Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview

12 Warfare and Exchange in a Melanesian
Society before Colonial Pacification:
The Case of Manus, Papua New Guinea1

Wohl nirgends ist der Kriegszustand ein so permanenter wie bei den Moanus, und eine Folge
davon ist, dass der Stamm, der sonst alle Bedingungen in sich vereint, um sich zu vermehren
und zu gedeihen, so verschwindend klein ist. An Veranlassungen zum Kriege fehlt es […]
niemals, aber auch ohne Veranlassung allein aus Kampflust zieht man in den Krieg. Das Töten
eines Feindes ist die Hauptsache; die Eroberung des Gebietes ist Nebensache, tritt aber ein,
wenn der Feind gänzlich vernichtet und aus seinen Wohnsitzen vertrieben wird. Kriegsbeute,
bestehend aus Kähnen mit Zubehör, Muschelgeld und sonstigem Eigentum, wird nicht ver-
schmäht; Häuser werden in Brand gesteckt und Kochgeschirre zerschlagen. Was an Menschen
lebend in die Hände des Siegers fällt, wird als Sklaven fortgeführt, wer sich nicht flüchtet, wird
erschlagen, sei es Mann oder Weib, jung oder alt. Dabei werden die schauerlichsten Greueltaten
verübt und die Leute nicht selten zu Tode gemartert. Hat man Zeit, so nimmt man auch wohl
die Leichen der Gefallenen mit und verkauft sie an die Usiai. (Parkinson 1911: 400–401)2

TON OTTO


Warfare in Melanesia and Manus

Just before the arrival of Western colonisers the Admiralty Islands – now Manus Province in Papua New Guinea (Fig. 1) – were a warlike environment. This picture is confirmed both by the local oral tradition and by observations from the early colonisers. The ubiquity of warfare had a deep impact on the local social system, of which it was a part, and it is primarily this system that I wish to describe in this chapter. Melanesian anthropology has contributed an important body of ethnographic material as well as theoretical sophistication to the study of tribal warfare (see Knauft 1999; Brandt chapter 6; Helbling chapter 9). Because warfare ended in Manus at the beginning of the 20th century, the Manus material has not really been integrated into the study of Melanesian tribal warfare. Of the modern anthropologists working in Manus, only Theodore Schwartz (1963) pays due attention to precolonial warfare in his major article on ‘systems of areal integration’, which has been an important source of inspiration for the present chapter. The basis for the following reconstruction is, apart from extensive historical material written in English, Russian and particularly German (Otto 1994b), a body of oral histories which I collected primarily during my first fieldwork in Manus, mainly on Baluan Island, from March 1986 to March 1988. This material was not collected with the aim of studying precolonial warfare, but out of a general interest in social and cultural change. Its extent and historical depth can by no means match that of the oral histories collected by Wiessner and Tumu among the Enga (see Wiessner chapter 11), but it still provides an important additional perspective on precolonial Manus warfare.

The study of warfare in Melanesia has provided a range of theoretical frameworks for explanation, which can be roughly divided into those with a structural and/or functional focus, those with an ecological focus, and those with a cultural focus. In this chapter I will propose a framework in which exchange and network relations have a central place. Even though ecological division and specialisation were part of and gave shape to the exchange relations, they cannot be seen as a proper explanation for the prevalence of warfare. The same applies to the unmistaken cultural focus on warrior prowess and warlike aggressiveness. I think my focus on networks and exchange can best be seen as a variation of a structural and functional framework, even though precolonial warfare in Manus did not function to create larger groups by intern control and external conflict. Warfare can be seen as a crucial and sustaining element of the precolonial regional

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