Pub. Date:
University of Michigan Press
Encompassing Others: The Magic of Modernity in Melanesia

Encompassing Others: The Magic of Modernity in Melanesia

by Edward LiPuma


Current price is , Original price is $80.0. You

Temporarily Out of Stock Online

Please check back later for updated availability.

This item is available online through Marketplace sellers.


An engaging, beautifully written account by an ethnographer who lived in the mountains of Papua New Guinea, Encompassing Others is at once a history of the encounter of two cultures and an attempt to challenge theoretically the main concepts that have informed the study of modernity. Going beyond accounts that grasp modernity solely in terms of domination, imperialism, and local resistance, it explores how capitalism, Christianity, and mass commercial culture enchant the senses, create a carnival of new goods, and open up new possibilities for thought and action.

Focusing on the Maring people of Highland New Guinea and on the Westerners who interacted with them, Edward LiPuma presents issues from the perspectives of both sides. We hear the voice of the Anglican priest from San Francisco as well as the most powerful Maring shamans. Further, the book seeks to develop a theory of generations that helps explain how change accelerates and societies take on new directions across generations.

Theoretical, descriptive, but almost entirely free of jargon, this book is intended for all those who are interested in how the West's encompassment of other peoples influences how these others conceive of their past, imagine their future, and experience the present. It will have wide appeal for anthropologists and others concerned with colonialism, globalization, and the formation of the nation-state.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780472110681
Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Publication date: 07/25/2000
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 6.34(w) x 9.33(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

Edward LiPuma is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Miami. He is also the author of The Gift of Kinship: Structure and Practice in Maring Social Organization.

Read an Excerpt

Encompassing Others
The Magic of Modernity in Melanesia

By Edward LiPuma
The University of Michigan Press
Copyright © 2000

University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-11068-1

Chapter One The Flight of the Cassowary: On Subjectivity and Encompassment

When in the 1920s and 1930s gold prospectors and adventurers penetrated the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, they discovered that nearly half the island's population, some million people, lived on the slopes and plateaus cradled in the tall mountains. After World War II, the door of the Highlands opened to the world, and the West entered in force: evangelists hungry for souls and entrepreneurs for money, patrol officers bent on bringing civilization and ethnographers on recording culture. Each arrived with their own mission and sense of purpose, each so engrossed in their own concerns as to be only barely aware that the next performance in the theater of modernity was about to begin.

And in the beginning was the word as myth. The Maring have always lived by myths, archetypically stories of their primordial past. These myths on the origin of exchange and There was a man who had much to drink, and falling asleep, had what he thought was a dream. For a long time, he had been residing with his wife's kinsmen who inhabited a very remote region. The man eventually feels lonely, and when he hears that there is to be a bride payment he decides to visit his "root" place. For two days he walks through the mountains to reach his natal village. When he gets there, he discovers that the road entering the town is paved. At the edge of the village he sees an airfield, trucks, jeeps, and cars, and a whole array of paved roads shooting off in all directions. At the center of the new village are food stores, a restaurant, and a store selling everything needed to build a house: hammers, nails, finished woods. The man stumbles wide-eyed around his natal village. When he asks where he is, everyone laughs, and then someone informs him that they have become "white" ["though their skin is still black as ever"]. Shaking his head, he asks where are the pigs and gardens. His true kinsmen tell him that everyone now has and eats as much rice as they want, and that fish, pork, and even taro arrive every day on the planes in tin cans. The man is so dazed and bewildered by these changes that he wanders off into the brush. There, he is happy to chance upon two large cassowaries in a corral. He assumes the cassowaries must be a part of the upcoming bridewealth payment. But his comfort at finding a familiar reference point turns to shock when to his amazement the cassowaries, stunned by his presence, flap their stunted wings and take flight. Now scared and disoriented, the man takes his own flight back to his wife's village to the sound of laughter of his own former villagers.

This "myth"-can we call it such-is as far from traditional mythos as the metropole from the hinterlands. Traditional myths are about primordial events, ancestral times, and unquestionable truths. Our story is about the future rather than the past. It is an imagination of what is to come and what has been left behind in the encompassing gesture, the uncharted cultural acceleration toward a future the Maring sometimes refer to as "civilization" in contrast to the kingdom of kastam (tradition or custom). Our story (according to a story about the story) is the twin of a coastal tale; it is like the modern itself, simultaneously imported and customized in the rites of retelling. The reenactment of another reality that is fast becoming your own.

Whatever the status of the story, there's more at stake here than a case of cultural eavesdropping. Like the tarnished secondhand clock that hung on a wall of the mission school, it is a lesson in the remaking of temporality. Appropriately, the story abandons the cyclicity of traditional time. How out of place to assume, as the Maring have always assumed, that the clan as the main unit of reproduction will replicate itself from one generation to the next, its continuity guaranteed by exchanges with ancestors and affines (see LiPuma 1988: chaps. 3, 4). The story recounted here is also unlike traditional myth in that it is not about the heroic actions of the ancestors or timeless truths. It is not about how societies remember, but rather how they learn to forget. And indeed there is a growing number of accounts of this type. From a Western viewpoint, these accounts spring up as myths, stories, and sometimes wild rumors of change. Above all, they are narratives of transformation. Who could not be impressed with the tale that "Skip and Annie" (Rappaport, the first anthropologists to work among the Maring, 1963-64) would soon return and deliver untold wealth from America to the Simbai valley (thus replacing local forms of wealth creation). Or that the sacraments of Anglicanism harbored a powerful sorcery that the attuned Christian could appropriate and direct at his enemies. Or that in the bowels of some unspecified building in Port Moresby there were mountains of wealth, now hidden and hoarded by the national elite. The myth of the flight of the cassowary, like other narratives of modernity, was part of an unending attempt to make sense of a world in which the structure of perception and desire, patterns of expectation and rewards, ways of speaking and listening, images of body and thought, the limits of travel and imagination, have all changed course rather abruptly, quite irreversibly. In their attempt to gain practical and conceptual mastery over this world-changing, the Maring have constructed these many stories, ranging from myths and cargo-cultish wish lists to descriptions of sojourns to Port Moresby and other cities, tales of life on labor plantations, and reminiscences about the varied Westerners they have known. These stories, devised and revised, edited and reformulated, are their way of progressively coming to terms with the encompassing process. Whether they are or appear factual or fanciful, singular or common, these stories are pragmatic attempts to experiment with the representation and meanings of the modern. The collective working through of these myths, tales, narratives, descriptions, and dreams is the Maring analysis of modernity.

So over and above its country-bumpkin humor the flight of the cassowary sings with the gravity of the matter: it announces a sense and feeling for change almost beyond imagination. The man in his own dreamtime has been away for less than a lifetime when all that has happened takes place. This mirrors Maring experience from the 1960s, which, in the limits of one lifetime and two generations, has gone from relative isolation to a burgeoning engagement with things Western. That the tale concerns a bride payment makes it that much more ironic and symbolically charged, for bridewealth payments not only antedate contact but have changed in shape and content in response to the advent of the modern. Bridewealth payments are a crossroads at which gender and domesticity, the immediate economy and wider politics, talk to one another. And insofar as they are inseparable from social reproduction, they are a marked index of societal transformation. It was also appropriate that the myth is a dream (or the dream a myth) in that the Maring, like other Melanesians, believe that dreams are omens of what is to come.

The symbolic density and irony of the story does not pause there: it locates our unknowing, bewildered visitor outside the space of "modernized" commercialized life. His spatial marginalization to the outer fringe of Maring territory parallels his cultural marginalization in the face of great change. The myth also plays with the intimacy between history and territory, conjuring this new village as a mediation between the metropole, the once and future city of modernity, and the bush hinterlands where traditional, ancestrally dependent clansmen dwell in some temporal warp. The story not only transmutes history into space but capitalizes on the Maring concept that differences in residence create differences in types of people. The distance between the new village and the hinterlands is thus measured in differences in identity and future trajectory. Even more, the myth invites its contemporary tellers to take their own grandparents and parents as objects of contemplation. For like this bewildered man, their own ancestors were culturally overwhelmed when they first encountered planes, cars, flashlights, and other Western technologies of modernity and power. The myth maps an imaginary frontier between generations, a promised height from which to look down upon their own past. So it was that Abraham, the son of Yingok, tells me (and a house of other young men) about the ignorance of his ancestors when faced with airplanes and white men, his local audience smiling in a bemused, slightly embarrassed way, aware of my presence, as though they were both confessing to this "genealogical" connection and letting it be known that they were now citizens of another more enlightened and slightly cynical viewpoint.

From the tradition of a world that is at once spiritual and thoroughly personal, where the creation of value is as visible as a man burning a garden or a woman tending to her pigs, modernity is magic on its way to becoming miracle. On this understanding, the elder generation of Maring yearned to capture and deploy the magic lying behind the Westerners' ability to create value. And thus my old friend, Tipika the shaman, after teaching me his spells against illness, asked in return if I would teach him my magic for "pulling" things (without, apparently, my doing a lick of real work). For Tipika and most of his generation, the world works by the old principles even if the players are new and the objects of desire come in cans and cartons. By contrast, the younger generation has no such illusions, simply the desire to indulge in the modern miracle of money and things produced from afar, the alchemy of turning gold flecks and coffee beans into kina (the Papua New Guinea national currency) and the kina earned into things of foreign origin. In this glittering light, it is not surprising that the myth of the flight of the cassowary should stand in marked contrast to other myths of beginnings. It has nothing to say about the creation of clanship, the complementarity between men and women, the inauguration of exchange relations, or the migrations of the ancestors. Thus does the story or dreamtime foresee a future so changed that the cultural anchors and sources of continuity have vanished. Here the myth cuts clear to the bone, for nothing is more central to the construction of Maring clanship and affinity than locally grown foods, which in the imagined tomorrow of the myth have been replaced by their canned, imported ghosts. In this and other stories of the modern, against the echo of their own laughter, the Maring have come to imagine their future as a great break with customs past even as, and this is the anthropological moment, their future must embody and simultaneously reinvent that past. As my friend and housemate Gou once observed as we stood at a crossroads on the outskirts of Mt. Hagen, the provincial capital of the Western Highlands and for the Maring an exemplar of the urban, just because a road is paved doesn't mean that it goes where you want it to.

Themes and Theories

This book is a description and argument concerning the nature of cultural transformation and the way that it informs the lives of those who experience it. I explore the themes and issues of encompassment that lay in the background of my earlier study The Gift of Kinship (1988). At issue is how these people of the Bismarck mountains or any people can reproduce themselves in the face of modernity: a catchall term for those processes by which a society reshapes itself as a consequence of being inexorably encompassed within a state (first colonial and then national) and inundated by Western capitalism, Christianity, and commercially driven mass culture. I employ the term encompassment (detailed later) to describe these processes, and indeed an aim of this study is to contribute to the theoretical groundwork needed to produce an ethnography (that is also a history) of the encompassment of Melanesia. For my view is that we can only construct a genuine history of Melanesia, a history of the modern, from a communion of local histories-ethnographies that face both inward toward the meanings, strategies, and desires of the practical life and outward toward the encompassing universe. I accept without reservation the viewpoint of Fernando Cardoso, the anthropologically oriented political scientist who later became president of Brazil, who once observed that history is where global forces touch everyday lives.

The embrace of the West and the acceleration of modernity animated an encounter that was relentlessly dialectical. To begin with, the changes induced were dialectical because the presence of Western practices reshaped indigenous ones and simultaneously the determinate appearance of Western practices (schooling, medicine, Christian rites, elections), which were inseparable from, because mutually determined by, their local counterparts. For example, to the frustration of the mission men, the Maring conception of Jesus, his miracles, and his place in the social cosmology has been inseparable from Maring conceptions of ancestors, magic, and clanship. In the same spirit, their views of Western medicine and justice informed and were informed by more indigenous concepts and practices. Reciprocally, the weight of Western practices forever transformed the trajectory and meaning of indigenous practices to the point where the distinction between Western and indigenous becomes progressively relativized and the subject of its own discourse. The intertwining of thought, desire, and practice in an endlessly reciprocal spiral is itself a hallmark of the Melanesian encounter with the modern. And so we fail the ethnography when our theory and method fail to capture this dialectic, substituting in its place simple lines of causation, such as those that imagine a world of an imposing West and resisting Other. It sometimes seems as though the anthropological nostalgia for Culture and the academic imperative to defend our space by defending our concept blinds us to the reality that the processes of encompassment neither leave others alone nor make them Western. Rather, encompassment creates new terrain and terms for the production of sameness and difference, value and meaning.

Importantly, to understand the modern as dialectical is to relativize relativity. It is to acknowledge that what is considered (and contested) as kastam today has been inflected by Western presence and pressures, just as what is considered Western (parliamentary government, Christianity, the use of Western-like money, etc.) now bears an unmistakable Melanesian imprint. The modern is also intrinsically dialectical because encompassment is most determinative and inevitable at the level of the form of society. All encompassed peoples will become capitalist-but to what degree and in what way is first open to and defined by the intersection of imported capitalism with local practices, and then triangulated as international capitalism continues to interface with its domestic offspring (itself the product of the first interaction), and also with what local agents come to define as tradition or kastam. And what holds for capitalism is also true for the nation-state, commercial culture, civic education, the mass media, and much else. In a word, the modern is a dialectic of sameness and difference, a negotiated terrain in which the absolute difference between Melanesians and Westerners, that heavenly time before contact and encompassment, is no more or less than an imaginary space, albeit a necessary space, that allows anthropologists to construct the past and Melanesians the future.


Excerpted from Encompassing Others by Edward LiPuma
Copyright © 2000 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents List of Illustrations....................ix
CHAPTER 1. The Flight of the Cassowary: On Subjectivity and Encompassment....................1
2. In the Fields of Encompassment: Colonialism and the Advent of Modernity....................41
3. The Biography of an Ethnographer in the Age of Encompassment....................85
4. The Modernity of the Person in Melanesia....................128
5. The Logic of Sorcery and the Justice of Modernity....................153
6. Money and the Representation of Life....................186
7. The Magic of the Evangelical....................208
8. Traditions of Medicine and the Miracle of Modernity....................246
9. Education and the Discipline of Modernity....................275
10. The Conclusion of the Past and the Making of the Present....................296

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews