis does so: it is a study of the practice and conceptualization of reciprocity among the Kewa of the Southern Highlands District of Papua., New Guinea. Two modes of reciprocity — cooperation and exchange — are seen as principles functionally equivalent but methodologically prior to descent and affinity. The importance of reciprocity can be measured by the range of cultural materials it explains. I investigate four sets of data. Part I examines the Kewa moral order: the system of ideas through which reciprocal relations are maintained or, if broken, are reinstated. Through these ideas, in particular the concepts "thought" and "ghost," non-reciprocal persons are brought to an awareness of their obligations. The central importance of mediative objects is manifested in the institutions of compensation and competitive reciprocity. Part II investigates the organization of reciprocal relations in kinship. Two chapters on relation between structure and praxis (action) bracket a detailed study in consanguinity, affinity, and marriage preference. Part III consists of a study of institutionalized reciprocity — the south Kewa pig kill. Three chapters examine exchange and cooperation in the transactions of shells and pork, in verbal opinions about the conduct of the ceremony, and in metaphorical songs about pig killing. Part IV is an analysis of fifteen Kewa myths of different armatures: male siblings, father and son, cross-sex siblings, and spouses. The interpretation, which attends to both form and content, brings out two aspects of myth: (1) myth reflects and defines Kewa moral and structural relations; (2) myth is a form of dialectical reasoning which endeavours to understand the cultural totality in terms of its parts: filiation, siblingship, affinity, cooperation and exchange. A number of theoretical approaches are debated and applied: British social anthropology, French structuralism, and phenomenological philosophy. Throughout I have adopted a method which attempts to be both structural and dialectical; structural because it sees cultural definition in terms of oppositions, and dialectical because it sees these oppositions as experiential as well as logical, contradictory as well as contrastive. Within this dialectical perspective each of the parts of the thesis can be considered a particular aspect of reciprocity, each a mediation or determination of the general definition of reciprocity found in the introductory chapter. The four parts move the understanding of reciprocity from the general and the abstract to the particular and the mediated. The movement is from the conceptual system underlying practice (Part I) to the dyadic or triadic relations of structures (Part II), to the institutional setting (Part III), and finally to a discourse in which these positive realities are contrasted with putative ones (Part IV). A concluding chapter examines one singular instance of how Kewa ideas about reciprocity have modified themselves as a result of the European presence.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.