Creative Land: Place and Procreation on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea

Creative Land: Place and Procreation on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea

Creative Land: Place and Procreation on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea

Creative Land: Place and Procreation on the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea

Synopsis

What is creative in kinship? How are people connected to places? James Leach answers these questions through formulating ¢#128;#156;creativity¢#128;#157; as an integral part of kinship on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. The book contains a new critique of the genealogical model of kinship, suggesting that this model prevents us from grasping the way generative relations, including those to land and place, constitute persons on the Rai Coast. Analytic attention is focused upon the life cycle, marriage, exchange and artistic production as the activities in which substantial connection is generated. The argument, made in relation to detailed ethnography, yields a fresh perspective on the connections people trace to each other.

Excerpt

People of the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea have been made famous for their innovative interpretations of colonialism. Peter Lawrence’s Road Belong Cargo (1964) introduced one character in particular who is enduringly associated with what have been known as ‘cargo cults’, and who embodies for many the contradictory fascinations of those Melanesian phenomena. That character was Yali Singina. Yali’s name is still often heard, both on the Rai Coast, and among anthropologists; cargo movements remain staples of anthropological writing and teaching (Lindstrom 1999). What interests us so much about cargo cult? That it is a (critical) perspective on colonialism and globalisation? That it deconstructs Western relationships of production and power? That it makes plain the consequences of interpretations based on cultural suppositions? Most of all, perhaps, we are fascinated by the creative moment apparent in new combinations. One ‘culture’ meets another, and innovative thinking is the outcome (Leip 2001: 7). The subjects of this book are already known for their creativeness.

While aware of this history, cargo cults were not the focus of my research. There is no linear relationship between this book and the literature on cargo movements, and I do not set out to complete the historical record about such things. Yet there are themes present in both the literature on cargo, and in the present work which have crept up on me. This book takes creative endeavour in the making of people, and the emergence of places, as its theme. On reflection, I realise that I have written about a particular approach to producing persons and things, one which relies upon discussing a version of the creative engagement already apparent in Lawrence’s narrative.

The book outlines one instance of a kind of creativity which could be found in many societies. It is not unique to Reite people among whom I lived. That creativity lies in innovation through combination, and recombination. Yet it has a specific, and long-established, salience in the lives of these people which goes beyond the interpretation of colonialism. In general terms, novelty is only apparent with convention as its background; and to distinguish anything from its . . .

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